The Presbyterian Pulpit

A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

GOD BLESS AMERICA

Delivered 7/5/09
Text: Psalm 33:1-12
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

In April, 1775, Samuel Johnson wrote, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." Unfortunately, too often, too true. More crimes against humanity have been committed in the name of patriotism than almost anything else, with the possible exception of religion. But on a weekend like this one, I think even Dr. Johnson would agree that patriotism has its place. There are times we need to recall our national heritage, to remind us of our roots and to help us reaffirm our priorities. And for the sake of our own national self-esteem, we need to feel the sense of pride that only citizenship can bring...to share the feeling of the poet when he wrote:

Breathes there a man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself has said,
This is my own, my native land. (1)


I love this country and I know you do too. And on this weekend, if we never think of it on any other, our prayer is "God bless America."

God HAS blessed America...especially as compared to other civilizations this world has seen. Pericles built a civilization on culture, and it failed. Caesar developed one based on power, and it TOO failed. But those who founded our nation built on the solid foundation of a trust in the abiding presence and power of the Almighty.

Before the 41 men who survived the trip from England on the Mayflower ever reached these shores, they affirmed their beliefs in a Compact among themselves. When they landed at Plymouth, their first act in this new land was to kneel in a prayer of thanksgiving to the one who had protected them on their journey.

As time went on and the colonies grew, it became evident that a nation was to evolve. A Continental Congress was called to forge a Federal Republic out of thirteen unique sets of interests. The debates were long and sometimes bitter, even to the point where some would have been content to abandon the dream. But others would not. Benjamin Franklin called on the delegates to fall on their knees in prayer, and a new nation was born...a nation that affirmed in our Declaration of Independence "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

The relationship between America and her Creator was made plain for all to see from the beginning. The first coin minted on these shores bore the likeness of Moses. Even today, our money is still inscribed, "In God We Trust." In our pledge of allegiance to the flag, we say, "One nation, under God." We sing, "God bless America," and God has. God has indeed!

God has blessed us with abundant natural resources. Practically every commodity that we desire and can make use of is found in abundance. We have fertile lands for crops and livestock. We have ample water. This nation has never known famine. We go down under the earth into our mines and find every mineral we could ever need. "America, America, God shed His grace on thee."

God has made this a land of opportunity. Edison was a poor boy, but all the world today uses the 1100 inventions that were born in his mind. He became an inventor because he lived in a land where even a poor boy could have a chance. Henry Ford was a simple mechanic, but he became the world's greatest industrialist because America gave him his chance. Abraham Lincoln - from log house to the White House. Barack Obama, the mixed-race son of a single mother, in a nation that still struggles with its racist past, rises to the highest office in the land. Our history is full of Horatio Alger stories. The land of opportunity. America, America.

But God gave us even more. Franklin Roosevelt, in his 1941 State of the Union address, enunciated what every American has a right to expect. They were called the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom of worship. And if we are tempted to take them for granted, and not to think of them as the magnificent gifts of a gracious God, all we need do is count the other nations of this world that enjoy the same things. Painfully few, painfully few.

Is it perfect? We know better. We look at those magnificent natural resources with which God has blessed us and see them despoiled and depleted and more in danger now because of recent policies than they have been in decades. Our good government, this free democracy, is SO free that it can grind to a halt in horribly mean-spirited partisan politics. This so-called "Land of Opportunity" offers more opportunity to some folks than to others. I recall a conversation I had with a young friend of mine one day just before July 4th a few years ago. He had asked me what I was planning to preach on the Sunday just before the holiday, and I told him that it would be something apropos to the celebration. He responded by saying that he had never thought of the Fourth in terms of much to celebrate. I did not pursue the matter because I knew what he was saying. You see, he is African-American...and this nation has never done for him what it has done for me. He does not have nearly the reason to celebrate. Barack Obama is the exception, not the rule. No, this nation is not perfect.

To be honest, we seem to be a nation right now in search of its soul. We spend inordinate amounts of time and energy following the life and death of Michael Jackson or wondering whether or not Governor Sanford has gone off the deep end. Foolishness. Perhaps we are trying to take our minds off the continuing crisis in the economy or the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan; perhaps we are trying to forget that American officials in recent years asked with all seriousness how much torture is OK for us to inflict on prisoners (and we are supposed to be the "good guys"); perhaps we are trying to forget that America's standing in the world, despite recent signs of hope, is still at a terribly low ebb; and, yes, Osama bin Ladin is still on the loose. The list of our national woes could go on and on...but it does not have to. As we read the Old Testament accounts of the history of Israel, we find that they too were a people truly blessed. But they also strayed and they paid the price. They suffered the ravages of conquering armies and natural disasters. God gave them a way back: II Chronicles - "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (2)

America would do well to listen to that. The Psalmist says, "Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord." We are a pluralistic society with a variety of approaches to God, and despite what we hear from some quarters, we are a better society when that variety is constitutionally protected. But each of those expressions have moral standards, and we will be a better people when those shared standards are taken seriously.

In his 1961 Inaugural, President Kennedy challenged us to "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." Perhaps the BEST thing we can do is make that personal commitment to lives lives that are pleasing to our Lord, then demonstrating that commitment in the unselfish management of our resources, the prayerful support of our leaders (which will sometimes mean challenging them when they lead us in wrong directions), and a loving reaffirmation of the principles of "liberty and justice for all."

Then with a full heart, we can truly pray:

God bless America, land that I love;
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans, white with foam,
God bless America, my home sweet home;
God bless America, my home sweet home. (3)


Amen!

1. Sir Walter Scott, "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," Canto VI, Stanza I

2. 7:14

3. Copyright 1938, 1939 by Irving Berlin renewed 1965, 1966. Copyright assigned to Winthrop Rutherfurd, Jr., Anne Phipps Sidamon-Eristoff, and Theodore R. Jackson as Trustees of the God Bless America Fund. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.

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