Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
We are blessed to be both grandparents, and through our daughter in law, now great grandparents.
Our great grandson was over for dinner last year, getting to know us, and one of the things that stood out for him was that we prayed before the meal.
One of the next evenings, at home, he asked his parents to hold hands and pray as we had, and then proceeded:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag. . .”
It was one of the few things he knew by memory, so it made sense to him. Obviously, we all got a kick out of it.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday and one of the questions hanging over the NFL regards an issue that has been part of the public discourse for the last couple of years. Will some players take a knee during the national anthem in order to draw attention to matters of justice and equality in our country?
If some do, there will be many in our country who will be critical of them for showing disrespect to our flag and our country, and others that will applaud them for using their position as a stage to take a stand for something that they believe deeply in.
Regardless what your feelings are on this matter, it has lifted up the various symbols of our democracy and created quite a conversation.
The National Anthem.
The Pledge of Allegiance.
In its original form it read:
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
In 1923, the words, "the Flag of the United States of America" were added. At this time it read:
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words "under God," creating the 31-word pledge we say today. Today it reads:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." (from USHistory.org)
For me the most important words in the pledge, are the last words added, “under God”, and without them I could not say the pledge.
You see, as Christians, or people of faith throughout the world, our allegiance is first and foremost to God, and not to any of the countries in which we might live.
We have another “pledge of allegiance”.
For the Jewish people that pledge, the Shema, is:
“Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”
Muslims likewise have a pledge, the shahada, or witness:
"There is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God"
And finally, as Christians we have a pledge, simple and straightforward:
“Jesus is Lord.”
Our pledge of allegiance as Christians was formulated very specifically as a rebuttal to the pledge of allegiance in their day to the Roman Empire.
In the Roman Empire, people were expected to make the pledge of allegiance to the Roman Empire with the words: “Caesar is Lord.”
The Christians would not, instead affirming their faith that “Jesus is Lord.” And understood in their confession that “Jesus is Lord” was the very strong belief that “Caesar was NOT Lord.”
This was a really big deal. A really big deal.
Today, when football players take a knee during the national anthem, those who take offense at their stance have often chose to criticize them, and in some cases, simply refuse to watch football.
When the first Christians refused to say the pledge to the Roman Empire, “Caesar is Lord”, but instead declared “Jesus is Lord”, they were executed.
It was a really big deal.
The Church also had to deal with the question of what to do with Christians who had caved in, and rather than risk their life, just said “Caesar is Lord.”
Apostasy is what it was called, when Christians failed to make the confession “Jesus is Lord” in order to save their own skin.
Can they be forgiven was the question.
Our lesson today from Isaiah states:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.”
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The rulers of the earth are nothing when compared to our God.
“Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.”
Think about this for a moment.
Think about how absurd it is that we concern ourselves with earthly rulers when our God, who alone is sovereign, reigns.
Earthly rulers rise and fall in the blinking of an eye.
God has reigned throughout all of eternity.
I mean really, earthly politics are like shifting sand.
One ruler will issue a decree, an “executive order”, but before the dust has even settled on it, the next ruler will issue another decree.
Compare this with the decrees of God, that the Bible tells us stand for all eternity.
To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.”
“Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
This image really resonates with me after spending time in Eastern Montana.
We tried to garden there. There were numerous challenges.
We had a garden plot that we tilled. Our organist came by one day when we were working in the garden and heard that we needed some manure, and immediately went home, got her husband, and went out to their ranch and loaded up two truckloads of incredibly rich, well seasoned manure from their stock yard.
With it, we tilled the soil, and planted our garden.
The seeds took root, and the plants shot up.
Everything looked great until the summer wore on.
And then in August, as often happens in Eastern Montana, we had a heat wave.
100 degree temperatures. And the wind blew.
100 degrees, dry arid heat, and a wind of thirty miles an hour.
The plants all whithered. Even if you watered them constantly, there is no way under those circumstances for them to replenish the moisture they were losing.
So it is with the rulers of the earth.
God alone endures from age to age.
There is a conversation I’d love to have in the Church.
Too often we concern ourselves with whether one party or another, one ruler or another, is better.
And we never agree.
The truth is, none of them are that hot.
That’s why Isaiah declares that God “brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.”
I don’t want to talk about whether Democrats or Republicans have the best answers, and certainly not whether one party or the other is more Christian.
The conversation I’d like to have is what it means to confess that Jesus is Lord, and God is the Ruler of the Universe.
You see, politics should not divide the Church, because God is neither Republican nor Democrat.
With one mind, one faith, and one hope, we should pursue to the best of our ability to understand the will of God and seek to conform our lives and the land we live in to his will.
That’s what it means to say “Jesus is Lord”, or “the Lord is our God”, or there “is no god, but God”.
When we confess that God created the heavens and the earth, what does that mean for our daily lives and how we care for this world God created?
When we confess that every human being is created in the image of God how does that affect the way we treat one another?
When we confess that God is the author and giver of Life itself, what does that mean with respect to our honoring the sanctity of all life?
What does it mean for us that Jesus came to us, declaring that the Kingdom of God is at hand?
These are the questions that we should seek to answer, not as Democrats or Republicans, not as Americans or Russians, not as Christians, Jews, or Muslims, or any other faith, but rather as people of God of every time and place.
The ultimate question is simply this: “What does it mean that there is a God?”
To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.”
The obvious answer to this is that no one is equal to the God we confess as Lord and Ruler of All.
What does that mean for our lives?
It either means everything, or nothing at all.