My home state, Louisiana, has team spirit. We love athletic programs down here, whether high school, college, or professional. New Orleans isn’t even a baseball town, compared to other parts of the country. Nevertheless, when LSU got into the baseball national championship, I heard frequent talk of the series. We came up short; Florida won it all. But people down here were actively tracking the team.
In the fall, our congregation has a tradition called Kick-off Sunday. We kick off a new school year for students and teachers, recognize the beginning of our preschool and Kindergarten year, and begin our fall/winter/spring programming.
What if I proposed that we do it a bit differently this year? Since LSU is our state team, what if we made it Tiger Sunday? What if I encouraged everyone to wear purple and gold in the sanctuary? What if we had the choir sing the LSU fight song for the anthem? What if, during the children’s sermon, we passed out toy tigers, pennants, and purple and gold pom poms to the kids? What if for our closing hymn, we sang “Go Fighting Tigers!”? What if we put up LSU banners on the fences? What if we set off some fireworks too, kind of like how they shoot off a cannon sometimes outside Tiger stadium? It might even get people to come to church who normally don’t, right? What would you think? What would you say to me if I proposed this? What if you were passionate about your own school (not LSU)?
Hopefully, you would come to me and gently but firmly say, “No. It’s nice that you like LSU, Tom, but that is not worship of our almighty God.” It’s not about the redemption won for us. It’s taking something that is not eternal and highlighting it in the wrong place, and at the wrong time.
So, why am I making up this scenario? Because one of the most awkward Sundays of the year is coming up. It’s the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July.
You may think that I am over the top in my description of a Tiger Sunday, but I just read that a major church in the Dallas area did just this with patriotism. They had people wear red, white, and blue. (We’ve done that, but this was so much more.) They brought flags into the sanctuary and waved them. They set off fireworks in the sanctuary! They played patriotic music the whole time. It was all about flag and country. And, to me, it was as off kilter as can be.
As many of you know reading this blog, I have served in the military for decades. I’ve been deployed and will be deployed again. I love my country. I pray for it. I sincerely believe that many of our current problems come from the fact that we have placed our faith on the backburner in our society (not the naming of it for prominence but the living out the values expressed within it). But I do not worship the flag. The Star Spangled Banner will not be playing when we enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And no, God doesn’t love us more than anyone else.
Our country is important, and giving God thanks for our nation, in worship, is right and appropriate. But we never, ever, should get confused about who or what we are worshiping in our sanctuary. Because all things pass one day, except for the Lord our God, who created us, who walks with us, and who lives in communion with us.
I expect to see some red, white, and blue clothing this Sunday. I expect we will sing one of the national songs in The Hymnal. And before all others, I will be happy to go into the fellowship hall, cut up a watermelon, and sing some old patriotic favorites along with everyone else. But, I hope, that in all that we do this Sunday, we point to the Spirit of the Living God we worship – not to the national spirit we sometimes like to focus on.
What do you think?