Today is National AIDS day awareness. This past summer, I had the opportunity to meet many HIV/AIDS victims while in Africa. Some were incredibly sick, with very little hope for recovery. Some were doing extremely well, but still has the scarlet letter of HIV positive branded upon them, and they are treated many times like outcasts in society. I'm glad that the church is starting to finally wake up to this important epidemic. Rick Warren has, and what I like about Pastor Warren is that he does not agree with every body he works with to help solve it. Yesterday in fact he had Hilary Clinton speak at his church, along with video messages by Barak Obama, John McCain, and Mike Huckabee. Check out the article here, and notice Pastor Warren's statement about politics in the second section of the article.
For those of you who do not know, I have been preaching at Adamsville Presbyterian Church. Adamsville is a very small community with one blinking light. The congregation, as you can imagine, is small, only about 20-30 members. They are an older congregation, but a very interesting one. There is a judge in the congregation who was a Lt. Colonel for thirty years, and served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Another man, Mr. Perkins just last week set the world record for shot put for 85+ year olds (he turns 90 tomorrow). His story is incredible. He was a POW for over 600 days in a Japanese prison camp in WWII. After church, I talked with him and his wife, and his outlook on life is so positive and the man is still built like a tank. Even as a 90 year old, I would not want to mess with him! The reason we were able to hear these stories is because yesterday was Veteran's day, and we honored those who served in our military. I enjoyed and was humbled hearing the stories of heroism and the service to our country. I was reminded of my uncle who served in Vietnam and received a bronze star.
While I enjoyed hearing the stories of these men and women, and I think that they should be honored, there is a part of me that cringes at this sort of thing in church. Let me say, I love my country, and I am eternally grateful for the sacrifice that our military men and women have made to make America a safe place to live. The problem that I have is that these stories become sermons of nationalism and American patriotism rather than stories of honor. I'm all for honoring these brave people. However, when patriotism and the church come together, the message of Jesus often gets drowned out. Patriotism has the tendency to take the place of the Gospel. I promise more amens are given during a patriotic service, especially in the South, than a sermon on loving one's enemy. Yes, most of the people who founded our nation were Christians, and most were influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics. However, if you read the Declaration of Independence, the god of that document is a creator god. The God in which Christians serve is a God of redemption. God redeemed the world not by force, but by sending his son to die. Jesus did not lead a violent revolution, he only had two swords. But Jesus and the church that followed did not conform to the society around them, which was all about Roman power. I think their goal was to try to model what God has done in their lives and transform culture. So what do we do with national days like Veteran's Day? I think we honor those who served, but be careful about the language about America getting away from God. Our job as Christians is not to conform to patriotism, but rather transform the world through the love of the Triune God.