Sunday, July 4, 2010

God and Country

One year out of seven, Independence Day falls on a Sunday. At this morning’s service, the rector at the church we visited chose three patriotic hymns from Hymnal 1982:
  • 718: God of our fathers, whose almighty hand (H40: 143)
  • 716: Gold bless our native land (H40: 146)
  • 579: Almighty father, strong to save, a politically correct, Navy/Army/Air Force version of Eternal Father” (H40: #513 and #512 respectively)
I know the idea of mixing God and Country is controversial in church (not just in civil society), but the two were handled well across the entire service.

The readings were also for 4th of July (rather than Proper 9). The sermon tied to the Epistle (Hebrews 11:8-16), particularly the final four verses:
13. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
He used this to make a point similar to the Lutheran (or at least LCMS) idea of “two kingdoms” — the need to exist both in the man-made civil society and God’s heavenly kingdom. In fact, using the analogy of a foreign embassy, he argued that churches are like embassies of God’s kingdom: when you step into a church, you are on God’s territory, not an earthly one.

Of the hymns, the second verse of the opening hymn (“God of our fathers”) perhaps tied best to the sermon theme:
Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
in this free land by thee our lot is cast;
be thou our ruler, guardian, guide, and stay,
thy word our law, thy paths our chosen way.
The service and sermon were both uplifting and a little depressing. Fifty years from now, it’s hard to see how hymns combining God and Country will ever be sung, due to an unholy conspiracy of rock band contemporary liturgy and militant secularists.

Perhaps the linkage of God and Country in song peaked — with the Protestant Revival — in the 19th Century. But it seems as though it was a constant theme throughout the first 350 years of American settlement, a celebration of our God-given liberties that is fading from the collective memory. The hymns (as with all hymns) provided a way to celebrate, reaffirm and reinforce such a message — hymns that will be gradually pared from the TEC hymnals and ignored by the hymnal-free contemporary worship.

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