God Bless America
July 1, 2012
God, bless America.
Land that I love.
Stand beside her – and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains
To the parries
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home.
God bless America, my home sweet home.
This song – written almost 100 years ago by Irving Berlin and famously sung by Kate Smith – is still a favorite of many people – including myself. The song stirs up emotions of love and patriotism – as well as emotions of religion and feelings of longing for God to bless this great country of ours.
I love this country.
I love America.
I know that I am not alone here today in these feelings – for I know that all of us gathered here today love our country – and long for God to bless us – to bless our country.
We love America.
We pray for God to bless America – the land that we love.
With July 4th – the day we celebrate our independence as Americans – on Wednesday this week – many of us may have spent some time this weekend thinking about our country – and our desire for God to bless our country. The song says, “God bless America, land that I love…” And I’m convinced that God has blessed America. But – - you know — the Bible teaches that to whom much is given, much is expected. If this is so, then God must expect a lot from America – and must expect a lot from us as Americans.
Let’s think for a moment about America’s past. Let’s go even further back that 1776 – when America was born with the signing of the Declaration of Independence – let’s go back to 1620 – when a group of Christians, who called themselves Pilgrims, made their way from England across the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of this land. They had received permission to settle in the northern part of the region known as Virginia to establish a colony and erect a church that they hoped would be free and independent of the Church of England. But late fall winds battered their little boat, pushing them northward. And when they finally sighted land it was at a place we now call Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The date was November 21. They didn’t want to land there because it was a cold and forbidding wilderness — so they debated for a while. “Should we try to get to Virginia, or just go ahead and settle here?” Finally, they decided that their little boat would probably not make it to Virginia, so they came ashore at a place that we now know as Plymouth Rock. Before they came ashore, they wrote what is known today as “The Mayflower Compact.” It begins with these words:
“In the name of God…, we whose names are underwritten… Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith…, a voyage to plant a first colony in the northern part of Virginia, do… solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant, and combine ourselves together…”
Did you catch those words?
“We have come here in the name of God.”
“We have come here to glorify God.”
“We have come here to advance the Christian faith.”
They were saying, “We are unashamedly Christians and we search for a place where we can worship God the way we feel the Bible teaches us to worship Him.”
The earliest foundations of this new land were spiritual foundations. We are a nation built upon faith in God – and commitment to God.
Faith in God and a commitment to God is part of our past – part of our history as Americans.
But – is it our present?
Are you proud to be an American?
I am. You probably are also. Like me, you probably still get chills when you sing the “Star Spangled Banner.” Maybe you are like me and still get tears in your eyes when you say the Pledge of Allegiance. I love this country, and I’m proud to be an American.
You probably are also. There are many wonderful things about our country that we could mention this morning.
But – I must admit – as proud as I am to be an American — I’m concerned about America. Listen to this warning found in 2 Chronicles 7:19-22. God is speaking to Solomon and to the people of Israel and says:
19 “But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. 21 And though this temple is now so imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ 22 People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’
The Bible is very clearly about this — if we love God and obey Him, then He will bless us. But this passage teaches that if we forsake God, if we serve other gods and worship them, then God will remove His blessings. That’s what happened to Israel. And I am afraid that that’s what happening to America today.
I recently read about a New York City elementary school teacher who was fired from her job – and it was not because she was immoral, abused the children, or vulgar language, but because when one of her students died tragically, grieving classmates asked the teacher, “What happens when we die?” She answered, “I think she’s gone to heaven. But if you want to talk about this, I’ll be glad to meet with you after school is over.” Twenty-nine of the kids met with her after school, and she told them about her faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. She told them she believed in heaven and that their classmate was with God now and happy for all eternity. Then she prayed with the students. But one of the kids in her class who had not stayed after school was upset with what she had done and went to the administrators. The teacher was fired immediately and told to clean out her desk. Before crying students she cleaned out her desk the next day and went out into the world of unemployment.
We have slid a long ways down that slippery slope from where we started, haven’t we? And if we don’t stop that slide, I am afraid we will lose everything that God has given to us.
Now listen folks, if you believe that our politicians are primarily responsible for the moral decline of this country, you need to think again. We didn’t start down that slippery slope recently – it has been going on for awhile. When our government said, “You can’t pray in school,” many of us stood by and watched with folded arms. When we were told that we could no longer read the Bible or honor God in school, we stood by and didn’t say a word. When abortion was legalized we didn’t do anything. It’s our fault. It’s the fault of so many Christians who have not said a thing as our country has turned away from God.
As Americans, we can – and need to — love our country – but more importantly as Christians we can – and need to love – and follow – God.
In our Gospel lesson from Mark 12 Jesus is asked about paying taxes to Caesar. In case you don’t realize it, the religious leaders were asking Jesus a “trick question” – trying to get Him to say something that either the Jewish people or the roman government would not like. In response Jesus does a very wise thing and asks for a coin used to pay taxes. He then points out that Caesar’s picture is on the coin.
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s Jesus says.
Then – He says – give to God what is God’s.
I ask you – what are the things we owe our country? What should we give our country?
I believe we should give our country our support, our love, and our devotion. We owe our country joyous celebrations of our freedoms – not just today or around July 4th but all the time.
But – what about God? What are the things we owe God and should give God?
We need to give God our ultimate loyalty, our ultimate love, and our ultimate devotion. We need to give God all our energies and all our strength. We need to give God our very lives. It is God who we are to love and obey above all others – even our country. We are to give God — and the things of God — our ultimate support.
If we seek God’s blessings upon America — if we truly want America to receive God’s blessings — then we need to give to God the things that are God’s. America is a great country. I believe that at her worst she is still better than any other country at its best. I love America, but I truly believe Americans needs to repent.
What does God really ask of us – as Christian Americans?
Micah 6:8 gives us an idea of what God expects of us:
“He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
First of all – Micah says to “act justly,” which means to do what is right.
God expects us – as Christian Americans — to do what is right — to do the right things — even though the wrong things may appear to be the easiest and maybe the most pleasant or even most popular things to do. Acting justly means taking care of the poor, the elderly, and the sick.
Secondly, Micah says “to love mercy.”
That means to extend mercy and forgiveness to others. We have received God’s mercy and forgiveness. We all know that we’re the recipients of God’s mercy. We have been forgiven by Him. We have done nothing to earn or deserve our salvation. God has saved us by His grace and by His mercy. Because of this, we are to share with others what we have received from God. We show to others the mercy, grace and forgiveness that God has given to us. In other words, we develop a deep compassion for those in need in our community and the world.
Thirdly, Micah says “to walk humbly” with the Lord.
Now that may be the most difficult of all because our natural tendency is to be proud and arrogant and overconfident. The Bible says that God mocks the proud but He gives grace to the humble.
With this year of Presidential elections I believe we have a challenge to listen to what the candidates say – and decide which one seems to be thinking about acting justly – loving mercy – and walking humbly with God. We won’t find one that is doing these things perfectly – so we have to prayerfully consider which one is closest to what we feel is the way God would have us to – and respect the decisions of those who may feel another candidate will do a better job.
America – this great land that we love — needs to change.
Some may feel that a change is needed in the White House — but – friends –we need a change in our houses. We need a change in our hearts. That is what will bring about the change in America.
When we begin to act justly – love mercy – and walk humbly with God – when we put God at the center of our lives — then America will change and will become the country that God has always wanted America to be.
Friends — America has been called a great nation. This is very true — America is a very great nation. However, America is only truly great if Americans have a truly great faith in God — truly give to God the things due God and to our country the things due our county — and live in God’s ways – sharing God’s love with all people – and working for God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace on earth. America is only as great as your faith in God and my faith in God.
America has been called a Christian nation. Indeed, our country was founded upon Christian principles — but we must return to those principles — truly give to God the things due to God — and deepen our faith in God. America is only a Christian nation as long as we — Americans — are a Christian people. Once we stop following God and Christ, we can no longer be considered a Christian nation. As a nation, America is only as Christian as you are and I am. America is only Christian when we live out our faith and let our faith determine what we do as individuals — and as a country.
America has been called a strong nation. Once again, this statement is only true if we — as Americans — have a strong faith in God – a strong commitment to giving to God the things due to God and to our country the things due our country. America is only a strong nation if we let our strong faith in God and our strong commitment to God determine what we do as individuals — as a community — as a Church — and as a nation. America’s true strength is not our military strength — but the strength of our faith in God.
America’s greatness, America’s virtue as a Christian nation, and America’s strength depends upon the depth of the faith of its people — the depth of its people’s commitment to give to God the things due to God — and that means my faith and my commitment — and your faith and your commitment.
I love this country – and I know that you do too. I love the freedoms that we enjoy – and I know that you do too. I am so appreciative of the price that has been paid for my freedom –and I know that you are too.
God bless America
God bless America
Let’s do our part to pray for God’s blessings upon our great land – and live lives where we act justly – love mercy – and walk humbly with God. Let’s do what we can – so that God will indeed bless America.
God bless America, my home sweet home.
God bless America, my home sweet home. Amen.