First Unitarian Universalist Church of West Volusia                        May 26, 2013

DeLand, Florida      

 

“An Uncommon Patriotism”

A sermon by Lloyd H. Dunham

 

Readings

Micah 4:3-4 and other selections

 

This is the season of the year for patriotism.

We are beginning a series of our most important national holidays.

Memorial Day is here.

Flag Day and Independence Day are coming soon.

Flag are flying

and marching music is in the air.

Traditionally we stand a bit straighter

and a feeling of pride in our nation

flows in our blood.

 

I must admit that events since 9-11 have modified my feelings of patriotism.

While at times I have mixed feelings,

fundamentally I remain proud of what our nation has stood for over the years.

 

Our nation is a marvelous collection of people,

a living model of what plurality is all about.

We have often been called a “melting-pot” –

but that is a rather unfortunate image

because it suggests that

we are a kind of homogenizing nation,

where everything is melted down

and mixed together

to produce a new mix

where all the rich differences

are lost in the melt down.

 

The best of patriotism

calls forth the richness

of our many differences

and stands to defend

and protect

the great diversity that we are.

.      Our nation is not a melting pot!

It is “a human mosaic”

just as I hope this UU fellowship

is not a melting pot.

but rather a human mosaic,

where the distinctiveness and uniqueness of each of our neighbors

serves to add color and richness to the larger whole.

What a marvelous image!

 

Miriam Therese Winters,

once one of the famed Medical Mission Sisters singing group,

caught the vision of that mosaic

and of a patriotism that sees beyond these shores

when she penned three new stanzas to our beloved

“America, the Beautiful”

.      She wrote:

Indigenous and immigrant, our daughters and our sons:

O may we never rest content till all are truly one.

America!  America!  God grant that we may be

a sisterhood and brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

 

How beautiful, sincere lament, the wisdom born of tears,

the courage called for to repent the bloodshed through the years.

America!  America!  God grant that we may be

a nation blessed with none oppressed, true land of liberty.

 

Then she reaches beyond our common parochialism

to broaden our understanding of America

to include the entire hemisphere

that claims the name,

America.

 

How beautiful, two continents, and islands in the sea,

the dream of peace, nonviolence, all people living free.

America!  America!  God grant that we may be

a hemisphere where people here all live in harmony.[1]

 

***

 

This is the season of the year for patriotism.

It is also a time when,

for some,

any criticism of national policy

is seen as unpatriotic.

Some would define patriotism

as did Stephen Decatur in 1820,

as a kind of uncritical loyalty,

“My country, right or wrong!”

One must ask:

Is that the best kind of loyalty

to our nation?

Is that the kind of freedom that millions have died to protect?

In 1872 Carl Schurz substantially modified Decatur’s statement

saying,

“My country, Right or wrong:

                                    if right, to be kept right;

                                                                 if wrong, to be set right.”[2]

 

James Kavanaugh expressed his feelings

                                                          in a poem called “America”

                                                                                                      in which he wrote:

               I love you, America.

               But not like I used to

               When you were a fable without weakness.

 

               Minutemen are a dusty memory,

               George Washington as distant as a textbook.

               I know that Lincoln learned his law by lamp,

               But meanwhile John was killed, and Robert,

               Malcolm fell and Martin.

 

               I love you, America,

               But not like I used to.

               I love you better,

               I love you longer.

               For as he died to make (us) holy,

               We live to make (all people) free![3]

 

Patriots are not all alike.

                      There are many types of patriots,

                                            all doing their best

                                                                 to be loyal to our nation

                                                                 and to preserve its freedoms

                                                                                                             and privileges.

       Many patriots have died on the battlefield,

                                                                                sacrificing life itself

                                                                                                             for our national ideals.

       Other patriots have died

                                                   while risking life

                                                                                to save life.

               Such was Tom Bennett of Morgantown, West Virginia.

                                    Tom was a medic in Vietnam.

                                    He went to the aid of a badly wounded comrade

                                                                                and paid for his act of mercy

                                                                                                                                   with his life.

                                    Tom is the second known conscientious objector

                                                                 to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

                                                                                                                           He was a patriot.

       Other patriots have stood firm

                                                   in protest,

                                                   refusing to do

                                                                         what their conscience would not allow.

 

Like many others,

               Jesus found himself

                                            on the wrong side of national policy.

                      His homeland was part of the Roman Empire

                                            and there were rather heavy demands

                                                                                                             placed upon the people.

                      Those who were against him

                                    were sure they could trick him

                                                   into an unpatriotic remark

                                                                 that could be the basis for charges of treason.

                             “Should a person pay taxes to Caesar?”

                                                                                              they asked.

                                    Then came Jesus’ crafty answer,

                                                   “Render to Caesar

                                                                                the things that are Caesar’s

                                                   and to God

                                                                 the things that are God’s”.[4]

 

The prophets of ancient Israel

                             produced some clear wisdom

                                                                                about the national policy of ancient Israel.

       There were prophets hired by kings

                                                                 who said  what they were paid to say.

               They made the kings feel strong

                                                                 and right.

               They were never critical

                                                          of those who paid their salaries.

                      When these prophets were found to be wrong

                                                                                                      they were replaced

                                                                                                                    and often executed.

 

Then there were the independent prophets

                                            who dared point out the shortcomings of Israel

                                                                                                                           and Judah.

               These prophets were sometimes very harsh in their words.

                             When we read these independent prophets carefully

                                                   we find that their loyalty

                                                                                was to God

                                                                                and to the long term good of their nation

                                                                                                      in the community of nations.

                                    Because that was their first concern

                                                   they were often critical

                                                                 of the prevailing administration

                                                                                in the palace at Jerusalem

                                                                                                                    or in Samaria.

 

The great prophets were often blunt

                                                          in what they said to kings and princes.

                             They used sharp words

                                                                 to claim the attention of all who would listen.

                             They called kings

                                                          and citizens alike

                                                                                       to a more righteous

                                                                                       and just way of living.

       They were often cruelly treated

                      when they suggested that kings

                                                                         and people

                                                                                       were not doing what was right and fair.

       But their words live on.

                                            History has shown the wisdom of their stance.

                      Their patriotism,

                      their love of country,

                                            reached far beyond the immediate situation,

                                            far beyond the good favor of wealthy kings,

                                            far beyond their own personal well-being,

                                                          to the long term faithfulness to their highest values

                                                          and a more enduring hope for their nation.

 

Thomas Jefferson seems to reflect the prophetic message

                      when he said,

                                    “I tremble for my country

                                                                         when I reflect that God is just!”[5]

 

As we look at patriotism

                                    and its meaning for us today,

               we could well hope for the kind of patriots

                                                          who could call forth the best

                                                                                       that our nation’s people have to give.

               We need to seriously consider

                                            whether our nation

                                                          or the world

                                                                         can any longer afford

                                                                                       the kind of patriotism

                                                                                                      that is narrowly nationalistic.

                             Everyday it appears more and more clear

                                            that our destiny

                                                          and well-being

                                                                         is closely tied to the destiny

                                                                                              and well-being

                                                                                                                    of the rest of the world.

 

Robert McAfee Brown,

                                    a well-known theologian,

               has said that

                             the “only true patriotism worth talking about

                                            is the patriotism of the one

                                                   who loves his country enough to criticize it,

                                                   who extends the same privilege to all

                                                                                                             who love their country,

                                                   and who does not set himself up

                                                                 as the one to decide who may

                                                                                                             and who may not speak.”[6]

 

       I doubt those words would be welcomed

                                                                         in some high places in our land today,

                      and yet are these not among the ideals

                                                                         on which our nation was founded?

 

Former President Jimmy Carter

                      called for our nation

                             to “regain its status as the champion of freedom and human rights.”

       Many years ago in a newspaper column

               Jimmy Carter expressed deep concern

                      when loyal people were sharply rebuked

                                                                                for merely criticizing a government policy.”[7]

                      How else is our nation to correct itself
                                                                                       and be responsible?

 

Events of the past twenty years

                      raise serious questions about the meaning of patriotism

                                    and about the freedoms

                                                   for which thousands of our people

                                                                 have laid down their lives,

                                                                         including over 6000 in Iraq & Afghanistan.

               What is the nature of the freedom we claim?

               What is the nature of the patriotism we express?

 

  The new patriotism

                      will be exercised by men and women

                                    who join the moral imperatives of the future

                                                   with specific deeds

                                                   whenever they sense the nation seeking to play God.”[8]

               Are we dangerously near to taking just such a role in the world today?

 

So we stand at the start of a series

                                                          of national holidays.

               As a religious people

                                                   what shape shall our patriotism take?

                      ”This nation, under God….”

                                                          may be a bit heavy for many of us,

                                    but it does suggest that our religious faith offers something vital

                                                                                                                           and important

                                                                                       for the well-being of our great nation.

 

So do the words of Katherine Lee Bates

                                                                         in her memorable hymn:

               America!  America!  God mend thine every flaw,

              Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

 

               America!  America!  May God thy gold refine,

               Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.[9]

 

Ms Bates includes in her poetry the long view,

                                                   the tomorrow that comes after many other tomorrows.

               She writes:

                      O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years –

 

We can not afford to let our patriotism be narrow,

                                                                                short sighted,

                                                                                and self-centered.

               In the powerful spirit of the prophets,

               In the faithful way of Jesus --,

               in the serenity of the Buddha,

                             let our patriotism reach beyond

                                            the short range goals of today,

                                            and the selfish desires of our small nation.

                             Let us find the greatness of our patriotism

                                            in the view that sees beyond the years

to all the people of this great nation.

                                                          and to the good of all the earth’s people

                                                                        

***

 #576SCC053187, #618CCU070388, #988CUUC052800, #1030NCUUF053004, #1093FUUCWV052911

 



[1]  As in the New Century Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1995) #594 written in 1993.

[2]  En.Wiktionary.org

[3]  Kavanaugh, James in Master Sermon Series, July 1977, p. 336.

[4]  Mark 12:14 (See The Acts of Jesus,  By Robert Funk & the Jesus Seminar)

[5]  Kavanaugh, Ibid.

[6]  Brown, Robert McAfee; The Pseudonyms of God, p. 137

[7]  Carter, Jimmy in Seeds of Scandal Over Human Rights, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, May 17, 2004

[8]  Perdue, Roland in Master Sermon Series, July 1977, Ibid., p. 333-4

[9]  Bates, Katherine Lee, O Beautiful for Spacious Skies