The writing of this edition’s Reflections comes during Seward’s annual July 4th celebration. Billed as “America’s Small Town 4th of July City,” Seward’s annual celebration, now in its 148th year, rarely disappoints. It is what some call “small town America at its best” and is complete with pie eating and bubble gum blowing contests, an anvil firing, patriotic music, travelogues, food and trinket vendors of every sort, an hour-long parade through the heart of the city and tens of thousands of residents, guests and visitors on hand to view the parade and to “ooh and aah” the magnificent fireworks display that concludes the festivities.
This year’s celebration took on additional significance for Concordia University, Nebraska and me. In partnership with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and through a generous gift from its Ministry to the Armed Forces, a learning center at the new Nebraska National Guard Museum, located in Seward’s converted National Guard Armory, was dedicated and named the Concordia University Learning Center. The stated purpose of the center is to “bring together many different community groups looking to inspire young people through various educational programs and presentations” and “to provide the space and functionality required to inform the public and facilitate educational opportunities that complement structured classroom learning for students.”
But we hope the space will achieve vastly more. During the dedication ceremony both Chaplain Craig Muehler, the LCMS’ Director of Ministry to the Armed Forces, and I addressed the audience gathered. As we did, we articulated the essential role chaplains play in the support of and ministry to our armed forces in times of war and peace. We also noted the leading role the LCMS has had in placing pastors as military chaplains. During a time when many in our country seek to grow the distance between church and state, minimize Christian freedoms and remove God from mention in the public square, this ceremony appeared to go against the proverbial flow and seemed to demonstrate in a powerful way our First Amendment freedoms.
Even more significant during the weekend of activities was the homily by The Rev. Scott Bruick, Pastoral Leader of St. John Lutheran Church, School and Child Development Center. During his July 3rd sermon he concluded our congregation’s month-long sermon series on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Rev. Bruick left no doubt in the listeners’ hearts and minds that our ultimate freedom is found in “the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:14). The cross of Christ is not merely the central theme of Paul’s message to the Galatians, it is the central theme of the entire Scriptures. That theme continuously assures us that without God’s grace and our justification by Christ crucified, Christ “died to no purpose,” but by that cross we have become “sons of God, through faith” and have “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26–27).
What’s my point? In this edition of Issues the authors articulate in helpful and historic ways the differences between Christian liberty and Enlightenment liberty. In addition, they provide useful thought starters for Christians to consider and apply what Paul was talking about when he, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). It is my prayer that this edition will remind us again that without the power and work of Christ on the cross, freedom is never enlightened. However, with and through Christ’s cross work, Christians are fully free from the grip of sin and the dominion of darkness, and freed for service to God and neighbor.