My first summer as a pastor in Pontiac, I saw a sight that just tore me into pieces. A local church had a float in the parade with soldiers holding weapons and a cross painted as or wrapped in the flag. Why was that troubling? Well, in my opinion, too much nationalism can be a dangerous thing when it obscures God’s message or when it is put above God’s Word.
I am a patriot. Absolutely. I love that I live in this country and I want the best for this country and everyone in it…but I firmly believe that we can not let that obscure that God is above any flag and loves the people under every flag!
The message that I read in scripture is that God loves the world and wants the best for everyone in it, not just the United States. In fact, in history it is the times when nationalism is put above the Word of God that people are hurt. When the Hebrew people came into the land of Caanan with more nationalism and sense of entitlement than grace of God they slaughtered everyone and took the land by force. When Europeans put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a native people were ravaged, their people killed, and cultures nearly wiped out. When Medieval religious zealots put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a long terrible series of “Holy” Crusades tore apart Palestine and Europe and destroyed Muslim, Christian, and Jew, alike. If you haven’t put it together on your own, let me point out what I see: In each of these cases (and there are many more examples) religious rhetoric was used to mask what was clearly done out of a sense of selfishness, greed, and national/cultural/ethno-centrism. Put another way? Nationalism and a sense of entitlement were put above God’s Word and God’s apparent desires!
So, when I come to each Fourth of July I do feel pride in our nation and I do feel patriotism…but it also reminds me that we are one nation among many and we cannot forget our place and our greatness. Our greatness stands under God’s and our needs and desires, while important, are not more important than others. So we can and should love our nation and support our olympians, teams, and troops…but we should do so remembering that we do not have to diminish others or God in order to feel love for our own nation and our actions as a country are not necessarily righteous.
I write this blog out of a love for this nation and because I truly hope for greatness from our country. I believe there are great things about this country and I believe greater things are possible for us and by us…if we can focus on the sacred worth of all people and ensure that the dignity of all people is upheld…if we look to the ‘least of these’ to provide love, health, hospitality, witness, and safety…if we find creative new ways to work toward peace and God’s-justice in the world!
I am a patriot, but some of the patriotic rhetoric and imagery that confuses nationalism with religion frightens me. Let us consider, this Fourth of July, the greatness of this nation, but also God’s work we must accomplish to make it ever greater and more grace-filled. On this Fourth of July let us remember that our forefathers were working to find new forms of freedom and find a more perfect government…and that work, in the history of America, is an unfolding one!!! May this be the greatest Independence Day yet as we imagine not just an already-great nation, but an even greater nation under God.
blessings this Fourth of July!
|Contemporary Worship this week at Normal First United Methodist Church|
Here is my message from this past weekend at Normal First United Methodist Church. If you live in the Bloomington-Normal area or are ever passing through on a Sunday morning, I hope you will join us for worship. I generally preach and lead worship at the Contemporary 11:10 am worship service in the fellowship hall, but we have 3 worship services on Saturday evening and Sunday morning to meet your needs!
Not exactly as preached, but you get the idea, at least…
This psalm has turned out to be timeless. It has appealed to people throughout time: Calvin called it a Pauline Psalm because, he said, it contained the truth of the gospels. John Wesley heard this psalm sung earlier in the day and it prepared him for an evening on Aldersgate street when his heart would be strangely warmed.
I think this psalm is timeless because everyone can relate to these words. Despair is a universal experience, isn’t it?
After my mother was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma -an ear tumor- and had brain surgery to remove it about a year ago: I immediately realized that I had similar symptoms. So, last July, I went to my doctor. That was a long wait in the waiting room. They called in an audiologist, then an Ear Nose Throat Surgeon…intense and long waiting.
They wanted only to ‘rule out’ an acoustic neuroma. So we thought we were coming to some resolution when we scheduled with BroMenn for an MRI. It turned out that I didn’t have one of those…but they found a totally unrelated brain tumor in my cerebellum
It was four o’clock on a friday and I found out there was a mass in my brain. That weekend our imaginations went wild. My wife and I fell into the depths of waiting and waiting can cause despair. That weekend was the longest wait of our lives.
I waited until January for a plan of action and to schedule surgery. I waited until February for my surgery. After my surgery I thought I had made it through…but a spinal fluid leak brought me back to St. Louis for another operation in April. It turned out that recovery is just another kind of waiting!
It wasn’t just a brain tumor that left me waiting during this past year. Because my church knew they could no longer afford two pastors, I’ve known I was leaving Pontiac since last fall. If there has been a theme for my year, it is waiting and despair.
Even once it was announced that I would be coming to First United Methodist Church, I found myself excited, but still on medical leave and still waiting.
Like so many people who have come before me, I identify with the Psalmist. A psalmist who was in the depths and waiting… and waiting… and waiting, “more than the night watch waits for morning.”
The psalmist reminds us of the importance of faith that a new day will come. The psalmist reminds us that no matter how far we are lost into the depths; no matter how alone we feel, no matter how much has been placed upon us… no matter what has set us back… hope is the greatest ally we have. That is to say: leaning on God, and having faith that a new morning will come is the greatest comfort we can experience.
I imagine each person here has a time when they were in the depths and waiting. This church has been waiting and in transition these past few months and, I imagine, there is anxiety as you wait for a new pastor.
I have faith that my appointment at Normal First United Methodist Church is the new morning I have been waiting for during this long hard period ‘in the depths.’ I have faith that the people of First Church, the community of Bloomington-Normal and the campus community will bring light into my world and strengthen my faith!
And I hope, that after months of transition and months of waiting for a new associate, that I will brighten up your world, support you in your faith, and join in your disciple-making work here in this community.
|The beautiful stained glass at my new church in Normal.|
This past week has been an incredible journey and I want to thank all of the people of Pontiac and Normal who have made this such a positive and faith-filled transition!
The people of Pontiac shared with me during a farewell reception and the thoughtful cards, gifts, and well-wishing touched me and ensured that we left Pontiac feeling cared-for! Meanwhile, the people of Normal have welcomed us with graciousness that we could not have expected. For instance, two members of the Staff-Parish relations committee (my liaisons with the congregation) showed up on move-in day with a large laundry basket filled with house-warming gifts: things we would need as we started unpacking. They also presented us with gift cards for Steak-N-Shake and Avanti’s. How thoughtful! The Avanti’s card paid for our pizza that night, because we had no dishes unpacked nor energy for cooking!
Fast forward to this past weekend. I had a funeral on Saturday morning and preached at a worship service on Saturday night and two worship services on Sunday morning. I made it though the weekend in pretty good shape, but had a moment during the 9 am worship service communion when fatigue hit me. I had to hold on to the wall and rail to finish, but once I sat down and got to rest, I was fine again.
There are moments like that which remind me that I’m still recovering from surgeries, but, mostly, I don’t feel any different than before my medical problems began. I just have to watch for my moments of stress, weakness or fatigue and know when to slow down or rest…
Mostly, this week has been a joy. I feel as though I have experienced love from one congregation and great hospitality and welcome from another. Who could ask for more than that?
blessings to you,