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National Humility
L. R. Tarsitano—Saint Andrew's Church, Savannah
The Third Sunday after Trinity—July 9, 2000
"Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (1 Peter 5:5-7). 

By and large, the speeches we heard last week as we celebrated our national Independence Day told us, at the best, only half of the story. We probably heard, most of all, of the greatness of our country. We may have also heard, if the speaker had even an ounce of gratitude or human piety in his soul, of the many sacrifices that our fellow citizens have made over the past two centuries to make our country great. Our graveyards are full of heroes who fought and died that our nation might live, and that it might be a good and great and free nation, giving hope to the nations of the world that continue to struggle in bondage to poverty and political oppression. 

As wonderful as this record of our nation is, however, it is incomplete. More importantly, that "incompleteness" actually threatens the nation that we love. Almighty God is being systematically excluded from the record of our nation, as if his great and mighty Power so richly lavished upon us to make us a nation were just a fantasy believed in by a few superstitious and ignorant folk too uneducated to understand that man forges his own destiny. 

The record of most of the twentieth century is the record of mankind trying to live apart from God, of the human race in rebellion against God. The wars fought on foreign soil obliterated whole peoples and whole cultures, sometimes not even leaving a few pitiful survivors to struggle to survive among the ruins of their nations. The ideologies that tried to replace a decent faith in a Holy God turned out to be murder machines and anything but the "liberation" of man. 

A different sort of war has been fought here at home. It has been mostly a bloodless war, but deadly serious nevertheless. Some people have called it a "culture war," but such a title may be too grandiose. What it has been is a war against faith, against, prayer, and most of all a war of human pride and self-content against the humility that once allowed most Americans to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God and to trust in his Providence for the welfare of our families and our countries. 

We have to answer to God for our national life, because it was God who gave us our national life. It was God himself who was the indispensable participant in our War for Independence, and not just "good fortune" or "luck" that allowed thirteen small colonies to defeat the greatest military power in the world at that time. It was God who saw us through all the subsequent years, good and bad, those other years of warfare, of economic booms and depressions, of growing pains as a small nation became a great one. 

The faults and errors of those years were our own, but the blessings of them came from One who is greater than our abilities either to succeed or to fail. Now, to exclude God from our national life and to abandon any semblance of humility before him is to embrace our weakness at the expense of our glorifying his strength, and most of all his pure goodness. 

We will fail as a nation if we continue on this path, and we must begin to recognize that it is a false path. It is false, first of all, because men and nations are not gods. It is false because we have to deny the facts of our history to deny our God. It is false because God alone can make a nation great, while almost any human regime, given enough power by its citizens over their lives, can unmake a nation or transform it into a monstrous tyranny. 

We once knew better, and we must reclaim that knowledge in religious humility before God. Our churches should be, they must be, the keepers of our national humility, so that we are fit once again to receive God’s favor. The keeping of the faith by the churches was once one of the greatest American traditions, so that our American clergy were often called "the black regiment," the soldiers for Christ who defended our nation by keeping our nation’s faith in God alive. 

Our own Anglican tradition, here in the United States, has until the recent departures of certain churches into ideology and the denial of both the Bible and America’s religious history, treated our nation as a pure gift from God. We have kept Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day as religious holy days, and not just as secular or secularized feasts. Our public prayers have told the story of our sacred commitment to God, as in the Collect appointed for Independence Day: 

O Eternal God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

We can only maintain our liberties through Jesus Christ our Lord, and that is the single most important fact that we must embrace in order to celebrate a holy and realistic Independence Day. It is the fact that we must embrace to be truly patriotic Americans who love their country because of what God has made it. What God has given to the faithful, however, he can take away from the unfaithful. If we insist that he do such a thing by failing to proclaim his goodness and glory to our neighbors, he will do so not as a bitter punishment, but out of love for us. He will do it to remind us that nothing is more important, not even our nation, than a right, obedient, humble, and saving relation with the Father in heaven. 

God loves nations, but not for their own sake. He loves them for the people who make up nations, promising them salvation in the Gospel of his Son. God, however, makes no promises to governments since governments do not have souls to save. God will abandon governments if necessary, as he did the government of the ancient Israel, even as he continues to love the people themselves. When a government gets in the way of the people’s salvation, it is government that God will sacrifice in order to call his people back to humility under his rule. 

Perhaps the greatest American was one of the very first, our first president George Washington. But Washington was not born a president or a great soldier. He was forged into an instrument of God’s grace to defend and to build our nation by the seriousness of his Christian faith, much of which he learned from the same Book of Common Prayer that you and I use every week. Consider, then, this prayer of his own composition: 

Most glorious God... I acknowledge and confess my faults in the weak and imperfect performance of my duties of this day. I have called on Thee for pardon and forgiveness of sin, but so coldly and carelessly that even my prayers have become my sins and stand in need of pardon. I have heard Thy Holy Word but with such deadness of spirit I have been an unprofitable and forgetful hearer... but, O God, who art rich in mercy and plenteous in redemption, mark not, I beseech Thee, what I have done amiss; remember that I am but dust, and remit my transgressions, negligences, and ignorances, and cover them all with the absolute obedience of Thy Son that those sacrifices (of sin, praise, and thanksgiving) which I have offered may be accepted by Thee in and for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered upon the Cross for me. 

When we are ruled by the same humility before God, and when our rulers are once again men who kneel before the Almighty, our nation will return to the undoubted path of greatness in God’s mercy and in the eyes of men. We will have peace at home among ourselves, remembering whose people we are first. We will have the national will and the divine assistance that we need to face those international challenges that will inevitably confront us in a fallen world. We will be the United States of America that our ancestors thanked God for, and that we will thank God for, as we hand our nation over to our children intact and safe under the mighty hand of God. 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Andrew’s Church and Dr. Tarsitano.