Pledging Allegiance on Our Knees
1 Peter 2:13-17
Dr. Jim Denison
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I learned the truth of that maxim in a new way this week.
I wrote the sermon for this weekend earlier in the week, continuing our series on knowing that we know him. Then I was part of our prayer group which meets each week at 6 a.m. on Thursday; you are all invited, and would be blessed by being part of this special time together.
I asked our group to pray for America in light of the imminent elections, and happened to turn to today’s text as part of my request. As we were praying together, I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to me. I was to set aside the sermon I had prepared, and write another one. One which would teach us the word of God specifically regarding the circumstances of these days.
So our publications ministry called the printer, changed the sermon title and text, and here we are.
I would introduce our conversation in this way. The “Pledge of Allegiance” has been much in the news since an atheist named Michael Newdow brought a suit in 2002 seeking to remove the words “under God.” We’ll not honor his request today. With the phrase preserved, there are two ways to say the Pledge—one with a comma between “one nation” and “under God,” the other without it. Let’s say it both ways.
First, with the comma: “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.” This way separates our unity and our spiritual lives.
Now let’s say the Pledge again, removing that comma: “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.” I checked—this is the official way to recite the Pledge. Let’s learn to say “one nation under God” and mean it. How can we make the pledge true in our country and in our lives? And why does the issue matter so very much?
Match verbs and nouns
There is much more in our text than we have time to examine in detail this morning. So let’s drill down into those parts which relate especially to us and our country on this momentous and historic weekend.
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake” (v. 13a).
“Submit”—place yourself under the authority of another.
This is an imperative in the Greek—a command, not an option.
The command is in the present tense, an ongoing commitment
Do this “for the Lord’s sake”—not because the authorities in question deserve your loyalty, but because God requires it. Not because you like or don’t like the administration, or the person elected this Tuesday, or the government. But because you love the Lord.
“To every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors” (vs. 13b-14).
“Every authority”—again, no exceptions or qualifications; whether you voted for them or not.
The “king” would be Caesar to Peter, the president to us.
“Governors” would be their regional authorities, exercising the power of the Empire; they would be local and state officials to us.
“Show proper respect to everyone” (v. 17a).
Again, a present tense imperative—a daily command to obey.
“Respect to everyone”—allegiance, positive encouragement; not slander but support wherever you can. If Peter could do this with Nero, Americans can do this with our president and our leaders.
How? “Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (v. 17b).
Love each other—don’t fear one another.
Honor the king—don’t fear him; and you don’t have to love him.
Fear God—reverence him alone.
Now, how do we do all three? How do we love America, honor our leaders, and fear our Lord?
We vote. We exercise the right eight million Cubans do not have, just 90 miles south of our country. We exercise the freedom more than a thousand Americans have died to give those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let me be blunt: there can be no excuse for every American of voting age not to vote. Long lines are no excuse—I cannot stand them, but I stood in one. Whether you are especially attracted to one candidate or the other is no excuse. Believing that your vote is not needed is wrong—if the 2000 election taught us anything, it is that 537 votes can elect a president. And it is irrelevant—it is your responsibility to vote.
So we vote, and we pray. We pray because we love Americans, because we honor our leaders, and because we fear God. Now, how can we pray best? How can we pray so that God can bless America?
Pray for America to be “one nation”
If the polls are to be believed, Americans are more divided in this election than in any in recent memory.
538 electoral votes are in question; Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry must win 270 votes to achieve the presidency. Commentators are now discussing options never mentioned in my lifetime.
What happens if the vote is tied, 269-269? The states each get one vote in the House of Representatives, with 30 of the 50 aligned with the Republican Party. What if no candidate achieves a majority of electoral college votes? The newly-elected House of Representatives chooses the next president.
What happens if the election is contested legally? Both sides are preparing extensive legal teams in case the election results mirror those of 2000. That’s how divided the country appears to be.
We’re divided, and distrustful. Concerns about possible voter fraud are mounting.
As many as 58,000 absentee ballots mailed in Florida may never have reached the voters who requested them.
Colorado is investigating the fact that 3,700 have registered to vote in more than one county this year.
A lawsuit has been filed by two servicemen in Iraq and Kuwait to allow them more time to vote.
“Voter suppression” is the effort being made by both parties to discourage people from voting if they don’t support their candidate. And major questions remain unanswered regarding electronic balloting, hanging chads, and other voting issues.
Rhetoric is extreme. President Bush and Senator Kerry are being castigated and caricatured in ways more destructive and slanderous than I can remember ever seeing in America. I won’t repeat some of the slander I’ve heard, but I know you’ve heard it, too.
But Jesus was clear: “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). When cracks appear in the foundation, the entire structure is in danger of collapse.
So we must pray for the unity of our nation. Specifically, we must pray:
That the election process will be completed without fraud or disunity.
That the results will be determinative enough to help the nation move forward.
That our people will support whoever is elected, whatever the outcome.
That we will find ways to move forward as “one nation.”
Pray for Americans to be “under God”
How can such unity be achieved? By removing the comma and joining the phrases: “one nation under God.” By praying for Americans to be “under God.” The closer we get to him, the closer we get to each other.
Our founders knew that we need a vertical dimension to make the horizontal work; that we need the spiritual to achieve the relational.
George Washington added the pledge, “So help me God” to his inaugural oath, and later said, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
William Penn, founder and governor of the Pennsylvania colony, said, “If we will not be governed by God, we will be ruled by tyrants.”
Benjamin Franklin, by no means a believing Christian, said, “A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know the price of the rights which God has given them, cannot be enslaved.”
And Thomas Jefferson, a deist who did not accept the miraculous or the divinity of Jesus Christ, said, “The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty; therefore students’ perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands.”
Am I suggesting that America is or should be a “Christian” nation? Absolutely not. There is not one reference to God in the Constitution. We should not become a Christian nation any more than we should become a Muslim nation. We cannot compel any person to faith in Jesus Christ, or vote our Lord into office. That’s the Taliban’s vision for a country, not the biblical worldview.
We are not to pray that our nation become Christian, but that our people become Christians.
We are to pray that we be the light of the world Jesus called us to be (Matthew 5:14-16), reflecting Jesus to our dark world. We are the Moon to the Son. The Moon produces no light of its own; “moonlight” is simply sunlight reflected. The lunar eclipse of Wednesday night happened because the Earth got between the Moon and the Sun. We are to pray that nothing eclipse our witness in reflecting the Son to our nation and world.
We are to pray during this unified missions emphasis that our money, our witness, our work, and our prayers help expand the Kingdom of God on earth. That our church helps people follow Jesus; that we know that we know him.
We are to pray that our motto, “In God We Trust,” becomes real for our families, friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans. And then we are to do all we can to answer that prayer.
To the degree that we are “one nation under God,” with no comma between, to that degree we will be “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” So let us pray, today and this week. Many of us will fast and pray for America—I invite you to join us. Take some time Tuesday specifically to kneel and pray. Pray for Americans to be “one nation,” to be united no matter the outcome of this election. A house divided cannot stand. And pray for us to be one nation “under God,” surrendered to his word and his will in our souls and our lives.
As you pray, answer your prayer personally.
Are you “one nation” with your fellow Americans today? Have you been slandering a candidate or a fellow citizen? Has your attitude been godly? Is there a relationship you must restore?
Are you “under God” today? Is your life fully surrendered to Jesus as Lord? Can he use your time, talents, and treasure as he wishes? Do you belong to him?
The London Times asked G. K. Chesterton and other well-known writers to submit essays on the topic, “what’s wrong with the world.” Chesterton’s essay: “Dear Sirs, I am.”