Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
July 2, 2017
“A Wise Prayer For a Nation”
I Kings 8:22-61
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Pastor Arthur Graf, long-time pastor in Serbin, Texas wrote a sermon titled “The Christian and His Country” – a Fourth of July Sermon. In that sermon he writes, “Every sincere Christian is also a sincere patriot.” I believe it. Loving God and having a passion to be a good citizen go together. Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) It is a prayer that Solomon prays at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem that guides my words on this National holiday.
What makes a nation great? What can make our country great? Wealth? Power? Influence? I don’t think that is what makes a nation great – for this nation, or any nation. For years we had more wealth than any country in the world. Now Norway, my Norway, and Switzerland have a greater per capita income than us. They are greater than us, then, right? There has to be something deeper than wealth or power or influence to make a people great.
This is George Washington’s prayer for this country, “Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection, that Thou wilt incline the hearts of citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States of America at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
George Washington, a man of great dignity, asked God to be present to make this new country a great nation. Solomon, amazingly wise, at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem that bore his name, had a prayer not just for the Temple but for the people of God. “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth below – You who keep Your covenant of love with Your servants who continue wholeheartedly in Your way.” (I Kings 8:23)
In 1984 President Ronald Reagan said, “America needs God more than God needs America. If we ever forget that we are ‘One nation under God,’ then we will be a nation gone under.” Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose for His inheritance.”
A wise prayer for a nation, our wise prayer for this nation, is that God would be very present among us. Our nation must be guided by God in the ways that are right and holy. Our nation must be guided by our God in acts that are merciful and gracious. If God is not present, our country, made up of both believers in Jesus and those who aren’t, will suffer.
A wise prayer for our nation asks God to act with mercy and forgiveness. Solomon’s prayer is heart-felt. He doesn’t sugar coat the sins of these people. He acknowledges the many things that have been against the will of God, but he doesn’t ask for justice, but for mercy. “Forgive Your people, who have sinned against You; forgive all the offenses they have committed against You, and cause their conquerors to show them mercy; for they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace.” (I Kings 8:52-53)
Solomon lists the struggles of God’s own, from war (33-34), from drought (35-36), from famine and plague and pestilence (37-38), and asks, “Then hear from heaven, Your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since You know the hearts of all men.” (I Kings 8:39)
We can ask such things from God because that is what He desires to do. After God opened the Red Sea and the people of His calling walked through on dry ground, the response of Moses was, “Who among the gods is like You, O Lord? Who is like You – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)
There is a great pessimism about many things in our country. There is too much evil. There is too much hostility and division. We can grow cynical and develop a way that says we have given up hope. But a prayer, our prayer, for our nation cannot be hopeless. We are Christians. And God is God. And God can do mighty and wonderful things among us.
Over the last few months the advice column in The Denver Post has had an ongoing discussion about people that despise one another politically. A plumber or electrician had a political bumper sticker that supported one of the candidates from the previous election. When they drove their pick-up with that sticker into one community, the truck, the sticker and the person were not received well. They said that they, and their whole community, didn’t want that person working on their house. No discussion. Quick judgments. We need God and His ways more than ever!! As George Washington said, “charity, humility and pacific temper of mind” would be exhibited among us.
Here is God’s promise – “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14) Our prayer is for much grace and forgiveness among us.
A wise prayer for a nation sees things much bigger and greater than what we can see. Solomon was humbled that he, not his father David, was permitted to build this magnificent structure. But God and His Spirit is much greater than a building!! He prays on that day when everyone is ‘ooing and awing’ over what they can physically see, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!” (I Kings 8:27)
A wise prayer for our nation is that our nation would see that there is a greater nation, a heavenly city that God wants us to be in. We want the best virtues that God brings to be part of our life here, but God has something better planned. That is why He sent Jesus. That is why Jesus suffered for sins and came back to life – that we would have a heavenly home. Our prayer is that everyone would repent of sins, come to faith in Jesus and be part of God’s greater purpose.
Solomon’s prayer wasn’t exclusive, but inclusive. He concerned himself not just with his people but also with others. A wise prayer for a nation is pretty broad. “As for the foreigner who does not belong to Your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of Your name – for men will hear of Your great name and Your outstretched arm – when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, Your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner ask of You, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your own people Israel, and may know that this house I built bears Your Name.” (I Kings 8:41-43)
Many people come to this country looking for freedom and a better life. As Christians we can be a witness to them not just about the greatness of this country but about the greatness of our God. There are people who aren’t allowed to go to a Christian church in their native country, but here the doors of all Christian churches are open. In this country we can confess Jesus. What opportunities we have to tell about the One who saved us from the affliction of our sin through the work of Jesus Christ.
Finally, a wise prayer for a nation and a people is not one done with shame or in secret, but one done confidently, even openly. When Solomon prayed, the book of Chronicles tells us, “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. Now he had made a bronze platform, five cubits long (note – a cubit is about a foot and a-half), five cubits wide and three cubits high, and had placed it in the center of the outer court. He stood on the platform and then knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.” (II Chronicles 6:12-13)
He was five feet higher than everything around him – he wanted people to see him – not to get the praise for himself, but to lead his people in prayer to their God. Prayer can be done quietly and in your closet, and it can be done openly and for all to see and participate. Solomon was forward and loud and expressive that day as He prayed for all of God’s people to receive forgiveness and mercy and guidance. We may do the same for this nation and our people.
Today I ask you to pray, just as Solomon did 3,000 year ago, just as George Washington did over 225 years ago and just as Paul did when he wrote to Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior.” (I Timothy 2:1-3)
Pray sincerely. Pray with confidence. Pray for our country. I think Pastor Graf from Serbin, Texas was right, “Every sincere Christian is also a sincere patriot.” Amen!!