Let’s Make America Beautiful Again
I Peter 2:13-17
Back when this nation was being ripped apart by divisions over the Viet Nam war, a bumper sticker appeared and became rather popular. It read “America—Love It or Leave It.” I hated that bumper sticker because the sentiment behind it was directly opposed to our cherished freedom of expression within this great and noble land. But if I could create my own bumper sticker today, it would carry an all-together different sentiment. It would read “America—Love It or Lose It.”
You see, I believe we are in danger of losing the kind of godly character upon which this nation was founded, and if we lose that then, make no mistake about it, sooner or later we will lose this nation we love. Understand me please, I do not believe that we are in danger of losing America to forces from the outside no matter how militant or murderous those forces may be. Yes, we are engaged in war against those in this world who are determined to destroy us any way they can—and for the sake of our children and our grandchildren, we must do whatever must be done to stop them. However, I must go on to say that even if every malevolent dictator, every corrupt government, and every terrorist organization were suddenly to be removed from the earth, we would still have our worst enemies with us. Long ago Alexis de Tocqueville put it so eloquently, “America is great because America is good. If America ceases to be good then America will cease to be great.” Yes, if America is ever destroyed, it will be because of our enemies within—and those enemies are a deepening unconcern for the sacred, a subtle disregard for the law, and an increasing breakdown in family life. Patrick Henry’s noble cry “Give me liberty or give me death” has been shortened to just “give me.” People are saying, “Don’t fence me in”—no rules, no restrictions, no discipline—forgetting that freedom is not the license to do as we please but the liberty to do as we ought. We seem to be becoming a nation where anything goes, forgetting that, in a nation where anything goes, soon everything is gone.
Hear me clearly. I am not asking for a mindless return to the old-fashioned ways of doing things. The only good thing about the “good ole days” is that they are gone. Instead, I am calling us to renew, to reenergize, to regenerate the kind of faith in God and the kind of love for this nation’s ideals, which our forebears possessed when they created this country. I am calling us to make America what I believe God intended for it to be. I’m calling us to make America beautiful again. Here is what I mean . . .
I’m calling us to renew our belief in the capacity of the individual under God.
Peter, in his first letter in the Bible, points to the power possessed by those who live “under God.” Listen to his words, “For it is God’s will that by doing good, you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Live as servants of God.” Peter is reminding us that when we choose to live under God, to live as the servants of God in this world, we are committed to the twin principles of freedom and right living. Living free and doing right, the two go together like a hand in a glove. Peter is reminding us that perfectly ordinary people—when they are living under God, committed to living free and doing right—can do some extraordinary things in changing the world.
We see that truth clearly confirmed in this nation’s history. Think, for example, of the individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence. They were just ordinary citizens—24 of them were lawyers or jurists, 11 were merchants, 9 were farmers, 1 was a preacher. They were just ordinary people, yet they knew that by signing this document declaring their freedom under God, they were putting at risk all they had including their lives. That is precisely what happened. Five of them were captured and tortured to death. Twelve of them had their homes ransacked and burned. Four of them had sons captured or killed by the enemy. Nine of them died fighting in the Revolutionary War. Such was the price they paid for their commitment to live free and do right. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his merchants’ ships sunk in the war. He then sold his home and property to pay his debts, and he died in rags. Thomas McKean was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family numerous times. His possessions were seized, and poverty was his reward. Thomas Nelson had his home seized and destroyed, and he died bankrupt. Francis Lewis also had his home destroyed. His wife was thrown in jail, and she died a few months later. Vandals or enemy soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge and Middleton. John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves. Finally, he returned home to find his wife dead and his children gone. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.
Such were the sacrifices of those who signed that “Declaration of Dependence upon God,” that “Declaration of Independence from tyrannical earthly authority.” So let me ask you: Is our freedom today somehow worth less than the freedom for which they had to pay such a heavy price? I think not. Therefore if you believe in the capacity of an individual under God as I do, then we cannot despair of America now. Yes, we are just ordinary citizens, but we can choose to live under God—we can choose to be committed to the noble Biblical ideals of living free and doing right. You see, I believe that God can empower and enable us to do extraordinary things in helping to make a difference in this nation we love. I call us today to make America beautiful again by living free and doing right.
And I’m calling us to renew our belief that we can be both good Christians and good citizens.
Peter writes “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.” Combine Peter’s words with passages from Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Romans, Timothy, Titus and any one of the four Gospels and the message is clear. There are two kingdoms in the human experience—the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this earth. Therefore, the Bible suggests that you and I as Christians have a dual citizenship. Our first obligation is to the Kingdom of God. Our second obligation is to the United States of America, and what the Bible says is that to fail in either one of those obligations is to sin against Almighty God. So here Peter is calling us, as Christians, to serve our dual citizenship.
I keep thinking of the remarkable words of Professor Phelps of Yale who said, “Jesus knew more about politics and economics than all of the world’s political leaders and university professors. Jesus knew more about the human heart than Shakespeare or any other poet or all of the poets taken together. Jesus is the world’s greatest leader, the most absolutely right person the world has ever known, and so I say, without hesitation, that the only way the world can be saved today is by following Jesus Christ.” Amen. Translated into action those words mean that you and I are to live day-by-day-by-day under our dual citizenship. I believe that means that we must engage constantly in working, praying, and struggling to finish the yet unfinished American Revolution. I believe that means we must address the pressing problems of our day—the tyrannized and the terrorized, the down-trodden and the disabled, the poor and the oppressed, the sick and the lonely, the alienated and the afraid—and we ought to devote both our Christian faith and our Christian resources towards solving them. I believe that means that we must demand the highest possible moral and ethical standards from our civic, our political, and our religious leaders. I believe that means we ought to live humbly, to serve compassionately, and to avoid any national arrogance or anything else which might blemish the heart, soul, and the character of this nation. I believe that we are called to fulfill our dual citizenship. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom, and we are citizens of the USA. I tell you my heart is in America because America is in my heart. I believe that God has given us this land, and therefore I believe it is my obligation, with my dual citizenship, to work to make this land everything God desires for it to be.
Lawrence Hall in a wonderful little novel called “The Stowaway” makes the point so well. The novel is the story of a man named O’Hara who is the first mate on a ship called “The Liberty Bell.” O’Hara wanted to be a sailor in order to make some impact on the world and in order to have some effect on the way things turn out, but another sailor said to him, “Forget it, O’Hara you can’t change anything. The deck is stacked against you.” But O’Hara cries out in retort, “You’re wrong, mister, the whole world may not be mine, but the part of it I am in is mine. It may not be for sure. It may not be for much, it may not be for long, but while I am in it, it will know me.” Dear friends, I do not believe that we as Christians can say anything less. The whole world may not be ours, but the part of it we are in is ours. It may not be for sure, it may not be for much, it may not be for long, but while we are in it, it will know us.
So let’s 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 shouted from the housetops and honesty and goodness held high. Beautiful, not just for Pilgrim feet and heroes proved, but beautiful for people of every race and circumstance standing tall and walking free from fear. Beautiful, not just for patriot dream and alabaster cities gleaming, but beautiful for homes and hearts where faith, hope, love, and joy prevail. I call us to make America beautiful again for I dare to believe that God stands ready to lead this nation, under God, into a new and bright tomorrow.
Soli Deo Gloria
To God alone be the Glory.