Peter Marshall (1902-1947) was a Scottish-American preacher. We know his name because his widow, Catherine Marshall (1914-1982), wrote a book, A Man Named Peter, about this life. He tragically died from a heart attack at the age of 46. During the 1940s, Peter was the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. and served as the chaplain of the United States Senate. One day, he stood before that body and uttered this prayer.
Lord Jesus, thou who art the way, the truth, and the life; hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make all free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Help us see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right.
In that brief prayer Peter Marshall recognized the unique relationship between our American patriotism and the Christian faith. In many ways they stand side by side. America is not just a nation. America is a Christian nation. According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans call themselves Christian. That takes us to our scripture reading.
We find ourselves in the Epistle to the Romans, one of the great theological works of all time. It was written by the Apostle Paul in the spring of AD 57. He was writing to the Gentile population in the city of Rome. The major theme is God’s plan of salvation for all mankind, both Jew and Gentile. Verse nine is key, if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Many believe that verse was the first creed used in the church. Personally, it is my favorite verse in the Bible. Your belief in the resurrection is not optional. It is indispensable. It is not just true of American Christians. It is true of all believers, regardless of citizenship.
The Bible says it clearly, God loves all countries equally, because God loves all people equally. God does not care about our politics. God has no trouble crossing manmade boarders. God loves all people, regardless of their nationality. God loves Americans as much as people from South Africa. God loves Americans as much as the people of India. God loves Americans as much as the people of France. God loves Americans as much as the people of Brazil. Did you know, if you count Taiwan, there are 197 nations in our world today and God loves the citizens of each one. Yet, I must say this.
Traditional America seems to have special appreciation of the faith. We can relate to the faith because Christianity is part of American history. The faith is woven into the fabric of our society. The father of our nation George Washington (1731-1799) said in his farewell address, “Do not let anyone claim the tribute of American patriotism if they ever attempt to remove religion from politics.” Just think about it for a moment. Through the eyes of many, Christianity and American patriotism stand side by side in three ways. I want to look at those three ways. These thoughts are not original. They came from James W. Moore (1938-2019), who served at the St. Luke United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. My goal is to help you appreciate both your American citizenship and your Christian faith.
First, there is a bold declaration in both Christianity and American patriotism. In declaring our independence, the patriots made a bold declaration. Britain was the greatest political force in the western hemisphere in 1776. The thirteen colonies paled in comparison. History tells us the cry for independence was much clearer in the northern colonies. The southern colonies were more reserved on the topic. Yet, in June of 1776, a Virginian named Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) was the first to speak openly of an American independence. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to announce and declare that they we accept nothing less than their absolute freedom from Britain. A subcommittee of five, led by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), was selected to sign a declaration of independence. It took two days to find the perfect words. Lee was one of the first signers. Even 246 years later, you can see the Declaration of Independence was a bold declaration.
When was the first time you declared to your world that Jesus was your Lord and Savior? Maybe you made that declaration on a youth mission trip or a church camp? Maybe you made your declaration during a revival or during a small group study? Maybe you made that declaration when you were young, or not so young. The details really don’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you declared Jesus was you Lord and Savior. That declaration revolutionized your relationship with God, and it revolutionized your earthly relationships. Some were thrilled are your declaration, but others had some questions.
Second, there is a high price in both Christianity and American patriotism. Did you know fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence? That is not the end of their story. Their conviction resulted in untold sufferings for themselves and their families. Of the 56 men, five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolution. Another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships of the war. Carter Braxton (1739-1797) of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships sunk by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in poverty. At the battle of Yorktown, the British General Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805) had taken over Thomas Nelson’s (1738-1789) home for his headquarters. Nelson quietly ordered General George Washington to open fire on his own home. Nelson died bankrupt. John Hart (1713-1779) was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and mill were destroyed. For over a year, he lived in forest and caves, returning home only to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion. George Washington never received a cent from the government for his military service. There is no other way to say it. The patriots paid a high price. However, it wasn’t just the signers of the Declaration of Independence who paid a price.
The general population paid a high price. Only one-third of the population even wanted independence. Another third was indifferent, and another third remained loyal to England. The third that supported the war paid a high price. Did you know 7,200 died, 8,200 were wounded and another 10,000 died from disease? Their suffering was a reality. That generation paid a high price.
Jesus paid a high price, he died on the cross, but what about you? I hate to say, it but we live in a time of cheap grace. We want the benefits of the faith without discipleship. This is a weekend when we celebrate our independence. How is the faith altering your daily life? What are you give up in the name of Jesus? What are you doing in the name of Jesus? What have you sacrificed lately for the faith?
Third, there is a great reward in both Christianity and American patriotism. The American Revolution ended nearly two years after the battle at Yorktown. The Treaty of Paris, officially ending the war, was signed in 1783. They didn’t just gain their freedom. They won new land. Great Britain surrendered all the land they held east of the Mississippi River. America is not the oldest nation in the world, but it is the oldest democracy in the world. Their great reward is our great reward. In America we really are free!
What is our great reward in the faith? On the day you declared Jesus as your Lord and Savior you suddenly had a special relationship with the God of the universe. Death is no longer something to fear. You can live at peace in this world because you know that someday you are going to heaven. The Apostle Paul wasn’t wrong. He said, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Someday we are all going to heaven!
A few days ago, I began a new chapter in my life. After forty years in the ministry, thirty-six in the United Methodist Church, I am retired. I am qualified to say, I have had a great life, because I have met so many good people along the way. I have had many wonderful experiences along the way. Let me tell you about one.
It happened on New Year’s Eve 2012. I was part of a Volunteer in Mission group, organized by my wife, Kathryn. We were approximately one and a half hours northeast of Moscow, Russia, in the city of Dmitrov. It is the home of the Renewal Orphanage, which is the home of many handicapped children. New Year’s Eve is an important night to the Russians. During Soviet times, Christmas was outlawed, and New Year’s Eve was promoted. Every Russian celebrates the New Year.
The children of the Renew Orphanage were not excluded. They celebrated too. It was the custom to gather the teenagers, so they could celebrate. The staff arranged a party. They called it a Disco. The teenagers wore their best clothes. The kitchen prepared a special menu. The music was played extra loud. However, what fueled the excitement were the visiting Americans. It is my experience many Russians admire America. They struggle with the German because of the Second World War. Everyone was having a wonderful, but as midnight draw near, I experienced something new. An old television set was rolled into the room and placed so all could see. In Russia, the president addresses the country as the new year begins. On cue, there he was, Vladimir Putin. Emotionally, I had the typical American reaction to him, but the orphans listened intently. The oldest of the teens looked over at the Americans table to look for our reaction. Once Putin’s short speech was completed, the Russian national anthem was played. The Russians, who were able to stand, did. Some sang the words. Can I be completely honest? I did not know what to do. Do I stand in respect to Russia? Our Russian hosts had been good to us. Do I sit there in silent protest? Even in 2012, there was so much about Russia that was just wrong. I sat and prayed the moment would pass quickly. It did and the party resumed. Can I tell you the truth?
I still think about that New Year’s Eve. It was such an unusual scene. With the stench of Soviet atheism still in the air, I had never felt more like an American. This is equally true. I had never felt more like a Christian. As my good friend we say, “There comes a time when you have to take a stand.” In this case, not standing was taking a stand. Can I ask you a question? When was the last time you really thought about being an American? When was the last time you thought about being a Christian?