Scripture: Isaiah 65.1-2
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
All day long I have held out my hands
to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
pursuing their own imaginations.
Reflection: Celebrating Earthly Kingdoms
By John Tillman
Celebrating the country in which one lives is not un-biblical but it can be a dangerous, idolatrous trap. In American churches, this past weekend (the closest to July 4th) many worshipers sang patriotic anthems with questionable theology or, in some cases, completely absent theology.
Hymnody has a long history of politically motivated and theologically dubious lyrics, usually expressing God’s divine blessing on the nation of the hymn writer. In 1778, New England hymn writer, William Billings, published this hymn as a declaration that the colonies were winning the war due to divine intervention. It’s a view that still survives in some quarters.
Let tyrants shake their iron rods
And slavery clank her galling chains
We see them not; we trust in God
New England’s God forever reigns.
Patriotism based on national pride is an easy idol to fall victim to. So is anti-patriotism. This is true whether anti-patriotism is based on national cynicism or idolatry of party instead of nation. Christians must avoid all of these.
In 1932 Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer struggled in a Memorial Day sermon with how patriotic days should be celebrated in his Berlin church.
When the church observes Memorial Day, it must have something special to say. It cannot be one voice in the chorus of others who loudly raise the cry of mourning for the lost sons of the nation across the land, and by such cries of mourning call us to new deeds and great courage.
It cannot, like the ancient singers of great heroic deeds, wander about and sing the song of praise of battle and the death of the heroes to the listening ears of enthralled young people.
Memorial Day in the church! What does that mean? It means holding up the one great hope from which we all live, the preaching of the kingdom of God.
No matter our country or party, by echoing jingoistic patriotic divisiveness we risk diluting the gospel of Christ. We must not be too enamored of any earthly kingdom. As Jesus said, our “kingdom is from another place.”
Wherever we live, we are in exile.
When we pray for our city, we are praying for the city of our exile.
When we pray for our country, we are praying for the country in which we are aliens, not citizens.
May we never settle for earthly kingdoms. May we yearn and long instead for Christ’s kingdom to come.
Prayer: The Morning Psalm
They bluster in their insolence; all evildoers are full of boasting. They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your chosen nation. They murder the widow and the stranger and put the orphans to death…He who admonishes nations, will he not punish? — Psalm 94.3-5, 10
– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.
Full prayer available online and in print.
Isaiah 65 (Listen – 5:00)
Matthew 13 (Listen – 7:23)
Read More about Temporary Victory
Elevating political victory to supreme importance is to confess functional atheism.
Read More about The Seductive Idolatry of Politics
We must make sure we are pursuing actions that please Christ rather than pleasing human political kingdoms.