Confession of a Christian Patriot

Isaiah 66:10-14

July 3, 2016

As third-grader, I remember my teacher entering our classroom for the beginning of the day. As was our custom we all stood, put our hands on our hearts, faced the flag, and recited the pledge of allegiance.

One day, after finishing this daily ritual, the teacher said “Children, we’re going to do something different.” She told me to step forward; as I did so I wondered what I did wrong. She took the flag from it’s customary wall mount and handed to me! I held it with respect and and a slight forward angle a I had been taught. Why did she pick me? I don’t know, but all through grade school, if ever there was a flag that needing carrying, they picked me. I think it was because I was always the tallest and had square shoulders.

The teacher lined the rest of the kids up behind me. Together we marched about three blocks to Eventide Nursing Home, which was connected to a neighboring Norwegian Lutheran church. We assembled in a room that was filled with elderly people…some of whom were in iron lungs and could only look at us in mirrors set askew. We sang three songs that we all knew by heart, the National Anthem, “America The Beautiful,” And “God Bless America.” I trembled with pride as I held the flag and sang loudly with my classmates. We didn’t need to be prepped or practiced for this visit, like every American kid it was part of our upbringing.

The elderly sang along with us; some of them with tears rolling down their cheeks and openly sobbing. I remember asking my teacher, Mrs. Cole, why they cried and she said, “because they’re remembering.” And for some reason that was enough for me at the time, but the tears of those people have forever remained etched in my brain.

Why did they cry? Did the presence of all these young people remind them of their youth now gone? Were they remembering when they did something similar? Or perhaps they suffered in world war two; maybe some of them fought there and lost friends in battle; maybe they lost loved ones in defense of their country. Or maybe it’s because this was 1969, and our country was going mad with violent protests and drugs and they found it reassuring that the children were still normal.

I think of this event, now nearly 50 years past, and I find myself tearing up, but for different reasons. If Mrs. Cole were to try this today, she would might very well loose her job. Parents would react badly because she didn’t get permission slips to walk us three blocks…. or to enter a faith-based nursing home. Others would sue because “God” is found the lyrics and for the way she was “forcing” us to say the pledge of allegiance every day. And there is no way that Mrs. Cole could ever assume that we knew those songs, for these days we are told that kids “can’t memorize” anymore.

I tear up because a dark cloud of evil has descended upon this land. Common sense is no longer so common. People are hair-triggered in knee jerk responses to almost anything you might say. There is no safe-space for free speech. With hateful behavior and hateful speech they accuse people of hate speech. They preach tolerance, but they do not tolerate. That which is good is thought to be bad, that which is bad is thought to be good. EVIL has descended upon our land.

It used to be the measure of a man was this: does he work hard, is he competent, does he abide by the laws, does he provide for his family, is he a good neighbor? Or as Martin Luther King said, a man should be measured by the “content of his character.” That’s all gone.

The Litmus test that is now used to determine whether you are a good person is now more like: “do you you accept, applaud, and promote LBGTQ?” Really. It is! This is how far we’ve come. This combined with the increasingly adulterous behavior of heterosexuals and the basic building blocks of human society -marriage and family- are being destroyed. Last week I heard in the news that the need for foster homes is outstripping the supply. I wonder why?

Last fall, just before deer season opened, a read an article in the Star Tribune about how hunting deer disturbs the delicate balance and the emotional well being of deer… it breaks up the structure of their herds. A few years ago, when the question of hunting wolves was a hot topic in Minnesota, I read an article on how the killing of wolves damages the order of the wolf pack and might hurt the well-being of wolves. If we can figure this out about wolves and deer, why can’t we figure it out for our own species? Why do we refuse to admit and accept the fact that natural families with mother and father uniting to raise children is the optimum way to bring our young ones into the world? Why can’t we admit that? Because we want to sin. We want to keep on sinning. EVIL has descended upon our land. Our youth are caught in such a horrible trap. Everything in our society encourages our people to cut loose and be sexually active and that sex has nothing to do with commitment, family and love. Then they have children, and the children suffer from immature parents who are incapable of love.

What is happening to us? What is happening to our country? Can it exist for much longer? These are the kinds of thoughts that have haunted me for at least 15 years now. How I long for the days of Mrs. Cole and Eventide Nursing home! That time is gone. We can’t go back. If things continue to go the way they are going, in five or ten years I could very well be arrested convicted and imprisoned for simply reading the scriptures out-loud in this place or maybe even for what I’ve said today.

For you see, much of what God says is now classified as “hate speech.” Even something as beautiful as the scripture which says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” is considered hate speech since it is not inclusive.

So that is my fear: one day I will be taken away for simply doing what pastors are called to do. . It happened in Russia. It happened in Germany. It happened in China. It’s happening in Syria and in Africa. It will happen here too if trends continue.

That is my fear and my fear is my sin. I confess this to you and to God, seeking forgiveness. For what does the catechism say, “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” Whenever the fear of something overwhelms you and controls how you feel inside, that something becomes a God to you. Fretting over the apparent dissolution of this nation that I love has darkened my heart for far too long…I must get free from it. I must declare independence from this fear or I simply cannot continue as the Lord’s spokesman.; not with such darkness on my heart.

This nation is not my God. This nation is not my hope, the Lord is. This nation is not my future, the Lord is. This nation cannot offer true and lasting peace, only the Lord can do that. This nation is not my provider, it is the Lord that provides. Forgive me Lord, for diminishing you’re glory!

All this hit me as I read today’s reading from Isaiah. The people in that day witnessed the downfall of their great nation and the razing of their holy City Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the geographical location of the divine promise of God; the center of all true worship; the pride of a nation. It was now a wasteland. And the temple, the symbol of God’s abiding help and presence was burned up….gone. Everything they used to find their hope in, their joy and their trust. was now obliterated.

The Israelites felt as tearful and patriotic about their holy city and temple as we might feel about our nation, our pledge, our flag, and our bill of rights. But God was bigger than Jerusalem. He did indeed cause his glory to dwell there for a time, but he would eventually make his people and all who believe in Christ to be his temple. As it turns out, Jerusalem was bigger than any city that could be located on a map. It would be the whole church built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. That’s why God was able to say in the beginning of our reading “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her…all who mourn for her. Even though Jerusalem was in ruins, it still remained. Jerusalem was now them! God would dwell with in his people!

And then the text gets a little strange, at least we would think so in modern times. It takes us to the image of a baby nursing at the breast of his mother. The people who heard this scripture for the first time understood it completely, because they hadn’t sexualized breasts like we have. To them, a nursing baby was a wonderful thing. Anyone who’s nursed a baby or simply held a bottle for one knows exactly what this text is talking about. At first the baby is really excited about he prospect of food. Drinking deeply, he closes his eyes to receive the ultimate comfort food. Such warmth, such love, such care the baby feels in the arms of his mother. Nothing can hurt him now. He can sleep secure in the knowledge that all is well.

This is what God is saying to us and what he provides to us through his church; through the means of grace. By Baptism he makes us his own children and gives us birth. By his word he takes us in his arms and feeds us, comforts, encourages us, strengthens us and helps us grow. By his Holy Supper he reminds us again of his love for us. “You want to know how much I love you, I love you more than my own Son Jesus. Kingdoms will rise and fall…. but my love and my care for you my people is constant.” Like a mother cradles a baby and speaks love into it’s ear, God speaks love into our ears by the means of grace.

And the result is in verse 12: “For thus says the Lord. ‘behold I will extend peace like a river.’” Peace like a river. For years and years I haven’t understood this. “Peace like a river?” I thought, “Well yeah it is kinda nice to get in a canoe and paddle in a river in midsummer. It’s peaceful to wind around each bend and hear the gentle flow of the waters.” Nice idea I had going there, but that’s not what it means. He’s talking about the flow of peace. It will flow to you like the current of the river: constantly and abundantly.

Peace is not something we can find within ourselves. Not something we can create. God creates it for us. The single most peace-creating event is the cross of Christ. Every offense, every sin against our Father, anything that we do that might have made him mad is gone. Such is the peace that Jesus brings. And there’s this river of peace flowing to us as a result of Jesus.

And isn’t that the thing that you need most of all: to be at peace? To know and believe that no matter what happens, that God’s got you covered? That’s what I forgot in my sin and that’s what I recall in my repentance.

Life in this mixed up country, as appalling as things are becoming, is not nearly as troubling to me as it once was. I’m not saying that I’ve lost my concern; nor am I telling you that I am purposely naive, but I am saying that it’s threats against me can no longer take away my joy or stifle my purpose. There’s a reason I’m still here and there’s a reason your here. As the world goes mad we are called to those who are sane. As the world loses it’s ability to reason, we are to be reasonable. As things go dark we are called to be light. As Satan makes war on the souls of our countrymen, we are to be peace. This is how you can be a patriotic Christian: Be who you are in Christ. Our country needs you. AMEN