What a magnificent 4th of July weekend we had. The weather was wonderful, church was spirit-filled, the parade was tremendous, Music in the Hole was outstanding, and the fireworks were fun. As I reflect on the weekend two thoughts cross my mind that I would like to share.
First, I am always amazed at the demonstration of love of country that is expressed on the 4th. Maybe it is because I don’t see this demonstration in the midst of the political wrangling that is often seen on news broadcasts or the constant criticism of our leaders and their decisions that fill the airwaves. It seems that part of our present day sport as a society is to run down this nations that has been such a beacon of hope for so many in our world. I often wonder how we can pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2) when we are actively bad-mouthing them.
This having been said, I am always pleased at the patriotic feelings that are expressed on the Fourth. People who have served and who are serving our country are honored and verbally thanked. Flags are flown and waved. People sing the songs of love for our nation. Tears seem to flow freely. That which seems to have been hidden is revealed. Still waters run deep.
There are times that the amazement of love of country is paralleled in our love of God, especially amongst Presbyterians. Traditionally we are not spiritual extroverts. We don’t shout “Amen” like our Baptist neighbors nor do we “lift holy hands to God” like those of the Pentecostal persuasion or “dance in the Spirit” of prayer and praise like our African-American friends. At times we haggle about the scriptures even as we attempt to understand and apply them. Like our Presbyterian forefathers there are many in our denomination that are passionate, political Presbyterians wanting to take their beliefs and implement them in the body politic.
But, there are times when the depth of faith sneaks out, when our love of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, pokes out it heads. I remember the pastor under whom I first served telling me “The presence of tears in Presbyterians is the sure sign of the Holy Spirit working as the hearts of God’s frozen chosen are melting.” I have seen those tears. I have felt the Spirit. I am reminded that our faith run deeps. Just as with our patriotism, often our love of God goes unseen except with we gather to worship. In generally most of us don’t publicly talk about our commitment to know and follow Jesus. Our work to make a difference is often done in a “don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing” method. But, just as our patriotism sneaks out on the 4th of July so the depth of our faith reveals itself from time to time and it makes my heart glad for when that happens I know I have a brother or sister in Jesus Christ who shares that which shapes me the most.
The second thought from this 4th of July is from a brief encounter with an attendee from Sunday’s service. The individual said, “I want to take exception with what you said on Sunday. You said we have gone down a wrong road since 1962 when prayer in schools was removed. I think it was the right decision because it forced people who desire to pray to take more of the initiative in doing so.” I thanked him for his response and insight. I want people to think and process what I say. It says that they are actively involved in my monologue instead of sitting passively in a pew/chair.
Of course such comments always get me thinking as well. Here are a few follow-up thoughts in relation to our exchange.
1. Even though I believe we took a wrong turn by removing public prayer and a sense of God from the public schools in 1962, I do not believe we will ever return to a Christian presence or emphasis within the public schools and I envision a continued erosion of public acceptance of a Christian presence in public forums in general. I see at least two reasons for this:
a) The post-WWII Supreme Court moved us from understanding the First Amendment as a safe-guard from the establishment of a state religion to seeing it as a wall of separation between church and state (In the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote, “In the words of Thomas Jefferson -1802-, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.”). This understanding of the 1st Amendment has reigned in our country since that time. The result is the erosion of religious involvement in the public sector, especially of the dominant Christian faith regardless of its role in the founding of our nation.
b) The Supreme Court decisions in the 60’s and early 70’s applied the above decision specifically to prayer and Bible reading in public schools. I believed this has moved us to an educational model at best and a total absence of anything spiritual at worst. Here is Wikipedia’s synopsis of those rulings:
The issue was first brought before the Supreme Court in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), in which the Court decided that government may not sponsor prayer in public schools because it is a violation of the First Amendment clause stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Further, in School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963), the Court ruled that the government may not sponsor Bible reading and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public school. Throughout the 1960s the debate continued. Then, in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), the Court established the so-called “Lemon test,” which set forth three conditions that had to be met for a challenged governmental action to be constitutional. First, the government, whether federal or state, may not sponsor or aid in the establishment of a state religion; second, the action must be secular in purpose and in its impact; and lastly, the action could not excessively entangle government with religion. This, in effect, made it difficult to introduce prayer into schools.
2) I understand the intension of the Supreme Court as outlined above. However, there is a deep sadness that occurs in my heart with their decisions (Let me add here…I believe there is a great deal of prayer that takes place throughout every arena of society. To assume that students are not praying in the midst of a difficult test or a challenging event is naïve. As an old friend of mine said, “Any time someone says ‘O God,’ whether they think they are praying to the Almighty or not, they are.”). There are also consequences within the functioning of society which only history will record. Here is my observation, we are losing or have lost our sense that there is a Sovereign Being who has structured an order to be followed within society, an order to which all people will be held accountable. When you remove this understanding of God from society a vacuum is created. Nature and society abhor a vacuum and will fill it with someone or something. American society says we will fill it with law for “We are a nation of laws, not of men” (President John Adams). The reality of our day and age is that a growing number of individuals believe their laws are as good as anyone else’s law and they have the right to live by those laws and at times impose them on others. The result is a questioning of authority and at times social confusion. This saddens me and threatens us.
3. Is there an answer? If the public forum does not teach children to respect God in prayer (we have allowed the school system to take over a number of areas of life that should be in the domain of the family: diet, faith, sex,…) then who is left to do so? The task seems so great. With the erosion of the family what social institution can instill social mores if not the public school?
It has always been the intent of Scripture that the home be the place where the most important details of faith should be taught. Listen to the words of Scripture:
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV)
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
I must say, in our busy world, we adults must examine our priorities and then align them to reflect what is of greatest importance. The eternal values of the Kingdom of God must be highest on the list. If the 60+% of Christian homes in America cannot teach and model these values to our children no public school can ever accomplish the task. Statistically parents remain the most significant determiner of what children value. I applaud all of our families who are working intentionally to pass on the faith.
The Church should be an organization to assist the parent(s) and the home to talk openly about these things that are of eternal importance. We have called this practice the partnering of home and congregation. Every week Cindy Zabriskie provides handouts to assist any family that is willing to have conversations of faith in their home. Pastor Ben led a class this Spring to assist in this process. Parents, you have been given the most important role in shaping the future of our faith within our country. Please step up to the plate and let us help. Take advantage of the resources your church makes available to you.
Finally, in my sermon I read one of my favorite texts in the book of Chronicles. It says:
2 Chronicles 7:13-14 (NIV)
13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
I believe it is time for us to enter into the process of humbling ourselves before the throne of God, praying and determining to follow God’s ways. We can’t demand that others will follow us. But, we can do our part and maybe transformation of our society could begin in Jackson Hole. Here are some ideas:
† Set aside one meal a month for beginners to focus on prayer for our nation. Fast during the meal. Give the money you might have spent to a local charity, the food bank, to PCJH Deacons to help others.
† Find a group of friends with whom you might meet in our chapel for a time of prayer. I will help you organize a process of prayer you might follow.
† Create a “Keep America in Prayer” sticker for your bathroom mirror or refrigerator. Every time you look at it lift our nation to the Lord.
Certainly these are only suggestions and certainly this doesn’t mean we stop praying for family, friends, church, etc. However, we do need to keep our nation, the nation in which God saw fit to birth us, before the throne of God’s grace. I believe this is a great way through which we can walk in the prayer request sung almost every July 4th, “God bless America, land that I love…”