I Am the First and the Last; or, Why the Church Should Tell America to “Suck It”

Churches, Pastors, Music Directors, worshipers, everybody who will be in church in a few weeks, you’ve got a perfect opportunity coming up on July 1.

That will be the Sunday that you will be tempted to worship country instead of Creator. I pray you will make a different choice.

Listen to how Jesus describes himself in Revelation 1:

“Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.

People of God, when we worship we are coming into the presence of King Jesus, the first and the last, the one who died but is now alive forever, the one who holds the keys of death and hell. Why would we want to sing about some stupid amber waves of grain and purple mountains when Jesus is offering us himself? Why does an earthly kingdom that didn’t even exist 250 years ago have such a hold on us that we would ever choose it over our crucified and risen Lord?

To be a Christian is to be a new creation, a citizen in Christ’s coming kingdom, which will have no end. This country will one day fall just as quickly as it rose. It will crumble into a heap of red, white, and blue rubble, and some other dominion will take its place. When that happens, Jesus will still be King.

I pick Jesus. America can suck it.

I acknowledge that I chose an inflammatory and somewhat crude title. I do this fairly often, actually, because hyperbole is helpful in proving a point. My point is here that many will find this title to be so offensive not because of its crassness, but because of their sheer surprise upon reading it. We Christians both inside and outside of the sanctuary have been taught about America’s sheer and inherent goodness. We’ve been led away from thinking critically about all aspects of the American way, instead touting its goodness with a zealous fervor.

But to be a Christian is not to have that luxury. The Bible never puts forth any hint that patriotism is implicit in Christian living, no matter how much freedom and abundance we find in that place. And we do find a lot of goodness in America, don’t we? It’s an easy place to live for many of us. But whatever goodness has landed on our soil is only because of common grace, not because we’re uniquely special to our Creator.

Make no mistake about it: worship that commingles God and country is blasphemous. It is false idol worship. It is a rejection of true worship in which God’s people come together and say, “We are God’s people.” Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not. We are called to live as aliens, exiles in a strange land. Christian worship is the place where we are strengthened for such costly living, where we remember we’re not alone.

I truly fear that most Christians, probably even most pastors in the US are more loyal to their strange land than to their identity in Jesus. You will likely see that in the comments this post elicits. What’s even more disturbing is that many of these good folks actually believe that loyalty to the US is some sort of de facto loyalty to Jesus. It isn’t. We cannot choose both.

We must choose to reject the notion of American superiority.

We must choose to pray for God’s favor over all creation, not just our little corner of it.

We must choose to reject the lunacy that says America’s side is God’s side.

We must choose to embrace our calling as God’s people, not Caesar’s.

We must choose to reject songs, hymns, and prayers that may mention God, but which are really singing the praises of an earthly empire.

We must choose to profess faith in Christ, and only in Christ, not the Babylon in which we reside.

We must choose to truly be counter-cultural, and live our our alien identity in a strange land.

We must choose to reject an empire that, for all its benefits, would lead us away from embracing our Kingdom citizenship.

Won’t you join me in a couple of weeks? Won’t you stand and say that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar? Will you shout your defiance by kneeling at the cross instead of a flag?

We serve a higher throne.

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