Monday, July 6, 2015

God is God and We are Not

"Relying on the Protection of Divine Providence"
July 5, 2015, First United Methodist Church, Bradenton

Do ya'll know what hastags are?  They are a way to link together with other folks under a similar idea on social media sites like Twitter and Instagram.  You've seen and heard them mentioned in the news.  #BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, #AllLives Matter, and recently #LoveWins.  

I was thinking that if I had a hashtag for last week's message it might have been #LibertyMatters or #TruthWins, but the more I thought about it, I decided that perhaps it should just be, #TruthIs.  And this week's hashtag would be #TrustGod.

In these two weeks I get to share with you, I'm focusing on the Biblical worldview found in the Declaration of Independence.  We have been fed a bunch of lies about the Declaration and our nation's founding.  I hope that after last week you have declared your own independence from the lies that say America wasn’t founded on a Judeo-Christian worldview.  At the very least, I hope you will question with boldness the lie that people of faith should just shut up and keep your faith to yourself. 

Let me remind you of a quote from one of the founders, John Adams, that I shared last week.  He said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Americans need to be a moral people.  The limited government our founder’s laid out in the Constitution is based on the idea that “we the people” take responsibility for ourselves, our families and our communities.  That we the people would live lives built on an understanding of biblical morals, not only sexual morals, but things like kindness and compassion, self-control, generosity, working hard, and staying out of debt and caring for others.  The idea is that we don’t need many laws because we take care of ourselves and our neighbors.  You know, love God, love your neighbor as you love yourself. 

But why did Adams say, “moral and religious?”  I mean, can’t you be a moral person without being a religious person?  I know many people who are good decent, moral, people who have no belief in God.  But here is the problem.  If you say you can be moral, without being religious, how do you decide what is moral or virtuous or not?

“The Big Lie” swirling around our world today tells us that morality is the common consensus of the people.  It is agreed upon behavior.  Or in its more extreme version “The Big Lie” says that “my morality is what I decide is right and wrong.  As long as I don’t hurt you, you stay out of my business.”  In short, “The Big Lie” says that deciding what is right and wrong, good and evil, is a human decision not a divine one.  That my friends, is part of the lesson of Adam, Eve and the Apple.  A sermon for another time. 

The Founders knew that the guidance for moral behavior comes from God, and not from what I say, you say, or even we say it is.  I don’t know for certain, but I think that is why John Adams said American’s must be both moral and religious for our form of government to survive.  And why is that?  It is because being religious, believing in God, puts a whole different perspective on things.  A very humbling perspective.  Religious  people know, God is God and they are not. 

There are four references to God in the Declaration.  The two we talked about last week, I see relate quite nicely to this idea that Americans are to be a moral and virtuous people.  Our Creator makes us equal, gives us life, liberty and the ability to pursue our dream, “the ability to write the story of our own life.” (Dinesh D’Souza, America: The Movie).  The laws and the laws of Nature and Nature's God show us how to live happy, healthy, productive, prosperous, and generous lives. 

The second two references come in the last paragraph of the Declaration after Jefferson lists 27 ways the Crown abused its power.  I would love to talk about them, too, but please read them.  "Taxation without Representation” is only one of them, and by far not the most important! 

 Now we get to the end of the document.  Listen for the other two references to God.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Did you hear that?  They appealed to "the Supreme Judge of the world" to judge the rectitude, the rightness, of this decision to separate from Britain... And then, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence” they mutually pledged to each other all that they had and all that they were to that cause.  They trusted God and each other with their reputations, their money and property, their very lives.

There were 56 men who signed the Declaration.  By their own admission and biographies we know that 32 were Episcopal/Anglican, 13 were Congregationalist, 12 were Presbyterian.  There were 2 Quakers, 2 Unitarians and 1 Catholic.  ”These individuals, … were for the most part active churchgoers and many contributed significantly to their churches both with contributions as well as their service as lay leaders.” Some were sons of preachers, some had theological training but most pursued other careers.

As far as I can tell, two of the signers were former preachers, Lyman Hall a Congregationalist from Georgia had left the ministry to become a physician.   Robert Treat Paine, from Massachusetts, was a minister and chaplain in the French and Indian War, but who soon after that turned to law, left the Congregationalists and became a Unitarian.  There was one active clergyman who signed the Declaration, John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey, who was also the President of Princeton.

As I mentioned last week, Jefferson found in “Creator” and “The laws of nature and nature’s God” language that would unite, not divide, the delegates, or their constituents back home, even with all their doctrinal differences. These last two references to God are no different.  They united Christians to the cause of liberty.  But the words were not Jefferson’s.

The phrases, “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions” and “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence” were not in Jefferson’s draft presented to the Continental Congress.  The Congress added them.  But who?  We don’t know.  History does not record which delegates made the suggestions.  There is an oral tradition, a legend, that says it was the Rev. Witherspoon who suggested these phrases be added.  Probably because he was the only active preacher in the crowd, and he had just preached a sermon on “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men,” but honestly I think this language could have been any of the men in that room.

These men knew, and boldly declared in these phrases, that God is God, and they were not. They knew that God would judge their actions.  They knew they were accountable to God for what they were about to do.   And they also knew that God cared about the rise and fall of nations.  They knew that throughout history, God actively participated in the lives of men.  They knew they were not alone.

They appealed to God, to the Supreme Judge of the World, to determine if their cause was just.  That phrase “Supreme Judge of the World” would have been known to most of them because it was part of the Westminster Confession and it was also well-known through the sermon “The Final Judgement” preached, as well as published, about 20 years before by the famous Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards.   But it is an idea that resonates with all Christians.  We said it in the Apostles’ Creed this morning.  (We believe in Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father and will judge the living and the dead.)

The Founder’s knew, and knew it was important for each citizen to know that we are all accountable to God.  Let that sink in for a minute.  You are answerable, not just to other folks for what you do.  You are answerable to God.  The time will come when you will have to answer to God for how you lived your life.  Jesus will be our Judge. Sheep and goats.  Right and left. Inherit the Kingdom.  Eternal punishment.  Some are justified by their faith in Jesus Christ.  Others are not.  We are justified  - that is forgiven of our sins and made right with God – we are justified by our faith through God’s grace (amen) as evidenced by our works. And all of us will have to account for everything that we ever thought, said or did to our Creator.

These gentlemen of the Continental Congress were the elected representatives of their colonies.  They struggled with this decision.  They were Englishmen, they tried to remain loyal to the King, but his tyranny became intolerable.   They knew with this decision, this monumental decision to sever ties with Great Britain and establish a new nation that they were accountable not only to themselves and to each other, and not just to the folks who elected them, but they were accountable to God for the rightness of this decision. 

How great would it be if our elected officials knew that with each decision, they were answerable not only to themselves, to their donors, to their party, to their constituents, but to God as well?  I wonder how different our country would look.  How different if business people, teachers, doctors, lawyers and just plain ole folks like you and me recognized the eternal consequences of our decisions and not just the immediate ones?

Our founders knew God is God, and they were not.  They humbled themselves before the Supreme Judge of the World.  They knew they were accountable to God.

And in addition to that they went on to pledge their trust in God.   They, as a Congress,  added to the Declaration that they were forming this new nation, “with a firm reliance on Divine Providence.”    Again, this idea wasn’t something new, but a bedrock foundation of the Christian faith, although the phrase is often used to mean different things.    

We don’t use the word Providence much anymore.  Sometimes Divine Providence simply refers to God. 

Sometimes Divine Providence refers to God’s control over creation, from the rising and setting of the sun, to the birds of the field and number of hairs on your head.  Other times, it refers to God’s active involvement in the lives of mankind, in nations, communities and communities of faith.  And yet other times, Divine Providence refers to God’s daily and intimate involvement – guidance, comfort, correction - in the lives of individuals. 

In Calvinist thought Providence is closely connected with the idea of predestination.  That God’s sovereignty controls all aspects of creation, and includes God’s control over who is saved and who is not.  While not in any way limiting God’s sovereignty, other faith traditions, including us Methodists, see the role of man’s free will as a part of God’s sovereign plan.   

So in short, and with way too much simplification, Divine Providence refers to God, to God’s general protection and provision for all creation, and also, to God’s special care and guidance for individuals, for communities and yes, for nations. 

But you know what, no matter how you heard the words, "with a firm reliance on divine providence" in 1776, there was no doubt in your mind that God, the creator, the law giver, the supreme Judge, was also the Sovereign God who cares for  - and is actively involved in - the lives of men and nations. 

In May 1776, Rev. Samuel West preached a sermon to the Massachusetts House of Representatives entitled Natural Law:  The True Principles of Government.  In part of it, he described the hand of God involved in this idea of America from the beginning.  

Our fathers fled from the rage of prelatical tyranny and persecution (in  essence, of the prelates, the leaders of the church), and came into this land in order to enjoy liberty of conscience, and they have increased to a great people.  Many have been the interpositions of Divine Providence on our behalf, both in our fathers' days and ours; and, though we are now engaged in a war with Great Britain, yet we have been prospered in a most wonderful manner.  And can we think that he who has thus far helped us will give us up into the hands of our enemies?  Certainly he that has begun to deliver us will continue to show his mercy towards us, in saving us from the hands of our enemies: he will not forsake us if we do not forsake him.

And haven't we seen God's providential hand in our history since, both for our prosperity and correction?   We have not been perfect.  Throughout America’s history, we have sinned against God and against each other. Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address clearly stated that the Civil War was God’s just punishment on America for failing to abandon slavery.  The ideals of the Declaration of Independence were not fully realized at their founding, or at the end of the Civil War, or even today.  Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream Speech” talked about how the words of equality and liberty were a promissory note to future generations.  They still are.  As long as God’s gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness continue to stir in human hearts, and it is our duty, our responsibility to promote, protect and defend what God has given to us.  And to trust in God to help us.  Each generation has its role to play in “securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  That’s in the Preamble to the Constitution.  D’Souza says near the end of the movie America.  The founders created a nation based on the idea of liberty, the Civil War preserved that liberty, World War II protected that liberty, and the challenge of our generation is to restore that liberty.  God will not forsake us if we do not forsake him. (Rev. West)

The Founders knew that God is God, and they were not.  They put their trust in God’s guiding hand.  They knew they were not alone in this endeavour and that God would guide them.  In God We Trust, didn’t just show up on our money in 1864.  It is a part of who America is.  Check out the last verse of the Star-Spangled Banner sometime.

In preparing this message, the scripture that continually came to mind was Micah Chapter 6.  It is a courtroom scene.  The Lord is demanding to know why His people have abandoned him. 

O my people, what have I done to you?
What have I done to make you tired of me?
Answer me!  (3,NLT)

And the Lord goes on to recount for them how he brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and blessed them and showed them again and again how faithful God is to us.  It is a story that continues through history.   God shows his love and faithfulness again and again and we reject him.

In Micah’s courtroom scene, the people seem to repent and want to know what to do.  Should we bring burnt offerings, sacrifice our children? Here is the answer:

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. (8,NLT)

Do what is right, love mercy, walk humbly with God. (Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.)   I believe that is exactly what our Founder’s did, and what they want us to do too. 

Do what is right, love kindness, walk humbly with your God. 

My prayer is that each of us, that the people of America, will turn again to the God of our Fathers, and with a firm reliance on Divine Providence, pledge all that we have  - our lives, our fortune, our sacred honor, to the cause of God’s liberty and the cause of God’s love for us all.  Amen




No comments:

Post a Comment