The Psalmist wrote, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom He has chosen as His heritage!” Ps. 33:12. What a blessing to know that despite our sinfulness, despite our weaknesses, our gracious God has still chosen us in Jesus, and claimed us as His very own. It isn’t by random chance or mistake that the God who chose us places us where we are. He has a plan. He always has a plan, for your life, for my life, for all of those He has redeemed through the blood of Jesus. He has placed us in this great Nation, and in this 241st year of existence, we celebrate the freedoms we have as citizens of this country. Of course our true freedom comes through Jesus, and what a grand opportunity to celebrate again and again the 500th Reformation Anniversary celebration of the freedom of the Gospel! Still, it’s a great time to celebrate this Nation!
Irving Berlin is noted among 20th Century America’s most beloved lyricists and composers. In fact, George Gershwin once called him “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.” While some may argue that point, Berlin, in his time, produced many familiar and popular tunes during the Second World War, that brought comfort and hope to our Nation. Many of his tunes were used in some of the great Broadway shows of that time, and they have an enduring quality even today. One of my favorite songs that Berlin wrote he penned on a hot July in 1940 in California. No one could have predicted just how popular the song, “White Christmas” would be, but even now at Christmas it still has a strong sentimental place in many hearts.
Long before his success with “White Christmas,” in about 1918, Berlin wrote another tune that captured our Nation. The song is “God Bless America,” and he wrote it while serving in the Army during World War I. Later, during World War II, he revised the words to the song that most of us have heard again and again. “God bless America, land that I love; Stand beside her and guide her, through the night with the light from above.” Here is what I find so fascinating. Berlin was born Israel Isidore Baline in Tolochin, Russia. With the persecution of Jewish people, his family fled to the United States when he was still a baby, but he heard the stories, and he was grateful to be in a country that not only received his family, but gave him unparalleled opportunities. Berlin held a deep appreciation for his adopted country, and he was considered by many to be a patriotic supporter. He celebrated this nation!
Last month I was summoned for Jury Duty, and almost got on a case. As we gathered in the Jury Room at the beginning of the day, we were sworn in, and then we stood together, well over a hundred of us, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I must admit that it’s been some time since I’ve had occasion to do that, and my immediate thought was, “Do I remember the words?” Honestly, as we began speaking it, like riding a bike (which I also haven’t done for a while…) the words just came. Amidst all of the issues we face as a nation, it almost seems as if we have forgotten being “one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
How easy it can be to take our liberties for granted. While there are certainly things that perhaps each of us would wish to change, we live in a marvelous place filled with ample opportunities and experiences that many others in our world simply don’t ever get. God has blessed us in so many ways, and while there is work to be done, God has placed each of us here for such a time as this, as witnesses of the love and grace of Jesus Christ. What a joy to celebrate our faith in this nation!
In Acts 3:17-21, Peter says, “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”
God’s calling on our lives is to proclaim the saving name of Jesus to the nations, beginning in our own neighborhood. He washed us clean in the waters of Holy Baptism, He has given us the gift of His Word, and we have the right, privilege and freedom to worship Him, all so we can grow in our faith. God is purposeful in all He does. His desire is that all are saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. He equips, empowers and engages us as His missionaries in the conditions He has placed us so we can tell others of His love and grace. So, let me ask you, do your neighbors see Jesus living in you? Often, because of ignorance or sometimes even willful disobedience, we have not allowed the light of Jesus to shine through us.
If that’s true for you, and I admit there are times it’s true for me, we aren’t alone! Consider the Apostle Peter. We often remember him as the leader of the Apostles, but the truth is, he wasn’t always a particularly good witness throughout his sojourn with Jesus, sometimes putting his foot in his mouth. He knew how to talk the talk, but he learned that walking the walk takes time and is a learning experience. Right before the crucifixion of Jesus Peter pledged his undying loyalty to Jesus, and then quickly denied him when the pressure was on. Following the resurrection Peter hid with the rest of the disciples, and they slowly went back to their former life of fishing. Yet, God’s call was on Peter’s life. That wasn’t the end of the story. One morning, following the resurrection, as the disciples were fishing, Jesus called to them from the shore. You no doubt remember the story. From John 21 we read, “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus restored Peter and refocused him as a servant. It wasn’t until the power of God’s Spirit came on Peter that he really began to catch on, and even then, from time to time, he made blunders. Even then, he knew who to turn to for forgiveness. Here’s the point. Peter is an example for each of us of the true power of restoration.
We, too, can know the relief from sins forgiven and God’s refreshing restoration. Jesus sets us free to engage in the Master’s business. He desires to renew us and refresh us so that we are better equipped and empowered and engaged to connect people to Jesus. In Him we have been given such an awesome gift to share with the world. So take time to celebrate your freedom, as a child of God redeemed in Jesus, and as a citizen of this nation. May God bless America, and may He draw us back to the principles upon which this nation was founded and make us bold witnesses of our faith in Jesus. Keeping our eyes on Jesus, we can do this for His sake. As the writer to the Proverbs says, “It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Proverbs 3:8.
Celebrating our nation and our Savior with you,