Rev. Randolph Kesler
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Prayer for the Nation
O God of all truth, we approach You this day for our beloved nation. Gratefully we acknowledge that you have led us and blessed us all these many years from our founding, through our floundering and to our freedom. Keep, I pray, your hand of providence and your heart of purpose upon us. Help us always to stand for justice and agape in your world as we seek to represent your grace and will. Bring defeat, I pray, to all who oppose the freedom and liberty that you have taught us to love and move them, by your hand, to a deeper understanding of their place in your world. Bring them to the light of your salvation according to your omnipotent will.
Enable the leaders of this nation who love liberty and respect God given authority to unmask the impure motives of those who would prostitute the great principles on which this nation was founded. Convict of sin those who practice licentiousness in the name of liberty, who seek confirmation under the cloak of position and power for their abandonment of conscience.
Empower us, as children in Christ, to confront evil in our commitment to grace. Help us to deal kindly and charitably with all who profess their love for you and help us to deal courageously and confrontationally with systemic evil and personal corruption in those who refuse to see your light and come to your truth.
Bless this nation – not because we are a New Israel- but because our founders faithfully founded us upon the principles and purposes of Judeo-Christian revelation in your Word. Enable us to witness in this world to your goodness which you have placed within us and, if we refuse to do so, give us honesty not to be surprised when our nation succumbs to deceit and treachery.
O God of truth, free us from weakness in the face of lawlessness no matter how innocent and sweet it appears to be. Keep your church free and strong and holy. Make us the mirror image of your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
The Blessings of Liberty
1 Peter 2. 13-17
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
Today our congregation likes to celebrate the joy of American independence. I have no hesitancy about such a celebration because I am firmly convinced that you and I are quite capable of loving our country and worshiping our Lord at the same time.
I am also certain that there is no one in this fellowship who would not say if pressed into a hard situation that if a choice had to be made between being faithful to our Lord or being obedient to an oppressive American government- “I will put being a follower of Christ ahead of being an American citizen.”
I pray such a choice never comes to us but I would not be surprised if one day it happens.
Do not read that as the statement of a reactionary but the affirmation of a committed Christian and a disappointed patriot. I believe in the best America has to offer, but I also know that the United States , as a human form of government, is subject to failure and falling and that God is forever.
You and I worship the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords, the One who raises one nation to take down another nation – the One before whom one day all the powers and nations of this earth will one day bow in.
America has been oppressed now for many years by processes that I believe are weakening our fabric and testing our resolve. Without delineating specifics, these processes fall under one general category – and that is lawlessness mediated by the breakdown in authority. We see this in a general disrespect for law. And a general disrespect for law or authority cannot help but lead to a breakdown in ethics.
You may remember the popular comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes which invited us to share the misadventures of a boy and his stuffed tiger. One day on a walk in the woods, six-year-old boy Calvin announces to Hobbes the stuffed tiger that he has decided he doesn’t believe in ethics anymore, because, as far as he’s concerned, “The ends justify the means.” “Get what you can while the getting is good,” Calvin reasons, “Might makes right.”
At this, Hobbes, the stuffed tiger, promptly pushes his human friend into a mud hole. “Why’d you do that?” Calvin objects. “You were in my way,” Hobbes replies, “and now you’re not. The ends justify the means.”
Sitting in the mud, Calvin seems to reach a brief moment of enlightenment, until he uncovers a way to reconcile the conflict with self-interest: “I didn’t mean for everyone, you dolt. Just me.”
An attitude of “I’ll do what I want and hope I don’t get caught” or “I’ll do what I want and you can’t stop me,” or I’ll do what I want and what business is it of yours, anyway” permeates the culture.
And, without exception, the general culture of a group is but the composite mirror of the individuals within it. The attitude of lawlessness always ends in the abuse of human beings whether it occurs in the culture or in the church.
On May 14 of this year(2012) we celebrated the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. And the Magna Carta was signed on June 15, 1215, 797 years ago this year. Both of these are hailed as ultimately significant in the political history of the world because they established the power of the people to limit the reach and influence of the government which ruled them.
All government, including the best government, seems to have an insatiable appetite for devouring more and more of the people’s power. It is their nature in a fallen world.
The adoption of these two documents also advanced a healthy respect for the rule of law. America has always prided herself on being a nation based on the rule of law. That is precisely what separated her from most of the other nations on the face of the earth. And the Preamble to the Constitution states concisely the reasons for the institution of American government by constitution.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,[promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Declaration of Independence written twelve years earlier had firmly documented the spiritual and moral basis of the formation of a new government in severing the umbilical cord from Mother Britain.
It was the right of a free people when oppressed by over bearing government to take redress- to seek relief and not only was it the right of a free people, it was their responsibility to do so for coming generations. They knew the cost, they counted the cost, and they paid the cost. Therefore, Americans of every generation have been asked to pay a similar cost in a variety of ways.
We should pause to consider – what makes a people free?
What makes a people free is the realization and the exercise of that power which they assume to be theirs because they are possessed by an innate dignity and inherent value as human beings made in the Image of God.
Something inside tells us we have worth.
As Christians, we believe that when God created the world and humankind, particularly, that God did so at great sacrifice to Himself. God exists in absolute freedom to be and do whatever he chooses; therefore, when He created He gave up – sacrificed part of his being and nature and essence – to give us limited freedom.
Since we are created in his Image, we share his power.
Therefore, power- the ability to self rule- is not something which Americans derive from government. Power is what Americans give to government. Now that is a reversal of most of the governmental entities which have ruled since the beginning of time.
“Americans changed this approach with three words: We the People.
“We the people” tell the government what to do; it doesn’t tell us. “We the People” are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route to take, and how fast.
Almost all the world’s constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which “We the People” tell government what it is allowed to do. “We the People” are free.” (Ronald Reagan, 1989)
So in the American frame of liberty, power from God flows to the people and from the people to the government.
Is there a Scriptural mandate for this doctrine? Of course.
According to Scripture it is the responsibility of government to bring order to society and the tool by which that order is implemented is dominion. It is the dominion given by God to Adam and Eve in Genesis “over the fish of the sea and birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Gen. 1. 26b)
Such power properly administered is called dominion; but improperly implemented is called dominance.
Proper dominion is the use of power for the good of all concerned- agape. According to the Preamble to our Constitution, proper dominion brings about justice in the society.
The benefits of justice are threefold: domestic tranquility, common defense and general welfare.
The first benefit of justice is domestic tranquility, which is peace and order among all parties through the fair and equal application of the law for the benefit of all people.
The second benefit of justice provides for the common defense. Society cannot long endure unless people can defend themselves from a national point of view. So we need a defense.
The third benefit of justice is general welfare which means to me that the populace is given the opportunity to work and earn for themselves without bias and prejudice in employment and burdensome taxation from the government. People can certainly spend their own money more wisely than government.
Such justice insures the blessings of liberty for coming generations. No government should over extend its contract with its people. Yet it is the nature of all government to over extend its will and power.
George Washington reminded us, “A government is like a fire, a handy servant, but a dangerous master.”
And if you can’t remember that quote, maybe you can remember the biting tribute Groucho Marx paid to the toadies of governmental power- the politicians-those who turn dominion into dominance.
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
All of these blessings of liberty are secured by faithful adherence to the rule of law.
Rule of law is what separates American government from dictatorships, oligarchies, totalitarian control or anarchy.
Our text points us in much the same directions as does the preamble to the Constitution. Is that not odd? I wonder which one came first. (The Biblical text by about 1800 years)
And what does the Scripture tell us regarding good citizenship? It tells us the blessings of liberty are exhibited in the exercise of freedom in a responsible way.
- Christian liberty does not emphasize rights as much as responsibility.
- Christian liberty is modified by Christian agape which is Biblical and Constitutional Justice described in the Preamble.
- Christian liberty respects every person.
- Christian liberty loves the church, the family of the faithful of God.
- Christian liberty respects God and honors government.
We shall not long be able to “secure the blessings of liberty” for coming generations if we do not adhere to honesty and truth in the recording of the history of this nation. We have suffered for the past 40 years from the excesses and prejudices of revisionist historians who neither seek source material nor commit themselves to the frugal interpretation of historical fact and reality;
Or knowing the facts, purposely twist them to fit their world view.
They would have us believe, and some of us would readily accept, that the founders of this nation were at most deists and at least, secularists who neither affirmed our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as Christian God and who also lived as non- Christians.
That the facts don’t support them is inconsequential.
Rev. Henry Muhlenberg, pastor of the Lutheran Church near Valley Forge in the horrendous winter of 1777 noted concerning George Washington. “I heard a fine example today, namely that his Excellency General Washington rode around among his army yesterday and admonished each and every one to fear God, to put away wickedness…and to practice Christian virtues. From all appearances, this gentleman does not belong to the so called world of society, for he respects God’s Word, believes in the atonement through Christ, and bears himself in humility and gentleness.” (1)
And secondly, (there are voluminous examples of Washington’s Christian faith) Washington’s concluding paragraph in his circular letter sent to the governors of the thirteen colonies in June, 1783:
“Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy Holy protection; and Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field.
And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific (soothing) temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of the blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation.
Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Does that sound like a secularist to you?
May God preserve and defend the United States of America and long may He use her as an instrument for peace and harmony to accomplish His will in His world.
- Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, The Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman, 1975, p. 195. Tappert and Doberstern
- June 8, 1783, concluding paragraph of Washington’s farewell circular letter sent to the governor’s of the thirteen colonies. Recorded at Pohick Church where GW was a vestryman from 1762-84 and in St. Paul’s Chapel, NYC.