God Bless America, Zechariah 9:9–12, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9), July 5, 2020
Happy Birthday America! 244 years ago was the official severing of ties between the original 13 colonies and the rule of Great Britain. But it also represents the core of our beliefs, the very makeup of our identity as citizens of the United States of America.
But I have to admit, today cynicism is widespread. Pandemic, lockdowns, recession, racism, crime, and mindless violence blur the blessings of our country. Independence Day serves as a caustic reminder that we are not as free as we like to think. Is the Constitution’s promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” even applicable in our world today? Weekend cookouts and colorful fireworks distract us for the evening of July 4th. But July 5th brings harsh daylight and a return to reality. Look around you; go ahead and look around you right now, has our country abandoned God?
We all know what happened to the people of Israel when they abandoned God. God removed the hedge of protection from around His people and allowed Israel’s neighbors to attack and persecute them. I believe, over the course of many years, America has slowly turned away from God, and so, it’s easy for me to conclude that God just might have removed His hedge of protection that was around us.
It is difficult to deny that our Country is turning her back on God, when prayer is being taken out of our schools, the Ten Commandments are taken out of our court rooms and it’s only a matter of time before the words “In God we trust” are the subject of protest and removal. I am concerned; I am concerned for our children, and our families.
If God is taken out of our nation’s “big picture”; if churches become hindered in their mission and persecuted in their efforts, or worse-become silent and hushed; if our children have less and less connection to the One True God, what will become of our once Godly and Christian Nation?
Will we become as lost and desolate as the Bible portrayed Israel to be through their journey in the wilderness? Will God allow the enemies of His Word to utterly swoop in and devastate us as He allowed such burdens upon the unrepentant children of Israel?
Throughout the Bible, we have learned that God allows such devastation to befall His people. He does this with the hope that it will bring about a revival in their spirit. He allowed Israel’s enemies to have recourse and victory over them. God actually used the enemies of Israel in order to bring about judgment over His people.
Our Father never delighted in sending His wrath. He just wanted His people to realize their sin, turn away from it, and turn back to Him so that He could bless them and so that they, of course, could see His blessings. And from time to time, Israel did just that. They saw that they could no longer trust in themselves for guidance. They remembered times past when God was in their midst, and how comforting His presence was to them. As a result of that remembrance, and in true fear of God, they would turn back to Him, repent and find that God was very ready to make things right for them.
Our country, you and I, would all do well to look upon God’s Word and especially the message that Zechariah brings for wisdom, direction and hope, as we question the direction of our nation.
For the longest time, Israel’s neighbors seemed all too powerful. They seemed powerful because they were powerful! Israel’s enemies built up large fortresses, they had more than enough wealth, and they thought themselves to be wise enough to keep God at bay. From Israel’s point of view their enemies surrounded them on every side! It appeared to them that their enemies could not be destroyed.
Israel, trusting in her own power and strength, in truth, could not destroy her enemies. Isn’t that what seems to be going on in America today? Doesn’t it seem as if our enemy, the Devil, is having more and more victories?
When I was a little boy, prayer in school was encouraged. Attending church on Sunday morning was the norm, and if anyone ever spoke up against the importance of God in our nation, they would have received instant rebuke. But now our rebuke seems almost silent. The enemies of God are all around us and they seem to be winning. It seems that there are more activities that speak out against God then there are activities that speak out in support of Him. It would be easy to be convinced that hopelessness is just one ruling, or one vote away.
When Israel recognized their hopelessness and their sin, they in turn united together in prayer and expectation and gave God their burden. And God gladly received it. He welcomed it as the proverbial Father welcomed his wayward son.
When Jesus Christ was given to us as the means to take away our sins, He gladly offered Himself as the Sacrifice needed to pay for the debt of our sins. Jesus took away the consequences of our sins 2000 years ago, by the shedding of His blood on a cross. And God gladly received it. God still gladly receives Jesus’ sacrifice as atonement for our sin just as our Savior gladly receives all the burdens we put upon Him, all for the purpose of exchanging it with us for His peace.
This Country right now has a heavy burden, and that is the burden of seeing God taken out of our day-to-day life. If we can no longer acknowledge that God is the leader of our nation, then truly what we are saying is that God really is not that important after all.
But you and I know better. Our Lord God must be put first in everything that we do. He is to get the glory! He is to get the recognition that we are a free nation because of His many blessings to us both during war, and during peacetime. He is the leader of our nation, for without Him guiding our forefathers, we truly could have never become the nation that we are now! A nation where freedom reigns!
Our only recourse is to follow the direction of the people of Israel. Their eyes turned to God, they gave to God their burden and God gladly received it. Then He responded. Our Lord God Almighty made it clear to all Israel’s enemies that He was in charge. God cast the wealth of their enemies into the sea as a result of receiving the prayers of His people. He delivered His people from having their blood shed any further. He proved to all Israel’s neighbors that there is no wisdom or counsel that can stand against Him. In short, God took His people under His special protection.
Zechariah brings us tremendous comfort. He reminds us that even in the worst of adversity, Almighty God can and will prevail. This is why he said, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! … Behold your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, … he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”
When Zechariah proclaimed this good news to his people, they did indeed rejoice for they were reminded that Almighty God was with them and would deliver them from their burdens. You and I can rejoice even now because Jesus Christ, our King has come, gentle and riding on a donkey and He proclaimed peace to us. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ won for us salvation and restored our ability to communicate with God, we have recourse, we have hope and this hope will not disappoint.
The end result of God blessing Israel can be connected to our desire to have America become a God fearing nation once more. For just as Almighty God acted for His children in Israel as a result of His people praying and leaning on Him, so too will He break the yoke of the enemies of God’s Word, within our nation, as we join together in prayer, lifting our eyes up to God and to seek His favor and response.
God wanted to act for His people Israel but He waited for them to repent before He made His move. God right now is waiting for this nation to repent and to turn back to Him. And that call to repent starts right here, right now; right here in Biloxi, right here at Good Shepherd.
Please join me in prayer…