...God Shed His Grace on thee.
By Rev. Tom Tuura
Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church
The choir sang a beautiful rendition of America the Beautiful on memorial day weekend. I’ve heard that even some of our patriotic songs are politically incorrect. I suspect America the Beautiful is at the top of the list.
“O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain.
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.”
Instilled in me from earliest ages from my father to all the other adults around me including the school and church was this respectful patriotism for our country. No one, no one, in this group was blind to the problems we saw on the evening news and read about in the newspaper, nor were they naive to their solutions. It was God and country, in that order.
The song America the Beautiful and my boyhood patriotism, spring from values of freedom, liberation, bravery, service, hard work and love of God and service to your neighbor. What could be wrong with that?
There is even a term coined for it now originating, I suppose, from the invisible politically correct handbook, that term is “American exceptionalism”. What is implied negatively today is superiority, power and privilege. When I first heard it, I had to ask around. Apparently it has been in use on college campuses for a while. My bad, its been nearly 35 years since I’ve been in college. If you look it up, the actual wording used in the definitions aren’t that bad. It is very carefully worded. Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post says it best in a September 12 2013 article, “It is actually an old idea, one that until recently was rarely talked about outside of think tanks and academia.”
It should be a neutral term, but judging by where it was coined, it is not. It often implies a negative connotation, for those who use it. In spite of the fact that there are two different types. According to Trevin Wax of the Gospel Coalition in a Feb. 2016 article, Conservatives tend to emphasize patriotism and the uniqueness of American values. Greatness is part of the past on which we build.
Liberals tend to see “exceptionalism” as ...a way of atoning for the ways we have fallen short in the past and still fall short today. Also are failing in terms of policy, education, and in other ways in comparison to the world.
Along with this is the notion that patriotism is a breaking of the first commandment. Again, two words, God and country—in that order. Patriotism is honoring. We are to honor others. Give honor to those whom honor is due, Rom 13:7 (authorities). We are to honor our parents, elders, the poor, our own bodies, widows. Most of all we are to honor our exalted Lord Jesus Christ, Heb. 2:7,9.
Any nation is blessed by God only inasmuch as they are followers of God. Psalm 33:12 “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Historically, life in America quickly became corrupt and godless, as any population in any place or time in history. There was many bad things from the beginning. The brutal slavery and treatment of blacks and others is an example. My own ancestors saw first hand the brutality of the Indian wars and massacres of the 17th century. The natives were manipulated by the British, and promises broken by our own government. There were many other evils right from the start, but God heard the prayers of his people for revival and renewal and sent the first and second and third awakenings, using Whitefield, Edwards, Wesley and others.
At the very start, God honored our early forefathers’ faith and trust and devotion to God. Others who may not have expressed personal faith, acknowledged their Creator. George Washington did kneel and pray at Valley Forge.
Recent presidents have referred to American Exceptionalism including Donald Trump with his “Make America Great Again.” motto. This is doubly offensive to his opponents because of the term America, and the last word “again”. Barack Obama said America was exceptional, but that was because we were a work in progress, and he apologized for our mistakes around the world. But the
most famous presidential reference was Ronald Reagan in his farewell address in 1989, where he quoted the John Winthrop’s sermon known as the city on a hill.
City on a hill. What a picture. That was coined by English Puritan lawyer, and future governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop. He wrote it in a speech, or sermon, still while on board ship. He talks about the responsibilities of a new nation that was still in its infancy. You can easily look it up and read it. He does paint a picture of this new nation in that way, as a city on a hill, but it’s a conditional “if” from Deuteronomy. Moses warned Israel, then in their infancy about God’s warning of judgment if they forsook God. God’s blessings of Israel in the promised land are all conditional.
It occurs to me that I haven’t given you my definition of how America is exceptional. If you are still reading, I’ll let Abraham Lincoln do it. God has been merciful to us as a people. Abraham Lincoln the 16th president, issued this proclamation on March 30, 1863 while the nation was in the throes of the civil war, and the south was prevailing designating April 30, 1863 (just seven years before our church opened), as a national day of humiliation, prayer and fasting.
“Whereas, the Senate of the United States devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation: And whereas, it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history: that those nations only are blessed whose God is Lord:
And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisement in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
This is why our country is truly exceptional. Any country that puts God first. It’s God and country period. God have mercy on our nation.
That’s my view from the Blackberry Patch Pulpit