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Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Franklin’

“Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength: The way of the just is uprightness: thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Asking God to Bless America”

We believe God has blessed America.  We ask God to bless America.  But what is blessing?  A good definition of blessing is “the authoritative pronouncement of God’s favour.”  As priest and pastor of this parish, I bless my people every Sunday.  But that does not mean that Holy Ghost power shoots forth from my fingers into the souls of those sitting in these pews.  I do not possess superpowers, much less holy superpowers.  However, I can authoritatively pronounce God’s favour unto his people.  Unmerited favour of God, the grace of God, comes from God alone.  I do not have deep wells and caverns of God’s grace stored inside of me waiting to pour forth upon the blessed company of all faithful people.  I cannot dig deep or pull grace from the ether to splash upon God’s elect.

And neither can anybody else.  A blessing must come from the one who blesses, and no one can produce God’s favor except for the Lord Almighty.  Although I am authorized by Christ’s Body the Church to give God’s blessing, it does not come from me.  My authority is bound to faithfulness in Christ.  That is, if you come to me planning to commit murder, and ask me to bless your planned assassination, then any blessing I give will only be my own, for I cannot pronounce the blessing of Almighty God upon something which he expressly condemns in his Holy Scriptures.

If we think this all the way through, we might find ourselves getting a bit uncomfortable.  If blessings only come from God, and if only things which conform to God’s revelation to us can be blessed, then what do we think we are doing when we ask God to bless America?

Listen to what that great man, commanding general, Founding Father, and first president George Washington said about God and our country:

“I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire, since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”  God’s blessing cannot be expected on a country that ignores what “rules of order and right” God has established.

Isaiah said in the first lesson:  “The way of the just is uprightness: thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just.”  God will keep in perfect peace the nation whose mind is focused on him, which trusts in him, which follows the way of righteousness.  And God is the judge of this – “thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just.”

God blesses that which conforms itself to God.  God blesses the man and the woman who come together in holy matrimony according to the way which he has blessed.  God blesses the state which punishes the guilty and protects the innocent.  God blesses the businessman who practices Godly virtues in his conduct of business.

You can only get wet if you stand out in the rain.  Hiding under a shelter won’t get you wet.  You have got to go out where the water is, for in the things of God, you can’t bring the water to you.  You cannot bring God’s blessing to you, for God is stronger than you.  You must acknowledge your weakness and humbly go to God.  He is pouring out his grace every single day, and he wants you to get soaking wet with his blessing.  But you must stop fighting against God and follow him in the ways which he has blessed.

Now this is where I get uncomfortable, for I love America.  My ancestors crossed this river into Georgia over two hundred years ago, after the Revolution.  I love America for the freedom I have to preach the Gospel, to live in peace with my wife, to associate with those whom I want, to speak freely, and generally to practice virtue unmolested.  I love America for the vast beautiful lands, communities of loving and generous people, and the beacon of hope she is to so many foreigners who have not had the opportunity to live in freedom and justice in their own lands.

But I am concerned about America when I consider freedom and justice in our land.  We can argue and debate about the state of the nation until the cows come home, but God only blesses those who follow “the way of righteousness”.

We think that America is the city on a hill, a new Israel, a country blessed from the start by our Lord God Almighty.  But there have been many nations in the long, long history of man.  They have their ups and downs.  Many have been wiped off the map.  We have been a blessed nation; it is true.  But we do not deserve God’s blessing.  God gives his blessing to those who follow him.  And to continue to be blessed by God, we must continue to follow him.

In Washington’s words, “there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness;”  If we wish to remain happy, we must, as nation, keep exercising virtue and turn away from vice.  We must embrace righteousness, and turn away from wickedness.  We must embrace justice, and turn away from injustice.

My dear friends in God, I ask you today if you as a citizen of this country help our country exercise Godly virtue, or do you impede it?  Do you obey the law?  Do you pay your taxes?  Do you encourage others in virtue?  Do you treat your neighbor justly?  Do you vote and participate in your social and civic duties so that you build up and not tear down?  Do you pray for our country, for justice, and for our government officials?

It is easy to bemoan the sad state to which things have fallen.  It is also easy to live our lives wrapped up in our own business, ignoring the world around us.  But the Lord calls us not only to behave ourselves but to take responsibility for our neighbors.  Loving our neighbors is not only a spiritual duty but a civic one as well.  If we want our neighbor’s grandchildren to grow old in the fair and free land which George Washington worked so very hard to win and build for us, we need to look after our nation and country as well as our own business.

At the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a man asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of country did they have.  Franklin quipped:  “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

If you value this nation, then we must work and pray together so that we may keep it.

 

“Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord JEHOVAH is everlasting strength: The way of the just is uprightness: thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

“They forsook all”:  Ss. Peter, James, and John respond to Christ by giving up their belongings, their work tools, and their livelihood to go and follow Christ.  To follow Christ means not only to go where He goes, but also implies a commitment that overrides all other ties.  Elsewhere in the New Testament and St. Luke, the call to discipleship is responded to by a leaving of things behind.

St. Luke xiv.26-27:  “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

In Acts ix.15-16, the Lord says to Ananias about Saul:  “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

We are not all called to give up all the physical means which support us in this life.  But the example of Christ’s disciples here is for each one of us.  We must understand that all we have comes from Him; our plenteousness, our comfort, our good life, our next meal, our paycheck or retirement check comes from Almighty God.  We may not see it that way, but that is our false vision and not the truth.  We must realize that we are to trust wholly upon Christ, that we are to rely upon Him, that we are to hold Him as our fundamental relationship.  All that we have is so much garbage without Christ, for all our earthly treasure will be worth nothing in our life eternal.  When we realize this, when we feel it, when we are as sure of it as our own name and our next breath of air, then we know that we could leave it all behind in an instant and follow Christ.  We are probably not called to offer all that we have up for Him, but we must all be willing to sacrifice everything we have to keep our relationship with Christ.

In the Old Testament, we learn of how much God expects of us and how much the Patriarchs would give him.

Genesis xxii.9-12:  “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.  And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.  And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.  And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”

Abraham willingly offered his only son Isaac to God and was stayed from killing him only by an angel of the Lord.  God wanted Abraham to know that he entirely relied upon, trusted, and obeyed God before God gave him the blessing of a great multitude of descendants.

You and I may not be called to give our all to God, but we must be willing to do so if we are so called.  Those heroes of the Christian faith, those monks and nuns and friars and sisters, they give up their worldly goods to leave behind the life of plenty and embrace poverty.

For tertiaries in our Franciscan Order of the Divine Compassion, that is, laypeople and clergy who do not leave the world but try to live after the example of Brother Francis in their regular lives, instead of giving up property and embracing poverty, they embrace simplicity.  They do not own vacation homes and fancy cars.  They live on what they need and freely give of what they do not.

As not all of us are called to embrace poverty, not all of us are called to embrace simplicity either.  But we are called absolutely to trust in Christ and to give generously to the Church and to the poor.  Indeed, this is one of the six essential Duties of Churchmen.  You can pick up the St. Augustine Prayer Book in the middle rack of your pew and turn to the bottom of page eight.  I’m not making this up.

The disciples forsook all and followed Christ.  We are also to follow Christ.  Our internal disposition towards Christ influences the outward disposition of our property.  At the absolute minimum, we are each required to give support to our Holy Mother the Church and to the poor.  At the absolute most, we are called to renounce the world and give away all our possessions.  In between, we are expected to tithe.

The tithe is ten percent of our income given to the support of church and for the poor.  For many American Christians, this ten percent is not sacrificial and should be given without any conditions to the parish.  Everyone is welcome to give of their abundance for special projects and particular ministries, but for all those who are well outside of poverty themselves, these special gifts are to be given over and above one’s tithes.  Now, this is not absolute.  But to not tithe to one’s parish when one has the means is remarkably stingy.  The tithe is a typically adequate gift of our property to our generous God who gave us his only-begotten Son to die on the Cross for our salvation.  To give gifts to be used in one’s favorite ministry or special project when one is capable of tithing and does not displays a fundamental misunderstanding of one of our most basic duties as Christians.  Just like people who display a fundamental misunderstanding of our other basic duties – Sunday attendance at worship every week, regular communion, keeping one’s conscience clean, obeying the Church’s law of marriage, and keeping the fasts of the Church – people who willfully neglect giving to the parish and to the poor within their means need to repent of their wickedness.

But in any case, we see the disciples giving up their means of making a living and following Christ.  We do not see everyone in the crowd which He has been teaching make the same commitment.  Not everyone is to surrender all they have.  Indeed, for a working man to give up the tools of his trade and leaving his family in the lurch would be a very naughty thing indeed.  Instead, we must be willing to surrender all we have.  We all need to take up our cross and follow Christ.  We do not know where He will take us.  We cannot see the future.  When we see a Baptism or Confirmation, we normally respond with joy and perhaps forget to think about how difficult the road might be.  When we see a wedding, we rarely think about the financial and sexual temptations which lie ahead, the family difficulties which remain unseen, and the stories which the couple might one day tell.

How unlike this were our representatives of the Second Continental Congress which met in June and July of 1776.  They had a very good notion of what they were getting into.  Battles had been fought.  Men had died.  People had been driven from their homes.  These men had lived through the French and Indian War; they knew a good amount of the horrors which awaited them.  Nevertheless, they swore a compact together.  In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  These men knew what was at stake, and because they knew how valuable freedom was and what it meant to the men, women, and children living in the country, so they agreed, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Christians who live eternally in Christ cannot pledge anything less to the author of our lives, our Lord God Almighty!

 

“And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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