Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Self-Evident Truth vs. The Big Lie

 "We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident" 
Delivered June 28, 2015 at First United Methodist Church, Bradenton, Florida

Ready for a little history lesson?  

On June 10, 1776, the colony of Virginia, through its representative Richard Henry Lee, proposed a resolution to the Second Continental Congress that the United Colonies “are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states.”  Before the Congress debated the resolution, they tasked a committee of 5 men – John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert Livingston of New York, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia - to prepare a formal declaration of independence.   Thomas Jefferson, the youngest of the five, but the best writer, wrote the first draft.  Franklin and Adams made some changes and 239 years ago today, June 28, 1776, the Committee of Five - presented their final draft of a declaration of independence to the Second Continental Congress.  

The members of Congress made a number of changes, the most notable of which was removing the paragraph that asserted Britain had forced slavery on the colonies. It began like this:  He [King George III] has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most Sacred Right of Life & Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their Transportation thither." 

The Southern colonies objected. That fight would come later but it would come. For now, the colonies were united against King George, but as we see through history, the fight for liberty marches on.  

On July 2, 1776, the resolution on independence was adopted.  Twelve colonies voted yes.  New York later approved it on July 9.  On July 4, the final wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved and sent to the printer.    

The Declaration clearly was directed at King George.  It boldly stated the just causes for American’s separation from England.  (We should talk about King George’s tyranny some day.)   It declared to the world that the United Colonies, now the United States, were an independent nation.  But the Declaration holds within it, challenges to the American people as well.   

Hear these words.  

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….. 

You might be thinking, "Nice history lesson Preacher Girl, but move on." 
Have you been paying attention to the news this week?   If you have been paying attention particularly to the recent Supreme Court decisions you will not be surprised that most Americans, including our judges and elected representatives, believe that these documents - the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution - are nothing but interesting historical relics.  In hearing about the Supreme Court’s decisions it seems obvious to me that the Declaration and the Constitution no longer hold the power of law or authority or even influence over America.   

I am not here this morning to debate the merits or faults of ObamaCare or same sex marriage.  But even the dissenting judges recognized that these two Supreme Court decisions - upholding the Affordable Care Act, and the legalizing same sex marriage – violated basic Constitutional principles.  The details of how can be a discussion for another day.  In both these rulings, but for different reasons, the Court ignored the Constitution.  It seems to happen a lot.  I am sad to say, it appears Constitution is effectively null and void.  

And honestly, the Declaration of Independence was demoted to the dustbin of history long ago.  Even so I was still shocked to hear Chris Cuomo, a commentator on CNN, say to Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, without batting an eye, - “Our rights do not come from God, your honor, and you know that. They come from man... “   (Chris Cuomo says "our rights do not come from God,” February 12, 2015,   youtube.com)    

How did we get to be a nation that believes our rights come from man rather than believing our rights come from God?  Here is my theory. I call it “The Big Lie.”  I call it that because I believe its source is Satan, and Jesus told us Satan is a liar and the Father of lies.  This is a spiritual battle as well as a political one.  (How politically incorrect is that?!!) 

Evil has a vested interest in the destruction of America, because at its core, America is based on the idea that God can rule a nation through the hearts of men, not through a theocracy, not through a king, but through the consent of a faithful people. That the love of God can shine through a nation.   That my friends, is what makes America exceptional.  And that is why Satan and the powers of evil cannot allow it to stand. 

We, the people of America, are complicit in our own destruction. Over the past 100 years for sure, and definitely over the past 50, people of faith have checked out of the political process.  Over time, bit by bit, we have been cowed into submission by the tyranny of “The Big Lie.”  The bottom line of “The Big Lie” is that God does not exist, but forces of evil at work in the world just don’t come right out and say that.  Well sometimes they do, like that Time Magazine cover “Is God Dead?”  That was in 1966 BTW.  But most of the time, evil just nibbles at the edges.  “The Big Lie” says things like our founders were really atheists, deists at best, and that America was not founded on Biblical principles, but that America was really founded as a secular society free of any religious influence. Look at how “The Big Lie” interprets the meaning of separation of church and state stuff.   

“The Big Lie” says that, even if you want to delude yourself into believing in God, your right to freely practice your faith,  means that you can worship anyway you choose, within the confines of your church, of course.  But remember, you must check your faith at the door to your sanctuary and keep it away from your workplace (you know the Marine who was just fired because she had a Bible verse on her computer), your school (remember, they took the Bible and prayer out of the schools in the 1960s), and especially from the voting booth (you know, preachers can’t talk about candidates or churches will get in trouble…)    

“The Big Lie” says that that truth is relative which really means that there is no truth at all.  Each of us makes our own truth, right? We each can decide what is wrong and what is right.  Or we can accept that morality is determined by a community consensus, not divine law. Or we can just do what somebody in power tells us to do…..  You can write all the hate crime legislation you want, but you cannot legislate kindness and compassion.  You can confiscate everything I have, but you cannot legislate generosity.  You can ban me from buying a Coke larger than 16 ounces, but you cannot legislate self-control.  Kindness, generosity, self-control are hallmarks of a moral people.  Wouldn’t you rather be a good people than a governed people? “The Big Lie” claims that the people who believe in truth are evil and liars themselves.  Hateful people.  Heard that lately?  The world is turned on its head. 

The bottom line of “The Big Lie,” Satan’s ultimate goal, is to convince you that that there is no God, so he can step in and take over. 

How do you fight “The Big Lie?”  You fight “The Big Lie” with “The Bigger Truth.”  Let’s go back to the dusty old Declaration of Independence and (perhaps your even dustier) Bible. 

The Declaration bases this idea of America on what it says is, self-evident truth.  Self-evident means that any thinking person doesn’t need any additional proof.   It is obvious.  Self-evident.  These truths were self-evident to the American people in large part because of a group of individual men, spread throughout the colonies, who went out on Sunday mornings, put on black robes and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  History calls them the Black Robe Regiment.   I think the British may have referred to them that way too. 
America was populated by people of many denominations. In the Declaration, the Anglicans could find common cause and a common language with the Catholics, the Congregationalists, the Universalists, the Baptists, the Scotch and American Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Moravians, the Quakers, the Shakers, the Deists and the myriad of other Christian groups in America.  (See The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, David L. Holmes, Oxford University Press, 2006, Kindle Loc 317)

These groups may have disagreed on the nature of Christ’s divinity, on the proper method of baptism, on the meaning of Holy Communion, the role of the clergy, on a whole library of doctrinal issues but they could agree on some things.  Even with the 1000 or so Jews represented in the colonies population of about 3.5 million could agree with what Mr. Jefferson wrote. Jefferson’s genius just amazes me in how he finds the words that would unite people of faith and not divide them.  Oh, how we need statesmen to unite us and not divide us these days!
I am here in the tradition of that Black Robe Regiment to tell you that even if these truths do not seem self-evident to you and your neighbors, they are indeed still true.  I start from a place where I believe Jesus is the Son of God, who died for my sins and rose from the dead.  He will hold me accountable to these truths.  

  1. There is a God.  God has ordered the universe – the laws of nature – and has given humanity rules to follow for our benefit, out health and well-being.  You know, the laws of Nature and Nature’s God.  The revelation of God in the universe and Scripture.  
  2. People are created in the image of God.  We are all equal in his sight.  You know, in Christ there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free….
  3. God has given to each and every person the “rights” the gifts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that is the ability to pursue our own purpose and destiny. 
  4. And human beings, while created in the image of God, are also fallen, and prone to evil.  So governments are needed to protect the rights God has given us from those, like tyrannical kings and power-hungry parliaments and even selfish neighbors, who would like to take them from us.

The phrases “all men are created equal,” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” have resonated through the ages.  They roll off our tongues with ease, but we have forgotten that each word, each idea is infused with the necessity of virtue and morality.  Here is our challenge. 

The Founders knew, the weakening of our faith, would be the weakening of the republic.  John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

So let’s talk about morality and virtue for a minute.  (Deep breath)  I’m not going to much talk about sexual morality this morning.  I think the biblical worldview of sex has been pushed to the margins it’s going to take a while to bring that discussion back on track.  A few months back I heard Andy Stanley challenged his congregation of 30,000 to not talk about gay marriage until they had gotten their own sexual house in order.  That means they needed to go a full year without committing adultery, viewing pornography, even the soft stuff like TV and movies.  Hey ya’ll, get rid of that copy of 50 Shades of Grey.  Stop engaging in premarital sex, extramarital sex, any sex outside of marriage and yes, that includes flirting with your married coworker at the watercooler.  Then we’ll talk.  Kind of reminds me of not casting the first stone….

My friends, morality and virtue aren’t just about sex.  It’s about how we live our lives.  About how we control ourselves and interact with others.  It’s about personal responsibility.  Are you every day trying to be a better person, a good person? 

And when the Founders spoke of morality, they took their own moral development quite seriously.  Do you?  As a child Washington wrote out 150 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.  They helped shaped his life and the good man that he was.  Granted, some of them sound a bit fussy to us, but their focus was on how to courteously interact with others. 

Franklin, the purveyor of wisdom in Poor Richard’s Almanack put himself on personal regime of moral improvement when he was in his 20s.   He identified 13 virtues that he wanted to make a habit of.  Sincerity, Industry, Justice, Frugality, Moderation, Humility.   He would focus on one each week.  He had a little book with one for each page and at the end of day, week review how he was doing and where he needed to improve.  

Jefferson, ah Jefferson.  Gets a bad rap among some Christians for the Jefferson Bible.  You know where he took out all the spiritual stuff in the Gospels, the miracles and the divinity of Christ.  I will admit he struggled with the divinity of Christ and the doctrines of the Church.  Jefferson encouraged his nephew Peter Carr to question with boldness even the existence of God?  Nothing wrong in that.  Our faith in stronger when it moves through the fires of honest questioning.

The actual title of what we call The Jefferson Bible is The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.   Jefferson understood that the best systems of ethics and morals from Jesus.  That is what he distilled into the Jefferson Bible.  Oh, that the members of the Congress who get a copy would read the teachings of Jesus! 

The American people of the colonial era understood all this.  The preachers of the day – the Black Robe Regiment – would preach the saving grace of Jesus Christ and how, in gratitude, we should live moral and decent lives.   

These preachers taught that the individual spirit that Americans hold so dear is all about personal responsibility.  “The Big Lie” would have your believe that American individualism is about selfishness.  Not so. Individualism in America means each person is responsible for themselves and to each other.  Equality demands respect.  Life, liberty and that pursuit of happiness only work, when I respect your life, your liberty and your pursuit of your own dreams.   You know, love God and love your neighbor as yourself. 

Let’s begin there.   You are responsible for yourself.  You reap what you sow – literally and figuratively. 

You are responsible to fulfill the role in your family, be faithful to your spouse, honor your parents, care for your elderly parents, and teach your children in the way they ought to go. 

You have a responsibility to contribute to society.  You know, all that stuff about helping others in the community of faith, like caring for the widows and orphans.  Or about caring for those in the community at large?  Does the Good Samaritan ring a bell?  How about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger?

The preachers taught that you are to honor the government, render unto Caesar, and all that jazz.  But I might add, we should follow the government only when the government follows God.  Many years later Martin Luther King Jr., who I think would be proud to be considered a part of the Black Robe Regiment, taught us what civil disobedience looked like, didn’t he?  

All Biblical.    

Well, are Americans still a moral, virtuous, a religious people? Are we self-reliant? Are you?  Perhaps not as much as we should be.  If we look at our neighbors rather than at most of the news and the media…. We find bits of hope. 
Look at Charleston.  I see hope in families who offered the saving grace of Jesus, who offered forgiveness to the man who confessed, with racist intent, to murdering their pastor, mother, friends.  I see hope in the members of the community who have pledged to protect the grieving from the disruption of outside agitators.  Look at folks who went to help people in Ferguson, and clean the streets of Baltimore. 

I see hope as Dave and I travel around the country.  Just recently we did the Hot Rod Power Tour in Dave’s 55 Chevy.  5000 cars, most vintage, travelling the same route from Madison Wi, to Champaign, IL, to St. Louis, to Memphis, to Birmingham, to Gulfport, MS, to Baton Rouge over 7 days.  And you know what.  Despite the traffic jams, there was no road rage.  People honked their horns to acknowledge a cool car, not as a sign of impatience.  People let each other merge in.  People stopped and helped when a car was in trouble.  Because there were more men than women, sometimes there was a line for the men’s room, and us ladies let the men use our restroom.  How about that?   People just stopped to chat and admire the cars.  A couple folks even stopped to admire our Ben Carson for President bumper sticker. Strangers became friends.  The venues we visited each evening were clean, the people courteous, even the vendors gave free advice.  And these are folks of all ages, all races, from all over the country.  It gives me hope. 

There are good people out there.  They are the core of America and the hope of America.  We just need to strap on a little courage to fight “The Big Lie.”  We need to fight “The Big Lie” that God is dead. We need to strap on the courage to boldly live lives of decency, morality and personal responsibility. We need to be that light so others see our goodness.  We need to strap on the courage to fight for our God given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

We know from our history that we need to fight for liberty with each generation.  Sometimes we need to fight enemies from outside our country.  There was no compromise to be had with the evil that was Nazism.  There can be no compromise with the evil that is Islamism that we see in ISIS and elsewhere.  

But sometimes, we have to fight the enemy within our borders.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,   “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  And, might I add, not to vote is to vote.  Thomas Jefferson said:  “We in America do not have government by the majority – we have government by the majority who participate.  All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”   It has been estimated that 50% of American Christians, those that go to church on a regular basis, are not even registered to vote. And that among those that are registered less than 40% ever darken a circle on a ballot.  And that those that do vote often are more driven by their pocketbook than their principles. 

Why is that?  I believe Christians have bought “The Big Lie” that people of faith should keep their faith to themselves, shut up and stay home. 

Please don’t believe it anymore. 

Please don’t let community consensus determine your moral choices, but look to God’s Word.  Please be involved as a person of faith – everywhere you go! 

This Independence Day, make it your Independence Day, and speak up, and speak out.  Declare Independence from “The Big Lie” and grab with gusto “The Bigger Truth”…

that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

And let me read just a little bit more…

 --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...

Reclaim the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. It is our fight.  It is our right.  It is our duty to ourselves, to each other, to the future, and to God. Amen.



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