America the Beautiful: From Patriotism to World Loyalty

Isaiah 56:1-8

And Moses went to the mountaintop and saw God’s vision for his people.   He received a book of laws that created a nation.

And Martin Luther King went to the mountaintop, imagined the promised land of a truly great America, a land in which all are free and all God’s children walk hand in hand, regardless of race or ethnicity.

And Katherine Lee Bates took a journey to Pike’s Peak and from the mountaintop imagined the beauty of our nation, and in spite of our failures, she imagined the nation we could be if we chose to follow our better angels.

A native Cape Codder, Katherine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College was teaching a summer school session at Colorado College. It was 1893, and she was 33 years old. In the course of the summer, she hiked to the pinnacle of Pikes Peak, where the words of the poem “America the Beautiful” came to her. The poem was initially published two years later in The Congregationalist to commemorate the Fourth of July.

There is something about mountaintops that expands the human spirit. From the mountain top, we find perspective.  We see the big picture, the connections, and the horizon of possibility.  From the mountaintop, we can affirm our village and our people, we can rejoice in the gifts of our nation, and we can see our nation as part of greater global adventure, as having a vocation in light of the broad outlines of planetary history.  Yes, we can affirm, with the hymn, “more than self their country loved,” but beyond that, from the mountaintop, we can also affirm “more than country they loved their God and God’s way came first.”

All politics is local as Tip O’Neal asserted.  All faith is also local and is lived concretely in everyday life.  But, the healthiest faith and politics challenges us to meet God in our church and neighborhood and discover God in strangers and newcomers.  This is our time and place, Cape Cod in 2016, and yet just as important, we are part of a broader history, an arc toward beauty and justice that lures us to follow our better angels, as Abraham Lincoln counseled.  We love our place, our nation, but from the mountaintop, and let me add the seashore, we look beyond to discover God’s majesty everywhere, and in all peoples and cultures.

Isaiah had a vision. In the Temple, he experienced God in all of God’s majesty, and awestruck he discovered his calling to speak for God to a wayward nation, a nation captivated by the idols of wealth, power, and pleasure; a nation that focused on itself and not its calling to be a light bringing hope to all nations. And so, from his vision, Isaiah writes:

My house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations

God’s love embraces the stranger, the immigrant, the outsider, and the calling of the faithful – indeed faithful citizens – is to do likewise, and to “tear down that wall,” as President Reagan said, so that a thoroughfare of freedom and hospitality can be created for all God’s children.

Yes, we are called to love our nation, to be patriots, seeking its best future and protecting our fellow citizens.  But, the healthiest patriotism challenges us to world loyalty, to recognize that other people love their countries, that other nations have important interests, and that the health of our planet touches all of us.  Just as no person can make it on her or his own, no nation can thrive in isolation.

Martin Luther King proclaimed “I have a dream”; and so did Katherine Lee Bates.

On our best days, these are our dreams for us, our nation, and our world:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Today, we might add the children on school lunch programs at

Hy-West and Centerville schools whose parents struggle to make ends meet, the homeless person camping in the shadow of a million dollar beach house, the grieving parent or spouse of one of the massacred in Orlando, the farm worker fearing the knock at the door from the immigration services, and those who by accidents of birth and race have missed out on the American dream.

And so we pray with Katherine Lee Bates, as we vow to love our country, to sacrifice that this great country might become truly great for all of us, and that we might on this land between two oceans, be a beacon of justice, freedom, equality, and fairness, to all nations and to the non-human world.

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

Thine alabaster cities gleam

Undimmed by human tears…..

Let us be patriots for justice and welcome, and let us love our nation by loving this good earth, for God so loved the world – every inch of it – that he sent Jesus to be our healer, savior, and companion in healing the earth. And out of that grace, God will “crown thy good with brotherhood and sisterhood from sea to shining sea.”