Don’t be alarmed by the title – “A Benediction for America”. I know that the benediction is said as our worship ends and we part company. But we are not parting company as a nation, and America itself is not coming to an end anytime soon – at least I don’t have any reason to believe that. So no, I am not giving the United States last rites.
“Benediction” comes from two Latin words: “well” and “to speak”. So it means to speak good words,
to pronounce a blessing. And our benediction for America is found in the heart of Psalm 33 – verse 12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.”
As is often done in benedictions at the close of worship, words to challenge or encourage us are mixed in with the blessing. And so it is in this verse. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD …”
That is a statement of fact: if a nation’s God is Yahweh, the one true God who reveals Himself to human beings through the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, redeems them through the blood of His Son, and gives them new life by the Holy Spirit, then that nation is blessed.
But contained in that fact is a challenge or encouragement for our nation. A lot of people who quote this verse while waving their flags do so assuming that the Triune God we worship is America’s God. But that is a dangerous assumption – one which can lead to self-righteous smugness or complacency. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is God over all Creation, but is God the God of America’s heart?
Early in our history, the vast majority of Americans were Christians of one stripe or another – so it could easily be said that our nation’s God was the LORD. Not officially, though – because our Constitution does not establish Christianity or even the Judeo-Christian tradition as our national faith. In fact, the only mention of any deity in the document comes at the end, where it is dated “in the Year of Our Lord.” And the First Amendment prohibits Congress from establishing a national religion.
In 1863, a coalition of Protestant denominations pushed for a Constitutional amendment to acknowledge our God in the Preamble. They believed that the Civil War was God’s judgement on America for leaving God out of our Constitution. Abraham Lincoln was sympathetic to the movement, but he did not want to offend abolitionists who were very often Unitarians. Without his support, the proposal went nowhere. Attempts in 1874, 1896, and 1910 never got past Congress.
And yet, most Americans were still Christian. So the God of the Bible could still be considered America’s God. But what about today? It appears still to be true: a substantial majority of Americans claim to be followers of the God of the Bible. A poll taken last year by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 71% of Americans say they are Christian or Jewish.
That sounds promising, doesn’t it? But that was down four percentage points from a Gallup Poll taken just the year before. And the None, Atheist, or Agnostic category came in at 24% – six points higher than a year earlier.
Even more disturbing is the fact that attendance at worship is slipping rapidly. Between 2009 and 2013,
the percentage of American Christians who went to worship almost every week slid by more than ten points –
to 31%. So the remaining Christians are practicing their faith less and less. That means that other gods are pushing the One True and Living God to the margins.
And what are those other gods? You can probably name them: kids’ sports, family gatherings, golf, sleep, leisurely breakfasts, binge-watching Hulu. Work is also an issue – and if it is, we as a church have to address ways to help. All of these – with the possible exception of binge-watching – are not a problem in and of themselves. But when we find it easier to say yes to them and no to worshipping God, we are moving God to the sidelines of our lives.
Please forgive me if I am pushing the survey results too hard – but 31% of 75% is less than 25%. The numbers seem to say that one out of four Americans makes worshipping God a priority. So God may still be America’s God, but at best it is in name only. Does God rule our lives? Do God’s Word and God’s will influence our decision-making? And do they influence our public policy?
I think that is where we have uncoupled our nation from our God. Yes – it is time to name the elephant in the living room. We in the United States – because we have a glorious history of freedom, have made freedom our nation’s god. The freedom to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and no one should dare to question us.
Tomorrow, we will remember the one-point-one million Americans who gave their lives so we could enjoy our freedom. Thank God they will never know that we – as a nation – have turned that liberty into license, that so many of us have declared our independence from God.
I’m sorry if that sounds harsh – but we as a nation must do some soul-searching. We must see that our insistence on our rights rather than our responsibility to God lies at the heart of most of our problems. If we submitted ourselves to God, would we have so much crime, injustice, domestic violence, sexual harassment and sexual abuse, racism, sexism, ageism, and addiction?
And those of us who profess faith in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must hit our knees and pray that our nation would repent and embrace the LORD as our nation’s God again, so that God will bless our nation again. This is what Paul wrote in our passage from his first letter to Timothy:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone –
for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
So we are not giving America last rites – we are giving her a benediction: a prayer that our nation would return to God and that God would pour out blessings on our nation once more.
So let us go to God to confess our sins as a nation and to ask for God’s forgiveness and blessing.
The confession portion of this prayer comes from Anne Graham Lotz – Billy Graham’s daughter:
O God who sits enthroned above the earth, who stretches out the heavens like a canopy, who brings princes to nothing and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness, we confess to you our sins as a nation:
We confess our foolishness of denying You as the one true living God, our Creator to whom we are accountable, living as though our lives are a cosmic accident with no eternal significance, purpose or meaning.
We confess we no longer fear You, and thus we have not even the beginning of wisdom with which to handle the vast knowledge we possess.
We confess to believing that the prosperity of our nation is because we are great, while refusing to acknowledge that all blessings come from your hands.
We confess that we depend upon our military might and our weapons systems to defend us from harm and danger while denying, defying and ignoring You.
We confess that we have succumbed to the pressure of pluralism and our desire to be inclusive so that we honor other gods as though You are just one of many.
We confess that we have allowed the material blessings You have given us to deceive us into thinking we don’t need You.
We confess that we feel entitled to what someone else has earned instead of taking responsibility for ourselves and our families as we trust in You.
We confess that we live as though material wealth and prosperity will bring happiness.
We confess our greed that has run up trillions of dollars of national debt. We confess our arrogance and pride that has led us to think we are sufficient in ourselves.
We confess national addiction to sex, to money, to pleasure, to entertainment, to pornography, to technology, to drugs, to alcohol, to food, to television, to popularity, to ourselves.
We confess that we have marginalized truth and mainstreamed lies.
We confess that we have become one nation under many gods divided and polarized, with license to sin and justice that often does not follow the rules of law.
By Your Holy Spirit, call us back to Yourself. Give us ears to hear Your voice and eyes to see you as Lord of all. May our love be for You only. May our loyalty be to You only. May we bow before You only.
We ask You to bless us with love to replace hatred, respect to replace distain, honesty to replace falsehood, faithfulness to replace infidelity, generosity to replace greed, cooperation to replace obstruction, unity to replace division, prosperity to replace poverty, compassion to replace indifference, repentance to replace rebellion, peace to replace war, and true freedom to replace bondage.
And as the Psalmist sang, “We wait in hope for You; You are our help and our shield. In Your our hearts rejoice, for we trust in Your holy name. May Your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in You.” We pray for this in the name of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.