The Rev. Bill Cotton, who I admire and am greatly enriched by, weekly writes a memo for preachers. I would like to share one written for a first Sunday of July focusing on Independence Day.
Excursus: “For the Love of God and Country”
Once upon a time the Pilgrims came to America, settled and declare that God is at the very center of our lives. The Pilgrims were a bit oppressive and to guard against their insistence upon their version of God being the only expression, our founders put a bit of wiggle room into the Constitution. Freedom from religious expression was also a right. Still most Christians andJews took the position that God indeed was at the center.
Abraham Lincoln caught up in a war bent on destroying the union–turning us into a bunch of independent states– gave great emphasis to the idea of Country. So gradually God and Country moved to the center. There would grow an uneasy tension as Christians and Jews tried to straddle the idea. Of the two at the center which is first?
By the time of the First World War flags began to be seen in sanctuaries. The great and terrible wars had taken the lives of so many, that it seemed only right that reverence should include their sacrifice. The flag became a test for patriotism and gradually flag and cross vied for the center. It was an uneasy truce–where does one put the flag–near the cross, in the narthex. (Have you had those conversations and confrontations?).
In the 1930s, as Hitler came to power, Dietrich Bonhoeffer would begin to speak of God being edged out of the world- replaced at the center by National Pride. Following 9/11 one large church in Fort Worth, Texas began the worship service with a presenting of the colors and thesinging of “God Bless America” before the Call to Worship. This was discontinued when members protested, but it makes the point.
I cannot attend a sports event where the national anthem is played without tearing up. .After all I was once a soldier and I love my country. However, I know that it is possible to love my country too much.
I really do not like Puritan expressions of the faith, but I also know that the Church is the only institution remaining to remind us that without a vital radical faith in God, nothing else matters. So be gentle with each other on this 4th of July, but if you are planning to “Sing My Country
‘Tis of Thee”, conclude the service with Luther’s “ A Mighty Fortress is our God” –especially verse 4.
Happy 4th of July. Be Blessed!
Loving God with heart, mind, soul, and strength,