Citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom – Br. David Vryhof

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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  1. Alison Ives on July 4, 2024 at 10:58

    Thank you for your words of wisdom and the reminder about the importance of humility. Clear vision depends on faithfulness to God’s message of love and living it.

  2. Barbara Miller on July 4, 2024 at 08:28

    Amen! Thank you for this much needed reminder in these days when so many have forgotten.

  3. Pam on July 5, 2021 at 18:41

    I’ve recently seriously wondered about the advisability of displaying an American flag in Episcopal churches That and the patriotic hymns we sang this past Sunday (July 4, 2021) would lead one to think that we’re asking God to bless our country to the exclusion of others in the world. That makes me feel very uncomfortable. I am reminded of the second verse of Finlandia:

    My country skies are bluer than the ocean.
    And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
    But other lands have sunlight, too, and clover.
    And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
    Oh my hear my song, oh god of all the nations,
    A song of peace, for their land, and for mine.

    I don’t think the American flag (or even perhaps some of the patriotic hymns we sing) endorse the sentiment echoed in Finlandia, and I think we in the U.S. need reminding of that at this moment. Our aspirations are not in synch with reality.

  4. Fred adams on July 5, 2021 at 14:39

    Oh, Br David. Once again, you have spoken a balanced and honest truth. You “hit the nail on the head”. I am one of those who is proud, but ashamed, and hopeful for the future. But either way, it is God First. Our first love and our first allegiance. Thanks once again for your incredible ability to see and speak through the mire.

  5. Connie Kimble on July 5, 2021 at 12:25

    Thank you for speaking this truth.

  6. Rev. Carol Carlson on July 5, 2021 at 11:23

    The ‘under God’ in our pledge of allegiance was put in as a sop to those whose religion is a false ‘patriotism’, and who are happy to cry ‘God bless America’ but never, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’. Apparently, for many of us, we are ‘under’ a god whose role is to be only savior, never judge. How badly we need to learn to pray, ‘Thy TRUE religion in our hearts increase’, and come to terms with the wrongs this nation has done and continues to do, as well as its great gifts to the world. This transition may be the great gift the pandemic has given us – may it take root and grow in this nation so ‘very religious’, but so very resistant to simple truth.

  7. Betsy Nininger on July 5, 2021 at 10:54

    Oh for goodness sake, to say that this country’s short comings equal it’s strengths is a lie, pure and simple
    This country, founded as it was on our God given right to be free, is unique. Thank goodness the founding fathers did not question that right. Founded in God and perpetuated in God

    Were there injustices in the past, yes, the country is made up of human beings BUT look how those injustices have been made right over time, that dear brother is the very essence of why this country is the most great and the most wonderful nation ever conceived in the world. Show me a country which has made the strides we have made in righting any wrongs in any field of your choice.

    God Bless America ❤️????????❤️

  8. Dan Pope on July 5, 2021 at 09:24

    Thank you, Brother David, for reminding me what it means to be truly patriotic. We have a long way to go to make amends for the evils we have done as a nation using God as our justification.

  9. Harriet on July 5, 2021 at 05:41

    A much needed reminder of our true home and allegiance. Thank you.

  10. Paul Antenore on July 8, 2020 at 19:20

    Amen,Br. David! I find myself these past few years coming to grips with the symbolism of this country including the “Pledge”, the flag, (and especially the one in the corner of the altar at my parish) vs my emerging understanding of my true citizenship. But oh how I need to be reminded. Thank You! Paul

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