given on Sunday, June 29, 2014
Words of Reflection . . .
This week will end with a celebration, a birthday for our nation. As of Friday, the United States of American will be 238 years old—a mere toddler in comparison to the age of Christianity. The history of the nation shows how Christianity has affected the laws and the courts and the leadership. The distance between the two is often only a few words.
Yet we are so afraid that the current path is leading us into chaos that we easily forget that we have the power of prayer and the responsibility to act rather than sit back and watch the chaos grows and grows. Today, we join together to pray for our nation because as Christians we can and we must take action to preserve the very foundation of our nation. We must not let the violence, the leadership, the fear, the economy, or even the land itself destroy the very nation we call home.
As we struggled with all the problems we talk about around our dinner tables or chance meetings on the street or in casual conversations anywhere, we talk about how can we make a change, how can we possibly get the politicians to do something different. We have a responsibility as Americans to speak out, to serve and to vote.
As Christians we have an additional power—the power of prayer. How often do we honestly open our hearts to God and pray for guidance, for help in this nation? With all the evil that is spinning around us, even in our small communities or brought into our homes by the internet or by cable or satellite, we must step up and actively pray.
A prayer for our Nation:
Join in this prayer from Peter Marshall, found in the book, God Bless American: Prayers & Reflection for Out Country,” which was introduced to me by Ms. Edith.
O God, our Father, we pray that the people of America, who have made such progress in material things, may now seek to grow in spiritual understanding.
For we have improved means, but not improved ends. We have better ways of getting there, but we have no better places to go. We can save more time, but are not making any better use of the time we save.
We need Thy help to do something about the world’s true problems—the problem of lying, which is called propaganda; the problem of selfishness, which is called self-interest; the problem of greed, which is often called profit; the problem of license disguising itself as liberty; the problem of lust, masquerading as love; the problem of materialism, the hook which is baited with security.
Hear our prayers, O Lord, for he spiritual understanding which is better than political wisdom, that we may see our problems for what they are. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen [p. 45]
In Chronicles, Solomon asked God to make provisions for the people who sinned. Even as we pray for guidance and healing, we must take responsibility for what we do ourselves. Solomon, in all his wisdom, understood the sins of humanity, and he used prayer to ask God for help. God answered them in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
14 But they make themselves low (humbled) in my sight. They pray and look to me. And they turn from their evil ways. Then I will listen to them from heaven. I will forgive their sin. And I will heal their land. After all, they are my people. (the NIRV)
The next verse adds even more clarity to the God’s actions in reply for Solomon’s prayerful appeal:
15 “Now my eyes will see them. My ears will pay attention to the prayers they offer in this place. 16 I have chosen this temple. I have set it apart for myself. My Name will be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. (the NIRV)
Solomon’s appeal brings the Israelites to God’s attention, and Solomon apparently felt confident that the people would indeed ask for forgiveness know that they would be scrutinized by God. Are we confident enough to ask forgiveness and to be under such scrutiny?
In James 2:12-13, we are again held accountable, but remember this is well over 2,000 years after Solomon talked with God about the sins of men. But James, Jesus’ brother, in now talking to the newest Christians, and these are his words to them about how they were to act one to another:
12 Speak and act like people who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. 13 Those who have not shown mercy will not receive mercy when they are judged. To show mercy is better than to judge. (from the NIRV)
“To show mercy is better than to judge.” These words were radical during the first century of Christianity. In a culture where one of the greatest Israelite leaders Solomon was known as a wise judge, Christians were asked not to judge but to show mercy—to love one another, to love unconditionally.
In today’s crazy society, many complain how this person or that one does not live by our standards. Comments can be heard that demonstrate how difficult not judging really is, how difficult it is to show mercy to others who do not fit into the comfortable expectations we have for a productive, happy life. We judge before we walk the proverbial mile in the shoes of others.
As Americans began developing the foundations of this country, the leaders quickly learned that the Constitution really did not delineate the the citizens’ freedoms. The Bill of Rightswere written to correct this oversight, and as Americans it is the standard by which we are to live:
The First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government of a redress of grievances. (approved December 15, 1791)
Simply applying the Golden Rule can preserve these rights: Love one another as you want to be loved. Showing mercy for each individual regardless of circumstances, race, gender, station in life, broken family or not, is living out that rule. Even two of our most Midwestern Presidents understood this in the very midst of the 20th century:
Harry S. Truman: We believe that all men have a right to equal justice under law and equal opportunity to share in the common good. (p. 156)
Dwight D. Eisenhower:There must be justice, sensed and shared by all peoples, for without justice, the world can know only a tense and unstable truce. (p. 156)
We need to consider the type of person we elect to serve as our leaders from the local, through the state, and throughout the federal governments. We need to accept our Christian responsibility to elect the officials who will preserve and promote the values that represent us honestly.
Martin Luther: A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to all.
Even during the Reformation Movement within Christianity, when some of the most horrific acts were carried out by Christians on other Christians, the reformists maintained that Christians were free because only God could judge and God was merciful.
Wisdom of man can solve. What shall our leaders do in such an hour?
Christians outnumber the villains, so why do we not stand up and take action to stop the violence of one against another. Why do we watch rather than act? Why do we feel so overwhelmed, so frightened when God is with us?
Again, we all can pray. We do not have to step into the middle of a battle and hold up our hands demanding it all stop; instead, we can, we must pray. Only God has the authority to judge, and God can intercede; but he needs to hear from us.
A second prayer for our nation
Marshall has a second prayer that can help guide us in saying what our hearts really wants to say. Join me in his prayer:
We know, our Father, that at this desperate hour in world affairs, we need thee. We need thy strength, thy guidance, thy wisdom. There are problems far greater than any wisdom of man can solve. What shall our leaders do in such an hour?
May thy wisdom and thy power come upon those whom have been entrusted leadership. May the responsibility lie heavily on their hearts, until they are ready to acknowledge their helplessness and turn to thee. Give to them the honesty, the courage, and the moral integrity to confess that they don’t know what to do. Only then can thy lead us as a nation beyond humans wisdom to thee, who alone has the answer.
Lead us to this high adventure. Remind us that a “mighty fortress is our God”—not a hiding place where we can escape for an easy life, but rather an arsenal of courage and strength the mightiest of all, who will march beside us into the battle for righteousness and world brotherhood. (God Bless America, p.41)
Our worship could be concluded right now, but there is more to say. In our nation, community has long demonstrated a strength that shows how loving one another in true Christian spirit. In the little book, God Bless America, a section titled “Community” helps define this concept:
Daniel Webster: There is no solid basis for civilization but in the Word of God. If we abide by the principles in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper. I make it a practice to read the Bible through once every year.
Our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be trusted on any other foundation than religious principle, nor any government be secure which is not supported by moral habits. . . . Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens. (Webster at the bicentennial celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, December 22, 1820)
In closing, amidst the frustrations of a 238-year-old country who some feel that the foundations are cracked and crumbling, there is hope. In fact, there is a real opportunity for Christians to join in prayer and ask for God’s help.
A final prayer for the nation and its citizens
One of the world’s most respected citizens lived her life so fervently, fighting for the wellbeing of each and every child of God she could reach, has written our closing prayer. Join me in Mother Teresa’s prayer:
Make us worthy, Lord, o serve our fellow men throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.
Jesus came to give us the good news that God loves us and that he wants us to love one another as he loves each one of us. And to make it easy for us to love one another, Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least, you do it to me. If you give a glass of water, you give it to me. If you receive little child in my name, you receive me. So whatever you do to the least, you do it to me.”
And where does this love begin? In our own families. How does it begin? By praying together. The family that prays together stays together, and if you stay together, you will love each other as God loves each one of you. So teach your children to pray, and pray with them, and you will have the joy and the peace and the unity of Christ’s own love living in you.” [Amen.]