Summary: The beauty of a nation, like that of a human face, is not cosmetic, but comes out of generosity, self-control, sacrificial love, and a vision that accords with God
Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth …
Beauty. When I was a boy, my parents decided to take a trip to Niagara Falls. They wanted my brother and me to be exposed to one of the world’s great scenic wonders. But anybody who has ever traveled with two boys in the back seat of a car will be able to guess the mood we were in by the time we arrived. “Mom, he touched me. Dad, he’s on my side of the seat. He’s making faces at me.” The mood was foul, to say the least. And of course, surely you know that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong. It was all my brother’s fault. So it he who was most unhappy when we got to Niagara Falls. For miles he had sat and pouted, with a sour look on his face. At the Falls, we piled out of the car, we strode to the railing, we looked and gaped and oohed and ahed, until my father noticed that my brother was over there, leaning against the car, staring down at the ground. My father tried to get Bob’s attention, “Look, Bob, there’s Niagara Falls. This is what we came to see. Come on, look at the Falls.” But from my brother’s mouth came the ultimate putdown, the final word of the distorted heart, “Hmph. I’ve seen Niagara Falls. I want to go home.”
Unless somebody stops us and makes us look at things of beauty, our hearts will grow dull, our spirits will be distorted. We are surrounded by so much beauty, we are in danger of missing it. We walk past this churchyard every week, but no longer see the radiance of the flowers lovingly planted by our Garden Club. We get out among people every day, and in our hurry to be about our business, we do not enjoy the faces that pass us on the streets. We just take for granted the majesty of the sky, the lushness of the earth, and the grandeur of the sea.
So I want to speak today of beauty. I want to call you to look at the beauty of America. But, deeper, I want to call you to look at the beauty which God offers us. I want to reveal to you the secrets of a beautiful face. For the face of America is indeed beautiful; but there are some secrets to that beauty. If we don’t look at them carefully, we might lose that beauty.
The face of America is beautiful. That beauty is fundamentally a spiritual beauty – not simply the beauty of the landscape; other nations are lovely as well. That beauty is not simply the beauty of a diverse people, although there is a glory in our racial diversity, a beauty in walking the streets of Washington and seeing not just whites and blacks, but Asians and Hispanics and Middle Easterners and Indians, and all the variations. There is beauty in diversity. But I’m talking about more than that. I want to speak about the beauty of a spiritual heritage. The secrets of a beautiful face.
Some three thousand years ago, someone was traveling up to Jerusalem. Through the deserts and the wilderness places he went, slowly and painfully. It was hot and dry. There wasn’t much to look at. Stones and sand, a few scrubby bushes and a burning sun. And the hills; the arduous, rocky hills. As you may know, Jerusalem is situated in the hill country of Judaea. So as you approach Jerusalem, you go through ugly and unappealing places; but then you come around a bend in the road, around the edge of one of these hills, and there it is, the city suddenly laid out in front of you, breathtaking in splendor. Just as there are certain roads in Virginia, where, as you drive down them, suddenly, spread out before you, is the skyline of Washington. The psalmist came to Jerusalem, and was in awe. The glory of that city, the towers of the Temple, the monuments and the palaces, struck him as the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. That’s the background of the psalm we’ve heard today.
The city of our God. His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth
Maybe something of the same breathtaking wonder took hold of a woman named Katharine Lee Bates back in 1893. An English professor at Wellesley College, Miss Bates went with a group of friends to Colorado Springs; she took a wagon and mule trip up Pike’s Peak. So awed was she by the vastness of the view that she wrote an anthem celebrating God’s goodness to America. I am going to encourage you to sing it with me, a verse at a time, as we think together about the secrets of a beautiful face. America’s beautiful face.