America – Love It Or Lose It!
I Peter 2:13-17
From I Peter 2, I begin to read for you at the thirteenth verse. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by Him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory. Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Back when this country was being ripped apart by division over the Vietnam War, a bumper sticker appeared which became rather popular. It read, “America, love it or leave it.” I never much cared for that bumper sticker because the sentiment expressed in those words runs directly contrary to our cherished American freedom of expression. But if I had the chance to produce a bumper sticker of my own today, it would read like this, “America, love it or lose it.” You see, I believe that we are in danger of losing the godly character upon which this nation was founded, and if we lose that, then we lose the nation as a whole.
Understand me, please. I do not fear losing America to outside force. I believe that Abraham Lincoln was right, that if ever America is destroyed, it will be destroyed by the enemies from within. That is not to make light of the communist threat that exists in our world today. It is serious indeed. But I wish to have you consider the point that if, suddenly, tomorrow, every communist on the face of the earth were removed from the world, we here in America would still have our greatest enemies with us, because those enemies are inside of us. Lincoln was right. If ever America is destroyed, it will be destroyed by the enemies from within.
Those enemies within to which I refer are a lack of concern for things which are sacred in life, a growing disregard for the principles of law, the breakdown of family unity, the increasing dependence upon alcohol and drugs for the living of life, a diminished respect for both property rights and human rights. Our national resources are being drained away by people who are greedy and undisciplined. So many of our national leaders have yielded to the temptations of corruption. And all too often, we have been confronted with the sorry spectacle of our elected leaders peddling their influence for cash.
We have become a nation of people who say, “Don’t fence me in. No rules. No regulations. No discipline,” forgetting, you see, that freedom is not the license to do as we please, but rather the liberty to do as we ought. We are becoming a nation where anything goes, forgetting that in a nation where anything goes, everything is soon gone. These are the enemies within. And I submit to you that those enemies must be faced and they must be overcome, else they shall destroy us. If ever America is to be destroyed, she will be destroyed by the enemies from within.
And mind you, I’m not calling here for a return to doing things in the old-fashioned way. If you and I are honest at all, we’re going to admit that the only thing good about the good old days is that they’re gone. No. I’m calling for something different. I’m calling for a renewal of the American spirit. I’m calling for a rebirth of the kind of faith in God and love for America which marked the lives of the men and women who founded this nation. I’m calling for us to remember, to remember with love and with gratitude, the sacrifice of all of those who have laid down their lives that this nation may remain free and good. I’m calling us, on the strength of that remembering, to commit ourselves to being Christian citizens in this, the greatest land on the face of the earth.
But how do we effect a renewal of the American spirit? Permit me to share with you some thoughts which I hope, by God’s grace, may point the way.
In the first place, we, as Christians in modern America, must renew our belief in the capacity of the individual.
And surely our knowledge of the Scriptures has taught us that the individual, living and working under God, has awesome ability and power. Abraham was all alone in Canaan. Joseph was all alone in an Egyptian dungeon. Moses was all alone in the wilderness. Ruth was all alone in Moab. Flip over to the pages of the New Testament and you find Jesus and Peter and Paul and John and James and others, all of them, working virtually alone, commanding no great armies, leading no great nations of people, working virtually alone but living and working under God and by God’s power. What did they do? They literally changed the course of human history. That is the capacity of the individual, living and working under God.
But what does that mean for an American individual today? Well, I think that perhaps Norman Cousins provides us with an answer. He writes, “The individual American may never have the opportunity to write legislation that will affect the whole nation, but that individual American can make his concerns both understandable and important to those around him. That individual can learn where to gain essential information and then how to evaluate that information. That individual can learn how to appraise all of the groups and the organizations that are a part of our society. And then that individual can invest him or herself into the groups which he or she feels can be trusted. That individual can share thoughts, concerns, and ideas with the groups of which he or she is a part, for each idea,” Cousins says, “each idea is an entry. Each idea is a start. Each idea is a beginning. And all of those individual ideas, when taken together and beginning to move together by the power of the Spirit of God, in fact, change societies.”
Now, I don’t think those are idle words. I think that points us to the tremendous impact that we, as individuals, can have if we are committed to use the gifts which God has given us. I want to ask you, do you believe that God loves you? Do you believe that God is with you in life? Do you believe that God is working with you in your life, helping you to be in accord with His will for your life? Do you believe those things? If you believe those things, then you believe in the capacity of the individual, that God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love. And if you believe in the capacity of the individual, then you cannot despair for America, not for a single moment, for the individual, living and working under God, can in fact change the whole society. We need to renew our belief in the capacity of the individual in this land.
And then in the second place, we, as Christians in modern America, need to renew our belief that progress is not always evil.
We do ourselves a grave disservice when we degrade the progress which has been made by this nation, and yet so many times, it seems that’s what we do. But I ask you to remember the fact that if you take the last 50,000 years of the human experience, and you divide those years up into life spans of 63 years each, you have about 800 lifetimes. We need to recall that it wasn’t until the 70th lifetime that people began to write. And it wasn’t until the 6th lifetime that people began to print what they wrote. It wasn’t until the 4th lifetime that we began to tell the time accurately. It wasn’t until the 2nd lifetime that we learned anything at all about electric motors. And fully 98% of the things that we use today, 98% of the things which are basic to our conduct and our attitude in life, 98% of those things have come to pass in the last, the 800th lifetime. 98% of it. And the vast majority of those things were conceived, designed, created, engineered, and produced in the last 60 years right here in the United States of America.
Ah, but what the less tangible progress we’ve made? It’s been significant. I want to remind you of something. It is modern America which has drafted and passed the most meaningful civil rights legislation in all of history, and that legislation is constantly being improved. It is modern America which has taken care of its poor and those who are unable to care for themselves like no other nation on the face of the earth. It is modern America which has lifted working people up out of virtual serfdom and granted to them lives of independence and respectability. It is modern America which has given more food and more clothing and more medicine and more money to more people than all of the nations and generations in history combined. And the efforts of communist and socialist countries in this regard are pathetic by comparison. It is modern America which has introduced more people to Jesus Christ through the effort of world mission than any other group of people in all of history’s flow. I could go on and on, but surely the point is made. We need to renew our belief that progress can be good.
Oh, I’m perfectly willing to admit that we haven’t created a perfect paradise here, not by a long shot. Progress always has its price. We wanted to be able to talk quickly and conveniently with other people, and so we invented the telephone, and by so doing, we lost something of our privacy and the charm of distance. We wanted to be able to travel about the earth quickly and conveniently, and so we learned how to fly, and by so doing, the birds lost something of their wonder, and the clouds begin to smell of jet fuel. Oh, there’re problems, all right. They’re big problems. They’re massive problems. But that’s what life is, isn’t it? Meeting problems head-on and then committing to solve those problems. That’s the story of America’s existence in the flow of human history, a group of people willing to confront whatever problems were there and to commit themselves and their resources to solving those problems. America has done it in the past. I submit to you that America can do the same thing in the future. We need, as Christians in modern America, to renew our belief that progress is not always evil.
And then in the third place, we, as Christians in modern America, need to renew our belief that we are called to be both good Christians and good citizens.
You know, in the passage of Scripture that I read for you a moment ago from the letter of Peter, or the passages that I might have read to you from Deuteronomy or Psalms or Romans or Timothy or Titus or any one of the gospels, all of those passages affirm again and again that are two basic kingdoms in the human experience. There is the Kingdom of God, and there is the kingdom of the earth. And we, as Christians, therefore, have the right and the privilege of exercising a dual citizenship. Our first obligation is to the Kingdom of God, but our second obligation is to the nation of which we are a part. And the Scriptures teach us that to fail in either of those obligations is to sin against Almighty God. We need to be remembering that.
Paul remembered it. Paul recognized his debt to the state. Paul knew that his missionary journeys had been made possible by Roman roads and Roman maritime laws. Paul knew that his life had been spared on more than one occasion by Roman justice. Paul knew that the gospel was being spread to the then known world because of something that existed which was called the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace. Paul knew those things, and so he recognized his debt to the state. And he called us, as Christians, to support the state with our very lives, unless, unless the state is bent on destroying the Christian faith or the Church of Jesus Christ.
I remember so well reading for the first time the words of Professor Phelps of Yale, powerful words indeed, addressed to a graduating class at that university. Professor Phelps said, “Jesus knows more about politics and economics than all of the political leaders and university professors taken together. Jesus knows more about the human heart than Shakespeare or any poet or all of them taken together. Jesus is the greatest leader. Jesus is the most absolutely right person the world has ever seen. Therefore,” he said, “I charge you to put Christ first in your lives. And I am not foolish when I say to you that the only way, the only way, that the world can be saved is to follow Jesus Christ.”
We, as Christians, are called to be good Christians, yes, but also to be good citizens. My heart is in America because I believe that God has given us this free land as a priceless gift. And I believe that sacrifices made by countless thousands of people across the years have to helped to keep this land free and good. My heart is in America, and America is in my heart. And that means that I can never despair of this land. I can never give up on her ideals. I can never turn my back on her problems. I can never quit trying to help her to become all that God intends her to be. You translate that into action and I think it means that we, as Christians in modern America, must be willing to become involved in the processes of government so that God can use us to accomplish His will for this land. I believe that it means that we have to confront head-on the great pressing problems of our day: the permanently poor, the handicapped, the unemployed, the sick, the alienated, the downtrodden. We need to confront those problems, and we need to apply the resources of our Christian faith and our Christian lives to solving those problems.
We need to be demanding of our leaders the highest possible moral standards. We need to be committing ourselves to being Christian citizens in this great land. We could do it, and it will make a difference. Lawrence Hall says it so well in a marvelous little novel called The Stowaway. It’s the story of a man named O’Hara, who was serving as the first mate on board a ship called The Liberty Bell. O’Hara wanted to learn the ways of a sailor so that he could make some contribution to life, he said, so that he could have some effect on the way things turn out, so that he could change some things in the world in which he lived. And one of the other seamen said to him, “O’Hara, you’re a fool. Forget it. You can’t change things. The deck is stacked against you.” And O’Hara replied, “You’re wrong, Mister. The whole world may not be mine, but the part of it where I’m living is mine. And it may not be for sure, and it may not be for much, and it may not be for long, but while I am in it, it will know me.”
It seemed to me no Christian could say anything less than that. “This whole nation may not be mine, but the part of it where I’m living is mine. It may not be for sure, and it may not be for much, and it may not be for long, but while I am in it, it will know me.”
So come on, together, let’s work to make America beautiful again. Beautiful not just for spacious skies and amber waves of grain, but beautiful for shining ideals and strength of spirit. Beautiful not just for fruited plains and purple mountain majesties, but beautiful for truth and goodness and honesty held high. Beautiful not just for pilgrim feet and heroes proved, but beautiful for people of every race and creed and circumstance, who can stand tall and live free and walk through life without fear. Beautiful not just for patriot dream and alabaster cities gleaming, but beautiful for homes and hearts where peace and love and joy and hope and faith prevail.
What else can I say to you today but this? My heart is in America because America is in my heart. I love this land. So do you. Let’s then, together, make America beautiful again.
Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, we do love this nation. It is not perfect, far from it, and yet we are committed as Christians to love this land, to live for it, even, God forbid, to die for it. Use us, oh Lord, to make America beautiful again, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.