Preaching on Independence Day

A question for those of you who attended a church service yesterday: Did any elements of the worship service- the songs, sermon, announcements, prayers- acknowledge Independence Day? Did these elements, or lack thereof, seem like an appropriate way to recognize the nation’s most significant holiday while still maintaining the distinction of a Christian worship service?

The American flag and the cross

It’s been six years since July 4th fell on a Sunday, and I’m sure many pastors wondered about the best way to balance this patriotic holiday with liturgy that gives allegiance to Christ alone.  I certainly did.  Some of you remember my questions about the role Memorial Day should play during a church service.  Similar concerns were present as I prepared Sunday’s sermon.  Thankfully my text, Acts 23:11-24:23, lent itself to a succinct interaction with Independence Day.

In this text the Apostle Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and transported under heavy guard to be tried in Caesarea before the Roman governor.  I made two points from this passage.  First, God’s mission will be advanced through any means he chooses, including the corrupt powers and authorities.  And second, our ability to see God’s mission through adverse circumstances is related to our trust in God whatever our circumstances.  The empty cross is evidence that God is trustworthy even when life seems the most bleak.

Somewhere during the first point I recognized the holiday and spoke briefly about the continuum many American Christians position themselves on as related to God’s mission and the role of our country.  One one end are those who see the USA as God’s chosen vehicle to advance God’s purposes in the world.  On the other end are those who experience the nation as another obstacle to God’s redemptive action.  In both cases the nation is seen as the primary player- either for good or ill- when it comes to how God works in the world.

From the Acts text, along with Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ambivalence towards the Roman Empire, I made the case that God will use our country for his purposes despite what it may look like to us.  This doesn’t mean political and social disengagement for the Christian, but it does require a massive dose of humility when making claims about what God can or cannot do through any particular political party, politician, election, legislation, etc.  Paul’s complete trust in the goodness of God even while in chains is a glimpse at what this type of conviction looks like.

Independence Day was certainly not the central theme of this sermon, though that wouldn’t have been appropriate with this text.  Those preachers who set out to write a text directly addressing the holiday had a much more difficult task and I don’t envy the variety of responses they likely received from those on different ends of the continuum.

3 thoughts on “Preaching on Independence Day

  1. Great thoughts, David. I appreciated the sermon yesterday, too. I tend to feel uncomfortable with either extreme on the continuum you mentioned yesterday, and how to continue to place God’s sovereignty above anything else without ignoring the geo-political realm altogether. So thanks for the perspective. Miss hearing you preach – I will definitely need to make it to Bronzeville before too long.

  2. Well I taught in my continue series from Romans chapter three and verses 2 and 3 and on Sunday night I continued my series in Philippians 3. While the song leader had a good song about America, we understood this is the day for worship of the Creator of this Universe.

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