What Shall We Say about America?
Almighty heavenly Father, I thank You for all Your gifts! Today I especially thank You for our freedom and the gifts You have showered on our land. Forgive our many sins—personal and national—for Your mercy’s sake. Use the Word and Sacrament to strengthen my faith and that of my fellow believers. Fill our hearts with love for You. Amen.
A free country, wise rulers, and a prosperous land are blessigns from God. These blessings help to give us a "good life" the earth. Peace and success on the earth are not the ultimate goal. God gives these blessings to His children to enjoy with thanksgiving, but also to enable a greater spread of the Gospel.
The Pharisees frequently tried to trick Jesus into saying something that would contradict God’s Word. On at least one occasion, they tried to trap Jesus with a question about the Roman government’s rule over Israel. They hoped to either catch Him as a traitor to the government or as a traitor to God. Jesus was neither. His answer spoke of loyalty both.
Text: Daniel 9:15-19
My senator doesn’t always vote the way I wish he would. In my country there are laws and policies with which I cannot agree. In my country there is permissiveness of which I cannot in good conscience approve. There is an apathy toward what is pure & true, and an incredible lust to chase after what is false & corrupt. Greed is great and selfishness has been raised to a new level. Freedoms upon which my land was built have been turned into license to sin. Responsibilities which the founding fathers intended Americans to bear have been forgotten. The stock market keeps rising, unemployment drops, and based upon a good economic forecast we are led to believe that all is right in the world, while underneath the glow of wealth we can smell the stench of rot and decay.
My country has many people who are poor, but who desire to be rich thinking that this will solve their many problems—problems which have far less to do with economic standing than they believe. My country has many people who are too lazy to work and who need to get busy. My country has many people who are too busy with work and need to find time for the One Thing Needful, and their responsibilities at home. My country has people who are dying with diseases they have contracted through their own desires.
Name a subject area and I’m sure there is something about which I can find fault with my nation. I am a citizen of the United States of America. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!
This is the contradiction we have as Americans, as would citizens of other countries. We tend to complain about our country, but then in the end we treasure the God’s gift of our nation.
God favors patriotism. God desires His children to be good citizens of their nations on earth. This becomes clear in God’s command “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and in Jesus’ willingness to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”(Matthew 22:21)
To celebrate the blessing of a free country is God-pleasing. However, we must also beware lest our patriotism and love of nation would become a religion unto itself. Our love of earthly country ought never overshadow or come in conflict with our love of God and our heavenly country. Our appreciation for national independence needs always to play a distant second to our appreciation for spiritual independence from sin and death.
So, as citizens of heaven in exile on the earth, we will always want to consider our earthly citizenship in the light of God’s Word. That is exactly what we wish to do this morning as we ask the question: WHAT SHALL WE SAY ABOUT AMERICA? We will use God’s Word to remind ourselvesI. She is beautiful II. She is sinful III. She is temporary.
The prophet Daniel was in a position much like our own. He was a faithful child of God from a nation that was richly blessed by God, but whose people did not fully appreciate nor acknowledge that blessing. From captivity in Babylon, Daniel still saw the blessings God had poured upon the nation. “And now, O LORD God, who brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and made Yourself a name, as it is this day…” [v.15]
From the deliverance out of Egypt even down to the day Daniel was praying from captivity, God’s blessing upon Israel was evident. God miraculously delivered Israel out of their Egyptian slavery. God gave them a rich land "flowing with milk and honey." God gave them many years of peace and prosperity and continued to shower His blessings upon them in their declining years. Yes, even in captivity God’s blessing was there. When, years before, David looked back on Israel’s history he wrote, “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive…”(Psalm 124:2).
The nation of Israel was beautiful with God’s blessing. America is beautiful with God’s blessing. The song, "America the Beautiful" mentions the "purple mountain majesty." Our country is filled with impressive landscapes and breathtaking scenery from the mountains to the unique beauty of the desert, the hills, Minnesota’s 10,000+ lakes and everything in between. Our country is physically and we ought not dismiss that as being insignificant. The physical characteristics of our land are there because God put them there. They are blessings from Him for our enjoyment and also for His glory. “The earth is the LORD’s and all its fullness…for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Psalm 24:1-2).
"Amber waves of grain" also make America beautiful. The productivity of our country’s farmland is unmatched anywhere. Frosts in Florida, dry spells in the plains, and floods in the Midwest do affect the productivity of a region, but we have never had to fear starvation as a whole country, as Jacob and his family when they went to Egypt for food.
Any geography book will tell us that the United States is richly blessed with an abundance of natural resources, sea ports, river waterways, industry, and transportation systems.
A political science book will tell us that we have an amazing gift in the opportunity to be involved with our government. We have the privilege of peaceful elections. Despite all of its weaknesses, our legal system is part of this country’s greatness. The freedom to travel, to work, to pursue a business, to WORSHIP, are all blessings upon our land.
A history book will tell us that apart from the Civil War, every war the United States has fought has been at arm’s length. The cities and country-sides of America do not bear the scars of war’s destruction.
In the days of the apostle Paul his Roman citizenship was an honor and with it came privilege around the world. While as American citizens we are hated by some, nevertheless, the citizenship we hold is recognized as a privileged citizenship the world over.
Daniel looked at Israel and saw a nation that had been beautified by God’s rich outpouring of gifts upon her. We can surely say that America is beautiful for the same reasons.
Israel was beautiful with blessing, but at the time of Daniel’s prayer that beauty was hard to see because of her sin. Listen to the first part of Daniel’s prayer, “I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession and said…’we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face…to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel…to our kings our princes, and our fathers because we have sinned against You”(Daniel 9:3ff).
Daniel’s confession acknowledged the sin his people had committed. He acknowledged that Judah’s captivity was their just reward for their sins. There was no way to avoid acknowledging the nation’s sin because it was obvious like a big black ink stain on the beauty of God’s blessing.
Because of the sin that so infected Judah, Daniel knew that the only way he could come before the LORD and ask for anything, was pure MERCY. Hear his plea, “…we have sinned, we have done wickedly...hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications…O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies.” [vv.15,17-18]
Sin on the record of Israel was nothing new. God’s undeserved love and mercy was the only reason there had ever been blessing upon Israel. God’s choice of Israel as His special people was because of mercy. Moses writes, “The LORD did not…choose you because you were more in number…but because the LORD loves you…” (Deuteronomy 7:7). Israel’s preservation and prosperity all those years leading up to captivity came from mercy. Israel’s blessing in captivity and their joyful return to Judah 70 years later came about not because of who they were, but because of who God is. Daniel’s prayer was a prayer that God would act toward Judah, not on the basis of their sins, but out of His MERCY.
The truth that Israel’s well-being was a GIFT purely out of God’s mercy was something the prophets and the faithful people in Judah understood, but the rest of the country did not. Even while weeping among the ruins of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Through the LORD’s MERCIESwe are not consumed” (Lamentations 3:22).
Surely, we can say those words right along with Jeremiah. Surely, our prayers for ourselves and our country have to come from the same plea for mercy as did Daniel’s. As beautiful as America is with the blessing of God, the ugly stain of sin is also there for all to see.
I do not need to list for you the many examples in the nightly news and in the whole atmosphere of our country which show it to be sinful. However, let me point out that the root causes of the sin in Israel and how that sin showed itself is not at all different from what we see in America.
A country is made up of people and when those people are sinners (as we all are) the nation itself is sure to show sinfulness. Even in the faithful days of Israel, sin was evident both privately and publicly. The difference at that time was that the people understood their sinfulness and sorrowed over it. Not so, in the days of Daniel. Not so, in the days of now.
Daniel’s fellow Israelites had forsaken God’s Word. As a result they no longer listened to the prophets and others who proclaimed God’s Word. They told the prophets to stop preaching. They were self-reliant, believing that their prosperity belonged to them and since it belonged to them they would decide in what manner they would enjoy it. Does any of this sound familiar?
The people of Daniel’s day saw and experienced and benefited from the countless blessings that God showered upon them; but did they day by day recognize these as gifts from God? Did they acknowledge their Almighty Preserver with thanksgiving? Did they turn to the Word of their God for direction? For consolation? No they did not, and we see the same thing today.
Oh, people still gave lip service to God and observed the external feasts all the way to the day that the Babylonians took them captive. By that time, it was just an empty ritual, words and actions with their heart far from their Lord. It was not at all unlike the empty words, "God Bless America" when they are said without knowledge of the true God, without understanding of His will, and without a concern for His Word.
In Psalm 107, the psalmist presents much evidence of God’s blessing and at the end of every section he sounds this refrain, “Oh that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!”(Psalm 107:15, etc.) Oh that Americans would see their independence as a gift from God and celebrate Him each 4th of July! The blessings are there! The need for mercy is clear! Daniel and we also cry out, "Oh that people would see their sin and turn to their God!"
Looking at our country and its conduct we might well conclude that we are in need of a national repentance. Truly we are…and daily! Before we can talk about national repentance we need to speak of individual repentance. Daniel was a faithful prophet of the Lord. He was not among the outright sinners who by their unbelief brought judgment on Judah. Still, he acknowledged his own sin and his own role in Judah’s sin when he said, “WE have sinned….WE have not obeyed…ALL Israel has disobeyed.”
God wants us to speak out against the sinfulness of our land even as Daniel and Jeremiah did to Judah. He wants us to recognize that the sinfulness of our country becomes an offense and stumbling block to the world around us just as our individual sin may become an offense and spiritual stumbling block to the people around us. Daniel prayed, “…for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us.”[v.16]
We need to also stand guard so that we never fall into the trap of being the Pharisee standing in judgment over our country and its people. We use God’s Word to declare with resounding thunder God’s wrath and judgment on sin, and there is plenty in our country upon which that declaration of judgment should and needs to fall. But let us note well and never forget, that the same judgment rests upon our sin.
We have sinned against God, offended Him, and aroused His just wrath individually, and collectively as a nation. It is a matter of unending personal amazement at how capable we are as sinners to ruin even God’s blessings. In a land so richly blessed we manage to use those blessings for sin. A land so rich in material gifts to the point where luxuries are considered needful…a people so discontent and always wanting more. A land with scientific knowledge beyond belief…a people using science and struggling to find the origin of the universe because they don’t want to believe God. A country with medicine and medical procedures to turn what was once fatal into a cure that merits barely an eyeblink…a people who uses its knowledge to kill its unborn and aged. A land so rich…a people so empty.
Each of us knows in our own lives how we have used blessings from God for sin. We are sinners! That makes America sinful. In addition, there are many in our land who are “without Christ and without hope in this world” (cf: Ephesians 2:12). In addition to the sinfulness we all posses there are many who PURSUE sin. Therefore we carry the message of John the Baptist and tell ourselves and others, “REPENT! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). At the same time we also pray for ourselves and our country, “O Lord hear! O Lord forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake…”
There is a very important difference between Daniel’s Israel and our America. Because Israel was God’s chosen people everything that was national was inseparably tied to the spiritual. That is not the case for America, nor the present day Israel, nor any nation other than Old Testament Israel.
Because the promise of the Savior was tied to the nation of, Daniel’s prayer from captivity was more than just a prayer for political restoration of a nation.
When Daniel prayed: “O Lord. . .let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain. . .for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate…” [vv.16ff] he was praying above all else for the spiritual restoration. Daniel was pleading for God’s mercy so that Judah could return to Canaan and then the Savior would be born who would redeem the world and bring consolation for those sins which weighed so heavily upon the people.
When we pray for America—the country—we need to remember we are only praying for a time-limited blessing. Nations come and go. Daniel’s Old Testament Israel is gone. Paul’s Rome is gone and if the earth remains long enough there will undoubtedly come a day when the United States too may well cease to exist. If this were to take place in our lifetimes we would certainly have sorrow, but only to the point of losing an earthly blessing. If we were to lose America the country we would rightly say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). We would be able to say this because “God is our refuge and strength…even though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea”(Psalm 46:1-2).
When we pray for America—the people—then we too like Daniel are praying for spiritual needs. Our nation’s population is celebrating its independence today. If there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents imagine the joy if the numbers of the United States population hear the Gospel, repent, believe, and celebrate the independence that Jesus brings!
For all the blessings God gives through our earthly nation they pale and fade away next to the glories of our soul’s salvation. Our true Independence Day was Good Friday when Jesus cried out, "THE WORK OF REDEMPTION STANDS FINISHED FOR ALL TIME!" Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we maintain a dual citizenship, and our primary citizenship is not American. We are citizens on this earth but like Abraham we “desire a better, that is a heavenly country” (Hebrews 11:16). “Our citizenship is in heaven from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:21). Who today gives You His body and blood as a seal of your citizenship!
All the earth’s countries and nations and rulers and leaders are temporary. They will turn to dust. While they remain, they serve the Kingdom of God and His purposes. Caesar served God’s purpose when he called for a census. God blesses and rules over America so that she serves as His instrument in providing a peaceful prosperity under which the Gospel can go out and bring souls to an eternal citizenship in heaven. Earthly nations are God’s tools and temporary. The kingdom of God and His Word stand forever!
A child of God is able then to enjoy the blessing of his earthly country and not lose sight of his heavenly country. A child of God may well serve His Lord and his country in government service or in the military. Our dual citizenship enables us to sing "God bless our native land" and "Heaven is my home" without contradicting ourselves and with both being God-pleasing.
Our country is beautiful with blessing but it is nothing compared to what awaits all who put their trust in Jesus to forgive their sin.
What shall we then say about America?
Oh, beautiful for many gifts with which our God doth bless.
Oh, beautiful for mercy great despite our sinfulness.
America! America! God shed His grace on thee!
But my true Land is Heav’n above and that eternally!
— Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt