Three weeks ago I selected the text and the title for this Sunday in order to send it to “Joyful Noise” for their preparation. You may call it a miracle or a strange coincidence, but last Friday, April 9th I received a letter from Newport, Washington State. This is what the letter says: “Dear Pastor Evangelista, I am burdened by the direction our once great nation is headed. Prayer removed from our schools, the Ten Commandments from our public buildings and our Christian radio stations under attack. I see the number of houses of worship in my own community, I can’t help believe the changes that could be made if all of us that call ourselves by His name were to make our voices heard; to join together and pray faithfully for our nation and for those with authority over us.
This has to start with me in my home with daily pray and trying my best to live for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My goal is to mail at least two letters a day to churches all over our nation in hopes that congregations will join me in prayer and through Gods grace turn this nation once again into “One Nation Under God.” May the Lord bless you and your flock.” Thank you, in Jesus name. I do not know who wrote the letter, but it came at a very interesting time.
On Flag Day, June 14, 1954 president Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law a bill that added the words: "under God" to the original pledge of allegiance. Many people advocated for years to add those words to the pledge of allegiance; but what does it mean? Our children grow up saying every morning the pledge: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." What does it mean to pledge allegiance to the flag and to a nation that is described as "one nation under God?" Do our children know what they are saying? Do we know what we are saying?
In the book of acts we find the disciples beginning to experience the same mixed feelings that the people had before towards Jesus; a people who could easily sing hosannas one day and shout crucify him the next. According to the book of Acts the apostles were a source of hope and a source of fear at the same time. The believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Portico, but no one else dared join them. And yet, people brought their sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. The people wanted to receive healing, but they did not wanted to be associated with the disciples.
The political and religious leaders of the time thought that with Jesus’ death the danger of antagonizing the Roman Empire was gone; but now they found themselves confronting Jesus followers. The disciples went around claiming that Jesus had risen from the death and had sent them to witness to his resurrection. In their view, the leaders had not choice but to act to stop the spread of Christianity; so they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. The following morning the authorities called together the full assembly of the leaders to judge the apostles. They asked that they be brought from jail to court to face the charges, but when they went to get them they were not there.
The guards reported back saying: “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” Just as they were wondering what happened, someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles to court. When they entered they began the trial procedures, the high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”
It is interesting that they did not asked them how they managed to escape from jail. If it were me, my first question would be how you did it, how did you manage to escape with the jail locked, the guards standing outside the doors. I know it would drive me crazy thinking how they did it; I would not be able to sleep well. I would run every scenario possible. I would even offer to let them go that one time, if they would only share their secret. Did you bribe the guards? Is there a tunnel under the jail? Speak! But they do not asked, they go immediately to the original question as if nothing had happen between their arrest and their day in court.
We told you not to speak in Jesus name and you disobeyed our orders, and in top of that you keep accusing us of the death of your teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. What do you have to say for yourselves? Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority." What does it mean to obey God rather than any human authority, especially in today’s world? I know some people that love to write in their letters and emails, thanks for making a difference. And every time I read that I think to myself, everyone makes a difference. If someone breaks into my house and steal my things they had made a difference. The question is not who makes a difference, but what difference does it make?
The writer of the letter that I received last Friday, speaks for many in our country that want to go back to the good old days; people who want to turn this nation once again into “one nation under god.” But I cannot help but wonder what does that mean? As a pastor I want not just this nation, but every nation in the planet to be under God. I want every individual to be under God, but I am also concerned about what that means. How does a nation under God looks like?
The Wall Street Journal of Saturday, April 10 has an article about the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens. The Sub-heading of the article states: “Historic change as last protestant leaves.” In the article they mentioned that at one time the supreme court was once entirely made up of protestants. Is that how a nation under God looks like, where only Protestants are able to make laws? Whose vision of the kingdom of God should prevail? Should we stone to death anyone who commits adultery? How about making sure that women stay in their place? And how do we decide what place that is?
The book of Acts tells us that when the disciples were in jail an angel brought them out and sent them to the temple courts with orders to “tell the people the full message of this new life.” Do we know what that life is, how is lived and how is shared? Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it to the fullest, do we know how a full life look like?
And lest say that we agree about what a nation under God looks like, how do we decide under which God? The apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians states: “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone knows this.” (1 Corinthians 8:5-7) So if there are many gods and many lords, of which of the gods and lords that Paul talks about should we place our nation under?
Today it would appear that too many people are obeying God, while doing all kind of awful stuff on God's name. People go around killing persons that they have never met in the name of their god. In our country we have people who identify themselves as Christians and who are committed to killing other people in order to defend us from the anti-Christ.
I have made a personal commitment to place my life under God; just like the parents of Sean have come today to place him under that same God. We all have to make our own personal decision. We choose in the spirit of Joshua who told the people of Israel: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)