Sept. 4, 2011
Soon we will be experiencing the 10th anniversary of the evil events which have become known as 9/11, also designated as Patriot Day in the United States. September 11, 2001 – the date of the terrorist attacks on the United States of America. On that day we Americans could easily have said “there is no hope for us”. We needed some signs of hope. And God provided signs of hope. Hope came in the form of nations around the world sending us messages of condolence, expressing solidarity with us against the evil forces who carried out these evil acts. Hope came in the form of Americans of all ages, races, religions, national origins, and political positions coming together to support and be kind to each other. Hope came in the form of the heroism of first responders – firefighters, police, paramedics and other medical personnel – during the attacks. Hope came in the form of dedication to the cleanup efforts, going through every bit of dirt and debris to find the remains of those who died in the attacks. Hope came in the form of comfort offered the survivors, families and friends, all of us, by government leaders, ranging from President George W. Bush to local government officials of our smallest towns, chaplains, pastors, and lay people of various religious denominations – who were available to anyone needing to be served, regardless of their beliefs or their non-belief. Even as we mourned for the people and the nation, God was giving us hope.
During th past ten years the United States and other nations have continued to experience acts of terrorism. We have also been fortunate in preventing many attacks. But there is always the threat of more attacks. As I write this I am sure there is someone preparing another attack somewhere in the world. At the same time the United States has become a nation which is no longer demonstrating the love its people showed each other ten years ago. Neither do we see the expressions of love we felt from other nations ten years ago. Today we are again a nation in need of hope in the face of terrorism. So what are we to do?
When 9/11 happened, I was serving as the pastor of Vincentown United Methodist Church in New Jersey. Right after that we placed banners showing three familiar statements of faith on the sanctuary walls. Statements we usually utter without thinking too much about what they mean.
“In God we trust”, “One nation under God”, “God bless America”.
From time to time I would explain what I understood these statements were about. I wanted people to understand that they weren’t just patriotic slogans. They were signs of hope. For example, in one sermon I spoke about the well known song written by Irving Berlin, God Bless America, which we sometimes sang in church worship services. I’d like to share some of that with you. I speak now as an American who believes that what I am saying can be applied to any nation whose people are seeking signs of hope in the face of terrorism.
All too often people think of a blessing as something they want from God which they believe is going to make them feel good. If they like the way their lives are going, they are likely to say God has blessed them. However, to be blessed is not simply a matter of God giving us what we see as the good life. It is not about how much God gives us. It is about God giving us whatever He knows we need so we can live in accordance with His will. It is about believing God knows what is best for us and therefore accepting responsibility to use what He gives us to live as He intends. You might be the richest person or nation in the world. But unless you are using and sharing your riches to demonstrate and maintain the kind of order God intends for the world, you are not blessed and you are not a blessing. You are jus a self centered individual or nation.
With that understanding, let’s examine Irving Berlin’s song, God Bless America. I understand that Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1918 as a way of thanking God for blessing him, a poor immigrant from Russia, with a life of freedom in theUnited States of America. It is important to notice that he wrote it in the form of a prayer, directed to God. It was not meant to be a vehicle by which we Americans could impress each other or people of other nations with our patriotism.
In the song, the specific blessing that Berlin is asking for has two parts.That God will “stand beside her – and – guide her” (her being theUSA). He understood it was not enough just to ask God to “stand beside her” and give us the good life. He understood that the nation must turn to God and allow God to “guide her”. The implication being that if we turn to and listen to God, He will give us whatever we need to obediently follow the guidance He gives us. The word for that is “grace”. The nation is blessed when it seeks God’s direction and applies everything God gives it, directly and indirectly, to demonstrate, establish, and maintain the kind of order in which God intends the world to live.
Jesus sums up the nature of that order in the two great commandments – love God and love your neighbor. Your neighbor being anyone in need who God gives you some ability to serve. The ultimate hope is for a fully established world of love which will not require the use or even the existence of police or military forces. I believe that hope will some day be fulfilled, in God’s time and God’s way. Those of us who pray The Lord’s Prayer often don’t realize that’s what we are asking for when we say “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. That’s the long –term hope we can expect to be fulfilled. Until then, as we continue to look into the face of terrorism, we have the hope that God will stand beside us, guide us, and give us everything we need to experience a foretaste of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That’s what God wants for the USA and every nation who is seeking hope in the face of terrorism.
As we face the future, I believe we need to keep these statements of hope constantly before us:
* In God we trust – live with hope, as though we really do trust God.
* One nation under God – live as though we really believe God is in control and is the ultimate source of our hope
* God Bless America – live as though we believe God will give us everything we need – the guidance and direction, the resources, and the awesome responsibility to use them according to God’s will.
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.