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The Fourth of July

July 4, 2016

Well, yesterday in church our pastor chose option #3.

I mean option #3 on how to speak to the 4th of July in his sermon.  You see, there are basically three ways to give your sermon on, or just before, the celebration of American Independence Day.

Option #1 is to make it an ode to American exceptionalism; the belief that America has been peculiarly God-chosen and called as a nation state.   Our country, this option says, is God’s agent in the world and can do virtually anything with a presumption of innocence.  It is not accountable to anyone or anything except God.   Sermons in this option are usually accompanied by flag waving, patriotic music and stirring calls to honor our country.

Option #2 is what I call the “God mend thine every flaw” option.  It seeks to be patriotic without being nationalistic.  It strives to see America as a gift from God but it equates “America” with ideals such as freedom of religion, freedom of expression and equal justice for all.   I use the words “seeks” and “strives” because these are touchy sermons to give.  Can we be patriotic and, at the same time, critical?  Sermons under this option can call for us to being better, individually and collectively, at expressing and living these values but they always run the risk of being emotional downers.

Option #3 is to ignore the day and give a sermon on whatever topic you want.  In choosing this option our pastor used “you are the light of the world” as his topic, and without straying into either option 1 or 2, exhorted us to be the light.  He never actually said that America is the light of the world, nor did he exhort us as a country to be a better light, but I am pretty sure that adherents of either option could read their theme into his words.

When my wife and I lived overseas we grew to love American symbols deeply.  I will never forget the day, after months of living in Sri Lanka, that I had to go to the U.S. embassy and actually had tears come to my eyes at the sight of the American flag flapping in the breeze.  We took to travelling to attend the annual embassy-led 4th of July gathering with the hundred or so other Americans in the country.  I don’t think we will ever lose that lump-in-your-throat feeling that comes when we ponder our land.

But patriotism for me does not mean I must think that America is the only God-favored nation on the planet or that it has a unique place in God’s providential plan.  Like all human societies it is not “the City of God.”  As a Christian I believe that my primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven.  My love for, and loyalty to, my country must always be in a subordinate place.

This afternoon my extended family will gather for a 4th of July celebration.  Fireworks will go off in the neighborhood continually.  (We, of course, won’t be setting off any of those illegal fireworks.  Ahem.)  Perhaps I can use some of that time be thankful both for my country and the day when my citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven will be fully realized.


From → Christianity

  1. I’m a big fan of option 3, myself. Our pastor, in fact, unless I missed it, didn’t even mention July 4th. He continued in his sermon series on prayer.

  2. Unfortunately many veer dangerously close to idolatry under the Option 1 mindset. But Option 3 is best. As you alluded, being a follower of Christ is the most important designation one should identify as.

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