An Independence Day Sermonette

“God Bless America!”

I stared at the big block letters smeared into the layers of grime, usually reserved for the mundane “wash me” message, on the back of a tractor-trailer I was following on the highway. Someone believed in those words so deeply that they took the time to laboriously hand-etch the letters, big enough to be read by passing motorists in all lanes.

It’s on church billboards and bumper stickers everywhere. Old Glory has become not only a sign of patriotism but a sign of God’s blessings upon America. Flags have been draped in the sanctuaries of churches around the country as a reminder to churchgoers that the United States is God’s chosen nation.

In the wake of last week’s legal victories for LGBT rights, many Evangelical Christians are warning that God will soon reject us as His chosen nation.

The American Family Association’s Tim Wildmon said the Supreme Court decision is America “shaking its fist at God Almighty.” Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert said the Supreme Court had gone “against the laws of nature and nature’s God.”  Chairman of the Republican Party in Alabama, Bill Armistead called the rulings, “an affront to the Christian principles that this nation was founded on. ” Pat Robertson evoked Sodom and Gomorrah in his reaction, warning folks to remember that there “God did something pretty drastic.”

To the religious right the DOMA ruling, especially, is a sign of a disobedient nation turning its back on God.

But to my view it is not the nation that has turned its back on God, it is God who has turned away from us—and it’s not a recent occurrence. God forsook America a long time ago.

We can proclaim, “God bless America,” until we are blue in the face, but the truth of the matter is, our ideas of blessings are all upside down. We see money, wealth and power as blessings from God, when in reality they have everything to do with a human “will to power.”

Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart might have been talking about “God Bless America” theology when he said, some 700 years ago:

“Some want to see God with their own eyes, just as they see a cow; and they want to love God just as they love a cow. You love a cow because of the milk and cheese and because of your own advantage. This is how all these people act who love God because of external riches or because of internal consolation. They do not love God rightly; rather they love their own advantage.”

And that’s us. We love God for our own advantage. We praise God because we see God as the source of wealth and happiness. In this way we do what German theologian Karl Barth, in his Epistle to the Romans, calls “confounding time and eternity.”

“This is the ungodliness of our relation to God. And our relation to God is unrighteous. Secretly we are ourselves the masters in this relationship. We are not concerned with God, but with our own requirements, to which God must adjust himself.”

By believing that God is on our side against some evil force we make God adjust to our requirements. We beseech God for victory over the “evil” we see, but we are requiring God to conform—explaining “God’s” actions using our own deep prejudices. 

By lying to ourselves this way, we serve what Barth calls “No-God,” where

“God is experienced […] in the likeness of corruptible man […] in the half-spiritual, half-material creations, exhibitions, and representations of His creative ability — Family, Nation, State, Church and Fatherland.”

American culture worships the “No-Gods” of military might, money and capitalism, “family values,” “the war on terrorism,” and most especially its state form of piety clothed in conservative evangelical Christianity.

The linking of a particular strain of conservative religion with the “blessed” social order and setting it up as the arbiter of human freedom within history is just what Barth is talking about. In this way, Barth asserts, we create a “criminal arrogance of religion.” 

This arrogance, the equating of our own desires with the desires of God, leads to an inverted set of values. We see “blessings” as material goods—wealth, health, cars, homes, and power. Those who are poor and disenfranchised are definitely not blessed, are in fact morally suspect. They must have done something “wrong” to deserve such a horrible fate.

The material wealth enjoyed by the United States is not evidence of God’s blessings—I propose that it is evidence of God’s absence. I believe that God has given up America—remember the first chapter of Romans? About how God deals with idolaters who worship material things?

And then there’s Matthew 5:3-11: those who are blessed are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, those who are peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. 

Just to remind the “God Bless America” contingent, the United States, as a nation, does not possess any of the qualities of blessedness that the biblical Jesus spells out.

We are a rich nation, where the meek, the hungry and the peacemakers are marginalized—even within the nation’s churches. We are not God’s chosen nation. We are a nation forsaken by God, a nation that has forgotten that to be truly blessed is to be humble, ready to empty ourselves in service to others.

If God is the source of all, the ground of all being—that flows without regard to race, color, creed, sexual orientation, nationality, wealth, or piety—we are blessed only when we realize we are not living simply for ourselves, or for our tribe, but for one another.

 

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