Aren’t We at Least to where USMA and Sherman were?

I have a confession to make. I try not to have to preach on July 4th. This dates to vicarage where I was all by my lonesome for that Sunday, and I preached on the appointed Gospel reading. On returning, my vicarage pastor said you cannot ignore where everyone else in the congregation is at on a given Sunday. Thus, on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, etc. you must have themes accordingly. I used to do that. I don’t anymore. My vicarage supervisor didn’t deal at that time with the thorny problem of Memorial Day. The south 37 years ago didn’t take to that holiday because it started in the North as memorial for the dead lost in the war they had lost. You dared not sing for example the Battle Hymn of the Republic as the grapes of wrath being trampled were all in the South.

In any event, I ceased preaching on the United States’ theme days, I liken them to the LCMS’s silly Synodical theme days which mar or even trump the Church Year Calendar.  I have prayers instead. Except for the 4th of July. That behemoth is too big to fail to mention; to sacrosanct to insult by not preaching on it. I try to keep myself from saying such things as: “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel;” and “Lincoln at least got 1 of the 3 right. Government is for the people but not by or from them.” I usually fail.

However, every Sunday I do remember the President and all our governing authorities in prayer. 25 years ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, a member who was also in the Navy asked me, “What I was going to do now?” I said, “Pray for the President as always.” (N.B ‘President’ until the 1970s was always capitalized when it referred to one of the United States (

I’ve noted in my church visits that none of the 10 churches (two of them Lutheran) I have visited do that. I doubt most LCMS churches do. This despite Holy Writ specifically enjoining this on holy men of God everywhere (1 Timothy 2: 1-8). And I think in this regard we should be to where the United States Military Academy used to be (They may still be.) and unbelieving General William Tecumseh Sherman was. Listen to this.

Not long after arriving to take command in the pro-South city of Memphis Sherman visited Calvary Episcopal church, the leading denomination in that city. Though he seldom attended church anywhere, while at West Point he had been compelled to attend Episcopal services. “When the Memphis minister prayed the ritualistic Episcopalian prayer, he omitted the customary request that God’s protection be with the President of the United Sates. Sherman caught the omission at once, having heard the prayer every Sunday at the military academy for four years. Immediately Sherman stood up, and in a loud voice recited the customary words on behalf of the President for all to hear, after which he sat back down. The next day, he informed the preacher that if he resumed praying for the President, the church would remain open. Otherwise, it would be closed.” (McDonough, James Lee, William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country, 317). Interestingly enough, in Savanah after his famed “March to the Sea” when another minister made the same omission, Sherman didn’t say anything (Ibid. 581).

Let our piety in prayer at least reach to that of a pagan general and a military academy.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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