Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 7

"Blessed is the Nation"

Psalm 33:10-12

July 3, 2016

Tomorrow, we are celebrating the 240th birthday of our country. As Americans, we often refer to ourselves as being blessed by God. The words of Psalm 33 come to mind.

Psalm 33:10-12. The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Although these words are directed to ancient Israel, when we hear them, we think they apply to us. Why do we think, often without hesitation, that this is a nation blessed by God? How are we different from European and Latin American countries that also share our Christian heritage? It's what has been called American Exceptionalism.

How would we describe this American Exceptionalism? It's like this. My grandmother was born in 1891. When she was in her 90's, I asked her if she thought it was mind-boggling to have lived in the course of history that went from the horse and buggy and to see a man on the moon. She gave me a strange little look and said, "No. We expected progress." This is American Exceptionalism. It is what I'd call a pro-active optimism. It's not ivory tower utopian dreams. This is the spirit of adventure seeking out the new and better. Combined with prairie populism this pro-active optimism sought a better life for everyone, not the elite.

Overlaid with this proactive optimism was what we have come to call the Protestant work ethic. People have come here from all over the world to begin anew. They had a dream of a better life for no only themselves but especially for their children and grandchildren. There was an abiding belief that the Lord blessed the work of His people. Yes, we pray for our daily bread but we also know that God gives us the talents, skills and abilities to provide for our families. Because the Lord blesses us, as Christians we also understand that His blessings are intended to flow through us to others.

Our nation has lived with the tension of active Christian ethics and the individual freedoms espoused by the Enlightenment. Hence, we have a history of church and state interacting with each other. Often this has been positive but not always. This country, like all others, has a checkered history of good and bad, honor and shame, greatness and debauchery. Yet, no other fought a long, bloody civil war to end the evil of human slavery.

Even as we recognize that we are a nation blessed by God, we must also avoid the concept of Triumphalism. I certainly don't agree with those American Christians who think the fortunes of God are tied to the well-being of this nation. The Lord is the Lord. He, who created all things and has been before the beginning, is not going to rise or fall with the fortunes of the United States.

On the other hand, I do believe that the fortunes of this country are tied to God. Why do we look around and wonder at the unraveling of our society like it's some great mystery? Look at the immorality, the evil that abounds and the lack of any self-restraint by our citizens. Anything goes. There is no accountability. In fact, we don't even have sinful behavior any more. Everything is a diagnosed "disorder" of one sort or another. There are no consequences for bad behavior. Is it any wonder that our nation is on the slippery slope of decline?

If we chose to compare ourselves to OT Israel, we will see parallels both good and bad. OT Israel thought as long as they gave lip service to God, that's all that was necessary. Wrong. The Lord sent prophets again and again to call them to repentance. They didn't and eventually ceased to exist as a nation. If we claim special status in God's eyes and behave like OT Israel, why should our fate be any different?

One of the biggest challenges we face is from the determined efforts of militant atheists remove any expression of religion from the public square. Our founding documents speak of freedom of religion not freedom from religion. Without the religious voice where is the foundation of morality and altruism? The Russian experiment with communism failed in part because they thought it was possible to create a utopian society based on human goodness. Atheism was the new state religion. In the end, communism killed the human spirit and barely provided daily bread for a nation also rich in natural resources.

Utopian philosophies like fascism and communism have killed untold millions more than the religious wars of Europe. When an individual or nation rejects God, they also reject the blessings God offers. The end result is spiritual emptiness, hardship, material need and a despair that often leads to violence of one sort or another.

Because our nation has been rejecting God, we have seen the consequences around us. There is decline, spiritual emptiness, and a desperation that manifests itself in passive pessimism. Today we are called to repent. Only with repentance and returning to the Lord will we recover what has been ours in American Exceptionalism. Only by returning to the Lord and living according to His word will we recover our national pro-active optimism overlaid with Christian charity.

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July with parades and fireworks, we take time this morning to thank God for our 240 years as a nation. We take time to thank Him for all of the blessings we have enjoyed. It is also our opportunity to confess our sinful selfishness. By God's grace we will repent of our rejection of His gifts and pray we will be better stewards of the land. We will look to God not men for our direction.

The Father sent His Son to save the world. Jesus died on the cross for all people. Not all Christians have lived in comfort and ease. Many Christians in the world today struggle in ways we cannot fully comprehend. When we see the conditions they struggle under, it should make us all the more appreciative of our creature comforts. Yet, Christ does not love them less or us more. He comes to us all in the same ways.

Once again this morning, Christ our Lord comes to give us His good gifts in the holy supper. As we receive the mystery of His incarnation in the bread and wine, He unites Himself to us. In, with and under the bread and wine we receive His body and blood for the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, strengthened faith and the ability to live as His people in the world.

In the end, we will discover what it is to live in the fullness of faith as we share our blessings in and through our nation's heritage of pro-active optimism with our neighbors and the world. Then, we will once again understand and be thankful for our blessings as a nation whose God is the Lord. Amen.


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