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Working on it - By Pastor Thomas Engel


Sports fans! Did you hear the news?

Soon, we will be hearing the crack of a bat again, but I am disappointed that it is not in time for this Fourth of July weekend, for baseball and patriotism go together. Since we cannot go to a game, at least, let us go back and recount the time when “Rise, and sing our national anthem” and “Play ball” became a tradition.

As Chicago sports fans, we can proudly go back to September 5th of 1918 when the Cubs and the Boston Red Sox played in the World Series.

We were fighting in World War I, and during the 7th inning stretch of Game 1 that was played in Chicago, the band began playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the first time at a major sporting event.

Although Chicago had a team playing in the World Series, that day was a somber day in the city because on September 4th, 1918, someone tossed a bomb in the Chicago federal building and post office on Adams Street killing four people.

Authorities never found who was responsible for the bombing, but they were sure it was an act of domestic terrorism in response to the war.

People knew “The Star-Spangled Banner” for it had been played at many public events and Fourth of July celebrations.

When the crowd heard it begin during the seventh inning, they all stood up. After one Boston Sox player saluted the flag, the whole crowd put their hands over their hearts and cheered when the band had finished.

After that game, other sporting events started regularly playing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the song became our official national anthem in 1931.

With the taking down of historical statues and the push to replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our anthem, we are in a time of tense debate about what changes we make and how we make them.

We can talk about how we approach these decisions here in the church because God has given us a government that is to keep order.

In our catechism, there are three uses of the Law, and the first use of the Law is for the government to keep a “curb” in this world.

Scripture talks a lot about justice, fairness, and the uplifting of the oppressed, but these acts cannot happen in the midst of chaos.

To be clear, the church believes in peaceful protest. After all, we are Lutherans with our own history of making reforms.

I hope today to provide some clarity on our reaction to the issues that we are now seeing as they are hitting so close to home. We should never avoid controversy for the reason that is just too messy to address.

As Christians, we are not of the world, but we do have to live in the world. We do have something to say about any issue that comes along.

If you do not mind, I would like to provide a case for the keeping of our anthem as it is.

For me, I see this time when the “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays before a game as a way to honor our military, and I have uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces who have been in the military.

Hearing our nation’s anthem is what I miss most about this summer without baseball.

You know from your history lessons in school about the composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key, and the War of 1812.

Looking at the first verse, we can see that it is mostly a series of questions. You know the first words that set up the questions, “O say, can you see,...?”

Then, later in the verse, we see another question:

“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

We can imagine, after a long night of battle, Francis Scott Key waiting, in the early hours of the morning, to see if the light of the day would reveal victory or defeat. The dawn’s light did reveal that the fight for freedom did prevail, for the flag was still waving.

I like questions-good questions that go deep and cut to the heart of things. Questions that are tough, but in their toughness-provide exactness and insight. A good question asks if you have done what you have said you were going to do.

The Founding Fathers set out to create a free country, and ever since then, we have worked in various ways to make and keep it free.

Here are some of the dates of the events that show our country is always moving forward in its creating of a free country:

July 4th, 1776-The signing of the Declaration of Independence

September 17th, 1787-The signing of the Constitution of the United States

December 15th, 1791-The signing of The Bill of Rights

September 22nd, 1862-The signing of The Emancipation Proclamation

And these years of 1866, 1871, 1875, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1990, 1991-The Signing of Civil Rights Acts

In our history, we have been threatened by foreign powers who have wanted to take away our freedom.

I could have included those dates of wars and terrorist attacks. Also, I could have given the dates of epidemics, pandemics, and economic hardships like depressions and recessions that have tried to take away our security from us.

In this country, we have dates that cause us to bow our heads in shame, and we have dates to celebrate, but through it all, the flag has waved, and we work in these days to keep it waving.

America is far from perfect, but it is a country that is trying always to do better. We keep working on what we had set out to do so many years ago.

For each one of us today, this is the time and place that God has given us to live. And as all people of God have done since the beginning, we are to live by faith.

Lutherans are very “big” on living out faith in our vocations, families, and communities, for it is in our lives that we meet other people with whom we can share our faith.

We are not always the best examples of living by faith, but we can get back on the right track every Sunday morning when we confess our sins and receive forgiveness for those sins.

To be sure that we are making a sincere confession of sins, we can look at ourselves in the light of God’s Law.

This accounting of our lives is the second use of the Law. Here we are using the Law as a mirror to show us our sins. We hold up this mirror to our lives and ask ourselves if we have sinned. The answer can only be, “Yes, I am a sinner.”

In the Law, St. Paul saw that he especially had one sin that caused him much distress.

He asked the most important question of all in a moment of total despair of his sinful condition, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

He exclaimed the only answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

From Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit to David’s sin of adultery, and Peter’s denial of his Lord to Paul’s persecution of Christians, we see people who sinned and needed forgiveness.

David, after he realized his sin, said in Psalm 51, “Create in me clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me.”

Our world’s history, our country’s history, and our own history is made up of sin.

But, any person at any time and place can confess and receive forgiveness of sin by God’s grace in Christ.

Now, we have come to the third use of the Law. This use is where the “rubber hits the road.” What we have received from Christ now needs to move into good action.

The Law can guide us to a better life. We are God’s workmanship made to do good works. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can keep working to do better like loving one another as ourselves.

Adam, David, Paul, and Peter had their “bad” moments, but those times of sin did not discount them.

God gave them another chance in a new day of His mercy and grace.

We are all human that puts us all on the same level, so it is not our place to judge others, but for ourselves, we can turn, receive forgiveness, and keep trying to work it all out in our times and places.

In my opinion, I say keep “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our anthem and keep the questions that it asks about a flag and if it is still waving over the land of the free and brave.

In this world, and history proves it; we never quite ever get it right, especially if we go it on our own.

But we cannot ever go wrong if we are living by faith and the grace of God in Christ.

So, let us keep working on it by faith that trusts in knowing God is working all things for the good to His glory through Christ.

Another well-known patriotic song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” of 1861 from Julia Ward Howe is well worth hearing today, especially the third and fourth verses:

He has sounded forth the trumpet That shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men Before His judgment seat; Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him; Be jubilant, my feet; Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom That transfigures you and me; As He died to make men holy, Let us die to make men free; While God is marching on.

There is so much more that we need to be working on, but after hearing these bold words, let us just take time to pray, “Let it be done as it is said.” Amen.


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