From King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. August 28, 1963.
(…continued) Just outside of St. Peter, Minnesota is the Traverse Des Sioux historical site. Traverse Des Sioux is a shallow spot in the Minnesota River where generations of Sioux Indians crossed. In 1851 that area was the site of the signing of a treaty between the many of the chiefs of the Sioux nation and the United States government. In that treaty, the southwest third of what is now Minnesota was practically stolen from the Sioux by our government. In years to come, most of the land granted to the Sioux as a reservation would also taken by the U. S. government; they did not receive, or were swindled out of, most of the cash they were promised; and the promised food and education opportunities were fulfilled only for a while. Within a few years the Sioux were starving, and that led to the Sioux Uprising of 1862. This was typical of how our government treated the native population. We have much to be ashamed of in our history.
But isn’t it interesting that we do know how to be ashamed? Southerners are ashamed of their heritage of slavery. Our whole nation is ashamed of the decades of discrimination that followed the Civil War. We are ashamed of our treatment of the American Indians.
Our Christian foundation has meant that we know something about sin and shame and guilt and honesty and confession and repentance. You don’t find that in all nations. Jesus Christ has had a profound influence on America, and this has been crucial to our life together. When Martin Luther King told us we ought to live up to the principles we were founded upon, and provide freedom and justice for all people, the whole nation listened to that Christian preacher, and began to change. And we know something about forgiveness and about serving others. So when we defeated Germany and Japan in World War II, we spent a sizable portion of our gross national product rebuilding those devastated nations.
Of course, this is a sinful world, and politics is a messy business; so when we try to help others, we often create other, unintended problems. But not always. And our Christian heritage, even if believed by fewer and fewer people, still maintains some of its moral memory and steam. Even as we muddle along, we are oftentimes moving in a good direction. Many of the world’s people seem to think so, anyway. Have you noticed how many people want to come here?
The words “under God” were added to our pledge of allegiance in 1954. Some people think we should take those words out. I think we should leave them in. The words are a good reminder of our dependence on God. But as Christians we need to remember everything that means. We Christians have a book that tells us about the nation of Israel which was also “one nation, under God.” For them, for us, and for every nation that means not only under God’s care, but also under God’s judgement. God is not only watching over us to care for us. God is also watching what we do with the blessings we have been given.
We need what is called “critical patriotism.” Patriotism is a good thing. We should appreciate what God has given us here. Jeremiah told the people to seek the good of the nation they were in, even though they were living in exile in despised Babylon. Our patriotism must not be uncritical; but neither should it be only critical. We have much to be thankful for, but with great blessings come great responsibilities. Jesus told us that to whom much is given, much will be required.
And, of course, this must always be seen also from a larger perspective. This nation is only our temporary home. The Old Testament book of Isaiah says the whole earth is like God’s footstool, and the nations, including this one, are to God like a drop in a bucket. We are to serve God and each other for the little while we are here, as individuals and as a nation. But we are, in fact, primarily citizens of another place, and aliens and strangers here, says the Bible– even in our own homeland.
It is important that we are grateful to God for what is good about America. In an interview this week, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer said that American students are being taught “about all of the pathologies of the United States and very little of the glories.” He went on to say that the animosity bred by educators could have devastating consequences for the future of the United States. He said: “In the end, what brings civilizations down is when the elites lose confidence in the rightness of their cause. We need a new generation of teachers who are not committed to history of the sins of our ancestors. Every civilization is founded upon sins—every single one is founded on dispossession, violence, and appropriation. What distinguishes civilizations are the ones who rise above it.”
Psalm 33:12-15 — Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth; he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.
Luke 12:48b — (Jesus said), “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Jeremiah 29:7 — (Jeremiah said), “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Isaiah 40:15 — Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
Hebrews 11:13…16a — All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth… Instead, they were longing for a better country— a heavenly one.
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!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
–Verses 1-2, America, the Beautiful, by Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), lyrics and music first published in 1910.