We hold these truths to be self-evident:
· that one: all men are created equal,
· that two: they’re endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
· that three: among these Rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,
· and that, four: to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted that derive their just powers from the consent of those who the governed.
These four truths come, of course, from the Declaration of Independence, which was approved by the second Continental Congress on the 4th of July 245 years ago and which deserves our respect, study, and celebration.
One of these four truths is founded on a Biblical Truth: “that all people are created equal.” This Truth really has three parts to it:
· One: that all people are created by a Creator (not by chance),
· Two: that all people are created as Equals,
· and three: this is because all people are created in the Creator’s image.
Thomas Jefferson, who was the main author of the Declaration, thought these Truths and the others in the Declaration were all self-evident; he thought they were, as Thomas Paine put it, common sense or obvious to pretty much everyone except apparently for old King George the Third and all the lords and ladies of England who thought of themselves as a lot more Equal
than everyone else.
Lest we shake our heads in dismay at the poor deluded English royalty of the eighteenth century:
that all people were created equal was more of a great idea than it was real. This is also self-evident, obvious. As the young nation struggled to get on its feet, men who owned property
were a lot more equal than those who didn’t, because only men who owned property had the right to vote at first. The government only had to obtain consent from men who owned property in order to govern justly.
There were obviously others who did not enjoy rights equal to men who owned property:
women, at least half of the population, were not equal to men who owned property,
because they couldn’t vote. It took 144 years before women could vote.
And then there were people who were treated as if they were property: they were obviously a lot less equal than those who enslaved them.
And finally there were the people who had ten thousand years ago, come to North America first,
but who received the right to vote last.
To our credit, throughout our history, some Americans realized these inequalities were ways in which our nation was falling short of its excellent principles; some Americans realized these inequalities were a weakness in the foundation upon which our nation was built. Dealing with this weakness, however, has been a struggle. For various reasons,
· some people fought against the Biblical truth that all people are created equal.
· Some people fought against giving men who didn’t own property the right to vote;
· some people fought against giving slaves and women and Native Americans the right to vote.
They fought in the halls of congress and passed laws ignoring the Biblical truth that all people are created equal. They fought in a civil war despising the Biblical truth that all people are created equal. Even after the Biblical truth that all people are created equal
became the law of the land, individual states found ways to twist the Biblical truth that all people are created equal: they wrote Jim Crow Laws that opened the door to treating African American people as if they still weren’t equal. They wrote laws that said that people had to pay money
or know how to read and write or meet other requirements before they were considered equal enough to vote. Though a little progress has been made in this regard, it was not without more struggle, more fighting in legislatures and in the streets, more people being killed,
more property being burned by people on both sides.
It seems like such fighting and violence is inevitable when it comes to repairing these weaknesses in the foundation of our nation, in making this Biblical truth a reality. But the Bible has long established a different truth that is meant to be the starting place for addressing weaknesses, shortcomings, conflicts. In the Psalm today, we hear about this true starting place for addressing weaknesses, shortcomings, conflicts. In the Psalm today,
we hear that this starting place is humility before God; is a recognition by all citizens that we all need God’s mercy and grace. is a recognition by all citizens that we’re all part of the problem,
“Our eyes look to you, O Lord our God, until you show us mercy.
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy.”
Or, in the words of the hymn we’ll sing after the sermon: we’ll pray that God shed his grace, his mercy, his forgiveness on us all.
In addition, the Psalm rejects Contempt, Scorn and Derision. The psalm rejects looking down on other people as a way of addressing weaknesses, shortcomings, conflicts. In the marriage counseling resource we pastors use, one of the starting points in addressing weaknesses, shortcomings, conflicts in a relationship is the question: how do I contribute to this weakness in our relationship? This question is answered by both spouses, and it’s the point of view of those who developed this method for addressing weaknesses and conflicts that nothing will get resolved or healed or strengthened until the ways both spouses contribute to their struggles are shared in a genuine spirit of repentance and confession.
So it is with every conflict: in our marriages, in our city, in our state, in our nation. But there’s very little of this kind of spirit of repentance and confession alive today. Some African Americans say they still suffer from inequality, and that there is just no trusting White people
and that there is no hope for change. And some White people say there’s no inequality, and that there’s no trusting what Black people say about it and that there’s no need for change.
As long as both of these attitudes are firmly held, the Biblical Truth that all people are created equal that’s the mortar that holds the foundation of our nation together will continue to crumble away. Only starting with a genuine spirit of repentance and confession in order to build trust and communication will make the Biblical truth that all people are created equal a reality.
The Apostle Paul shares another dimension of repentance and confession in the second reading today. Paul says he could have very well bragged about an amazing vision he had of Paradise,
so his revelations could have gone viral and so he could have gotten a spot on all the news gossip shows. Instead, the Apostle Paul brags about his weaknesses, his vulnerability, his failures, his torments. Which of course is not the way of the world in which we live as this season’s order for confession puts it. The way of the world is to boast and brag about our Selves and its even darker side: to think of and speak of others as not equal to us, to think and speak of others
with contempt and scorn and derision.
· The reason for the Apostle Paul’s strange form of boasting,
· the reason for the Apostle Paul’s attitude of humility and vulnerability,
· the reason for the Apostle Paul’s recognition of his weakness
· the reason the Apostle Paul got the Apostle Paul out of the way
was to make it clear that anything good he did accomplish was accomplished by the power of God.
So imagine Republicans and Democrats sitting down at a table and confessing to each other how each of them were part of the problem, confessing to each other that their real principles
· are about getting re-elected, about getting rich,
· are about being approved by powerful people,
· are about taking sound bites out of so-called enemies,
· and are about making their campaign donors and lobbyists happy.
Imagine Democrats and Republicans putting the Declaration of Independence in front of them
and saying to each other “this truth that all people are created equal is our common goal, our common ground.” And then imagine them learning about and problem-solving on behalf of the well-being of every single person living in this country.
· In this dedication to the equality of all people,
· in this spirit of repentance and confession,
· in setting aside contempt and scorn and derision and boasting,
· in getting their Selves out of the way,
there would be room at that table for God to work, because God’s power is made possible
when we start with humility, vulnerability, and a deep understanding of our own weaknesses.
And because God’s power would be at work, establishing liberty and justice for all would be possible.
As Pastor Julie said last week, our call as ordinary Christians is daunting. If we’re disciples of Jesus,
· we’re still being sent just like they were in today’s Gospel.
· We’re still being sent to encourage people to turn around and remember God who created all people, all people, equal.
· We’re still being sent to stop feeding the unclean spirits of contempt, scorn, derision, and boasting.
· We’re still being sent to establish healing for everyone who needs it,so we especially stop throwing people with mental illnesses and addictions into jails and prisons.
· We’re still being sent to do all these things, and it makes us feel weak and hopeless and humbled and like no one but God is going to be able to figure this one out and we’re right, and God is calling us to get it done, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.