It surrounds us. It’s everywhere we look. It affects everything we do, everything we watch, all of our actions, everything we say. It affects this gathering today. It certainly affected our gatherings yesterday in church – including those who chose not to attend church. And it affects the various parties we’ve had all weekend. Yet we rarely think about it or even talk about it. In fact, we often bemoan its lack of existence. It’s part of the beauty of it; though it’s everywhere we look in this country, it never forces itself on us.
What is it? It’s freedom. On December 15, 1791, the United States Constitution was amended with this statement: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. We are free to practice our religion – or not practice it, if that’s what we choose. We are free to speak our mind, even when it’s not popular and even when our speech goes against the government. We are free to gather together. We are even free to directly petition the government. If we don’t agree with our elected officials, we are free to vote them out of office, and we’ve done that time and again, and we’ve even changed our national leader 42 times peacefully, without incident. We enjoy a freedom that makes us unique and special among all the nations in the world.
Yet we all too infrequently think about our freedom. Did any of you get up this morning, thinking, “I hope I don’t get arrested today for flying my flag” or “I hope the police don’t detain me for gathering in a crowd in a cemetery”? Or yesterday, did you have look-outs posted at the door of your church to warn the people inside if the police were coming? Or when you were complaining about politics and politicians, it’s our very government that protects the freedom you have to complain about them.
We also too often don’t think about the great cost of our freedom. Those who bravely volunteered to go into harms way, to fight for our freedom. Those who paid with their lives. While Memorial Day is a holiday dedicated to celebrating those who have valiantly given their lives to protect us, I also want to recognize some unsung heroes of our country.
I want to recognize the brave family members who stayed home while their loved one was away. The parents who pray every day that their son or daughter will return home safely. I especially appreciate the wives and children who wait for their husbands and dads to come home, and the difficulties they experience when they do return from war. Some of you in this community have experienced this firsthand; that the person who returned from war is a different person from the one who left. He’s seen too much. He’s been traumatized in ways we civilians couldn’t imagine. And instead of a hero’s welcome, he’s shunned. That’s no way to treat someone who went to war so the rest of us didn’t have to. That’s no way to treat someone who fought to protect our freedom. And the way we treat our freedom itself is no way to honor those who fought and died, those parents who lost children, those children who lost parents, those who sacrificed some of their best years to ensure our freedom.
Please make a point of respecting our soldiers and veterans. When you see a uniformed soldier, stop them to thank them for their service. The same goes for our veterans. Even if they never saw combat, they still fought for our freedom. Care for the families of our soldiers, including those who have returned from the battlefield. Keep them in your daily prayers. Send care packages and personal letters to our soldiers, reminding them how much we honor and respect them.
And take your freedom seriously. You might say, “Hey – I am here at a Memorial Day celebration! I decorated my bike! I am dressed like an American flag!” Sure, those are indications that you take this holiday seriously. Those are indications that you love your country and are proud to be an American. And to an extent, I know I’m doing what we preachers refer as “preaching to the choir” because you have made the effort to be here to honor those who have gone before you. But the question is: what do you do with your freedom the rest of the year? When it’s not Memorial Day, how do you use your freedom?
We have the freedom of religion; do you practice your religion to its fullest, or do you just go through the motions? Do you speak out against injustice, evil, and oppression whenever you see them, or do you simply expect someone else to do so? Do you research all of the candidates who run for public office so you can make an informed choice when you go to the polls? Do you even vote?
Use your freedom wisely. That is the best way to honor those who fought for your freedom, who died to give us the freedom we enjoy.