Yesterday was a wonderful day in worship at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I was afraid we might get carried away by the spirit of patriotism, and turn the worship of God into a festival of freedom, but that’s not what happened. While acknowledging that it was a special day in the life of our nation, and expressing our gratitude through the singing of hymns like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful,” we did a pretty good job of remembering why we had come to worship, and whom. Eunice Kim started us off on the right foot, sitting down at the piano and playing a pyrotechnic version of “Our God is an Awesome God.” And when it was time for the pastoral prayer, I offered this:
O God, you who birthed a nation from a barren womb
And made your covenant with a band of runaway slaves;
You who have watched over the rise and fall of every nation
Great and small, near and far, before and since;
You who were in that stuffy room in Philadelphia
when this nation declared its independence;
Be with us now.
Help us see things as you see them.
From your point of view there are no national boundaries,
No ugly black lines on the face of the globe.
From your point of view the greatness of any nation
Is not measured by its gross national product,
Or its military strength,
But by the way its people embrace your truths
And love the things you love.
And so, even as we strike up the band
And join the parade,
As we light the fuses of firecrackers
And celebrate our cherished independence,
We ask that you would teach us the discipline of responsibility
So that we may use our freedom in ways that help and heal
Rather than hurt and destroy.
As the Apostle Paul has said, “let us not use freedom
As an opportunity for self-indulgence
But rather, through love, let us become servants to one another.”
On this Independence Day we pray especially
For the United States of America and for her president.
We ask that you grant to him and to all our elected officials
Extraordinary wisdom, unwavering compassion,
and a clear sense of your kind of justice.
We pray that as a people we may become what you promised to Abraham:
A nation by whom all the nations of the world are blessed.
May the people of Asia and Africa, Europe and South America
Soon be able to say, if not already, “Thank God for America,”
Even as we thank you, O God, for what is,
And look forward by faith to what will be
When your kingdom comes, and your will is done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
So may it be, on the Fifth of July as well as the Fourth.