A father was talking with his rather rebellious son one day and said, "Every person who lives in the United States is a privileged person."
The son answered, "I disagree."
And the father replied, "That’s the privilege."
Yesterday marked the 239th year since our Founding Fathers gave us our National Birth Certificate. Since its inception, this country has done some serious growing up. Sure we’ve gone through our rebellious phase, fought with our siblings, and strayed from some of our family values, but all-in-all we’ve continued to be the longest running Constitutional Republic in the history of the world. And for that great accomplishment we should be proud.
Many bumper stickers and t-shirts slogans describe America’s success as the direct result of having been blessed by God. Like that rebellious son, I personally disagree. I exercise this privilege with great honor and out of great respect for my country, which allows me so many wonderful freedoms. But I do not believe God has singled us out as a nation. Instead I believe God seeks us out as individuals. God blesses people who in return bless their country. Many of you might disagree with me. That is your right.
Let us not forget that the last nation that God singled out did not fare so well. But we can learn a lot from the past mistakes of Israel...which failed to heed the warnings of prophets like Micah and Isaiah. They refused to do what God had called them to do. They believed that having God's blessing meant they could do anything they wanted. They thought God was exclusively theirs and not inclusive to all people. God doesn’t chose one country or a particular form of government or religious institution, any more than God chooses which football team will win the Super Bowl.
God seeks out each one of us to bless with grace and love. From the righteous and faithful to the down and out and faithless, every last one of us is invited to receive God’s blessing...and a seat at God’s table. It's up to the individual person to accept that invitation. When we accept to follow God, through the life and teachings of Christ Jesus, we receive God's grace and all the blessings that come with it.
But as followers of Christ, who sacrificed his life for us, we too are to make a few sacrifices. One in particular is our freedom. America can boast to be a free country because it is not bound to God's law. But for Christians true freedom means being a faithful servant to God. This is the irony of Christianity. Christ gives us our freedom, Yet in our devotion to him we are to become slaves.
Such faithfulness is not easily regulated or legislated. That's because faith is an individual act; it comes from a person's heart. Therefore it's up to each person to do with it what God has called us all to do. For each one of us will answer to God individually.
So what is God calling us to do?
Let's go back to Micah 6, and the second half of verse 8. In one single sentence rest all the legal, ethical and spiritual requirements needed to be right with God. Here's what it says: “and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
That's it. Be just and fair, loving and kindhearted, and most of all be humble about it. We don't need to wear it on t-shirt or proclaim it from the back of our car...We just have to do it.
Be just, love kindness, and be humble. This kind of stuff does not go over well in free-market capitalistic society. Justice involves a standard of equality among people. But capitalism works best when there’s disparity. Take, for example, the law of supply and demand. It can control the price of a commodity, and likewise it controls who becomes rich and who will remain poor.
But “the Bible was not written for free-market consumerism, it was written for intergenerational justice.”* Jesus promoted justice by reaching out to the “least of these,” who had been pushed out of the community. Jesus did not exclude anyone and neither should we.
Whether they are rich or poor, citizens or immigrants, straight or gay, brown or white, faithful or the faithless…it should make a difference to us. Christ welcomes all who come to him. By non-judgmental acceptance, we too are called to show loving kindness and mercy to all people. And this is important for welcoming peace into God’s kingdom.
I remember getting my photo taken at the Secretary of State’s office.
When the lady behind the counter handed me my new driver’s license I complained, “This photo does not do me justice.”
She quickly responded, “I am sorry sir, but with a face like yours you don’t need justice, you need mercy.”
God knows each individual needs mercy, and God has called us to give it away to one another. A judge can show mercy but even a judge is bound by human law to uphold justice. Human laws will always fall short of what God demands simply because it’s based on the innocence and guilt of an individual. As Christians we are bound by the commands of Christ, who told us to offer mercy and kindness and even unconditional acceptance to others, in spite of their sins and shortcomings.
Christ called us to share the love and grace of God, not our judgment. And this is one of the hardest things for individuals to do. I am grateful our country has fair laws and a reliable judicial system that helps keep evil away from harming the good. My own faith is not strong enough to allow armed criminals to run free in our society. Is yours?
What Jesus is asking us to do is to exercise the blessings that were given to us; to forgive the people who are in our everyday lives and in our communities. He wants us to forgive them, instead of blaming them. Love them instead of hating them. Show them mercy instead of intolerance. Be the love and kindness of God to everyone...No matter what. We don't have to like where they’re from, or what they’ve done, or who they choose to marry. But we have to love them and show them mercy. No matter what.
The Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston is a perfect example...They publicly loved and forgave the man who murderer 9 beautiful, peace giving people in their church family. It is through selfless acts such as this...that God blesses people...who in return bless their country.
As we struggle and strive to walk as faithfully as Christ walked, we begin to better understand how to walk humbly with God. And to walk humbly with God means, of course, giving up our freedom. But scripture tells us, "For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:17). The Spirit of God is true freedom.
Yes I feel honored and proud to live in a wonderful democracy that promotes a unique brand of freedom. Despite a few humbling mistakes along the way...America continues to fight for...individual rights around the world, including the rights of religious freedom.
But as Christians, our freedom is limited to the Spirit of God. This means we are free...free to deal with people justly in our business and social life, but we are not free to judge them. We are free to show mercy and love to all people, but we are not free to discriminate or hate them. We are free to humbly forgive debts of our neighbors...as God has forgiven ours, but we are not free to condemn them or exclude them because of what they've done.
If we truly want to be a nation that is blessed by God, then we must realize such blessings do not start in Congress or in the Supreme Court. Instead it starts in the heart of faithful individuals.
Saints and sinners alike we are all called by Christ to gather at the table of God’s blessing of love and grace. We are all called to unite with one another under the sovereign authority of our Creator God; one nation of many nations, one people from many different backgrounds, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Again, I believe America is blessed, not because God choose our country above any other, but because of the people whom God has blessed. Therefore I pledge my allegiance to God first and foremost. For it is at God's table of Blessing I receive more freedom than any constitution, even our great one, could offer.
(move to the communion table)
Sermon Illustration by Melvin Newland, Ridge Chapel, Feb. 2001
Horance Wimpey, “Simple Man;” June 2011
* Unknown: Heard on NPR during an interview with a Rabbi on the Genesis Creation story and human’s response to having dominion over all other living things.