Sermon for Sunday July 4th, 2010

 

 

 

Under God by STEPHANIE WEAVER

Hebrews 11:8-11:16

Today, as you all well know is Independence Day. I’ve never been in the pulpit before on a 4th of July weekend, let alone the 4th. In my 13 years of ministry I’ve always been on vacation.
Since it is actually the 4th, I couldn’t see how I could possibly stand up here and not try to discover with you how the church, and particularly Christians can connect with our nation, especially if any of us uphold the vision of the separation of church and state.
It’s a very hot topic these days… so hot in fact there is false information out there that I think people like the plant just to get us in an uproar. One of my favorite things is the call to boycott Pepsi products because they are putting out a can with the pledge printed on it that omits “under God”. That is a great urban legend, perhaps started by Coke, that goes back nearly ten years and just two weeks ago one of my Facebook friends had it on her status.
It’s hard to determine what is true and what is false or exaggerated, isn’t it? We hear things about our nation and our leaders and either so want them to be true, or are so inflamed over them that we often join the bandwagon of either side – just because it is what we want to hear.
I think an important thing we need to celebrate is the fact that no matter what “side” we are on, we should give thanks that we live in a place where we are free to voice how we feel.
But… and I think this is a big “but” – as Christians to we have the right to express our voice if it brings oppression or harm to others?
What does it mean for a Christian when we say, “one nation under God”? How are we called to respond and act as Christians when we are “in the world “ among those of different faiths, or even of no faith? What does it mean for there to be a separation of church and state?
I have some quotes or sound bites that feed into some of this – but I want to let you know up front I am not going to tell you who said them. Because this has nothing to do with politics – what I feel we need to understand is what our role as Christians is in all of this – and how we should respond and act as citizens.
First there was at least one presidential campaigner who said, “the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation”. Unfortunately that is not true as the constitution says nothing about the relationship between Christianity and the US. But what is funny is while that was said in 2008, I discovered Woodrow Wilson said nearly the same thing when he was in office.
Another person running for the office of President said that most of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence were clergymen. In fact only one was and that was John Witherspoon who was a devout Presbyterian.
Sam Adams was an evangelical Christian.
Others such as Patrick Henry, John Jay and Robert Sherman believed in the deity of Christ and the inspiration of the Bible.
Benjamin Franklin was a skeptic about religion his entire life.
Thomas Jefferson refused to embrace any religion that did not, as he put it, “conform to reason”.
John Adams rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and became Unitarian,
And even George Washington did not attend church regularly and refused to take communion.
The signers differed on the role that Christianity should play in government but they all agreed that religion was essential to the survival of the American republic.

In his farewell address, George Washington said, “of all dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports”.
Do you know that with the exception to Article VII of the constitution where it says “Year of our Lord” which was a common way to reference a date in the 8th century, the constitution never makes any reference to God?
What it does say in Article VI is that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust offered under the constitution.” That means that as voters we are given the liberty to vote for candidates who are Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, atheist – whatever.
Now keep in mind – this was federal, and what the constitutional law did do was give states the right to make laws related to the relationship between God and government.
Massachusetts constitution when it was drafted said: “members of society had the right as well as the duty to worship the Supreme Being, the great creator and preserver of the universe” and the governor of the state was required to “declare himself to be of the Christian religion”
Connecticut has wording that includes “established according to God”, “execute justice according to the rule of God’s word in the name of Jesus Christ”.
Vermont’s constitution includes these words: “a natural right to worship Almighty God as long as it is regulated by the word of God” and “that freedom of religion was a civil right afforded only to those who profess protestant faith”. And civil servants had to testify to a belief in the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testaments and profess the protestant religion.
And here in PA, civil rights were afforded to anyone who “acknowledges the being of God”.
There are many other examples but what we see here is it is not the national constitution that brings forth these ideals, but rather it is the individual states… which I’m not sure we really think about when looking for a place to live.
So exactly where am I going with all of this?
I guess what for me becomes the fundamental message for us as Christians is this – it is not the role of the government to dictate or for that matter support one way or the other the religion or lack thereof of the people – but as Christians it is our role to proclaim the Gospel, lead others to Jesus Christ, and influence actions and policies in ways which reflect our understanding as our role as Christians in a very big world.
But that is complicated too. Each of us hears and responds the Word of God in a way that God is revealing it to us at any given point in time. God’s word never changes, but what changes are the hearts of those to whom it is being revealed.
I read many studies and even sermons leading up to this day. I pulled them from all genres and denominations. And I have to say the only thing I really ended up with was a huge headache and the realization that polarization of politics in the church is harmful to the teachings to which we have been called to do as believers in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ loved all people equally. Obviously he had no problems telling some they were vipers and snakes, but that had little to do with politics and much to do with people turning away from God. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t love them. In Matthew 10:14 Jesus tells his disciples– look folks, shake the dust from your feet and move on. If that person is not ready to hear the message there are plenty more out there who are hungry for it. Pray for the others – but go on and continue spreading the Word.
One Baptist’s ministers sermon I read, most of which I admit I found less than inspiring did say one thing which I believe should have some meaning for us who proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior… he said:

“as we look today at our civic responsibility, the question is not, should a Christian be involved in gov’t…the question is: Can you be the Christian you are commanded to be and not be involved?” “How”, he says? He commended 5 things that I summarize in 5 words…
Pay, Pray, Praise, Participate, Persuade

1. We must participate in paying for government – that would be paying our taxes. When Jesus was here on earth, He paid His taxes, and so should we!
2. We need to pray for government.
3. We should praise our government– honor our leaders.
4. We should participate in government. It is our Christian duty to get informed, and vote!
5. Persuade our government.

Today, on the 4th of July, the most patriotic thing we can do is not to set off fireworks, or sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, but instead witness to the glory of God and the saving love of our Savior Jesus Christ.
“Under God” – we can agree or disagree if those words belong in the Pledge of Allegiance to our nation… But my friends I certainly hope what we can agree upon that as Christians everything we say and do must be done under the authority of God who is the only true ruler of our lives.