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Pray For America

7/4/04

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In the 1991 Gulf War Lee Greenwood's song "God Bless the USA" became popular. You probably all know the line, "I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today." That's a noble sentiment, and I'm sure most of you could say it too. But what does God want us to do for our country? Have you searched the Scriptures on this or merely your own opinions, or perhaps that of some talk show host, or newspaper columnist? If you read Romans 13 and I Peter 3 you'll find God commanding us to be subject to our rulers, honor them, respect them, and pay taxes to them. But what do you find in our text? Paul doesn't command us but urges us to pray for "all those in authority." So can you hear Lee Greenwood singing, "I'd gladly stand up next to you and pray for her still today?"
Praying is one of the things the Lord wants you to do for your country, your leaders, your president. And be clear on this, the Lord wants you to pray for your country even if it's Iraq; your leaders even if they're evil; and your president even if he's not the one you voted for. When I arrived in Louisiana the first Bush was President and I prayed the same prayer I do here. Some of my conservative members were upset when Clinton was elected and I prayed the same prayer for him. But that's what our Lord wants. We are exhorted to pray for our leaders regardless of what we think of them. Consider this. When Paul wrote Pastor Timothy, one of those he urged him to pray for was the pagan, cruel Emperor Nero. This was the very man who would eventually behead St. Paul.
Pray for America. Why? because God exhorts us to and because this is the path to a peaceful, quiet life in all godliness and holiness. Paul does not say that this is what we are praying for but this will be a result of our praying. Friends, when I am agitated by politics; when I play God by being certain that this or that must happen, I'm anything but peaceful and quiet; I'm a long way from not worrying about tomorrow. I'm like Jim Carey in Bruce Almighty. God lets Carey be God for a little while. Carey finds he can't handle all the problems, all the decisions, all the needs. And neither can I.
In the 1996 Louisiana senate campaign pro-life Woody Jenkins ran against pro-abortion Mary Landrieu. How I agonized over this. Surely the Lord would see to it that a man who had a record of speaking up for the unborn would be elected; He didn't. I was agitated not peaceful; loud not quiet; ungodly and sinful in my thoughts not godly and holy. God had forsaken the unborn and wronged me personally. Peace only came when in my Bible reading I read about the 4 living beings around the throne of God who day and night without ceasing say, "Holy, holy, holy." Did they even hic-up when the pro-abortion candidate won? If heaven wasn't undone neither did I have to be. When we pray for our leaders and country, our thoughts go to heaven, above the fray where God reigns in peace and quietness, godliness and holiness.
Pray for America: Because God exhorts us to; because this is the path to a peaceful, quiet, godly, and holy life, and because God wishes to save all men. Friends, there is something more important than earthly politics, wars, and even country. There is the eternal salvation of lost souls. This is always what God has in view. He raises up countries and brings them down all for the sake of saving souls. Isaiah 40 tells us, "Behold the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;...All the nations are as nothing before the Lord. They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless." That's the Lord's view of nations; contrast this with His view of even one soul. He will give up all things for the sake of just one soul.
The Lord takes the meaningless specks of dust that are mighty nations to the eyes of men and forms and shapes them for His use. He raised up Egypt to provide for His OT Church. He brought down the mightest nation ever, Babylon, in one night, so He could free His OT Church. He used Rome to tax all the world to bring Mary to Bethlehem to have the Christ as promised. He made tiny England a mighty nation, so the Gospel could be planted firmly in America before unionism, Nazism, communism and socialism all but brought the Church to ruin in Europe. God has shed His grace on nation after nation for the sake of His Gospel and Church.
Because God wants all men to be saved, He exalts one nation and brings down another. Earthly fortunes, politics and fatherlands are destroyed but the Gospel of grace goes on till all the elect of God are gathered safely into the Church. When we pray, "Thy kingdom come," we are sharing in God's passion for lost souls. His kingdom is to come even if it must be at the expense of this or that kingdom or even our own. If God spared not His only Son but gave Him up to redeem the lost, we should not think it strange that He does not spare the kingdom's of men either.
Pray for America because God exhorts us to; because this is the path to peaceful, quiet, godly, and holy lives; because God wishes to save all men and spares no expense to do it; and because only Christians can pray for her. This is Paul's point when he says rather suddenly, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus." Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons and any other non-Christian can pray to God day and night with long, eloquent, wise words, and they are heard no more than the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.
The true God only allows Himself to be approached through the only mediator ever given between God and men, the Man who is God, Christ Jesus. That Mormon, that Hindu, Muslim, or Christian Scientist you know may be nicer than you, holier than you, pray more than you, but God doesn't hear their prayers. The only ones who can approach God's throne come through His Son. Those who come by themselves in their piety, sincerity, or name are turned back. But those who claim to have no holiness of their own, who cling to the holy life Jesus led and the suffering death He died on behalf of sinners, they are heard by God. The only ones who can come to God as Father are those who have been bodied and blooded to Christ their Brother by sharing His death and grave through Baptism.
For Jesus sake, your frail, faltering prayers are heard as booming petitions before God in heaven. No more than you can turn away from your child's cries at night, can God in heaven turn away from your prayers offered in Jesus' name. As you're delighted to meet the needs of your dear children, so your Father in heaven delights to meet your needs dear Christian. And how did Christ teach you to pray? He taught you to pray in the plural not the singular. He taught you to pray, "give us our daily bread; forgive us our sins; lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil." Who do you think the us and our is? Not just your family, not just your neighbors, not just your country, but the whole world. And only you, a Christian, can do that.
Pray for America: because God exhorts us to; because this is the path to a peaceful, quite, godly, and holy life; because God really wishes to save all men; because only Christians can pray; and because the God we know, follow, worship and pray to gave Himself as a ransom for all. Do you see how Paul broadens our focus when he treats the matter of praying for our rulers? It's not just about a nation but about salvation. It's not just about praying for yourself but everyone. It's not just about family, city, state, country, but about all.
You need to think about that word "all." Christ Jesus freely gave Himself as a ransom for all, not just for people we like, or for people like us, or for people we think are worth the ransom. Who on earth could ever be worth the blood of God? Who on earth could ever be worth God the Son being given over to torture and eternal death? Not me. Not you. Not your neighbor. Not this country or any other country that has ever existed or will exist. Yet, God the Son gave Himself as a ransom for all. And that should, indeed it must, change you.
My grandfather shed his blood in World War I for this country; my father shed his blood in World War II. That means something to me. When growing up and my cousin was sent to Vietnam, no one complained. No one said it was unfair. No one said he ought not to be sent or that it was a stupid war. Our fathers and grandfathers had shed their blood for this country, and now it was our turn. Having your grandfather, father, uncle and cousin shed their blood for their country means something, and it ought to. Their being willing to defend it at the expense of their blood called forth from me that same willingness. But there is something bigger, more sacred and precious than the blood of men. That's the Blood of God in the person of Jesus.
If the blood my father and grandfather shed in defending this country calls me to be willing to do the same, what does the blood shed by Savior, God call me to do? It calls me to pray, for others, for America, for all. While the blood of Able pleaded to the skies for vengeance, for violence, for action, the blood of Jesus pleads for our pardon and not just for ours but for the whole world.
The blood of Jesus sprinkled on my body in Baptism, the blood of Jesus over my sins in Absolution, and the blood of Jesus in my mouth in Holy Communion calls forth from me the same pleading, interceding, requesting and thanking that comes from the lips of Jesus. Being in Jesus these petitions echo loudly in the chambers of heaven and work wonders here on earth. All citizens of America ought to be willing to defend her still today, but all Christians are willing to pray for her everyday because their Jesus certainly does. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Day of Special or National Thanksgiving (7-4-04); 2 Timothy 2: 1-8