The kick-off to summer when I was a kid was July Fourth: Mom’s ice cream cake, Sousa marches, singing American-made songs, fireworks . . .
July Fourth was a celebratory, gut-wrenching day. Gut-wrenching because from the corner of my eye I watched my dad brush away tears. He was a POW in WWII. He had fought for flag and country. On the Fourth of July, I watched Dad squirm.
Patriotism for my dad was a cautious, wide-eyed thing. It was blind patriotism, after all, driven by poverty and national narcissism, that whipped up ordinary German citizens into the fervor that led to the world war in which my father was almost lost.
The minister of my home church, a WWII vet himself, feared blind patriotism, too. He introduced our youth group to the concept of loyalty to God. Loyalty to other, lesser things, causes, and people, was fine so long as that loyalty never got in the way of or diminished our loyalty to God. Putting it bluntly, loyalty to anything above God was a sin.
This took me some getting used to. Putting family above God was a sin? Putting country above God was a sin? Putting your friends above God was a sin? I was confused. Didn’t God want me to love this land, these people?
Yes, of course. But the love of God crowns all love, and our loyalty to other things can cripple our loyalty to God. Rev. Andrews used a special word to describe this complicated sin: Idolatry.
Can a person serve two masters? Jesus was talking about money and God (Matthew 6:24). And the answer is “No,” one can serve only one master.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Jesus was talking about taxes belonging to Caesar (Matthew 22:21). Our heart belongs to God.
Who is my mother and father and sister and brother? Anyone who does the will of my father in heaven is my mother, my father, my sister, my brother. Jesus was saying loyalty to God supersedes loyalty to anyone else (Matthew 12:50). Period.
Idolatry is what Rev. Andrews called it. Loving anything or anybody more than God was a sin.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength.” This, Jesus said, was the greatest of commandments (Mark 12:30). It was the most central thing of all, and, for most of us, the most difficult thing to do.
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As a kid on the Fourth of July I felt a lot of patriotic peer pressure to put other, lesser things in front of God. And love of my country seemed problematically at odds with the idea that “God so loved the (whole) world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16).
Yes, in our pledge of allegiance to the flag, we define our nation as, “One nation under God.” But on July Fourth it is easy to put it the other way around. It’s also easy to confuse the causes of nation with the causes of God. Those things may—we hope—overlap, but they are decidedly not the same thing.
The Protestant watchwords Soli Deo Gloria come to mind: glory to God alone.
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Solomon might understand.
Solomon could have asked God for anything. He could have asked for national security, military strength, fame, popularity, world dominion, supreme earthly power—things I might have asked for. Instead he asked for what he knew he needed: a “listening” / “wise” / “understanding” heart.
Solomon knew how easy it would be to lose one’s focus on God and on God alone. After all, his own father—King David—forgot all about God the second he saw the lovely, bathing, married Bathsheba.
So King Solomon prays for what he knows he needs above all else: an understanding heart. He knew there’s so much competing for our loyalty. Solomon knew how easily lines between good and bad, right and wrong blur. Solomon knew how complicated life is. If I’m going to be your servant, I’ll need your heart beating within my own heart. Give me an understanding heart, O LORD. Help me to listen, LORD. Grant me your wisdom.
A listening, understanding heart is what every citizen of every nation always needs. God’s wisdom helps us keep first things first. And with that in mind, may God bless us to be a blessing to our nation—and to the world.
I was born and raised in the sight of water in Hampton, Virginia. I was baptized and nurtured in the Presbyterian church. There was never a time when weekly worship attendance, the giving of ...