God Bless America!
Trinity Five Sermon 2010| Rolf D. Preus| (Fourth of July)| 1 Timothy 2, 1-6
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all. 1 Timothy 2, 1-6
Few nations in history have been so richly blessed as the United States of America. Today we celebrate God’s blessings on our country for the past two hundred and thirty four years. While America’s Independence Day is not on the liturgical calendar, it is appropriate that, on this Fourth of July, we listen to what the Word of God has to say to us about our love for our country.
They call it patriotism. The word patriot comes from the Latin word for father. Just as we love our father and mother, so we also love our fatherland. Just as we honor our father and mother, so we honor the leaders of our nation. Just as we pray for our parents, we pray for our country.
Is America a Christian nation? Yes and no. Yes, it is a Christian nation in the sense that most Americans over the years have confessed the Christian faith. No, it is not a Christian nation in that there is no such thing as a Christian nation. There is a Christian church. She is governed by the gospel. The nations of this world are all governed by the law. There is a big difference.
Even where there is an officially established church supported and controlled by the government this doesn’t make the country a Christian country. The state has no power or authority to make anyone a Christian. Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia have suffered for years because of state involvement in the church. Civil authorities have repeatedly imposed unbiblical doctrine and practice on the churches. Thank God that in America we have a constitution that forbids such things.
Most Americans know that there is a difference between the church and the state, but what they know is almost always from the perspective of the state. For example, religious freedom is a civil right. The state says so. The state is obliged to defend this civil right. Most Americans support the First Amendment of the Constitution that guarantees the freedom of religion.
But God gives no right to religious freedom. God does not give us the right to worship idols. In fact, he strictly forbids it. But the American constitution protects this right that God does not grant.
Does this mean that we should try to make America into a Christian nation, depriving adherents of other religions of their religious freedom? No, it does not. The church does not ask the state to persecute those who do not belong to the church. She asks only for the right to preach the Word of God in its truth and purity and to practice the true religion in a peaceful, godly, and reverent manner.
God rules over us in two very distinct ways. He rules over us in both the church and in the state. The state exists to administer law and justice. It has the power of the sword – the authority to punish criminals. Without this power there would be anarchy. The strong and brutal would tyrannize the weak. No one would be safe. No property would be secure. There would be no peace. Life would be, as Thomas Hobbes put it, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Thank God for a stable government that is able to protect the weak and punish those who would rob us of domestic peace.
We pray for our government. St. Paul writes:
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
Imagine what life would be like if you couldn’t walk the streets in safety. Imagine a country where criminals ruled. Your bank account could be stolen. You could be tossed out of your home with no recourse to get back in unless you could afford your own private army. You could be arrested for speaking your mind even in the privacy of your own home. We pray for our government because without due process of law there can be no true peace.
Despite the many wars and military conflicts our nation has gone through over the years, we have been mercifully delivered from occupation by a foreign power. We have not suffered the ravages of war on American soil for a very long time. This is God blessing our country. Despite the recession and the weak economy, America remains prosperous and free. This is God blessing our country.
Why does God bless America? Is it because America is God’s chosen nation? No, we are not. Is it because America is more virtuous than other nations around the world? No, we are not. Is it because we have had Christian leaders? No, many of our leaders have not been Christians. The reason God blesses America is because America has blessed the church and, as God promised to father Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you.” (Genesis 12, 3)
America hasn’t endorsed the teaching of the church. After all, our Constitution forbids this, protecting the rights of people to worship false gods, to teach false doctrine, and to advocate a false religion. God doesn’t bless America because America promotes the true Christian religion. America never has promoted the true Christian religion.
God blesses America because America has protected Christians. In America – more than in any other nation in the world – Christ’s church has had the freedom to do what God gives his church to do. Within a system of ordered liberty that is our birthright as Americans the church is free to proclaim the gospel in all its truth and purity. The church is protected from those who would seek to intimidate her into silence. It is true that our Constitution protects the rights of heretics and heathen alike to promote their religions. But we, who hold to the truth, are also protected. The civil authorities guarantee that right. That is a wonderful blessing.
St. Paul goes on to say:
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
After telling the church to pray for the leaders in government so that we will enjoy domestic peace, St. Paul moves to a higher plane. Living a peaceable life here on earth is good and acceptable to God our Savior, but he doesn’t save us by providing us with a peaceable life here on earth. He saves us by bringing us to the knowledge of the truth. Where the church enjoys civil peace, order, and freedom, she can proclaim, confess, teach, and publish the truth by which sinners are saved eternally.
The civil authority is a gift from God. It governs with the sword. It threatens to punish those who do wrong. It keeps peace in this world. Without law and order there can be no civil peace. God has blessed us in America with a generous amount of liberty, order, peace, and prosperity.
The spiritual authority is greater. The nations of this world will all perish. The holy Christian Church will last forever. The authority of the sword keeps peace outwardly. It changes no one. It certainly can’t change a sinner into a saint. But the spiritual authority that belongs to the church can and does. It is the authority of Jesus Christ. It is the authority of his blood. When he claimed his kingdom he did so by shedding his blood on the cross as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He purchased his kingdom by bearing in his own body the sin of all humanity. He won the authority to forgive sins and he gave this authority to his church on earth.
So we live under two kingdoms. The civil authorities are God’s servants to keep outward peace and to protect us from harm to our bodies and property. The ecclesiastical authorities are God’s servants to proclaim the peace of sins forgiven. This truth protects us from attacks against our soul. St. Paul writes: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.”
The One who brings God and man together is a man. He is true God and true man. He is our Lord. He is our brother. He offered his life up to God as a ransom to set the whole world free. This is how he serves as Mediator. This is how he brings us into fellowship with God. He is the ransom, the payment that sets sinners free.
On the Fourth of July we celebrate our freedom as Americans. We don’t claim that our nation is better than others. We do acknowledge that God has blessed our nation. We celebrate these blessings as Americans. It’s good to love your country. Patriotism is really nothing more than loving our homeland.
The best way to express our gratitude to God for the blessings he has showered upon our country is to confess that truth by which God calls his church from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (Revelation 7, 9) and unites us as one. St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle Lesson:
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
Our hope is not in a country that will perish, but in that eternal home that will not perish. Our hope is for a time where time disappears and for a place where we will always belong. There will be no sin or violence there. There will be no need for the power of the sword. No civil government will be necessary. We will all be perfected inside and out. We will know God as we are known. The forgiveness we received here and now that flowed from the cross of Christ into his gospel and sacraments and from them to us will fully and finally transform us so that we will be free from every vestige of sin. It will be a land in which we never go without. We will be content. We will be filled with the love of God and our hearts will be set at peace.
We confess this hope because it is most certainly true. Thank God for protecting our right to make this confession here in America. Amen