It happens every year. The question has to be answered. What shall we sing on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July? For some the question is easy. Find hymns that support the biblical text for the day – Obadiah, in our case this year – and if such hymns can’t be found, then general hymns of praise, thanksgiving, penitence and prayer. For others the answer is equally easy. We should sing “God Bless America” (the Irving Berlin show tune) and drape the pulpit in red, white and blue.
The question behind the question, of course, is how are we to regard the nations, our nation in particular, in light of God’s sovereignty?
Within the larger Christian family there are those who emphasis our election as Christians to be citizens of God’s realm with all allegiance to Christ as king. While acknowledging the responsibility and authority that scripture gives human government, and the Christian’s obligation to pray for those in authority, they, nevertheless, would not emphasize thanksgiving in worship for our nation of birth or citizenship. They would certainly not emphasize any “American exceptionalism,” theological or otherwise.
Others, emphasizing God’s lordship over the nations, see in the call to justice and righteousness to Old Testament Israel and her leaders a similar call to justice and righteousness to all nations and leaders. They see God’s blessing on the ruler who rules justly. While eschewing Christian American triumphalism, they nevertheless find humble thanks for the gift of nation, and for us the United States, an appropriate theme for worship. And on the Sunday nearest the Fourth of July, they would seek worship songs and hymns that speak to that theme.
So what will we sing on Sunday?
The answer does not come easily for me as I plan early July worship.
We will not sing Irving Berlin’s song, though it has an important place in the nation’s history.
But might we sing in praise to the God whose creative love planted the purple mountains and the amber waves of grain? Might we beseech his grace even as we pray that he would mend our every flaw?
And, because it is the companion text to Obiadiah, might we sing a hymn that uses the images of the grapes of wrath from Revelation 19? Four months after the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln understood the battle fought 150 miles from Langhorne 150 years ago as a struggle for justice and equality. He saw God’s hand in the great civil war as he reflected on the war just a month before his death, “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Might we sing a hymn that reflects such an understanding? We’ll be talking about some of this in our 8:01 class (the class behind the sermon) on Sunday. Join us.