One Nation Under God

July 2, 2023

One Nation Under God

Passage: Gospel of Luke 10:29-37
Service Type:

Thursday, I attended the fund-raiser for the Donnie Shell Scholarship Foundation. Our friend the Rev. Dr. U. A. Thompson invited me. It was an honor to meet Mr. Shell. He graduated from South Carolina State University in 1974 where he had been a star football player. He was undrafted in the 1974 NFL draft, but the Pittsburgh Steelers invited him to summer camp; he made the team and completed a 14-year NFL career. Along the way, he won four Super Bowl rings, played in five Pro Bowls, and in 2020, was inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame. Over a period of one hundred years, only 15 undrafted NFL football players have been enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Donnie Shell is one of them.

I went to this event because during his NFL career I was a pastor in Pittsburgh. Two of his teammates on the starting defensive lineup of the Pittsburgh Steelers were members of my little congregation. I was delighted to meet Donnie Shell. He agreed to come to Taylors SC later this summer and be my guest on my broadcast/podcast, TheMeetingHouse.

But something else happened Thursday night. I was introduced to a tall many in a deep purple suit. “He is the chairman of the board of trustees of a SC university,” somebody whispered to me. Then he continued, “He is on his way to see Donald Trump tomorrow when he speaks at a rally in Pickens, South Carolina.”

That piqued my interest. When I was introduced to him, he began talking about starting a state chapter of the national political/religious organization called “Faith and Freedom.”

I let him talk. I did not tell him what I thought of “Faith and Freedom” nor how he would play a role in my sermon this morning. I did not know then myself. It was only after the Supreme Court finished their tawdry business on Friday that I felt called to speak to this issue today: What makes a Christian citizen? How can we be one nation under God? What is a Christian nation, and do we want to be one?

Here me out today, as I speak you irritated by what I have heard, and seen, and felt this week, but also inspired by what I read in the gospel, what I see in my mind’s eye, and what I feel today about the future of our country and the vitality of our religion.

I want to remind you today of the three people claiming the name of Jesus who took their claims all the way to the Supreme Court, and contrast them with the three people, who saw the man in the ditch on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho.


John MacArthur is a pastor in California. He is famous among some Christian networks, and he became more famous among lawyers during the COVID. Public health officials called for all citizens to wear face masks and avoid large crowds in buildings. MacArthur and his people pushed back and said, “No government is going to tell us when and how to worship.” They took their case to the Supreme Court and won.

I question the legal basis of the Court’s ruling, but I am not a lawyer. I am a preacher, a pastor, and a theologian. I question the theological basis of Mr. MacArthur’s case; I question the biblical basis of his appeal; I question the spiritual rationale of his argument. It is our calling to care for the city in which we live. Christians must be the first to follow all health and safety precautions. Followers of Jesus need to lay aside our right to worship when and how we please in order to protect the life and health of our neighbors.

Gerald Groff was a postman in Holtwood, Pennsylvania, on the banks of the Susquehanna River, just north of the state line. He is a Christian. He seeks to honor the Lord’s Day. He doesn’t want to work on the Lord’s Day. When the U S Post Office began to schedule him on Sundays, he pushed back. He changed post offices. Still, he was scheduled, on Sundays, to deliver Amazon packages. He quit and filed a lawsuit. This week, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.

I don’t know about the employment rules that govern such things. It has to do with the responsibility of employers to accommodate the religious practices of employees. I support that, and I honor that. More people need to rest on a sabbath, be it the Muslim sabbath—Friday, the Jewish sabbath—Saturday, or the Christian sabbath—Sunday. These are tricky things to navigate in a workplace that is pluralistic and secular.

I am not schooled in the law, but I am educated in the things of Christian living. Here is what I resist: workers who invoke the name of Jesus to shirk their work responsibilities and push them off on other workers. What happened in this case is that because Mr. Groff refused to do his part, other workers were forced to work more than their share, and they quit! None of the postal carriers wanted to do the work, but the Christian was the only one given permission to refuse to work! The Supreme Court ruled in his favor this week: he does not have to work if he doesn’t want to.

In Colorado, Lori Smith owns and operates a web design business. She filed a lawsuit against the state of Colorado which has a law that requires businesses to serve all people. Smith did not want to serve everybody; she wanted to discriminate against queer people. “I am a Christian,” I watched her say in a TV interview. “Making something that requires my personal creativity is a violation of my free speech and my Christian convictions.”

Smith lost at the local level and lost again in the federal appeals court. But this week, is an astounding ruling by this Supreme Court, she was given license to discriminate against other citizens simply because she does not like something about them. This Christian businesswoman won her right to refuse to help a customer who needed a service.

In her case, the people she refused to serve were, she said, a gay couple who had requested a marriage web site. In the name of Jesus, she claimed she turned down a common service to her neighbors in Colorado Spring simply because they were gay. After the ruling came down, it was discovered that this Christian woman had fabricated the entire work request; the man she named as the one requesting the service was himself a web-designer, was straight, and has been married for 15 years. He denied ever requesting anything.

That sure complicated the public witness of this Lori Smith of Colorado Spring, Colorado.


These three Christian people—the preacher in California, the postman in Pennsylvania, and the web designer in Colorado—have taken the stage to demonstrate what it means to be a Christian in America today. These three Christians have given their testimony in public this week in legal briefs and press interviews. Here is what they say: being a Christian today means to defy public health protocols; being a Christian today means to shirk your share of the work; and being a Christian today means dening the dignity of citizens and neighbors.

The witness of these three people, spread over every newspaper in the United Sates this week and last year, has shaped more minds than all other Christian advertising of any kind! These three people—the preacher, the postman, and the designer—have given your neighbors a very clear image of what passes for a Christian today: ignore public health protocols, refuse to do your share of the work, and put a sign on your business announcing, WE DO NOT SERVE GAYS.

No wonder people are leaving the church! No wonder thousands of people are quitting Christianity! No wonder millions of people have disaffiliated. Today, less that half of the population of the United States claim affiliation with any house of worship. This is why! The preacher from California, the postman from Pennsylvania, and the designer from Colorado—loudly claiming their connection to Jesus—have shaped the public image of what it means to follow Jesus today.

These three people have gained the public eye by insisting on what they will not do, by refusing what needs to be done, and by neglecting to take care of their neighbor.  Is this the kind of Jesus-follower you want to be? Is this the sort of believer our nation needs today? Is this the kind of behavior that will trigger a revival and bring us to where we can truly say, One Nation Under God?

Is this the invitation you want me to give: ignore public health, quit your job, denigrate your neighbor?


I turn now to the story of Jesus.

You know the story. A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. I love the way the story starts. I have on many a day, back when I was a younger man, hopped on my motorcycle and coasted all the way, almost, from Jerusalem to Jericho. Long stretches of that old Roman road are still there. Once when leading a tour group that included my mother and father, my mother became weak and nauseous. We looked around for help. A local Arab boy was there, with his donkey. We waved him down and made a deal. For a little bit of money, he put my mother on his donkey, and she rode into Jericho.

This certain man in the story of Jesus met no such hospitality. He was met by robbers, who beat him and left him for dead, in the ditch. And thus begins the story Jesus told of what it means to be a Christian.

Two Christians were leaving church. Both were ministers on the staff of a congregation. Each encountered the distraught and devilish man lying beaten in the ditch. He was alone; he was hurt; he was, perhaps, dying. These pastors consulted the Bible. There, in Leviticus chapter 19, they are commanded to love his neighbor. In chapter 20, they are commanded to reject homosexual sex. In chapter 21, they are commanded not to cut their hair. And in chapter 22, they are directed to avoid touching the body of a dead or dying man.

These were the instructions on the mind of those Christian ministers as they left church that day, started their walk down the Roman road that leads from Jerusalem to Jericho, and encountered the dead or dying man in the ditch. Which of these texts are relevant to the situation? As I said last week: it is not which rule you read but which commandment you emphasize!

Those ministers had the right, even the duty to ignore that body in the ditch. In fact, they could have lost their jobs if they did not handle the situation properly. The book of law prescribed how they were to behave in many situations. They had the law on their side: not just the secular law but the holy law of God. It instructed them to avoid that body. It would compromise their suitability for ministry; it would make them ceremonially unclean for the gospel work they were ordained to fulfill.

Both of those ministers walked by on the other side.

But along came a third person: not a Christian, had not been in church that morning, and knew very little about the religious or secular law. Jesus said this third man saw the man in the ditch and had compassion on him. His focus was on the person, not the law. His attention was on the hurting man, not the holiness code. His feelings went out to the one who was suffering rather than to the law that was relevant. He stopped and helped the dying man, took him to a doctor, and paid for his care.

Jesus asked the famous question: which of these three men, three women, three persons, was a neighbor to the man in the ditch?

But my question today is a bit different: which of these three people is the model for Christian living today?  The ones who invoked the sacred law to excuse them from helping people or the one who instinctively came to the assistance of a stranger? Which of these three people—the two ministers who quoted the Bible to avoid doing their part or the one who listened to his own conscience to work for the common good?

Which of these three people in the story of Jesus is the prototype of our behavior today?

I will go further. Let’s add this Good Samaritan, this compassionate man, this stranger with godly instincts, to the lineup of the preacher in California, the postman in Pennsylvania, and the website artist in California and ask the question: Who is neighbor to the man?

Who is illustrating the goodness and mercy of God?

Who is putting aside their own interests and working for the good of the person, the community, and the nation?

Who do we want on the billboard as the example of what it means to be human, what it means to be neighbor, what it means to be Christian?

Whose story do we want told in every media outlet in the land?

Whose face do we want plastered on the screen with the tagline: “This man is a Christian. Let him be your example. Do what he does.”

Whose example is most likely to inspire the secular and unbelieving person to turn from their selfish ways, embrace the goodness of God, and follow Jesus?

The Faith and Freedom coalition is a new political organization with these five goals: Mobilize and train people of faith to be effective citizens. Speak out in the public arena and in the media on behalf of Christian values. Influence legislation and enact sound public policy at every level of government. Train citizens for effective civic action. Protest bigotry and discrimination against people of faith.

For them and for us, our examples of a Christian citizen can not be these three people who won their case in the Supreme Court but this one man from Samaria, Jesus said, who set aside his rights and his freedoms to attend to the needs of a neighbor. God bless him, God bless her; and God bless all of us today.




Go to Top