Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Loving America By The Book

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Dr. Rodney Plunket

"Loving America By The Book"

Since this past Friday was our nation’s Independence Day, our national birthday, it seems to me particularly appropriate for us to come together and ask, “How should we, as Christians love our country; how should a people of The Book love America according to the teachings of that Book?” I have chosen three examples from the Bible which I think are relevant in teaching us how to love America. Let’s go to The Book.

Please open your Bible to Isaiah (Isa) 1.

Is. 1:1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

2 Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;

for the Lord has spoken:

I reared children and brought them up,

but they have rebelled against me.

3 The ox knows its owner,

and the donkey its master’s crib;

but Israel does not know,

my people do not understand.

Is. 1:4 Ah, sinful nation,

people laden with iniquity,

offspring who do evil,

children who deal corruptly,

who have forsaken the Lord,

who have despised the Holy One of Israel,

who are utterly estranged!

Is. 1:5 Why do you seek further beatings?

Why do you continue to rebel?

The whole head is sick,

and the whole heart faint.

6 From the sole of the foot even to the head,

there is no soundness in it,

but bruises and sores

and bleeding wounds;

they have not been drained, or bound up,

or softened with oil.

Is. 1:7 Your country lies desolate,

your cities are burned with fire;

in your very presence

aliens devour your land;

it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.

8 And daughter Zion is left

like a booth in a vineyard,

like a shelter in a cucumber field,

like a besieged city.

9 If the Lord of hosts

had not left us a few survivors,

we would have been like Sodom,

and become like Gomorrah.

Is. 1:10 Hear the word of the Lord,

you rulers of Sodom!

Listen to the teaching of our God,

you people of Gomorrah!

11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?

says the Lord;

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

and the fat of fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

or of lambs, or of goats.

Is. 1:12 When you come to appear before me,

who asked this from your hand?

Trample my courts no more;

13 bringing offerings is futile;

incense is an abomination to me.

New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—

I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals

my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me,

I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you stretch out your hands,

I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers,

I will not listen;

your hands are full of blood.

16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove the evil of your doings

from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,

17 learn to do good;

seek justice,

I want to stop right here for just a moment. The prophet is speaking for God, and he is speaking words that clearly convey God’s white-hot anger due to the evil of the people and the leaders of the nation of Judah. But what exactly are they doing? Up to now we have had no explicit examples of what behaviors they are to change to become pleasing to God. In the next few lines God we hear of the changes that need to come. In the next few lines God expresses what the people are to start doing that they have not been doing. Hear what they are to change. Please look with me at the reminder of verse (v) 17 and then listen to the word of God in verses 18-20.

rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

plead for the widow.

Is. 1:18 Come now, let us argue it out,

says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be like snow;

though they are red like crimson,

they shall become like wool.

19 If you are willing and obedient,

you shall eat the good of the land;

20 but if you refuse and rebel,

you shall be devoured by the sword;

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (NRSV).

God is, through the prophet Isaiah, calling the nation, which God loves, to repent and change. The people are evil. Their “hands are full of blood” (v 15). Who is it that they are abusing? Whose blood have they shed? Verse 17 lets us know the answer to that question. The people against whom the nation of Judah has sinned are the people who have fallen from or been kicked off of “the power ladder.” It is the “oppressed,” “the orphan,” and “the widow.” Those were the groups that had no political power and no financial influence. They were, therefore, “easy pickings” for those who did have political power and/or wealth. They were the ones who were abused. They were the ones who suffered one injustice after another. They were the ones who lost their lives at the hands of their own fellow Jews. And God was so angry that God was ready to destroy the nation of Judah. God was ready to do that because God could stand this sin no longer.

Now please look with me at Isa 3:13-15.

Is. 3:13 The Lord rises to argue his case;

he stands to judge the peoples.

14 The Lord enters into judgment

with the elders and princes of his people:

It is you who have devoured the vineyard;

the spoil of the poor is in your houses.

15 What do you mean by crushing my people,

by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts (NRSV).

Here God is declaring anger toward the leaders of the nation of Judah. The phrase “elders and princes of his people” in v 14 makes that clear. What have these lead­ers done? They “have devoured the vineyard.” The phrase “the vineyard” is used in the Book of Isaiah to refer to the nation of God’s people, i.e., Judah (see Isa 5:1-7). How have the leaders of God’s people “devoured the vineyard”? The lines that follow that phrase answer that question. They have taken “spoil” from “the poor” and have made that spoil their own. In other words, they have treated the poor of their own nation as enemies. They have, as it were, gone to war against them and have taken what they have as the victors in ancient warfare took home the wealth of those whom they defeated. Again, the prophet cries out, on behalf of God, against the way the people without power are treated. In Isa 1 the terms that are used are “the oppressed,” “the orphans,” and “the widows.” Here the term that is used describes the category that these same types of people fell into. They were poor. They did not have the influence or the power to protect themselves. The leaders of God’s people were to guarantee that justice was granted to these people, but instead they were the very ones who oppressed them.

If we love America according to the teachings of the Bible, if we love America by The Book, we will love our nation like God loved the nation of Judah as revealed by the words of God’s prophets. We will love America by being the voice of those without power or influence. We will love America by crying out for those who often have no one of influence who will listen to them.

Isaiah is just one of the prophets whose message is dominated by cries for God’s people to have soft hearts toward the poor and disenfranchised. And we should note that many of the prophets were men of influence. Some scholars think that Isaiah was a priest, and Jeremiah and Ezekiel certainly were. These men were not without influence; they were from the upper classes; but God took hold of them and made them spokesmen for the lower classes.

It is, I think, not difficult to see a parallel between God’s use of the prophets and the way God can use the members of the Broadway church of Christ. May we be prophetic voices. May we cry out for the people whom often are completely factored out of all the political equations. And may whatever political influence we have be used to focus attention upon the needs of America’s poor and disenfranchised. That is one way to love America by The Book.

The next two lessons that I hear from the Bible on how to love America are found in the New Testament. Please look with me at 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (1Tim) and follow along as I read.

1Tim 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

Now please turn to 1 Peter (1Pet) 2:13-17.

1Pet 2:13 For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, 14 or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

As many of you will know, the kings and emperors of the ancient world were often unbelievably heinous persons. Their evil often expressed itself in sick and perverted ways. But the New Testament is very clear. The Christians of that day were to pray for them and to honor them.

I confess that I struggle with this teaching. I find political leaders very easy to criticize, and I get so caught up in criticizing them that I do not honor them in anyway at all. I believe that I am supposed to pray for my leaders from an attitude which honors them. And I am trying to learn how to be a prophetic voice of critique while, at the same time, being a person who honors and prays blessing upon our nation’s leaders.

I have been around this church long enough to know that we have many members who have an easier time praying positive prayers of blessing for and honoring leaders who are Republicans than they do upon Democrats. We have a smaller number of members who have the exact opposite problem. My problem may be more severe. You see, I have just as much trouble with Republicans as I do Democrats. So I ask you, please commit with me today to love America by The Book by honoring leaders with whom we agree and with whom we do not agree and by praying for all of our leaders with an attitude of honor in our hearts as we pray. Please join me in prayer now. [I led a prayer for President George W. Bush, his cabinet, and other leaders at this point in the sermon].

For the third lesson concerning loving America by The Book, I want to note briefly a passage in the Book of Acts and a passage in the Book of Revelation. In Acts 17, we read of Paul’s sermon in the city of Athens. In that sermon Paul makes use of an idol that he saw as walked through the city. Listen to what he says:

Acts 17:23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

Remember that Paul was a Jew. Jews were commanded not to make any idols. Yet Paul the Jew connects an idol in Athens to the living God of the Bible. That is radical.

In Revelation 13 we have the story of the Red Dragon. That story makes clear use of a pagan myth known all over the world of Paul’s day. I doubt that any of the original readers of the Book of Revelation had not already heard the pagan version of this myth. Yet the inspired apostle John takes this myth and uses it to convey a message of Jesus, a message concerning the incredible power of the living God.

If we are going to love America by The Book, we must do what Paul and John did. We must embrace America’s secular culture enough to be able to find ways to proclaim Jesus, ways that are built into that culture. If we use means to connect with our culture that simply do not connect, then we will be irrelevant and fruitless. God will find others to spread the Good News. God will not use us.

Surely we all want to be instruments of righteousness in the hands of God. Let’s learn from Paul and John. Let’s make sure that we find ways to spread Christian faith to our culture.

Let’s love America by The Book. Let’s love America like the prophets did by being God’s voices for those without power and influence. Let’s love America as Paul and Peter teach us to do by honoring our leaders and praying for them from a stance of honor. Let’s love America like Paul loved Athens and John loved the people of Asia Minor by embracing our secular culture enough to find the best way to connect the Bible’s Good News to that culture.

We are going to sing “God Bless America” now. Please pray this song. Please pray that God will bless in God’s way our nation.

If you have a spiritual need that we can address, please come now as we stand and sing.


Broadway Church of Christ, Lubbock, Texas

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