National Thanksgiving

Preached: July 6, 2008

We Raise Up Our Nation with Righteousness
Proverbs 14:34

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit moves our hearts is Proverbs 14

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Proverbs 14:34 NIV)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Our country has many problems. You don't need me to retell them here. The news media is quick to focus on any problems or possible corruption. We've heard complaints from neighbors and friends. Who of us hasn't complained about how the government spends money or how the government isn't doing its job or how dirty politics are or how high prices are getting. Our country has problems. How can we help?

On the other hand, our country has many blessings. God has blessed us with prosperity and luxury on a scale greater than any time in history and far above most people around the world today. And even the government, which we so often complain about, is a blessing from God. For it is through the governing authorities, despite their problems, that God has provided this time of peace and prosperity.

Sometimes we only see that when we contrast our government with another nation. Consider the African country of Zimbabwe. It's a small country, but it's blessed with many natural resources and once was called the bread basket of Africa. But several years ago after the government confiscated the land of white farmers to redistribute it to the poor, inflation shot up. It's estimated at over 100,000% today. Unemployment is at 80%. And when it seemed as if President Mugabe, who had been in power for over twenty years, was about to loose the recent election so that there could be a real change of policy, then intimidations, threats, police action, violence led his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, to finally withdraw. Compared to so many countries, we are blessed to have the government we do have, despite its problems. How richly we are blessed in our country! How can we thank God for it?

So we have two questions before us today. When we see the problems in our country, we ask: How can we help? And when we see the blessings, we ask: How can we thank God? And both questions have the same answer: By raising up our nation with righteousness. Isn't that the answer Proverbs gives? “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34 NIV). We raise up our nation with righteousness. That's the theme today. That's how we both help our country and give thanks to God for our country.

A. Outward, civic righteousness

What is this righteousness that exalts and raises up our country? To think about that today, we want to talk about two kinds of righteousness. The first is an outward righteousness, also called civic righteousness. The second is inner righteousness, also called spiritual righteousness.

First of all, outward, civic righteousness. This is what others can see and so judge whether a person is doing what is morally right or not. For example, obeying the laws of the land, showing kindness to others, being fair in business, working hard, helping the poor, protecting those who are vulnerable, doing your duty in life, keeping your weddings vows, raising your children as good citizens, honoring your parents, staying away from vices like drunkenness, drugs, and debauchery -- all this is outward righteousness. In short its what we would call a virtuous life.

Christians, hypocrites, and unbelievers can all show these virtues of outward righteousness. In fact to our shame, sometimes non-Christians outshine us in doing what is right and virtuous.

However, this outward, civic righteousness cannot save. It does not make anyone right in God's sight, no matter how good and virtuous their life is. In fact, Satan can use this outward righteousness as a deadly temptation. For as soon as a person begins to think that God should accept them because of how good they have tried to live, they are farther away from God than when they started.

Yet, even though this outward, civic righteousness cannot save and does not bring eternal blessings, it does bring earthly blessings. God blesses the nation that walks the paths of outward righteousness. He blesses them with earthly blessings. This kind of righteousness does raise up and exalt the nation.

This brings us to part of the answer to our double question. How do we help our country and give thanks to God for the good he blesses us with through our country? A partial answer is: By promoting civic righteousness.

How do we do that? This kind of righteousness is a matter of the law. No law will ever make someone a Christian, or bring them true, spiritual righteousness that stands up before God, which we'll talk about in the second part. But law can make people outwardly act in the right way and that's what civic righteousness is. We want moral laws that help keep people's vices in bounds so that murder, rape, and robbery are kept in check. We want laws that protect the life of the vulnerable, such as the unborn, the very young, the aged, and the handicapped. We wants laws that favor marriage as a life-long union between one man and one woman. We want laws that lead those able to work to put in a days work, while not leaving the truly needy to starve to death. We want laws that enable us to carry on business and to buy and sell without having to resort to bribes or other immoral favors. We want laws that promote peace and prosperity.

And the Lord has blessed us with a number of ways to work for laws that promote civic righteousness. One of them comes up this fall: Your vote. No politician is perfect. You don't know whether they will keep their promises. Sometimes it may seem that you are just picking the lesser of two evils. Or that your vote doesn't really count since there are so many others voting. But what if all Christians felt that way? Then the moral decline of our country would come much sooner rather than later.

Whom do you vote for? On many of the issues of economics, taxes, foreign policy, the Iraq war, I don't know what the best answer are. Oh, I have my opinions and like to imagine that I'm right. But I don't really know. However on moral issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriages, the separate roles of church and government, and the like, I know what's right and wrong and so do you, because God's Word has told us. As Christians we may disagree on what kinds of laws will best uphold these moral principles, but we agree on the principles. The candidates whose moral principles are similar to mine is the candidate I'm more likely to trust to make the best decision in other areas that I don't know so well. And I would expect them, if elected, to be working for moral laws. That's how your vote can promote civic righteousness.

Besides voting you can support candidates and parties through contributions or volunteer work. You can write letters to elected officials. You could even run for office. Good Christian leaders in the government are a blessing from God. Now to what extent we each vote, contribute, volunteer, write, or run will differ from one Christian to another. Each of us will come to different conclusions of how best to use our time, talents, and money. But each of us is united in that desire for civic righteousness in our country so that we continue under God's earthly blessings. For as we promote civic righteousness we are helping our country and giving thanks to God. We raise up our nation with this civic righteousness.

B. Inner, spiritual righteousness

But now as a Christian who believes in Jesus as your Savior, you have a way to help your country and a way to give thanks to God that no one else does. And that brings us to the other kind of righteousness, inner, spiritual righteousness.

This righteousness does not come from what we do. In fact, this righteousness has given up on earning God's favor by our works. This righteousness doesn't come through law. Rather it comes through the Good News of Jesus. No voting, campaigning, or legislation will give anyone this righteousness. But it comes as a free gift from God through Jesus Christ. For this righteousness belongs to Jesus. It is his righteousness that God credits to sinners, so that through faith in Jesus we stand righteous before God, clothed with Jesus and his right life. Not by works, but only by faith in the promise. Not by our effort, but only by God's undeserved, gracious favor.

You know and believe this Good News. So you are righteous with that inner, spiritual righteousness that comes form Jesus. When you see a cross, you think of Jesus' blood paying for your sins and bringing you his righteousness. When we see water, you remember your Baptism washing you clean and clothing you with Jesus and his righteousness. When you do good things, outward, civic righteousness, you don't do it with the hope of earning something from God. Rather you do good because you are filled with joy for the good that Jesus has already done for you while you were his enemy, the righteousness that he freely gives to you.

Through this faith in Jesus and his righteousness you have a unique standing before God. He calls you his child. That's the standing that Jesus' righteousness brings to you. With this righteousness and the standing it gives you, you have a unique role with which to raise up our country.

What is that role? As a righteous child of God you have the ear of the Almighty. Pray to him. Go to him as a beloved child going to his or her dear Father. Pray for your country. Pray that he bless us with wise, faithful leaders. Pray that he protect us from our enemies. Pray for the police, the firefighters, the judges, the soldiers, the sailors and all others he uses to keep us safe. Pray that we be allowed to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and contentment. And know that your prayers are powerful and effective. Why? Not because God owes it to you, but because of Jesus' righteousness that is yours through faith alone.

As you pray for our country, know that God answers those prayers also by using what you do. So we use our rights as citizens, guided by our Christian consciences, to promote that civic righteousness, which we talked about in the first part.

But also as a Christian, you can bring to your fellow citizens something much great than civic righteousness, which is good only for this life. You can bring them that righteousness that lasts for eternity, that righteousness which comes only from Jesus. And isn't this the main reason we pray for peace and prosperity for our country? Not so that we can live it up on this earth, but we pray for prosperity so that we can give generously to help spread the Good News of salvation. We pray for peace so that we can share that Good News without oppressive harassment. What a way to give thanks to God for the blessings he gives our country! By using that very peace and prosperity to praise his saving love to others, so that they too believe in Jesus. And how that also will help our country as others come to know Jesus and so leave behind the ways of sin. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34 NIV). Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313