A verse from our reading from Psalm 32 will serve as the basis for this morning’s message: Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord.  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

The word translated in our text as “happy” comes from the Hebrew word 'esher, which can also be translated as “blessed.”  I prefer the term “blessed” as it has a much deeper meaning than merely being “happy.”  As a matter of fact, just because a nation’s God is the Lord, doesn’t mean things will always be happy.

When the Scriptures speak of God blessing people, it comes with a couple of connotations.  First, God blesses people because He loves them.  What father or mother isn’t pleased to share gifts with their children?  God loves to bless us!  At the same time, God blesses His children also in order to give them the opportunity to be a blessing to others.  Blessed is any nation who knows the one true God and acknowledges Him as being the fount of every blessing. And blessed is any nation that understands they are blessed in order to be a blessing.

As we ponder these thoughts in anticipation of commemorating the day when our nation issued its “Declaration of Independence,” I would like us to consider four key words: Remember, Rejoice, Repent, and Reform.

There is a lot for us to remember, and as has always been the case for the people of God, when we fail to remember, things fall apart.  When the nation of Israel failed to faithfully remember the incredible things God had done for them, which led them to neglect—and eventually break— God’s Covenant with them formed at Mt. Sinai, they lost their way, and things fell apart.  Their religion became an end unto itself, and most of the time most of the people simply went through the motions, and their history became distant and unimportant, which was a recipe for disaster.

Of course, our nation was formed through a much different process.  Our ancestors came to this land of promise from a wide variety of places, motivated by a wide variety of reasons.  But one of the core values of those who founded our nation was that while they believed God was with them, they valued freedom to worship who and to worship how they wanted.  Near the end of this service we will hear these words from Article I of the Bill of Rights: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

That being understood, it is good for us to remember that many of the founders of the United States believed in the God of the Bible, and the statements that were written and the government that was formed reflected biblical principles.  We forget that at the risk of our own demise.

Consider these words of Abraham Lincoln from his “Thanksgiving Proclamation” in 1863:  We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

When we remember such things, as well as remembering those who were (and continue to be) willing to lay down their lives in order to preserve and protect their country, we are led to give thanks and to rejoice… not only on Thanksgiving Day, but every day. 

Personally, I doubt that it would be possible for me to have been born in a better place- or at a better time.  I rejoice and give thanks because I understand this is all by the blessing of God.  When I see the millions of refugees fleeing from terrible situations in their homelands, and when I hear the stories of those seeking to find an opportunity for a better life for themselves and for their families, I understand that there, but for the grace of God, go I.  It is nothing but sheer grace that I stand here with you in this place, in this great country, and at this point in history, able to worship and serve God freely.  I have done nothing to deserve such blessing.

In the context of remembering and rejoicing, I am led to recognize the importance of repentance, personal and collective repentance.  I, along with many of my fellow citizens, have far too often failed to remember, and have too often been shallow in rejoicing in the blessing of being born in the United States of America.  Of that we must repent.

We must also repent of our wandering away from the core Christian values that guided our fathers in establishing and fighting for this country.  We must repent that we are now engaged in our own not-too-civil war, divided by a political system that taps into our sinful inclination to attack those who disagree with us over all sorts of matters.  And we followers of Christ must repent that the same divisive spirit has created far too much hostility within and among the denominations and congregations that are all a part of the body of Christ that is His Church.

There is a truth that perhaps is not so self-evident, and that is the truth that not only were all men and women created equal and in the image of God, but all men and women have been horribly corrupted by the presence of sin.  Born with the desire to serve ourselves, people continue to use each other, attack each other, diminish each other, even kill each other in order to fulfill our self-centered desires.

We must repent.  We must recognize that there is only one power in the universe capable of bringing the reconciliation and healing our world so sorely needs.  And, of course, that is our Creator God.  At this time and in this place, and at every time and in every place, we need reform.  We need to individually and collectively be reformed by the Gospel of grace into being more and more Christ-like in how we relate to our selves and to one another.

What the world needs now is what the world has always needed: love, real love.  God’s people must come together in order to proclaim the Gospel through words and deeds.  No, that doesn’t mean we all need to believe, teach, worship and experience God in exactly the same way, but we must recognize that the One who unites us is far more powerful than anything that divides us.

We all need to first understand our need for love—we need repentance.  We then need to always remember that all healing starts and continues with being reconciled to God through Jesus.  In being reconciled to God, we can be reconciled to one another, and we can serve as the means through which people and communities and nations are reformed, are transformed into God’s intention… that all His children live in peace and unity. 

Is that an impossible dream?  No, but realistically it is an unlikely dream, a dream that will not completely come true until this world comes to an end and we are raised to live as one in God’s perfect and eternal Kingdom.  But in the meantime, we must continue to remember, rejoice, repent and reform, praying that God’s Kingdom might come to us and through us, in accord with His good and perfect will, and to His glory.  Amen.

 

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