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God... & Successful Independence
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
11/6/03 Trinity 2
& Independence Day –
Prov 14:31-15-17; Ps. 15; 1 Jn. 3:13-24; Lk. 14:16-24
Today, in honor of tomorrow, a feast celebrated in our Book of Common Prayer, I want to look at the notion of “independence”. What does God, our creator and sovereign, think of “independence”?
It turns out that it all depends on that from which, and how, you want to be independent.
God Himself has given us a rather startling kind of independence from Himself, namely, our freewill. (And, no, I am not an Arminian, at least not in any pernicious sense of the word.) We have the ability to choose against His purpose for our existence. That is, we can choose to not love either Him or our neighbor. We can say “no” to God. Those facts are true only in the Biblical worldview, and in no other -- neither pagan nor secular. No other deity, to my knowledge, has risked giving that kind of freedom to its underlings. The pagan and secular worlds are about control, not about freedom. And that passion for control is reflected strongly in the behavior and attitudes of the pagan deities toward all lower beings, and, in the attitude of secular governments (which become gods) toward their citizens.
We can use that independence from the Biblical God to either agree with Him about our attitudes and behavior, or to disagree and rebel. Saying “no” to God, and acting in that way, is, of course, what God means by sin. That is a separation and independence from God which is possible for us to do, but it is forbidden. We are able, but not morally permitted.
However it is not only sinful, it is also inherently self-destroying. It is thus not possible for rebellious independence to be successful -- if success includes self-preservation.
The one thing which God might not yet have from me is the free assent of my heart to embrace His will for me. God, it seems, wants our free assent, not a pre-programmed, automated, pretend assent. Rocks have no choice but to obey the laws by which they operate. Human beings have an extraordinary freedom to obey or to disobey the laws given to us.
That freedom is the foundation for the freewill covenant into which God invites His people. “I will be your God, and you will be My people.” We stand before God in that way independent so that we can say “yes” or “no”. The terms of the covenant are, on our side, that we will obey our reason for existence – which God expresses through the Law.
But God also has a part in the covenant, that He will be our God, our provider, protector, and guide through life. He promises to bring us to full maturity as His sons and daughters, with all the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven at our disposal. We read in the Old Testament lesson for Independence Day:
Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; Him shalt thou serve, and to Him shalt thou cleave, and swear by His name. He is thy praise, and He is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen. Deuteronomy 10:20-21
That is the best of all possible worlds. When we disobey, we compromise that “best”, and get a lesser good, which eventually winds down to death.
Death might follow, not just because God will discipline us, but because we beat up on ourselves. Our very being is dependent upon God. God is the source of our life. If we turn off the water faucets and walk permanently away from them, we will shortly be very thirsty, and eventually die. The same is true of the stability of our being, and of our moral direction. The further we drift away from God, the less we have of those two stabilities, leading inevitably to death.
In other words, in order to protect that independence given by God, we must cooperate with God. Our freewill is not only given by God, it can be sustained only by cooperating with God.
Or, to put it in other words, to be a freestanding, capable, competent adult in the world, we must be a trusting and obedient child in God. We must rest our dependency in God, and invest our obedience in God. That is the same as saying that to be saved, to have our ability and our right to be ourselves, we must rest our trust and obedience in God. We must be successfully dependent upon God before we can be successfully independent in the world. If we are not children of God, we will remain children of the world. We will remain in that trap of the closed circle cosmos.
Well, that may explain independence regarding us persons as individuals, but what has this to do with America and the Declaration of Independence which we celebrate tomorrow? What has this to do with the political independence of any nation at all from anybody at all, let alone from King George III?
The answer is simple and direct: Everything -- As our founding fathers understood.
That is true because nations are made up of individual persons. So the stability of any nation is going to depend heavily (1) on the personal stability of the individual members, (2) on their moral stability as individuals, and (3) on the moral unity and consensus among themselves. Your spiritual life is what you do with your dependency and your obedience. Communities as well as individuals have a spiritual life -- a dependency and an obedience.
That is most easily seen in families, where the moral and spiritual atmosphere clearly affect the ability of the family to hold together and to raise up healthy children for God. The same is true of any gathering of people who want to have a common identity. They must have those two stabilities – which come only from God – or their unity and common identity will tend to come unglued and will not hold.
The American colonists rebelled against King George because they perceived him to be laying the foundations for making the colonists economic slaves of England with their mercantilist policies. They could do that only by arbitrary political and military control of the colonial economy because the colonialists would never choose that way for themselves.
The colonists were familiar with the passages in the Old Testament in which God chastises the Hebrews, not only for their personal sins, but for their corporate sins, including their political and military sins – such as making alliances with pagan nations against the will of God.
We read this morning in Proverbs:
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. Prov. 14:34
By our sins, we bring rightful contempt upon ourselves.
The Presbyterian clergy in particular, preached fiery sermons against King George, the theme of which was, “No King but Jesus!”
The Great Awakening, which happened in the decades preceding the Revolution, fired the colonists with a sense of the sovereignty of God over political matters as well as church matters. They understood that God ruled over every aspect of human life, including the economic and political. And they understood that since nations do not have eternal life, they have to be judged by God in the here-and-now. Their loyalty was first to God, not to the king, whom they considered to have un-kinged himself by his behavior towards them. He had violated his charter with them, removing the freedom to manage their own affairs which they had had for two centuries. The king was the revolutionary, changing the established order, not the colonials.
The king was bringing upon himself a dismantling of his own empire by his wrongful behavior, illustrating how the king’s own independence as a sovereign was undermined by his own disobedience to God.
The colonials did not want themselves to be the object of the wrath of God because of their own misbehavior. They wrote a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution which could have been written only by persons with a Biblical mindset and worldview.
The Hellenic culture considered itself civilized, and the other cultures barbarians. St. Augustine, whose City of God was the first philosophy of history ever written, said that any nation or people which refuses to submit to the purposes of God for history would pass away, often violently. Such a statement could (again) be written only by someone with a Biblical mindset and worldview. Only the Biblical worldview takes time and history seriously as a reasonable setting for anything enduring and good to happen.
St. Augustine said that there are two kinds of nations, not civilized and barbarian, but Godly and unGodly. Only the Godly can survive. That is true for precisely the reasons we have been discussing – that we gain and can keep our personal and moral stability only as children of God. Cultures without God have citizens who lack their own stabilities, and who thus seek power to make up the deficit.
So, to unify such a fragmented and divided people, power replaces moral principle. The unity obtained will always be fragile because the use of power creates repression and resentment. The body politic cannot hold for long.
Moral principle, on the other hand, creates in the people an internal unity of choice, not an external unity of coercion. The internal unity is much more stable, especially because moral principle comes from God who is Himself eternally stable. The people are then building both their personal and their corporate house upon the Rock to which Jesus pointed – resting on the Hand of God and in obedience to His Voice.
Those thoughts fostered by St. Augustine changed the way Western Culture viewed time and history. God ruled over nations and governments, and would, as with individuals, bring them to their fulfillment – a principle unique to the Bible.
The consequence of Augustine’s City of God is that there is one and only one real civilization – the Kingdom of God. All civilizations and governments which place themselves under the law and grace of God will to that extent, here on earth, be a part of the Kingdom of God.
John Quincy Adams said (I think at an Independence Day celebration):
The highest glory of the American revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.
Among those principles was that we are not only personally responsible before God, we are also corporately, politically, and militarily responsible before God. He will judge us as a nation as well as individuals.
What does that mean for us at St. Luke’s? It means at least this....
To be successfully independent, we must first be successfully dependent and obedient toward God. We must rest our dependency on God and invest our obedience in His law and grace.
That applies to the United States of America, just as it did to Israel, to Greece and to Rome. All three of them fell because of their ignorance or their disobedience. America is long past the easy-turn-around stage.
It applies to the Church, and to local churches. Christians have allowed themselves to be led away from both trust and obedience to God. Because we Christians have typically been position-defenders, not truth-seekers, there are over 250 conflicting denominational “positions” advertizing themselves in the public arena as the true Christianity. We Christians are a cacophony of voices, like those who had “other things to do” rather than come to the great supper in the Gospel lesson. We Christians cannot be said to be listening consistently to God in truth and in spirit.
My hope and dream for St. Luke’s is that God will raise us up to be His truth-seekers – so that we can be His position-defenders. You come to the true position only by first being truth-seekers. Christians will be reunited only as we become truth-seekers to find the true position. Then we will be capable of entering the public arena, capable of effectively testifying to a disbelieving and confused population.
To be successfully independent from the world here at St. Luke’s, we must become dependent upon God for our vision for the future. The bishop said in my conversations with him that we at St. Luke’s need to find a new dream. It is my dream for us here that God will unite us in His dream for us – successfully dependent upon Him so that we can be successfully independent witnesses to the world about us. The Great Commission.
I am an optimist. We can win this battle. I believe we can do this, and that God is waiting to pour out His Spirit among us. Let us unite in prayer and sacrament so that God will have His way with us.
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