More than a decade ago, my congregation hosted a patriotic pageant each year called “Sea to Shining Sea.” We had a huge adult choir, a children’s choir, a live orchestra, actors, and dancers. We welcomed color guards from all the armed services. We sang every patriotic song you know, including one that invited veterans from every branch of the service to stand and receive the cheers of the crowd.
Fireworks accompanied the songs, and after the last note, everyone sat with necks craned to the sky and enjoyed 20 minutes of the rockets’ red glare.
Our mission was to get our church’s name before the community, to honor veterans, and to remind our neighbors of the God-honoring principles at our country’s founding.
We hosted the event in a local football stadium, and had no way to guarantee a couple hundred volunteers would be available for a rain date, so we didn’t have one. I remember one year when storm clouds threatened and showers fell on communities all around our site. We prayed fervently for a dry evening, and not one drop fell on our production that day. It seemed sure that God was blessing our event.
I have many warm memories of the church calling on a variety of talents and gifts to make the production possible. Our people built sets and worked sound equipment and mounted lights and directed traffic and prepared refreshments—all for God.
I was sad when the pageant stopped, and I would eagerly support such a project again. On a Friday or Saturday night. In a neutral location. As a means of outreach and community service. Because our veterans deserve to be honored.
But I can’t forget what one reader said to me after Christian Standard published a critique of nationalism a few years ago. “Honoring veterans and singing patriotic songs are all good things,” he said. “But they do nothing to prepare us to receive the Lord’s Supper.” Red, white, and blue blowouts belong in stadiums and parks, not Sunday-morning worship.
Every American patriot can feel a swell of pride and gratitude as we celebrate Independence Day this weekend. We have so many good reasons to love our homeland.
And every American Christian can pray, “God bless America” with fervor and fear. We have so many valid concerns about our country to bring before God in prayer. Let’s be glad when those prayers echo from our pulpits this weekend.
But let’s remember that in God’s eyes, America is only one in a host of nations whose people he loves and wants to save. We may love our country. But our worship is reserved for God alone.