Bishop Gary E. Mueller

I have always loved the Fourth of July. It’s a time to be with family and friends, eat picnic food and of course engage in the art of firework pyrotechnics.

The Fourth is a time to celebrate the birthday of our nation. But like celebrating the birthdays of those we love, we don’t just celebrate their birth, we celebrate their life. This is why I take time every Independence Day to give thanks that I am a citizen of this nation and have the blessings of freedom.

I have a unique relationship with the Fourth of July that goes all the way back to July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My middle name is Ellis. It’s a family name that has been passed on from generation to generation. Several years ago I discovered the reason it’s such an important family name is because one of my ancestors named Ellis, was born July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia.

Freedom is at the very heart of who we are as Americans. This is why it is so important, especially in this age of polarization and division, to reflect on the meaning and future of freedom.

Freedom is an inalienable right woven into the very fabric of creation by God. Ultimately, God has created human beings to be free and to exercise freedom. Of course, this can be a risky venture because people can choose to use freedom for harm and not for good. But freedom remains at the heart of who we are created to be.

Freedom is often messy. When our nation was founded in the quest for greater freedom, it occurred at a time when Black Americans, women, and those living in poverty were excluded from the blessing of freedom. However, freedom ultimately has a way of growing that enables it to be experienced by more and more people. This quest for justice is often difficult and painful, but thankfully it continues even today.

Freedom must be protected. It seems to be constantly in danger; sometimes from forces without and too often from forces within. Protecting freedom often involves great personal sacrifice. Thankfully people continue to be willing to stand up to ensure its continuation.

Freedom can often devolve into selfishness and self-centeredness. Too often it is reduced to “what I can do when I want to do it and how I want to do it.” This is not true freedom. True freedom is discovered in Jesus Christ, who shows us what it means to live free from sin and to live fully in God’s grace.

We are stewards of freedom. We are called to maximize God’s gift of freedom for everyone. At the same time, we have a responsibility to cultivate freedom that is responsible, healthy and a manifestation of the freedom God has given us all.

The older I get, the more I realize how blessed I am to live in the United States of America, a nation that continues to embrace the great experiment of freedom. It is my hope and prayer that I will use my freedom to help our nation be a beacon of hope, light and freedom for all.

May God bless America – and may America seek to bless God in all that we do.