The Pastor’s Piece – June 30, 2024

The Pastor’s Piece – June 30, 2024


June 30, 2024

When I first started thinking about July 4, I looked at the calendar and saw that it was on Thursday this year, so I assumed all the celebrating would be taking place this coming weekend. Boy was I wrong! The celebrating began last weekend and for the most part has been going on all week and is now already mostly over – except for the fireworks.  

Ever since Francis Scott Key wrote the words to the National Anthem in 1814, fireworks have been a major part of our country’s 4th of July celebration. They are as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. According to Wikipedia, the lyrics to our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”, come from a poem titled, “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, written by American lawyer Francis Scott Key on September 14, 1814, after he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort after the battle. He then gave the poem to his brother-in-law, Joseph H. Nicholson, who saw that the words fit the popular melody “The Anacreontic Song” by English composer John Stafford Smith, an 18th-century gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians in London. The combination of Key’s poem and Smith’s composition became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner“, which was adopted as the national anthem of the United States of America in 1931. 

Since then, the theme of our modern-day July 4th celebrations, comes from the words found midway through the first verse: “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there; ⁠O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, ⁠O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” 

When I was a little boy, my parents would take me and my family to the fairgrounds where we would watch the fireworks. I remember being scared and hiding in the back seat of the station wagon in fear of the sky falling down. I don’t remember when they stopped scaring me, but at some point I began to enjoy them. Later, when we thought our own children were old enough to watch them without being afraid, my wife and I would pack up the car with baby strollers and blankets and head out toward the park where they were being displayed. Of course, you couldn’t get within a mile of the park because of vehicles parked along the streets and roads, so we hoofed it. We’d find a clearing in the grass and set up our post and wait … and wait … and wait. It doesn’t usually get dark enough to display explosions in the sky until about 9:45. But in order to get a good spot, you have to get there early. Then you have to entertain the children until the fireworks begin. One year, we were positioned in a spot where the wind was just right to blow the descending ashes from the burnt fireworks in our direction. The fireworks didn’t scare the kids, but the ashes falling all around us as they descended from the sky sure did! That ended our night early. It wasn’t until a few years later that they weren’t afraid to go out on the 4th.

Once upon a time, my wife and I lived in Phoenix, Arizona. They had fireworks all over the city, you just had to choose where you wanted to go to watch them. One year we decided to drive up South Mountain to a park situated high above the city. From that perch we could watch virtually all the fireworks displays taking place in the valley below. That was a little less than climatic, as the fireworks kind of lost their luster from so far away. You could see them, but not hear them and they seemed really small – not loud and intimidating like we were used to. In other years, we also watched them over the San Diego Bay in California. The reflection on the water gave us double our money’s worth. Back here in the Midwest, we sometimes go with friends to Apple Canyon Lake and watch them out over the water. Those are always magnificent.

One year, we spent the 4th of July in Nashville, Tennessee where we found a place that overlooked the city and watched the fireworks from there. That was probably the most impressive display we have ever seen. The fireworks went on for the longest time, one after another without pause, with the Batman building in the background every time an explosion took place. That was really fun. 

A couple of times I remember sitting on the peak of the roof of our house and watching from there. That was easier than dealing with traffic, but was not all that impressive, but it left enough of an impression on me to make it a memory. This year, we’ll be at Wrigley Field on the 4th of July. It’s a 1:20 game so there won’t be any fireworks, but maybe we’ll get a flyover before the game starts and some fireworks from the Cubs during the game. 

In the Bible, nations are important to God. Our obedience to Scripture matters to God. The psalmist wrote in Psalms 32:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” 

May God bless our country.

(Kevin Cernek is Lead Pastor of Martintown Community Church in Martintown, Wisconsin).