Posted on Thu, Jul 7, 2011
Rev. Dr, Merritt's Sermon
One Nation Under God
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
July 3, 2011
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under god with liberty and justice for all.
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Parent in heaven; who makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Parent is perfect.
“One nation under God,” what does it mean? Will you pray with me?
God, we thank you that we live in a nation that allows us to explore these ideas freely. We thank you for the gift of your son who comes to set us free, all of us, without exception. So bless us in this time and make the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts pleasing to you. AMEN.
In his Ministry Matters article, Shane Raynor writes, “The Pledge of Allegiance is back in the news again. This time it’s because the NBC television network cut the words “under God, indivisible” from a presentation during its coverage of the U.S. Open over the weekend. The negative feedback was so strong that NBC was forced to apologize to viewers during tournament coverage the same day. It seems pretty obvious that the words were left out intentionally, but we don’t know exactly who was responsible for the omission. Was it a decision of the network or one or two employees?
We know that there are people who don’t like the Pledge for a lot of different reasons. Jehovah’s Witnesses say it’s idolatrous. Some atheists like Michael Newdow don’t like the reference to God. Religious left leader Barry Lynn isn’t an atheist, but he’s no fan of “under God” because he says it violates the Establishment Clause in the Constitution. Federal Courts, however, have disagreed with Dr. Newdow and Rev. Lynn, including the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
I agree with Raynor who suggests that his own Christian faith won’t allow him to get completely comfortable with the Pledge of Allegiance. Here’s why: I don’t like pledging unconditional allegiance to anyone or anything other than God. I wouldn’t mind pledging conditional allegiance, but that’s not the way the Pledge of Allegiance is written. Anyone who takes the power of their words seriously should examine it carefully. It’s kind of like a blank check and I don’t write blank checks.
Raynor concludes, as do I, that some folks no doubt view me as a traitor (or something close to it!) Yet what many people don’t realize is that the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t even appear on the scene until 1892, and it was actually written by a socialist. The pledge itself has been changed at least four times, with the latest change happening in 1954. Since the republic managed to survive for over 100 years without the Pledge of Allegiance, I don’t feel we should use it today as a litmus test for patriotism.
Now I really enjoy the constitution, especially the preamble because I really do believe it represents a commitment to Godly government. I love the words, “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. Why, because just like when I read and study the gospels concerning God’s love for us, I find no exceptions in this phrase. I don’t see anything that suggests only for white people or only for straight people or only for rich people or only for the elite. I see a statement about the general welfare and that means all of us. I read about securing the blessings of liberty for all of us and for all of our children and for all those who will come after us; ALL of us. And as a committed follower of Jesus I love that.
We know that our practice falls far short of the ideal set forth on the US Constitution. Many of us labor tirelessly for social justice: for the LGBT community, for the poor, for immigrant rights, for women’s rights, for HIV/AIDS funding, for basic equal treatment under the law and in religious institutions. This work can become a heavy burden to the point where we are “overburdened.” I remember a point in my own ministry when I just burned out on taking care of people who were dying from AIDS related illnesses. I had to have a break. We are often frustrated that progress is not being made as fast as we would like it. The energy we put into justice work is often thankless and the benefits often seem very limited.
Jesus says as a loved one, “Come to me and lay down your frustrations and fears. Instead, let me teach you love and trust.” As community leaders, we cannot allow ourselves to become isolated from our colleagues and from our own support systems. We must rely on them even more heavily when the going gets tough and we near the point of burnout. We must maintain and increase our own self-sustaining spiritual practices. Jesus’ call to himself is a call to surround ourselves with people who affirm our lives, not despite who we are but because of who we are. Then and only then can we work toward a nation and a world that is truly “One Nation Under God.”
At dinner the other night why I am so involved in the Campus Ministry at UF. I responded because I WANT all the kids that none of the other ministers want to work with. Send them to me, whoever they are, and I will do my best to love them and take good care of them.
In closing, I turn to another one of our national icons. These words sum up what it would truly mean for us to become “One Nation Under God.”
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
The inscription on the Statue of Liberty tells us how to truly become “One Nation Under God.” That, my sisters and brothers, is the Jesus way of living. So let us lift up our lamps for freedom, equality and justice for all God’s people. Let this be a golden door where all who come experience love that will not let them go and love that will not turn them away. Then and only then can we truly be part of “One Nation Under God.”
May God bless you and may God Bless America.