Last weekend I went home to play with my babies and I went to my brother’s church b/c he had coordinated the music. The boy did a damned fine job – I think he’s gonna make it 😉 It was Memorial Day and their church, handled it half ok. The pastor got up and acknowledged that it was a day of honoring those who’ve died for our country and talked about how his family lost several people around Memorial Day so it was a way for them to remember them as well. Basically he acknowledged it, but talked about the importance of remembering everyone we’ve lost that we’ve loved. Not bad. Of course, there was no mention of Pentecost, b/c it’s an Evangelical non-denominational church – which is why he handled it half ok.
Then, we went to my parents’ church. It was, in a word, horrifying. I am usually not offended at their church at all. It’s a white, suburban, middle class mega church but it’s pretty decent most of the time. They have the occasional gaffe, but otherwise, ok. I happened to be there on the day of what I consider a gaffe. I attribute it to more of a theological thoughtlessness than anything else. They’re good people who mean very well. Here’s how it went:
We began our service with a medley (MEDLEY) of patriotic songs. Such a peeve of mine, the patriotic songs in church. Not the patriotic songs – I’m fine with them – just not in a worship service. I think that’s inappropriate. Then we had a very weak segue between the patriotic songs to actual church worship songs with a correlation b/t our freedom as Americans and the freedom Christ purchased for us on the cross. ACK! The worst was the song was “That’s Why We Praise Him,” we were basically praising God for being Americans. It was nationalistic and creepy. I did not participate.
Here’s why I’m so opposed. It was Pentecost. PENTECOST. Traditionally when we celebrate the beginning of the church. We were in church. Do you see where I’m going with this? It seemed like such a great opportunity to not only be grateful for those who have sacrificed for us in this country, but to focus on the fact that scripture tells us that we’re not citizens of this world, but merely travelers and Pentecost was the beginning of the community that gives us our real identity. To draw a correlation between the freedom Christ brings and the freedoms we have in this country is no different than those in Jesus’ time who wanted him to be a political Messiah. Jesus constantly stressed that the kingdom of God is in people’s hearts. It also seemed like such a missed opportunity to show how God speaks to people in ways that they can hear the best and it’s a lesson to us not to have a prepared script when we speak to people about Jesus, but to speak to them in their own “language.”
At my brother’s church, they’d let the youth guy preach, which is rarely a good idea, so I started reading Malachi, and I thought a lot about it later as I sat amongst people who were equating their faith with their patriotism. Malachi details the reasons that God is disappointed in Israel’s performance as a nation and it gives a pretty detailed list of what God is looking for in God’s people.
God was unhappy with Israel because:
1. The priests were corrupt
2. The sacrifices offered were sub-standard
3. Divorce was rampant
4. They were robbing God by withholding their tithes from the community storehouses where everyone got their food
5. They were withholding justice from the poor, the laborers and the foreigners among them