Go

Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian (OLD)

Pray For America

 

staff_bruce_2013

Joshua 4: 1-9

As we again approach our Independence Day celebrations with barbeques and fireworks, flags and parades, let’s pause to appreciate how God has blessed our nation.  Ever since the founding fathers began the July 4th national holiday traditions, preachers have taken time in the pulpits to make a connection between the ancient Hebrew nation of Israel and the modern U.S.A.  This is the weekend we pause to give God the glory for the things done on our behalf.  It is also a time to humbly admit we fail to live up to the opportunities God has given this nation and pray for our nation.

King Solomon, when he dedicated the ancient temple in Jerusalem heard the voice of the Lord assure him that the nation would need to constantly come back to its roots.  There is always a tendency to forget our blessings and begin to take our blessings for granted.  Thus, God reminded Solomon that the people would need to humble themselves and seek God’s face, repent of their sins and turn from their wicked ways in order to be in the place where God pours out blessings.

Those words from the Hebrew Bible, still apply today.  Let us take time to remember our blessings and recall the occasions where God intervened on our behalf.  We use this national holiday to pass on our stories to each new generation.  We are practicing what Joshua taught the Israelites when they crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land.  As they were founding themselves as a nation on the land Joshua reminded them to keep telling the stories of what God had done. 

Read Joshua 4: 1-9.

If we don’t remember to tell the stories of our history, they get confused and forgotten.  I appreciate the mistakes some students have in their history reports about the founding of our nation.  One student wrote, “Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two of the singers of the Declaration of Independence.”  Another student clarified who Benjamin Franklin was by writing, “Franklin invented electricity by rubbing two cats together and declaring ‘a horse divided against itself cannot stand.’”  A third student wrote, “The Constitution of the United States was adopted to secure domestic hostility.”

Joshua understood our human tendency to forget our history and confuse the message.  So he insisted that twelve elders of the tribes each pick up a stone from the middle of the Jordan River and deposit them in a pile at the river bank.  He explained that from that time forward it was the responsibility of the parents and grandparents to retell the story of how God parted the waters for them as they entered the Promised Land.  Those stones were to become a remembrance of what God had done for them.

Let’s build a symbolic pile of stones again as we recall a couple stories of how God intervened in our nation’s early history to protect us and bless us.  For instance, let us recall together how close our nation came to total collapse just thirty years after the Revolutionary War.  It was only the intervention of God that saved our nation in 1814.

Two years into the War of 1812 the British had defeated Napoleon and now sent their battle-hardened, best troops against our young nation.  The British troops marched boldly into Washington D.C. and burned the White House down.  The unfinished Capitol Building was reduced to ash and ruble.  The British troops drank their success while President Madison fled in exile.  All that was left for the British troops to do was conquer Baltimore and the war would be over.  The fledgling nation of the United States of America would become a British colony again.

Negotiators in Europe on behalf of our nation were awaiting the news of the fall of Baltimore to sign the unconditional surrender.  The British General announced confidently that he would eat dinner the next night in the coastal city of Baltimore once Fort McHenry had surrendered. 

While the British troops marched over land from Washington to Baltimore, the British Navy surrounded Fort McHenry, the key protection of Baltimore.  That night the British Navy held a captured American on one of their ships.  A young American attorney and army lieutenant, pleading under the flag of truce for the release of that prisoner, had arrived earlier in the day to board one of the British ships.  Then the bombing of the fort began before he could return to land.

He was kept on the British ship watching the horror of the bombing of Fort McHenry.   Along with the bombs fired from the ship cannons, the British Navy simultaneously landed some crack troops to sneak up on the beach side of the fort.  The loss of Baltimore and the war was a foregone conclusion.  Then God answered prayers and intervened.

That night an unusual storm blew into the coast.  The downpour of rain turned the land muddy.  The surprise attack by the elite naval troops never happened because the British got lost in the storm.  The earth inside Fort McHenry became so soggy and muddy that the bombs intended to hit hard surfaces, and explode with shrapnel, simply sank into the mud on impact without exploding.  The over land British troops arrived with their firing mechanisms so wet that they could not shoot their guns. Instead of conquering Baltimore and winning the war, the British retreated the next morning.  This battle became the turning point in the war so that America remained its own nation.

That young attorney army lieutenant could not believe his eyes as he watched the sunrise.  There over the fort the American flag still was flying.  Thus Francis Scott Key, a Christian who had prayed through the night for God to spare the fort, sat down and wrote the patriotic poem that we now use as our national anthem.  “Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light…. That the flag was still there.”[i] Let’s stand and sing the star spangled banner together!

This weekend, we celebrate that we are a blessed nation.  With our blessings and prosperity we are also responsible to use God’s blessings to bless others.  God pours bounty on those who will share and pass on the blessings.  God stops favoring those who fearfully, selfishly cling to their blessings. God is saddened when people forget their blessings came from the Lord and instead claim they earned the blessings themselves and deserve them.

Our nation declared its independence from Britain in 1776.  We remained independent as a result of the War of 1812.  Yet, I wonder if we are in danger of following Britain’s lead when it comes to faith and God.  Britain in recent generations has closed so many churches that it created a government agency for the re-use of church buildings in ways that are respectful and appropriate.  Kate and I visited one such cathedral that had become a museum for children in northern England a few years ago. 

The museum was very child friendly.  It had signs posted at the level of a child’s height.  What most intrigued me were the signs explaining to children about the cathedral itself.  There were signs that said things like, “In the old days, people used to come to this building to talk about God.”  “In those days they believed that Jesus’ blood was magical, so the priest would fill this cup with wine and tell them it was blood.”  “In those days, they used to pray this prayer from a Hebrew man named Jesus, ‘Our Father…’” 

Now a nation doesn’t become post-Christian overnight.  It takes a couple generations to go from Christianity having significant influence to empty churches.  Were there warning signs that Britain was headed that direction?  Indeed, British author Oscar Wilde wrote a piercing parable more than a hundred years ago about the decline of Christianity in their nation.  According to Wilde’s parable Jesus was walking the streets of the city when he saw a young man gluttonously feasting and getting drunk.  When Jesus asked the young man why he was living that way, the reply was, “You healed me of my leprosy, how else should I live?’  Then Jesus came upon a young woman walking the streets.  She flaunted her beauty to seduce men.  Jesus asked her why she was doing it. She replied, “You forgave my former sinful life, so I figured it was okay. How else should I live?”   Jesus spotted a young man staring lewdly at the prostitute and asked him why he was leering at her.   “You healed me of my blindness.  How should I live?”[ii]

We are a blessed nation.  But we are always in danger of losing the blessing if we forget to tell the stories of God’s intervention.  We can lose the blessing if we forget to share our blessings with others.  We can lose the blessing if we refuse to humble ourselves and live thankfully. 

Let’s pray: “Lord, thank you for the blessings you have given our nation.  You heard our prayers in the past when we humbled ourselves and pleaded for your intervention and protection.   We are blessed because you have been good to us.  Help us remember our history.  Help us remain humble.  Forgive us for the times we forgot to tell the stories of your goodness to the next generation.  Forgive us for the moments when we acted as though we were entitled to the blessings and assumed we earned than and deserved them.  You are the God who blesses, but we also acknowledge that you can just as easily remove the blessing if we wander away from you.  You promised King Solomon that if your people humble themselves, turn from their wicked ways, and seek your face you will hear from heaven and heal the land.  Hear our prayers.  In Jesus name, A-men.”

_____________________

[1] David Collins, Francis Scott Key: God’s Courageous Composer (Milford: Mott Media, 1982), 90-93.

[1] William Barclay, And Jesus Said: A Handbook on the Parables of Jesus (Philadelphia: Westminster press, 1970), 141.

Share this Sermon

Read More