a sermon for our nation

Aboard a ship to Massachusetts in 1630, JOHN WINTHROP, who twelves times would be elected governor of the New England Colony, laid out a covenant for the Puritan settlers of the new world. Hear the communal ideas grounding “A Model of Christian Charity”. Winthrop wrote:

“There are two rules whereby we are to walk one towards another: Justice and Mercy….. (Each of us is) commanded to love his neighbor as himself. Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law… every man shall help the other in every want or distress. … We are entered into covenant with God for this work (and we will crash without God’s aid). …Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. …We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality…. always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God”

This Model of Christian Charity may be what people speak of as when they think of our nation as one founded on Christian principles. Winthrop stood on the wrong side of slavery, classism, and female preaching, but the Model births a beautiful image of a society grounded in loving neighbor. Micah 6:8 and Mathew 5:14 surpass economic self-interest as aspirational national ideals. Self-interest cannot knit together a football team, a community, or nation.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16

In 1636 the colonists established HARVARD COLLEGE in order to teach Puritan ministers. Indeed, a “GREAT MIGRATION” of Puritans came out of England, nearly 14,000 more Puritans. The colony flourished.   But as in the parable of the sower, “the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” choked out the mission of shining the light of Christ. (Matthew 13) Surely, wealth pulsates in our national DNA as well. Many of founding colonies began with the business plans of English companies. The Virginia Company, Massachusetts Bay Company, and Hudson Bay Company were businesses! Jesus warns us about serving two masters (Matthew 6:24)

Two hundred and five years after Winthrop spoke of walking towards each other in mercy and love, Abraham Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural Address. In 1865 the re-elected president spoke of the great division within the nation. We might do well to realize we do not live in the darkest days. Perhaps the depths of the depression, American slavery, or Nazi Germany presented tougher times.   Our Civil War killed 620,000 folks spurred 1.1 million casualties. Surely those days presented greater national tests.

We are deeply divided today, but Lincoln speaks of deeper disagreements. “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully….” Lincoln moves on to speak of God’s judgment or the natural consequences of sin “The Almighty has his own purposes. ‘Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling and offense are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the offense comes.’” (Jesus in Matthew 18:7)… “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses.. (so) that God gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due (it)…” Lincoln continues “Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword…(then the war will continue)”. Lincoln acknowledges that violations of God’s moral law bring about national consequences and suffering.

Lincoln concludes with a hopeful and hard challenge. The challenge came to people still shooting at each other. “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

As we gather today will we fervently pray for our nation?

Will you and I work to bind up the nations wounds?

Will we be people who strive to hold malice towards none?

Will we be people who offer charity to all, everyone, the other side, and even our enemies?

Will we live with firmness to do right, do justice, and love mercy?

Will we remember that our imperfect human vision may prevent us from seeing “right” in the same way?

Will we walk and talk about the things of God with humility?

Will we care for the one who bore the battle, the widow, and the orphan?

Will we be people who truly cherish peace?

Will we do all that we can to build a just and lasting peace within our nation?

Will we do all that can to achieve a just and a lasting peace among all the world’s nations?

 

Will we be knit together or torn apart? A nation requires that people work together. Jesus said “a kingdom divided against it-self cannot stand” (Mark 3:24)   Will we heed Winthrop’s words and “walk one towards another with Justice and Mercy?” Will we entertain each other in brotherly affection? Will our commerce be modelled in Christian charity? Will we walk humbly with God? Christian, will you be a part of a city on a hill? Will you be the light, the energy, the salt, the seasoning, and the preservative God calls us to be?   We must work together. Jesus says all the laws and the prophets can be reduced to two key ideas: Love God and love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:38-39). Love for neighbor holds a nation together. Jesus had uninvited Roman neighbors ruling the land. Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant. Community requires that I care deeply about what happens to you my Roman or Samaritan, tax-collector or panhandler, religious-expert or notorious sinner neighbor.   “Treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) The Golden Rule glues society together. Jeremiah told the defeated exiles being carried off into slavery in a pagan Babylon: ”Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Friends, in Christ, we must lead others in caring for our neighbors. We must seek the welfare of everyone. I fear somehow the church has lost this foundational Christian ideal.

 

The loving application of the Golden Rule is our Social Contract.   Somehow the church is now focused on less significant stuff and we are forgetting these foundational ideas. Christian friend, if we do not care deeply about what happens to our neighbors, the orphans, the widows, the unmarried teenage mothers (like the Mother of our Lord), the immigrants, the un-hired day laborers, the bleeding victim on the side of the road, the oppressed, the enslaved, the Samaritan, the Roman, the outcast, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the sick then we do not share Christ’s values!   A nation cannot hold together without collective goodwill, welcome and acceptance of the other. We must walk towards each other in mercy and justice.

 

Martin Niemöller was a prominent protestant pastor, who unlike most German preachers, came to speak out against Hitler. He was arrested and suffered in a Nazi concentration camp for seven years. Hear his words about being knit together and caring for everyone.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

Will we recapture a deep sense of love for our neighbors? Will the Golden Rule glue us together? Will we keep a measure of humility as we walk and talk about God? Our weary national marrow aches for it!   Our nation is sinking into a collective depression, cycling in blame, and dividing along angry lines. Will you echo some political parties’ lines or live into the life-giving words of Jesus? Will we walk towards our each other with justice and mercy? Will we model Christian charity and shine justice like lights shining brightly on a hill?

 

My Mom once shared how she experienced rationing during World War Two. The Government rationed gas, tires, metal and other goods limiting people’s choices and hindering free trade. Our church basement housed young GI’s coming to Camp Forrest. Although some members opposed this! I will not red their names from the minutes! The rationing did not greatly affect my grandparents. Ark and Clackie Sims, as almost subsistence farmers still plowed with mules and rode to church in a horse-drawn buggy. Still, Mom shared how as children they picked milkweed pods along roadsides. Schoolchildren collected 2 million pounds of Milkweed used for life vest floatation. There was a great coming together, laying aside individual needs, and caring for each other in order to defeat terrible oppression and barbarism in the world. The military knit together diverse regions, incomes, ethnic, and religious groups.

 

Mother’s family did not get electricity until a government program of Rural Electrification ran the wires to their farm in the 1940’s. One night as a little girl mom road with her daddy in Mr. Carrier’s grocery truck to the big city of Louisville KY. Mom ate her first restaurant and lifelong favorite- White Castle. Mother simply could not believe how the city almost glowed at night. Now they had lights on the farm but she had never seen so many lights so close together!   She was amazed at the collective glow- how the light went up to the clouds and seemed to bounce back to earth ringing the city in light!

A single hand held coal-oil lantern is good, but does not conquer the night. A city pools each individual light into a collective glow.   Your light adds to the light of the world.   If you or I do walk with mercy, humility, and justice there is less light for everyone else. Doing justice, loving mercy, a humble faith, and loving our neighbors sheds moral light and ends much collective stumbling. Your good works light my path. Will we be knit together or torn apart?

Will you shine your light? Will you risk loving your neighbors? Will you lift high the Golden Rule? As people of Pentecost, will we travel out into the streets and welcome our Mexican, Chinese, Parthian, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamian, Arab and Jewish neighbors?   Will our model be Christian charity or economic self-interest?   Will we walk towards one another carrying the light of humility, mercy and justice?   Our times demand greater light. Our nation requires this. Mercy, Justice and humility are the barest minimums of a social contract!

Will we bind up the nations wounds? Will we live with malice towards none?

Will we offer charity to all? Will we live with a firmness to do right?

Will we remember that God may not let us all see “the right” in the same way?

Will we walk towards each other carrying the light of mercy and justice?

Will we model our social interactions and preferred politics in Christ-like charity, humility and justice?

 

Let us do justice, love mercy, walk humbly and thereby light the way so that we, coming generations, our neighbors, and our world might enjoy God-given justice and peace! Amen.

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