Praying for AmericaPosted: July 5, 2015
Praying for America
SLIDE 3: TRIBALISM AND VIOLENCE
Our scripture this morning is about the moment, when David became the King of all of Israel. Before Saul the Israelites had been twelve distinct and separate tribes, related to one another by some common history and common enemies. But those twelve tribes were fiercely independent and suspicious of one another. They did not give up their individual freedoms easily. A good analogy is the tribalism and violence we see in the Middle East today. Sunni fights with Shiite, who fight with the Alawites and the Wahhabis who don’t like the Druze, and everyone hates the Jews. It’s a mess. Can’t tell the players without a score card.
SLIDE 4: NO INDEPENDENT JEWISH STATE UNTIL 1948
Ancient Israel was a patch work of tribes, with Canaanites living among all of them. They only came together to form a common defensive front against their mutual enemies the Philistines and the Egyptians. For a brief period during the Kingship of David and then Solomon, the twelve tribes of Israel were united and maintained an independent State, with a common capitol, culture, temple and religion that began to flourish. But by the end of the reign of Solomon the rivalries and independence of the individual tribes re-asserted themselves. The Kingdom of Israel broke into two a Northern Kingdom and a Southern Kingdom who proved to be too weak to ultimately fend off their common enemies. First the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, and the Persians, and after the Roman invasion in the First Century BCE, there never was an independent Jewish State until 1948.
SLIDE 5: DEEP DIVISIONS IN OUR AMERICAN LIFE
On this Fourth of July weekend reflecting upon the tribalism and the deep divisions of the Kingdom of David and Solomon I am prompted to consider the very real need to pray for our own nation. Our United States has experienced deep divisions in its past. An example of just how deep those divisions run is that early on in the history of our country, we would have said, “The United States are,” rather than “The United State is.” As a people we thought of our country as a collection of sovereign entities, rather than a single nation. Not until the time of the Civil War did the standard usage change from “the United States are” to “the United States is.” Even today there are some people who still try to claim that state sovereignty trumps our national law.
SLIDE 6: DEEP TROUBLING DIVISION OVER SLAVERY
We need to note that our Republic began its life with a deeply troubling division over slavery. Attitudes of racism developed in response to the need to justify our nation’s “peculiar institution.” And we even fought a devastating Civil War trying to resolve the issue. Racism, however, runs deep in our American psyche, because race was also employed to justify the oppression of our Native American population. And as white settlers expanded into the west and the southwest rationalizations like “manifest destiny” were employed to justify the displacement of Native Americans and Hispanics from their lands occupied by Caucasians. Race and economics have always been closely associated, and much of the emotional energy that fuels the issue of race is associated with wealth and class.
SLIDE 7: LINES OF CONFLICT RUN DEEP
We are a nation of many tribes, and the lines of conflict run deep. In recent months we have witnessed the collision of many emotionally laden symbols of our conflicts, African Americans and the police — Ferguson and Baltimore, the conflict over the Confederate Battle Flag, resistance to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage – some counties refusing to issue any marriage licenses at all, so they do not have to issue licenses to same sex couples.
Then there was the mass murder at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina – one of the oldest African American churches in America and a symbol of civil rights. And while we can rationalize that the white shooter may have been mentally ill, as he was shooting ten people and killing nine he reportedly shouted racial epithets and said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” And lest we believe that the Charleston shooting was a completely isolated incident, let us note that seven predominantly African American churches have been burned across the South since the Charleston shooting on June 17th.
SLIDE 8: RESURGENT KLU KLUX KLAN
A resurgent Klu Klux Klan has asked for a permit to hold a rally at the South Carolina State Capitol to protest calls for a lowering of the Confederate Battle Flag there. The Klan has referred to Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter at the Charleston Church as a “young warrior.” Robert Jones, grand dragon for the group, said on Monday that the Klan is a civil rights organization dedicated to white culture and history as symbolized by the rebel banner.
During a phone interview, Jones gave words of support for Roof, saying he erred in going after black people while they worshipped. “He was heading in the right direction; wrong target,” Jones said. “He should have actually aimed at the African-American gang-bangers, the ones who are selling the drugs to white youth, the ones who are robbing and raping every chance they get.”
While many people would point out that the Klu Klux Klan is a fringe group, I would suggest that in an exaggerated way they reflect deep seated prejudices in our American psyche. The conflicts and divisions of our nation run deep.
SLIDE 9: PRAY FOR THE HEALING OF OUR NATION
Now I raise all of these issues on this Fourth of July Sunday, because I want to encourage everyone to pray for the healing of our nation. As a country we have our problems, but there is also wonderful goodness in the people and the institutions of this land.
SLIDE 10: AT OUR BEST WE REFLECT THE VALUES OF UNITED CHURCH
We have done more to preserve individual diversity, freedom and initiative than almost any other nation on earth. As a result we are one of the most creative and inventive cultures on our planet. We have brought together people from more different racial, ethnic and spiritual backgrounds than any other nation on earth. When we are at our best our United States reflects the values we hold dear at United Church: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.” The United States is an experiment to see if human beings can respect diversity and individual differences, and maintain a form of democratic self-government at the same time. And given our human propensity to identify with our own tribe over against all others, democratic self-government that respects diversity and individual differences is not easy.
SLIDE 11: BECOME A MORE COMPASSIONATE AND JUST SOCIETY
We do not want our nation to come apart. We want to learn how to live together in peace and mutual respect, preserving everyone’s right to be stupid and even wrong, so long as we do not trample upon the rights of others. Individuals or groups who threaten others with violence or intimidation or burn churches cannot be tolerated. In praying for our nation we need to ask God for the healing of our prejudices and racism. We can pray for less polarization in our civil society, and a willingness to forgive and tolerate others. We can ask God to help us become a more compassionate and just society. And so allow me to invite you to join me in prayer for our United States of America.
SLIDE 12: A PRAYER FOR OUR UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Oh, God of the Universe, and God of all nations, we come before you this special weekend on the birthday of our United States to pray for our country. We pray especially of our nation, because as citizens of this land, we have a special responsibility for the behavior and the destiny of the United States.
SLIDE 13: THANKS FOR INCREDIBLE NATURAL RESOURCES
We begin by thanking you for the incredible natural resources with which you have blessed our land – beautiful mountains, rivers and forests, fertile fields and lush plains that supply us with food, parks, building materials, homes, and factories where people live, work and play. We pray that we might keep the environment you have given us clean, so that generations to come will be able to breathe our air and drink our water.
SLIDE 14: THANKS FOR DIVERSITY OF OUR POPULATION
We thank you for the diversity of our population coming here from all over the world seeking opportunity and a chance to thrive. We pray you help us all learn to live together in peace, respecting the unique contributions that each race, ethnic group and spiritual tradition brings to the rich mix of our combined cultures. We pray that our diversity might become a source of strength and creativity in our common life together.
SLIDE 15: HEALING AND FORGIVENESS
We also pray for a healing of our nation. We ask forgiveness for past injustices and the oppression of people based upon race, class, color, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual identity. Help us to become a society that offers equal opportunity to all of its citizens. We also pray that as a nation we become a more compassionate people, reaching out to the poor, the least and the lost.
SLIDE 16: LIVE IN PEACE WITH OTHER NATIONS
On this anniversary of the birth of our nation help us to embrace the best ideals of our people — aspiring to truth, justice and a helping hand to one another in our common life together. And may our commitment to freedom, justice and diversity become an inspiration for others as we learn to live in peace with other nations. Amen.