My Kind of Patriotic Sermon

Brent Beasley
Brent Beasley

I didn’t go to church this July 4th weekend.  I couldn’t bear the thought of singing odes to American Exceptionalism.   America is exceptional, of course, but our national history is such a mix of glory and gloom, triumph and tragedy, that flag waving triumphalism is rarely appropriate–especially in a Christian sanctuary.

Mercifully, not all patriotic sermons are created equal.  Brent Beasley, pastor of Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church, loves America.  He doesn’t love everything the American people have done or everything we presently represent in the eyes of the world; but he loves our better angels; he loves our dreams.  

In this sermon, Dr. Beasley contemplates the familiar words “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, and is reminded of the words of our Savior, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

It doesn’t always get ugly when patriotic longing and religious aspiration join hands; sometimes it can be beautiful.

The political implications of this message are obvious and unstated–that too is a splendid combination. AGB

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor…

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Broadway Baptist Church

Third Sunday after Pentecost

July 3, 2011

Brent Beasley


The Statue of Liberty is one of the best loved and most enduring symbols of our country and our highest ideals.

As you know, the French wanted to give the United States a memorable gift, an expression of the two nations’ friendship, in honor of our centennial in 1876, but things got a little bogged down and the Statue of Liberty wasn’t officially dedicated until Oct. 1886, 10 years later.

The statue is of a woman, derived from Libertas, ancient Rome’s goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression, and tyranny. Her raised right foot is on the move, not standing still. Her torch signifies enlightenment.

The tablet in Lady Liberty’s hand represents knowledge and shows the date of the United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. We all know those familiar opening words of the Declaration. . .

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are some other familiar words. It is Emma Lazuras’s poem entitled “The New Colussus.” None of our nation’s founders ever saw the Statue of Liberty or heard Lazarus’ defining poem, of course, but I think most of us would agree that the spirit of the poem goes hand in hand with what Jefferson was trying to capture in the Declaration of Independence that has inspired so many around the world.

Have you ever read the full text of Emma Lazarus’s poem?  I must confess that while the last stanza is familiar, the first part was not.   Here it is in its entirety:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.


“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Back in the 1880s, waves of immigrants found their way here and literally helped to build America—

the roads,

the railroads,

the high-rise buildings,

the subway tunnels,

the bridges,

the infra-structure.

The prejudice and cruelty that they often encountered after arriving are well-documented.  Conflict was inevitable–they competed for jobs.  Their culture and religion were often different than the mainstream in this country at that time.  Their sheer numbers added stress to housing, sanitation, food and water systems.

But eventually most of them won a place in this society that ensured the health, safety and survival of their families. And they made our nation stronger.

Emma Lazarus, who wrote the poem, was the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family living in New York City. Although moving in elevated social circles, she became aware of the thousands of Jewish refugees arriving in New York, escaping from the waves of vicious anti-Semitism that were sweeping Europe during the latter part of the nineteenth century.

There were far more than could possibly be absorbed by the city, and they were located in various miserable housing stations that offered very little to their exhausted and starving occupants.  Emma involved herself, doing what she could to alleviate their suffering.   Her famous sonnet came into being as part of a collection of writings, published in 1883, that was successfully sold to raise money for the installation of the Statue of Liberty.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I couldn’t help but think of these words on this 4th of July weekend as I read Jesus’ invitation in our scripture today:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke  upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Just as Emma Lazuras, in her poem, was rejecting the goddess of power and storied pomp for one who would welcome

the tired,

the poor,

the huddled masses,

the homeless…

Jesus, in this passage, is rebuking

the powerful,

the wise,

the intelligent ones,

the leaders of the Pharisees, the religious


Instead he is focusing his attention and promise of help on what he calls the “infants,” those who are far from the places of power and influence.

Most of us spend our lives seeking wisdom and intelligence, and now it seems that those are the very attributes Jesus dismisses. In fact, Jesus says that the blessings of God are intentionally hidden from those who are filled with the wisdom and intelligence of this world.

Instead it is

the infants of this world,

the innocent and naïve,

the tired,

the poor,

the huddled masses,

the weary and heavy burdened—

it is the infants of this world—the innocent and naïve— who somehow best understand the ways of God.

I was taught an important lesson about this on Tuesday.

Heidi and I were in Tampa, Florida last week for the annual CBF General Assembly. After that was over, we rented a car and drove up to Jacksonville to meet up with the Chapel Choir who were arriving in Jacksonville on Monday on their choir tour and mission trip. They were performing a concert Tuesday afternoon at a nursing home, so we met them there to be there for the concert.

We got there early, and they were beginning to set up. The concert was actually going to take place out in the lobby, near the front doors of the nursing home. It was crowded. Our group numbers about 50, so that’s a lot of kids, and I didn’t see how they were going to all fit in there, plus set up the tables for the handbells. There were about 40-50 chairs set up for the nursing home residents to sit in, as well.

It was so crowded and felt a little hot and chaotic, so Heidi and I decided to just get out of the way and go back to our car for a little while until it was closer to the time for the concert.

And I’m going to confess to you now what I said to Heidi once we got out to the car. I said, You know, I think Dianne and Fran need to think bigger when it comes to these concerts. This choir is really, really good. I think they can do better than singing at these nursing homes. They ought to be looking for bigger venues.

The truth is, I was so proud of our Chapel Choir, so impressed by them, that I wanted to get them out in front of more prominent groups of people—the wise and intelligent of the world. Like last Sunday, when they sang at Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, and one of their members, who is on the board of Associated Baptist Press, sent an email out to all the other board members bragging on how good Broadway’s youth choir is.

I really liked that. We’ve had a lot of attention here at Broadway for our struggles, and I want people to see how well we’re doing; I want people to be impressedwith us. But here we were on Tuesday crammed in the entryway of an obscure nursing home.

Heidi and I went back in in a few minutes, and all the chairs were full of nursing home residents. And the concert began. And the choir was just fantastic. When they began to sing, one woman was literally putting her hand under her chin to keep her jaw from dropping in amazement. As you will see this afternoon, they are that good.

They sang,

they played bells,

an ensemble sang,

as well as a boys’ ensemble.

The venue, as I said, wasn’t exactly Carnegie Hall. There were all kinds of distractions. At one point an ambulance pulled up to the entrance, paramedics came in right in front of the choir, and in a few minutes came back out with a woman on a stretcher.

Somebody came through walking a dog. They had to move the handbell tables at one point so somebody in a wheelchair could get by. But the kids handled the distractions like pros, and the residents were just enthralled by the performance and so enthusiastic in their responses.

I wish you could have seen the responses from the nursing home residents. They smiled, they sang along, they clapped. Many had tears run down their cheeks.

After the concert was over, our kids came out into the audience to visit with them. It was a beautiful sight. There were hugs and thank yous. There were requests to please come back again next week. Residents shared their stories. One woman told Heidi that she was from Texas, and one year ago she had come to Jacksonville to visit her daughter, had had a stroke, and had been there in that nursing home ever since.

Dianne Findley had introduced me as the pastor, and one woman came up to me and told me that when I walked in she thought I was a country and western singing star and was shocked to find out I was the pastor.

I’m not sure what country and western star she had in mind. I thought maybe Keith Urban, but someone else suggested Conway Twitty. It definitely wasn’t my polo shirt, cargo shorts, and sandals that gave me away as a country singer.

The whole concert and the interactions that followed, though, were so beautiful and touching. Heidi and I’s eyes both welled up with tears as the choir sang. What a gift it was to everyone who was there, including me.

And when we walked out to our car again, Heidi was kind enough to remind me of what I had said before the concert, that I thought they could do better than to sing there. And I hung my head and repented on the spot.

See, for a moment, I thought the goal was to

show how good we are,

to impress,

to get important people, notable people, to be

impressed and to tell other people how good we


And that God would be pleased, because we are so impressive.

But then I experienced the gospel for real, the authentic gospel, in that nursing home with the infants of the world—

the tired,

the poor,

the huddled masses,

the forgotten,

the helpless,

the weary,

the heavy laden.

And I remembered that Jesus’ promise was to such as these, that we had just experienced Jesus’ promise:

Jesus said, “I thank you, Father…, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants….

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.

 There are two basic kinds of yokes that can be used to bear burdens: single ones and shared ones. A shared yoke requires two creatures, but if they are a well-matched pair they can work all day, because under a shared yoke one can rest a little while the other pulls.

They can take turns bearing the brunt of the load; the stronger one can cover for the weaker one without ever laying down their burden because their yoke is a shared one. They have company all day long, and they may get tired, but not totally exhausted, because they are a team.

Plenty of us labor under the illusion that our yokes are single ones, that we have to go it alone, that the only way to please God is to load ourselves and others down with heavy requirements—

good deeds,

pure thoughts,

blameless lives,

perfect obedience,

impressive performances.

All those rules we make and break, all those burdens we put on ourselves and on each other, while all the time

Jesus is standing right there in front of us,

half a shared yoke across his own shoulders,

the other half wide open and waiting for us,

a yoke that requires no more than that we step into it and share the burden with Jesus. Share the burden with Jesus.

[Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew, “The Open Yoke,” pp. 15-22]

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

It’s no wonder those words are so well known and speak so deeply to our hearts. They remind us, as I need to be reminded from time to time, and as I’m sure you need to be reminded from time to time, that those who please God are not those who

can carry the heaviest load alone or

offer the most impressive solo performance.

Those who please God are the ones

who share their loads,

who are willing to share their yokes

by entering into a relationship with the one

whose invitation stands open,

whose invitation is represented by those always

open arms in stained glass behind me:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.