Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 147:1-11, Daniel 5:1-12, 1 John 5:1-12, Luke 4:38-44

Symbols are important to us. There are countless United States flags, from cheap plastic ones made overseas to quality domestic products purchased by our armed forces, but desecrating even one – while legal – is an affront to the millions of people who have served under it. “Desecrate” is generally reserved for the defilement of holy objects, and if any secular item rises to that criteria, it is the flag. Like other holy objects, the flag has rules for handling, display, and disposal.

The gold and silver temple fixtures of the captive Jews were locked away in Babylonian vaults. One day Belshazzar, successor to King Nebuchadnezzar, got drunk and had his servants retrieve them “and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them.” Capturing the vessels was one thing; desecrating them was another. A hand appeared and the terrified king watched it write mysterious words on the palace wall. He was desperate to know their meaning, so his queen reminded him of Daniel’s gifts for interpretation.

An attack on a symbol is an attack on an identity. It plucks the raw nerves of tribalism under our veneer of civilization. It spits in the eye of our existence. We know our nation is more than a pattern on cloth. We understand a printed Bible is mass produced for profit. The body of slain soldier is tragic but still just a body. Yet our enemies know desecrating any of these will incense us, possibly to recklessness.

Symbols can also be personal. That pair of soda-cap cufflinks Uncle Ted left to your cousin may seem silly to you, but they may symbolize a deep bond between parent and child.

When we deal with friends and enemies, let’s be sensitive to what symbols might mean. Let’s avoid mocking, exploiting, or desecrating things that aren’t important to us but have meaning for others. And when we are offended, let’s remember a symbol is never more important than what or who it represents; our defense of it should not betray it. Our symbol is the empty cross – but our savior is not there.

Comfort: Symbols, used properly, can be powerful and motivational.

Challenge: Symbols, used improperly, can be manipulative and dangerous.

Prayer: Gracious God, teach me to think critically about symbols and ideas, and to value them only as much as they glorify you. Amen.

Discussion: Read this article on flag etiquette. What do you think about the flag being incorporated into clothing?

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2 thoughts on “Symbolic

  1. So true. I don’t think we can overstate the meaning of symbols. This is a discussion I’ve had with teens for years: “if [baptism, church membership, Eucharist, whatever] is just a symbol, why does it matter so much?” I’ve tried to explain that the whole point of a symbol is to carry a meaning greater than itself.

    Several years ago, I wrote about this issue of symbols on my blog.

    Thanks for another great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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