Sunday, July 3, 2011

Is it Patriotism....

Is is patriotism to forgo the Sunday on the Fourth of July Weekend and turn the service into a "God Bless America" day?  Next door a church is advertising that a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack will tell his story on Sunday.  Nearly every congregation in town will have a color guard bringing in the flag.  Patriotic music will abound (not patriotic hymns as much as national anthems or their equivalents).  It will become your duty as an American to come to church this Sunday.

There will be a lot of re-interpretation going on.  Old Testament texts that spoke of God and His promises to Israel will be recast into God's promises for America.  We will hear a great deal about the need for America to repent and become God's land and God's people once again.  We will be challenged to stave off the moral decay that is keeping God from unleashing heaven's blessings upon us and restoring our might, our economy, our families, our culture, and our government.

I am not so much arguing with the diagnosis -- surely we have a lot of repenting to do -- as much as the idea that America is God's country like no other is God's country.  It seems that on the Fourth of July we forget Peter's words about God indeed showing no favoritism.  We find it way too easy to cozy up to the idea that America is a Christian nation with a very special relationship with God.  Carting down the flag and singing the national anthem in Church encourages the intermingling of faith, faithfulness and patriotism in a most unhealthy way.

I am a proud American.  Though my families are more recent comers to this shore (only a couple of generations or so born here), I am a patriot.  I try to buy American in the stores.  I vote with religious devotion.  Those who know me know that I have no shortage of political opinions and ideas on what we should do to shine up the old America.  I grew up playing in the band for patriotic celebrations, marching in parades, waving flags, carrying the white Memorial Day crosses, and every Sunday growing up I looked at the list of those from my parish who had given up their lives in service to their country.  I watch the old WWII movies and Davy Crockett was one of my favorite heros growing up.  I live near some of the great Civil War battlefields and not too many miles away from the Alvin York museum (some of you may have to Google that name).

But I do not confuse religious fervor for patriotic devotion to my native land.  We are most patriotic and better citizens when we do not give in to the great temptation to muddle up our loyalty as citizens of the greatest nation and our heavenly citizenship as Christian people.  We are the best citizens and the greatest patriots when we pray for our nation, for our leaders, and for the problems facing us.  We are the best citizens and greatest patriots when we participate in the democratic experiment here by being informed and active voters.  We are the best citizens when we display our Christian morality and values in the public square (but are careful not to bring the public square into the House of God).  We are the best citizens and the greatest patriots when we preserve the national story of our land -- with our faults and failings as well as our successes because truth is no enemy to patriotism.  We are the best citizens and the greatest patriots when we do not abuse our freedom by turning it into license to do as we please, when we please, without concern for our neighbor or care for his or her plight.  We are the best citizens and the greatest patriots when we raise our children with a knowledge of those who bore the sacrifice for our freedom and when we teach them reverence for the monuments of our battles and for the flag that still waves.  We are the best citizens and the greatest patriots when we honor those who still serve our nation and never forget the sacrifices of their loved ones here at home.  But we live in a free land not so that we may make God into an American but that we might be free to speak His Word and live out our Christian lives in the neighborhoods, cities, and public squares of our land.  I do not worry about those political leaders whose faith shapes the decisions in office nearly as much as I worry about those who use the Church for political ends.

It is not patriotic to plant the American flag in the center of the Church and to equate being an American and confessing our faith in Christ.  So when you go to Grace Lutheran Church on July 3, we will preach and teach God's Word, following the lectionary for the day, sing the great hymns of the faith, and celebrate the Lord's Supper as usual... AND we will, as we do EVERY Sunday, pray for our nation, for our leaders, for the causes of peace and justice, for our responsibility to the freedom great men and women fought and died for, and for the armed forces of our nation.  And we will sing some hymns that put into song the words of these prayers.  I believe that this is greater patriotism than the spectacles being advertised by some church marquees and my own knowledge of past practice in some places.

You may disagree with me and, thank God and those who planted our nation upon the fabric of this liberty, you have the right and privilege to disagree with me.  God bless America....


Haleigh said...

Couldn't agree more, Pastor. TBH, I feel the same way with other secular holidays co-mingling with the Divine Service. Even as a mother, I cringe a bit when the service on Mother's Day is acrobatically twisted to somehow fit thematically with the lectionary or sermon for that day. Now, I don't see a problem with a totally separate get-together to observe or honor a particular holiday (afternoon, Sunday evening, etc.) But, the Divine Service is something...well, divine. We ought not push God's gifts aside, push the cross aside, in favor of "lifting high" something else.

Anonymous said...

American is not a Christian nation,
but a nation in which some Christians
live. We are still suffering from
the heady days of Jerry Falwell Sr.
and his moral majority political
activity. To use the church for
political candidates to give the
"sermon" on Sunday morning for
election purposes is wrong. The
chancel of our churches is not the
place for politics. but it is to be
used to worship God, not man.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Pastor Peters. I came to this country 62 years ago, and I thank God often for having brought me out of the fiery furnace of Europe into the land of milk and honey. I cannot help but think that the quality of life this country has enjoyed over more than 200 years is somehow connected to the reverence in which the name of God is held. Nevertheless, “what do you have that is not given to you?” So that it is not man’s doing but God’s. But I cannot ignore the difference in the life and history of Russia, for instance, or China, or Japan, or many others from that of the United States over the same 200 years. It is unique in the annals of human history, and knowing the nature of man, I cannot regard it as a human accomplishment. Therefore, as in all things, to God be the Glory!

When I will be singing, “Land where my fathers died” today, I am likely to be the only one in our congregation to think of Estonia, but there will be others who will also think of their far-off homelands.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

At the age of 20 my grandfather came
from Norway to America in the year
1900. He was a legal immigrant who
passed through Ellis Island in New
York when he got off the boat. He
had learned a trade as a baker and
went to Davenport, Iowa to earn a
living. He would raise 6 children
in America. His Lutheran heritage
and my grandmother's enabled them
to have a strong family who helped
charter a Lutheran parish.

Janis Williams said...

Would that all the churches in town spent as much energy on Trinity Sunday, or Transfiguration Sunday. It is telling commentary on the Church in America that she celebrates the 4th of July more than these. Also that many celebrate Halloween (in a "Christian" manner, with "trunk or treat" and non-scary costumes) instead of the following day.

Colleen Oakes said...


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Pastor. You are right on. Let Christ and his cross have the honor in our churches. Leave the flag in the parish hall for civic events. Let us preach Christ and Him crucified for all peoples and nations.

Phillip said...

One of the things I noticed when I visited your church was that the flag was not up by the chancel. I agree that having a flag there mixes the two kingdoms, and is contrary to the whole concept of sanctuary. I'm fine with the flag being in the parish hall, but I do like that at my parish the flag is at the back of the church, by the entrance into the narthex, because of the teaching opportunity it provides. At the end of the service on or near the 4th of July, we sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (two stanzas) as the cross is recessed and placed in its monstrance. The people turn to watch the cross leave the nave, and, in so doing, wind up facing the flag. With the service completed, we then sing the National Anthem - with the second stanza, where peace is prayed for and God is to be praised for making and preserving the nation. I realize this might be "over the top" for many of my fellow confessional Lutherans, but I think this practice rightly divides the two Kingdoms. And it certainly satisfies the patriotic devotion that Christians have w/o impinging on the liturgy, the appointed readings, or changing the sermon. We also sang "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" as an Offertory Hymn, but used the Navy Hymn text as it serves a metaphor for all of us who travel in the ark of the Church.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

As usual well said. I find that the celebration of the 4th of July et al, serves as a perfect foil for the Gospel. No matter how hard pressed we are, we as Pastors should always remember that we preach Christ crucified, and that is far more important than politics or patriotism.