Sermons

Summary: In the wake of September 11th, this is a challenge to remember that we’ve got some repenting to do for our sin, too.

In recent days, from a number of sources, I

have been given the proclamation of

thanksgiving that Lincoln issued in 1863.

(I’ve seen it in church newsletters and been

sent it via email.)

It is being sent because the words ring with a

relevance to our present situation. Lincoln,

after listing many of the blessings God had

given our nation, concludes:

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that

[those blessings] should be solemnly,

reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as

with one heart and one voice, by the whole

American people. I do therefore invite my

fellow-citizens . . . to set apart and observe

the last Thursday of November . . . as a day

of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent

Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”

There is much to be said in favor of

remembering and appreciating the blessings

God has given our nation. But when, as

seems to be occurring now, that is the only

word we have for God, there is something of

monumental importance that’s missing.

I was reading Carl Sandberg’s biography of

Lincoln last night and came across some

challenging words. Lincoln wrote them

during the firestorm of controversy that

accompanied his Emancipation

Proclamation. He wrote them as a note to

himself and never intended for them to be

published:

“The will of God prevails. In great contests

each party claims to act in accordance with

the will of God. Both may be, and one must

be, wrong. God cannot be for and against

the same thing at the same time. In the

present civil war it is quite possible that

God’s purpose is something different from

the purpose of either party. . ..”

Lincoln, who was not a Christian but rather

held more of a belief in an impersonal

“Hand of Providence,” ponders: amid the

cries from North and South that “God is on

our side,” could it be that God is actually of

neither side?

From our vantage point a century and a half

later, we can say that we certainly don’t

think that God was on the side of the South

and the evil of American slavery. But

perhaps God wasn’t on the side of the North

either. Perhaps God was also displeased

with the North and the sins they were guilty

of. Perhaps God had a higher purpose.

In our present conflict, we can certainly say

that God is not on the side of Osama bin

Laden, given the egregious evil of wantonly

killing innocent civilians. But perhaps we

have been too quick to presume that,

because God is not on bin Laden’s side,

therefore He must be on our side.

To paraphrase Jim Wallis:

“The question is not, ‘Is God on our side?’

The question is ‘Are we on God’s side?’”

I find reason to be concerned that America

may not be as pleasing to God as much of

our present political rhetoric seems to imply

that we are.

During Jesus’ life, there was a horrible

disaster that echoes the tragedy we have just

endured. There was a tower that collapsed

in the town of Siloam and a bunch of people

were killed (Luke 13). With such tragedies

in mind, some people came to Jesus wanting

to engage in a philosophical discussion of

why evil happens to particular people and in

particular situations, but Jesus would have

none of it. Rather than engaging in high-

minded and esoteric theological discussion,

Jesus told them that the tragedy should cause

them to look into their own hearts and

repent.

I realize “repent” isn’t a word we like

anymore - it raises images of medieval

monks and sackcloth and ashes. But the

word “repent” simply means to change your

mind, to change your heart, to realize you’re

heading in the wrong direction, to recognize

your mistake and start doing what is right.

That, Jesus said, was the word we should

have on our minds and in our hearts in the

face of tragedy.

Yet, as the widespread sharing of Lincoln’s

proclamation of thanksgiving indicates, we

as Americans have been doing much more

focusing on words like “blessing” than on

words like “repent.” But to think that we

can ask God to bless us without being

willing to change our ways is nothing more

than lying to ourselves.

Our national attitude on this discrepancy is

summed up best by something Frederica

Mathewes-Green shared this month in an

article in Touchstone magazine. She wrote

of a strip bar that had changed its sign out

front to “God bless America.” Consider that

image for a moment: a strip bar with a “God

bless America” sign out front. That, I fear,

is the image of America.

We are asking for God’s blessing without

being willing to repent of our own sin:

- “God, please protect our malls and

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