Posted by: sarahkennedy33 | May 25, 2008

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land

Ahhh….Memorial Day weekend…bbqs, pool parties, sunscreen, no school on Monday…and patriotic songs in church? Apparently. Growing up, I don’t remember there being much of a focus on patriotic holidays in our worship services, but at the church I’ve been worshiping at for the past two years, I leave worship each Memorial Day weekend and each 4th of July weekend feeling SO frustrated! Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate some level of patriotism. I have family members who have fought in wars, who have made huge sacrifices, and I have incredible amounts of respect and honor for those people and their service. I think that our veterans and military people should be honored and celebrated, and their families should be supported. I’m not convinced, however, that a worship service is the appropriate place to do so.

The Reformed understanding of worship (okay I am taking a class on Reformed Worship right now, forgive the nerdy-ness but the Book of Order is fresh in my brain!) is that the focus should ALWAYS be on God, on proclaiming God’s word, and on turning our minds and our attention to the Risen Christ. Worship is NOT about making ourselves feel better or glorifying something or someone other than God. Our prelude this morning was a mix of patriotic songs, songs which I have always loved, but songs that do not bring our focus to Christ as we prepare for worship. (The Dixie Land March or whatever it is called brings to mind picnics and parades, not humbling ourselves before the throne of God.) The choir anthem today, America the Bautiful, while a beautiful song, is not preparing our hearts to hear the word of God proclaimed. As we sang along with the choir, the words projected on the screen with an image of a church with the waving American flag in the background I couldn’t help but ask the question “what are we communicating here theologically??” What if someone from a third world, war torn, impoverished country was visiting Los Angeles and happened to wander into our church this morning. What message would they have walked away with? That God must be “on our side?” What would they think as they look around and see 200 + people sinigng “God shed his grace on thee?” I’d imagine something along the lines of “are you kidding? He HAS! Why aren’t you asking ‘God show us how we can shed your grace on the rest of the world that desperately needs it??'” We have been abundantly blessed, so why do we continue to pray for God to ‘bless’ America? We seem to forget how big this world is, and how fiercely and passionately God LOVES other countries. (and I admit, I am pointing my finger at myself here too, I forget all the time to look at things with a global perspective).

I think the bottom line for me, and why this patriotism and national loyalties in churches drives me crazy is that scripture makes it abundantly clear that this world is NOT our home. As Christians our primary identification should not be as a citizen of the United States, but as a resident of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that has already partially come and that will come in full one of these days. Yes, we need to live in this world, we need to be involved in government, in our cities, and societies, and work for the transformation of these structures/institutions, but as we do, we need to be careful to not let our patriotic feelings turn into “America worship.” The United States is a great country, but it too, one day, will pass away. We will be standing shoulder to shoulder in the Kingdom of Heaven someday with Christians from South Korea, Afghanistan, Russia, Sweden, Argentina, Iraq, Jordan, and South Africa singing praises to the One who sits on the throne. I believe that is what should be celebrated in our worship services. Host all the church picnics, patriotic song sing-a-longs, parades etc that you want, but when it comes to worshiping the triune God on Sunday mornings, let us all remember that this land is not our home, we belong to a Kingdom much greater, stronger, and more powerful than the United States will ever be. Thanks be to God!

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