By Stephen Leonard
“His banner over me was love.” Song of Solomon 2:4
The Nazi Swastika. The Rising Sun. The Hammer and Sickle. The Star and Crescent. The Stars and Stripes. A piece of cloth peculiar to the citizenry of a nation, a military, or an organization. They are called banners, flags, ensigns, or standards. What do they say about those they fly above and for whom they fly? What do these pieces of cloth tell you about these particular folk and their leaders, their philosophy, or purposes?
These ensigns can invoke enthusiasm, patriotism, or fear. They can represent freedom or oppression. They can remind us of rescue or repression. Certainly, the swastika reminds free people of oppression, loss of freedom, racism, totalitarianism, death, and destruction, as does the hammer and sickle, the star and crescent.
History provides us with impressions of these symbols. These pieces of cloth speak volumes to those who see them waving in the wind. Beholders have diverse reactions. Their feelings really depend on their own moral focus and the values which they espouse toward the inhabitants of nations and allegiances who march to the beat symbolized by those flags.
When you tour the D-Day Beaches of Normandy, France, you get a solemn glimpse of the respect and once yearning and hunger to look on a flag that stands for freedom. A flag wildly cheered by the oppressed as soldiers representing the Stars and Stripes poured ashore, overwhelmed the swastika corps, and drove the enemy out of town after town while freeing millions who had suffered under severe bondage.
There are many graveyards today kept in pristine condition and scattered throughout the countries of Europe and elsewhere in the world; a Europe which once was under the heel of the jack-booted oppressor constantly asking for your papers, hauling you off to prison, or ordering you to one thing or another.
June 14th is Flag Day in America. It is not a national holiday. Maybe it should be. Whether a national holiday or not, these are remembering and observance days, which are not necessarily honored or observed by all. Yet from the wonderful benefits they represent to the people over which this distinctive flag flies, it is not something to unthankfully forget, nor trod underfoot.
Christmas and Easter remind you of a Savior who came and rose from the dead. Veterans and Memorial Day remind you of the human sacrifice of the cost of freedom. July 4th reminds you of the birth of your nation. Thanksgiving reminds you of the Providence which sustains you. Labor Day, of the blessing of work. Juneteenth, of the freeing of a people, enslaved. And Flag Day of the piece of cloth which flies over a people mightily blessed by our Sovereign God.
Flag Day? Well, that reminds you of the flag, which represents a lot more than many people think. Citizens died to see its ideals preserved. Many still thrill to the freedom to which it points. It is draped over the coffins of those who served to keep that freedom secure. It once led men into battle to ensure people either were freed from oppression or kept from bondage to enemies of democracy.
The flag flies over Capitols, Post Offices, government buildings, schools, military installations, cemeteries, you name it. It speaks to you that freedom is never free; its cost is great; it says you have the freedom to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, openly and without harassment; it says you have the privilege to live as a citizen in one of, if not the, finest nation in the world.
You can still honor the ideals of your flag while honoring the God of the Universe. You can pledge allegiance to it without compromising God’s Word, which reigns supreme as your authority. Patriotism, as long as your country honors God, is not a betrayal of your love for God. Your flag still stands for freedom! But freedom, as a gift of God, can be unthankfully squandered!
Oh beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, til all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.”
(3rd verse of Kathryn Lee Bates song, “America the Beautiful,” 1893)