Two years ago we were on vacation over 4th of July weekend and visited a church that sadly combined patriotism and love of country with worship of Jesus. We got up a left because we are convinced that we cannot serve two masters: America and The Kingdom.
No other day causes to me to reflect on this tension more than the Fourth of July.
While I’m in awe of the courage and insight it took for revolutionaries to resist oppression and forge a new nation, as a follower of Jesus, I have to hold this respect in tension with Jesus’ model of seeking first the Kingdom of God. I am a Kingdom person and then I am American. This post originally written for “A Deeper Story” two years ago still speaks to me and helps me keep this day (and all nationalistic holidays) in perspective.
Happy Independence Day, y’all!
I’m not the protesting kind, the find-a-cause-and-fight-for-it kind, or the poster-making party kind. Even though I love a good rhyme, I’m not even the pithy political chant creating kind. No, I prefer to be more of an under the radar radical, if you will. I’ll give money or like your political Facebook statues. I may even change my profile pic, if I’m feeling especially fiesty—just don’t ask me to speak up and definitely don’t ask me to make a stand—I’m too afraid of offending someone.
Lately, Jesus has been challenging me of this, “Osheta, you can’t have two masters. You can have your quiet comfort or the cross—but you must choose.”
“Young lady! Yes you, honey. Come on up here!” The sweaty PreacherMan called to me. Fifteen and feeling overwhelmed, I made my way to the platform. I was wearing my favorite blue and white gingham dress, the one that made me feel grown-up and child-like all at once.
“We’ve been up here singing, ‘When I think about Jesus’ this whole worship set and through the whole time, I’ve noticed you’ve been down there just crying. What is it about Jesus that makes you wanna cry so?” He bellowed into the microphone, putting me on the spot in front of my peers and youth pastor.
“It’s just, he loves us so much and I can’t understand why….he chose us and I’m so thankful….I just want to cry when I think about the cross and all that he went through because he loves me, because he loves us? I just love him so much…” I said in between sobs.
Because of the cross, I chose Jesus as my Savoir, my Teacher, and my King.
“What do you think he’ll preach on?” My husband asked after we loaded our family up for church in our red minivan.
We were on vacation and one of our favorite things to do if our trip falls on a Sunday, is visit a local church for a glimpse into the faith personality of our vacation community. Since we love visiting churches, we’re fairly laid back with our Sunday worship preferences. Having encountered Jesus across denomination lines and traditions, our threshold for discomfort is fairly low we only hope to experience Jesus wherever we go.
This flexibility—this openness to try new ways of connecting to the heart of God has served us well.
We’ve been encouraged by liturgy and loud worship bands. We’ve experienced what some may call, “the joy of the Lord”, in the choreography of worship—the stand up and sit down, the kneeling and jumping. We sense the provision of God for for his children when passing the peace or the plate. If Jesus is worshipped, the logistics of how they “do” church is just not a sticking point for us.
This posture helped when we found out that the church we visited wasn’t having children’s program that morning. We shrugged it off, pulled the kids aside for a little family rally then loaded them up with clipboards and coloring sheets.
When the pre-service Contemporary Christian “muzak” had a few country renditions of some of my favorite Hillsong worship choruses, I just smiled and thought, “yep. I can totally see everyone in this room rocking out to this Spotify playlist of Dolly Parton meets Darlene Zschech.”
When the greeter’s Southern twang rivaled mine—y’all I darn near dropped my Bible. A for really real Southern accent in New England? “Oh come here, brother and let’s trade sweet tea recipes!”
With my kids drawing dragons and zombies on a “Zaccheus” coloring book, and my husband studying the bulletin, I settled into the cushy chair with hope and gracious expectations.
The music died away and the chatter quieted as the “Welcome” message on the cut away to a video of a waving American flag. I gasped. Then the words to a famous patriotic song flashed on the screen. My husband and I made eye contact over our children’s bowed heads. Although we’re laid back with our preferences, we’re pretty inflexible about our principles. The chief being we’re Jesus followers first, Americans second and Sunday morning is never a place for patriotism.
What should we do? My wide-gaze asked my husband’s.
As far as I saw it, we have two options: we could sit quietly in the back while good, well-meaning believers led us in the worship medley of empire and nationalism on the day we traditionally set apart for the Lord or actually follow through with our convictions that as Jesus followers, we cannot, “serve two masters,” so we should leave. Singing to the glory and wealth of one nation while standing under the shadow of the cross felt like a crossroad. It felt like a betrayal. It felt like a teaching moment.
Daughter, you can have your quiet comfort or you can have the cross. Choose this day whom you will serve.
“Let’s go,” I said over the chords of “My Country Tis Of Thee.” My husband nodded and gathered up the children closest to him.
We walked out of the service, even while late-comers were rushing in, even after the greeters called to us, “Y’all aren’t staying?” We walked out of the service even though it felt rude and ungrateful to these sweet, sweet people.
I walked out of the church service when asked to stand and sing patriotic songs even though I’m not the protesting, political kind. It’s true I’m not, but I’m not the patriotic kind, either.
When I walked out of that church, I chose the Kingdom of God over America. It’s one thing to quote John 3:16 and hum “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands”, but if we’re ready to worship our country instead of our King on a Sunday morning, do we really believe in unfailing, incomprehensible love for all people—American or Iraqi, South Korean or Russian, Israeli or Palestinian alike?
When I chose Jesus, I chose the way of his cross that breaks down barriers and nullifies the power of empire. Empire says, “Rome and Rome alone can offer peace. Romans and Romans alone have the answer.” The way of the cross says, “All are welcome to find peace here. All are infinitely worthy of love.”
I think it’s important for us to know that when we chose Jesus, we didn’t choose the conquering political leader his disciples hoped he’d be, we chose the Humble King, riding in on a donkey, betrayed by his own followers, crucified on a Roman cross, resurrected to overcome the enemy of the world and inaugurate his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
I worry about good and earnest believers who view serving God and country as one in the same. When we as followers of Jesus lift up our voices to sing of the virtues of our home country in the space and time that should be dedicated to Him, we are offering our voices to the enemy. We’re joining in the brazen battle cry of the world against our King who died, not just for good, God-fearing Americans, but for every person, in every nation, regardless of their alliance or antagonism towards this country. On the cross, Jesus was crowned Prince of Peace and his Kingdom is not of this world. Our job as Kingdom people is to live this counter-cultural message of love, and I’m sorry, but singing a rousing patriotic theme or even saying the pledge of allegiance muddies that message.
When I walked out of the church, I made a choice. I chose light over darkness. I chose truth over lies. I chose to honor my identity as beloved Kingdom woman over lukewarm, American believer. I chose the cross over the American flag.
And I’d do it all over again—even though I’m not the protesting kind.
You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. Matthew 6:24 (The Message)