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Happy 246th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the 2nd Continental Congress. Still, since then, the country has grown from 13 colonies with about 2.5 million people to 50 states and 14 territories with a population of more than 330 million, that in 2021 produced a GNP of $23Trillion. Advances in public health have cut the child mortality rate from more than 45% to under 1%, and our citizens live 35 years longer on average than in 1776
We’ve built almost 4 million miles of paved roads and more than 5,000 public airports. More than 2.7 million miles of power lines electrify the country with about 85% of households having access to broadband and 92% having at least one computer. In 1800, 95% of the population lived in rural areas, and now about 83% live in urban areas. The US has also been responsible for more than 800 human visits to space; the most of any other country with a space agency.
Without a doubt, the quality of our life and the strength of our economy are benchmarks, but our single greatest contribution to world history and the development of the human spirit is that we do our best to codify, to put into law and practice, the elusive idea of freedom. To be free as an individual may look like the freedom described by the musical group, Lynyrd Skynyrd in “Free Bird”, (I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change), but freedom within a marriage, a family, a nation looks very different. Dear Lynyrd Skynyrd, I watched the robins who cooperated in building the nest above our bay window, and are busy feeding their babies.
Let’s remember today that the ideals that formed our nation and still shape our national life originate, in part, from the ideals of religious communities, including the Presbyterians. The ideals of our spiritual ancestors played a role in the formation of our national identity. In these fractious, and sometimes mean and nasty times, I want us to remember that these ideals remain as powerful and formative as ever.
From our Presbyterian Book of Order, in Chapter Three: Principles of Order and Government, F-3.01 Historic Principles of Church Orde. I will summarize for us because we want to listen for the tone, the hope, the goals of these principles and not get lost in the details. Of course, as a reformed church founded upon the truth of Scripture, the Bible is the foundation upon which these principles are built. Hear the principles that form an ideal church government:
The first is that God alone is Lord of the Conscience, echoed in the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people 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
You are free to form your own thoughts regarding how to live as an individual. We are free to decide for ourselves how we are to live together, to form a government that is neither too narrow nor too broad and yet which does not infringe upon the freedom of others. This is democracy. This is why democracy is so sweet, and so hard at the same time.
We, the people – not the aristocracy nor bureaucracy but we the people, we elect officers to lead us, and to use their authority to enforce the rules of our common life. The leaders we elect in the Presbyterian Church are to believe That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can either be more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a [man’s] opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.
Scripture defines Satan as the Father of Lies. My friends, we need to remember and affirm as Christians, and citizens, that truth and duty go hand in hand in the church, and in a democracy. It is simply common sense – lies do not lead to good and holy outcomes.
So much for our leaders who govern us. What about us, the governed? We are to exercise mutual forbearance. People of good character may differ, and accept that individuals and parties may disagree. Easier said than done, we know; yet it is the ideal worth remembering. Also, the church is not the state, nor is it to be the state in any time short of the coming of the Kingdom of God. The power of the church is in her proclamation and witness; the power of the state is in its power to coerce, arrest, imprison, and execute judgment. The power of the church lies in restoration and reconciliation. The power of the state is prohibitive or punishing, so much easier than rehabilitation.
In Mark 6: 1 – 13, Jesus is rejected at Nazareth, his home town. Why was he rejected? I read it as prejudice – he was pre-judged by those who knew him, but didn’t really know him. Mark writes that as a result of their prejudice, Jesus could do no mighty work there, except a few healings. ANd Jesus marveled because of their unbelief. Their prejudice impeded His holy work. So he sent the disciples with his instruction – to travel simply and not get in any one’s face who disagreed with their teaching. Teach they did a lesson of repentance – of change -f 180 degree turn your life around, and they were more successful out in the world than Jesus was in Nazareth because, they did not have to face prejudice!
My advisor at the University of Findlay where I achieved an MBA was Dean of the Business Department. He liked to tease me about the role of money in life. “Money makes the world go round, the world go round, the world go round!” from Cabaret, set in Berlin 1931, captures his attitude. He teased me until one day in class, I disagreed. Yes money is important and is when used properly is a force for good, and when used improperly a force for evil. But there are other forces that make the world go round: the power of love leads to self-sacrifice in families, between friends and comrades; there is honor, loyalty, compassion, and a host of other intangible yet very powerful forces stronger than money. He could not disagree.
My Presbyterian citizens, our nation needs us to believe the story of individual freedom and mutual forbearance, of a democracy where everyone is of value and truth is in order to goodness, and the will of the majority prevails while the rights of the minority are protected. Our spiritual ancestors and our political ancestors knew the church is not to become the state, nor the state lord it over the church. The power we use is the power of love, stronger than hate, than bullets, than fear because love is the power of Godin Christ. Amen