Sermon for Independence Day, 2020
Deut. 10:17-21; Matt. 5:43-48
It seems quite a natural thing to have warm feelings for one’s homeland. Even today, when the majority of Americans report that they don’t feel proud of their country right now, most of us still feel a strong bond of connection and devotion to this land and to this nation. All of us have been stirred to pride by parts of our collective history, and all of us have felt the shame of other parts of our story. There have been times when we have been leaders in the world and models of courage and compassion, and other times when as a nation, we have been dishonest, scheming, and manipulative; when we have flexed our power to achieve and maintain a place of supremacy in the world at the expense of peoples and nations who are weaker and poorer. Experiencing this mixture of pride and shame can root us in a place of humility, where we can acknowledge the great gifts this country has given to the world, and at the same time look honestly and regretfully at its equally great shortcomings and sins.
We must never leave this place of humility, and always be on guard against arrogance and pride. There are some of us who have put devotion to our country above all else, refusing to acknowledge its failures and valuing it more highly that it deserves. Patriotism is our religion, and America is the god we worship. Others of us see nothing but failures and injustices, refusing to recognize the goodness in our fellow countrymen and in the institutions we have created for our governance. We find ourselves mired in apathy, cynicism and negativity.
As Christians we are bound to remember that we belong first and foremost not to our country, but to God. Our true citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. Our identity as people of God takes priority over our national identity. We pledge allegiance to God alone.
Our lesson today reminds us that God alone is God: “…the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome…” (Deut 10:17). God yields sovereignty to no one – no country, no government, no political party, no leader. “(God) alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear,” the author of Deuteronomy writes, “He is your praise; he is your God…” (v.20-21)
And who is this God to whom we belong? He is the God “who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing” (v. 18). We dishonor God when we mistreat or turn away from the poorest and most vulnerable among us, or when we refuse to welcome the stranger. We stand opposed to God when we, in our desire for wealth and power and greatness, fail to provide for the sick and the poor among us, or prevent the stranger from entering our land. “America first” cannot be a theme that God’s people rally around — not if we follow this God who so identifies with the weak. A Christian is not an American first of all; we belong to God. “God first” is our rule.
God’s way is a way of love and service. “Love (even) your enemies,” Jesus teaches us, “so that you may be children of your Father in heaven,” whose very nature is love, and who “makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt 5:44-45). God’s love encompasses all, even the evil and wicked, and especially the poor and needy.
We celebrate our nation’s independence today, with thanksgiving for this land, its history and its people. We thank God for its freedoms; its vast resources; its courage, resilience, and strength. We repent of our participation in its materialism, its greed, its violence, its abuses of power, its haughtiness, and its neglect of those in need. We remember that although it is our home on earth, it can never be our true dwelling place. We will always be strangers on this earth, longing for our heavenly home, where we will abide forever in the presence of God, and where our true citizenship is to be found.
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