Sunday, July 5, 2015
This morning, we remember as a body of Christians the birthday of our nation, and we give thanks to Almighty God for its founding and continuance. I want you to ask yourself a question this morning, am I a patriot? We live in a time that is very distrustful of such ideas, and many younger people have become disillusioned about politics and many other institutions. What I want to suggest this morning is that part of being a Christian is being a patriot. Now first I have clear away some misunderstandings about being a patriot. For example, I don't believe that being a patriot means that you have to blindly follow our elected leaders or be uncritical of their decisions. On the contrary, part of living in a democracy is the responsibility to be educated and informed about what is going on in our nation. We need to be reasonably informed about national, state and local governments and be able to name some of the key figures in those levels of government. It should also be said that to be a patriot does not mean that you have to hate every other nation that isn't ours. I happen to think that we live in a great nation, but it is also far from being infallible both historically and at present. To be patriot doesn't mean you have to blind to these things, but it does mean you have to open your eyes to its virtues, that are evident, for example, in the founding documents of this nation.
Consider for a moment the word patriot. Like many words in English it is derived from a Latin word pater, which means quite simply father. So you can began to understand what it means to be a patriot in that it is someone who recognizes and honors his fatherland. To put this in terms that might have more immediacy, consider the parent-child relationship. It is by definition a one-sided relationship because the parent cares for the child when the child has no ability to care for itself and certainly not to love the parent in return. A parent meets those physical needs for food and shelter and is responsible for the rearing of the child and so has to see that the child is educated and directed towards a vocation. In addition, the parent has to warn the child of all the lurking dangers that can ensnare us, and parents have the unenviable task to try to communicate this wisdom to young people who are naturally bent on thinking that they already know everything. All of these things result in the truth that children have a debt to their parents, and this is why the 10 Commandments enjoin that we honor our mother and father. We have a debt to them for all that they have done for us. The debt is not reduced or canceled even when we come to that maturity where we can recognize the faults and shortcomings of our parents.
Similarly, we owe a debt, albeit a different one, to the country into which we were born. If you enjoy the freedom to worship as your conscience directs you, and the freedom to move geographically and to advance your private welfare through hard work and healthy ambition, if you enjoy the benefits of public education or public services, like parks and roads, then your response should be a sense of gratitude which manifests itself in being a responsible citizen who takes an active part in civic life.
Perhaps the biggest reason Christians need to be patriots is that being a patriot of your earthly nation, teaches you how to be a good citizen of heaven. St. Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. The Bible begins in a garden in a communion between God and a husband and wife. It concludes with a vision of anew city where the city itself is a temple. The citizens of this city are the redeemed offspring of that first couple. If we're going to learn how to be citizens of heaven, there is no better place to learn than in being good citizens, patriots, of our nation. God gives us this school in order that we may learn the virtues of tolerance and patience and love.
One of the concrete ways we can participate in this school of how to become a good citizen is by practicing civic virtues like industry, thriftiness and justice. Those ideas may sound hopelessly old fashioned, but I think they sound old fashioned because we've neglected them so much that they sound foreign, as if they belonged to our grandparents or great grandparents but couldn't possibly belong to us. We need to rediscover these virtues as a basis of our common life and part of the foundation for a good life.
There is a beautiful prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, entitled a prayer for every man in his work. Among other things, the prayer asks for God to “Deliver us. . . in our several callings, from the service of mammon, that we may do the work which thou givest us to do, in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with singleness of heart as thy servants, and to the benefit of our fellow men.” There is a beautiful vision here that we've neglected or forgotten in the perpetual temptation to worship at the altar of mammon, the material wealth of this world. We can get caught up in the frenzy for utility and expediency and forget that we belong to a commonwealth where the welfare of all is to be sought. We can accept in a spirit of resignation the prevailing attitude to treat people as a means to an end, rather than as ends in themselves. As a society, we are tempted again and again to be entertained to death. But lest we despair, wisdom calls us as individuals to cultivate and return to those civic virtues which are the true source for the renewal of civilization in every generation. Today, let us pray for our nation. Let us repent of the ways in which we have put our own private good ahead of the common wealth. Let us pray that the Lord would renew our civilization in our time by the practice of civic virtues and that by perpetually practicing them, we may become fit and made ready to be citizens of that heavenly city.