Grace and peace to you and yours in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This past Monday we celebrated Memorial Day. The day itself began following the Civil War by the southern states and was known as Decoration Day with flags being placed on the graves of those who died in battle. The North quickly adopted a similar day of their own. Memorial Day, as Decoration Day gradually came to be known, originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War.
During World War I this holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. There is more to its history, but this gives us its origins outside of the political arena that often encroaches on such events.
Sadly, there are those Christians today who talk like we should have no loyalty for our country. It’s the thought that if one loves the country it’s a bad thing because the wars were fought for bad reasons, which might be true of some wars, but certainly not all. To be sure, loyalty to our nation must never be our ultimate loyalty. We must always obey God first rather than men.
However, Jesus shows us it is possible to honor God and honor Caesar. In Luke 20:25 Jesus said on the question of taxes, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” However, the implications of our Lord’s word extend beyond far beyond the realm of taxes. Jesus is saying that there are duties to government that do not infringe on our ultimate duty to God. It’s possible to honor lesser authorities (like those in government) in good conscience because they have been instituted by a greater authority, God.
The New Testament echoes our need, as Christians, to respect and honor our nation. In Romans 13:1 Paul says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” The church is not the state and the state is not God, but it doesn’t mean the church must always be against or in opposition to the state. It’s possible to be a good Christian and a good American. Patriotism is not bad. Singing our national anthem and getting choked up is not bad. Allegiance to God and allegiance to our country do not have to be at odds with one another.
Hence, we can honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives by dying for our country as Christians. Nor should it surprise us that over the years Memorial Day has become a time to remember not only those who have died in wars, but those who are serving our nation that God would protect and watch over them to keep them safe.
Memorial Day might be a national holiday, an American holiday to be specific, and not a church holiday, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it or worse, condemn it as some feel hard pressed to do in today’s churches. In fact, as Christians, we are compelled to pray for our nation’s leaders and for our nation. 1 Timothy 2:1-3 makes that very clear. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior. . .
Just as our church here at St. Paul has both the flag of the church and the American flag in the chancel, so too must we be conscious of our duty to God as supreme and still acknowledge our duty to our nation. They are not incompatible.
I hope, even in this time of COVID-19 with its many restrictions, that as you celebrated Memorial Day in whatever ways you found comfortable and possible, you took a moment to remember those who gave their lives in defense of this nation, even in wars that were not fought for the best of reasons. Those who fought and died didn’t get to express their opinion but served faithfully nonetheless. I would also encourage those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior that we daily pray for our leaders that they might alien themselves in God’s service, according to His will, and not something less desirable .
After all, we are “ONE NATION UNDER GOD.”
God bless. Stay safe and stay well.
Pastor Lee R. Harder