America’s big weekend

Pastoral Messages | July 2, 2015

Who doesn’t like the Fourth of July? Well, dogs clearly don’t. Our soft-coated wheaten terrier, prior to her death last year, used to bark and wail with every firecracker. Her reaction to the vacuum cleaner was warm and cordial, by comparison. No wonder why more pets go missing over the Fourth of July weekend than any other. It’s the noise of bombs bursting in air that sends them scrambling.

Peter Gomes of Harvard University’s Memorial Chapel once quipped about the peculiarity of America’s love for Tschaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. How odd that we would celebrate our independence listening to an overture written to celebrate the Russian victory over the French (our allies), who a generation earlier helped us defeat the British. Said Gomes, “It must just be that we like a lot of noise.”

Noise aside, there is something lovely about the smell of food on a grill, kids scooping up candy from a street parade, and red, white, and blue bunting dangling from front porch pillars. Independence Day in America is the day we don sunscreen and bug spray and check out the outdoors and say hi to our neighbors.

It’s also the day we exercise use of the word patriotism more than usual. However casually, we celebrate the founders of our country, knowing a little, but never too much, about them. We love the Declaration of Independence’s phrase, “unalienable rights,” though we’re quietly puzzled why the founders left women and African slaves outside the fold of those rights.

Those of us who practice a faith appreciate the “fair experiment” of Thomas Jefferson. This was the conscious decision to create a state in which citizens would be free to choose their own religious commitments or elect not to be religious at all. Though the founders could have established a “Christian nation,” or a “Judeo-Christian nation,” they wisely chose otherwise. The experiment has worked in a way we wish would take hold in places like the Middle East.

Christians do not have a monopoly on God. And while Jews and Christians, who share some of the same scriptures, may still constitute a majority of religious people in America, it would be wrong for those of us in these faiths to say it is “our” country.

It has always been important for me to remember that the people of the United States may be, in Lincoln’s words, “almost-chosen people.” But to believe that we are literally chosen would be to move away from an admirable patriotism toward a dangerous nationalism. Let us never be too confident that America’s purposes and God’s purposes are one and the same.

Here the words of William Sloane Coffin are helpful. “There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good,” he wrote. “The bad patriots are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics of their country. The good patriots are those who carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s eternal lover’s quarrel with the entire world.”

So, love America this Fourth of July by not only shielding your dog and hanging out your flag. Love your country with a holy openness that we will keep striving to be as good as our own best values. Love these United States with a vision of compassion that makes room for all people.

And when politicians say, “God Bless America,” smile kindly and say to yourself, “God Bless Everyone (no exceptions).”
Peter W. Marty, senior pastor

Copyright © 2015 Peter W. Marty. All rights reserved. Any use of this material must be attributed to Peter W. Marty. To reproduce this material in any format, please contact Peter.

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Malachi 3:1-4

The Coming Messenger 3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.[a] 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters[a] in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple 22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna[g] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. The Return to Nazareth 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.