Turning Our Nation Right Side Up!
I want you to hear this…
Don Shelby is a Methodist preacher out in Los Angeles. He tells of an interesting conversation he had with a young woman who wanted to get married in his church. She had called him up and though she was not a member of his church had asked if he might be able to conduct her wedding ceremony. After asking a few questions he agreed to do it. Then he asked, “And when do you wish to have the wedding?” She replied, “At eleven o’clock, if possible.” Don Shelby said, “No problem, eleven o’clock on Saturday.” The young woman said, “No, not Saturday, Sunday.” Don Shelby exclaimed, “Well, I can’t do that at eleven o’clock on Sunday.” The young woman said, “Why not?” Well, Shelby was so shocked by the question that all he could think of to say was, “I already have a commitment at that time.” The young woman then said, “Well, we can just do it the next Sunday at that time.” Now Shelby was completely flabbergasted. He said, “Young lady, I have a commitment every Sunday at eleven o’clock.” Do you know what the young woman said? She said, “Well, I can’t imagine what in the world it could be.”
Believe it or not that is not as extreme as you might think. It is in fact a symptom of the time in which we are living. America is different today than it was when I started out in the ministry more than 35 years ago. One of the ways America is different has to do with the loss of our spiritual center. Simply put, more and more people are like that young woman in southern California—they are living without any consciousness of God at all. That’s not the way it was when this country began. That’s not the way it was just a generation or so ago. But I do believe that that’s the way it is now. I would like for us to take a look at that in our sermon today, and to focus our attention, I wish to employ a great verse from Proverbs. It’s Proverbs 29 verse 18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” What that means is this: Where people do not clearly see God’s way, God’s word, and God’s will; where there is no belief in God; where there is no allegiance to God’s truth; where there is no commitment to God’s commandments; where there is no trust in God’s promises; then the future is bleak for those people and that nation. Therefore, under the influence of this verse from Proverbs 29, let me first pinpoint the problem and then suggest a solution.
First, the problem.
You may remember several years back after the devastating hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida, a television news crew was dispatched to that area to film the widespread destruction. In one neighborhood, they found every house but one totally destroyed. Only one house had withstood the storm. The owner of that one house was cleaning up the yard when a reporter asked him, “Why is it that your house is the only one in this area left standing? How did you manage to escape the severe damage of the hurricane?” The man replied, “I built this house myself. I built it according to the Florida State Building Code. When the code called for 2 x 6 roof trusses, I used 2×6 roof trusses. I was told that a house built according to the code would withstand a hurricane. I built according to the code, and the house stood. I guess no one else around here followed the code.”
Dear friends, what is true of the state’s code for building is equally true of God’s code for living. When we follow God’s moral code as individuals and as a nation, then we can withstand any storm. But if we fail to follow the code, if we don’t build upon the solid foundation of God’s righteousness, justice, goodness, and morality, then the storms of life literally will overwhelm us. Isn’t that what is happening now? Since 1960 there has been a 560% increase in violent crime in America so that we are now the most violent society on earth. There are more robberies, more murders, more rapes, more abortions, more abuses, more promiscuity, more profanity, than ever before in our land. Yet for all of that there is something which concerns me even more. There is no outcry of public outrage. Sadly, we seem to be getting used to it all. In the last twenty-five years, we have become so permissive, so fuzzy about what is right and wrong, so wishy-washy on ethical matters that we are in danger of losing our moral clarity as a nation. In his classic novel, The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky reminded us that when God is left out, everything is permissible. Well, we are now seeing everything as permissible, for not only is God being left out, but what’s worse, God is being driven out.
Let me make the point with a prayer prayed by a Jewish Rabbi at a graduation ceremony at the Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence, Rhode Island. Rabbi Weisman prayed this prayer,
“God, of the free, hope of the brave:
For the legacy of America where diversity is celebrated
and the rights of minorities are protected,
we thank You.
May these new graduates grow up to guard it;
For the political process of America in which all of its citizens
may participate and for its court system where all can seek justice,
we thank You.
May those we honor today always turn to it in trust.
For the destiny of America,
we thank You.
May the graduates of Nathan Bishop Middle School so live
that they might help to shape it.
May our aspirations for our Country and these young people
Who are our hope for the future be richly fulfilled. Amen.”
Now I wonder if it would shock you to know that that prayer in all of its attempt to be religiously fair and balanced was nevertheless ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States? Dear friends, I believe that I understand the so-called “prayer in school issue” about as well as anyone. I believe that I am fairly conversant about its constitutional implications. I also want you to know that I strongly believe in protecting the rights of everyone and especially in being sensitive to the rights of minorities. But I tell you when a prayer like that is said to be unconstitutional; in my opinion there is something seriously wrong in the soul of America. What we are doing in America right now, in my opinion, is letting the religion of secularism be installed and established as the official religion of America. We are letting a system of “no belief” be installed and established as the real belief upon which this Country is built. I don’t care what anyone says, regardless of how intellectually sophisticated they might seem to be, that course of action is not going to carry us very far at all. The warning contained in the book of Proverbs is just as true today as when it was written, “Where there is no vision, where people do not see clearly God’s way, God’s word, and God’s will in their lives, those people perish.”
Maybe I am naive. Maybe I am a hopeless idealist. Sometimes I think I am. But deep in my own soul, I happen to believe that God made this nation what it is and what it was meant to be in history. I happen to believe that if we ever forget that, if we ever forget Him, if we ever cease to acknowledge His truth and His righteousness in our lives, then this nation shall surely vanish from the face of the earth. I happen to believe that in the times in which you and I are living we are in danger of losing what this nation really is all about. Show me, if you can, any evidence to the contrary. The problem, I think, is plain for all to see.
Now the solution, if I may.
Even though I have tried to articulate the problem today, I want you to know that I am not pessimistic about the future of this nation. In fact, I am hopeful and optimistic because I am a Christian. I believe in God, and I believe with all my heart that ultimately God and His righteousness will win the day. Therefore, our only hope—the only solution to the problems afflicting our nation today—is to recapture our spiritual vision, to turn back to God in faith, to commit our lives to Him and His righteousness. The late Walker Percy, a medical doctor and an acclaimed novelist, put it like this, “Only when we turn our affections and desires towards the right things—toward enduring, noble, spiritual things—only then will things get better.”
I keep remembering that some years ago, a visiting professor from the University of Moscow arrived in Washington, DC. He was interviewed by an American newspaper reporter. Among other things, this professor said in that interview, “Religion in the Soviet Union is dead. There is no one in the churches except a few little old ladies.” Well after seeing what has happened in the years since in what we once called the Soviet Union, my guess is that that professor has had to reassess the significance of those believing “little old ladies.” For as it turns out, those “little old ladies” knew more about what was going on in the world than the people at the Kremlin or at the University of Moscow. Lenin is gone. Stalin is gone. Gorbachev is gone. The Soviet Union is gone. The “little old ladies” won!
By the grace of God, they won, and I am convinced that what sustained them was the abiding hope that the transforming, resurrection power of God was very present in them. Nothing—no “ism,” no political system, no harsh dictator, no secret police, nobody—could stand against the purposes of God. I believe that what happened there can happen here. I believe with all my heart that ultimately here in America, God and His righteousness will win. I am calling us today to be a part of that victory.
I’d like to finish with a wonderful little story about something that happened one day in the studio of Gutzon Borglum, the great sculptor who fashioned the famous bust of Abraham Lincoln, which is now displayed in our Nation’s capital. Borglum was working on the piece in his studio. As he chipped away at the stone, slowly the face of Lincoln was becoming visible and recognizable on one side of the stone. It was at that point that some friends dropped by to see him—a woman, a man, and their little daughter. While the parents were talking to Borglum, the little girl kept staring at that large block of stone. Then suddenly it hit her that what she was seeing was the face of Lincoln. “Hey!” she exclaimed in wonderful exuberance, “That’s Abraham Lincoln!” Borglum turned around and smiled and said, “Yes, honey, it is.” Then it was that this little girl, completely amazed at what she was seeing, made her precious comment. She put her hands on her hips, looked at Borglum and said quite seriously, “Now, how did you know that he was in there?”
You know there is something inside of America, isn’t there? Something very special, something very beautiful, something very wonderful indeed. Yet without the help of the Lord, I am not sure how we will ever find it much less bring it forth and let it show. What is it, you ask? It’s our soul. That’s what it is—our soul. Nothing can unlock the soul except the power of God. Secularism can’t do it. Selfishness can’t do it. Greed can’t do it. Materialism can’t do it. Hedonism can’t do it. Humanism can’t do it. Atheism can’t do it. The only thing that can unlock the soul of America is God and God’s truth, and God’s righteousness, and God’s love, and God’s Son. If ever we were to understand that, and embrace that and commit our lives to that, then with the help of God and by the grace of our Lord, we could turn this world up side down, and we could turn this Nation right side up!