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#9:  The Prescription for a Godly Nation

A man went to his doctor.  “You’ve got to help me,” he pleaded.  I don’t know what to do.  I Just can’t seem to remember anything –  I have no memory at all!  I hear something one minute, and the next minute, I’ve forgotten all about it.  Isn’t there something you can prescribe for me?”  The doctor pulled out his prescription pad and jotted down – “Pay in advance.”

When we’re sick, our first impulse is to go to the doctor to see if there is anything he or she can “prescribe,” – any advice he or she can give us to help us be healthy again.  And thankfully, much of the time, our doctor simply scribbles a few unreadable words on a piece of paper which we take to the pharmacist, and in a few days, we are better.  When we are sick, we’ll do just about anything the doctor says to make ourselves well.

But what about nations?  What can nations do if they are sick?  Is there a prescription we could follow that would make us well again? 

On this day before Independence Day, I want to suggest that our country is not well – indeed, in many ways, it is sickly and troubled.  Like a patient whose natural immunity has been compromised, the moral foundations that made America strong and resistant to decay are crumbling.  And like that patient with weakened immunity, infection and disease can run unchecked, until the patient’s health completely collapses and he or she dies.

Far from being the “godly” nation we claim to be, it seems that America’s moral vitality and strength is waning, and that sin is spreading throughout the “body” of our nation unchecked.  If something isn’t done to reverse the trend, America will end up in the “Intensive Care Unit,” and one day may have to be put on life-support.  And then it can only be a matter of time before the “patient” is dead.

“Well, preacher,” you might be thinking, “That’s an awfully depressing thing to say about our nation on Independence Sunday!  Can’t you just give us a “pep talk” today, and tell us how great America is?”  Well, I COULD do that, and it might make us all feel better – like morphine given to a terminally ill patient – it might make the pain go away, but it doesn’t do anything to make the patient healthy again.

No.  This morning, I want to stand in the long tradition of the Prophets of the Old Testament.  They loved their country enough not to shy away from its faults; they boldly spoke the truth, even if it was hard to hear.  But they also offered the remedy to bring renewed vitality and health again.

You see, when we go to the doctor, we don’t want him to lie to us.  Only when he has diagnosed the problem honesty and accurately, can he prescribe a course of treatment to make us well again.

The same is true for nations.  God is the “Great Physician.”  What is God’s prescription for a sick nation, so that it can be godly again?  What must we do to experience vitality and wholeness as a nation?

As I was doing my personal study of the Scriptures for this Sermon Series on Moses, I came across this passage from Deuteronomy in which God’s Word spells out a five-point prescription for a godly nation, and I immediately knew that it was God’s word for America today.

The words are from the mouth of Moses who led the people of God out of bondage in Egypt.  And it was also Moses who led them as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years waiting for the right moment to move into Canaan – the land God had promised to them as an inheritance.

But, by this time Moses was old and would not live to cross into the land.  So he called together all the Hebrew people and gave a “farewell address,” – his “swan song” of sorts.  And our text for this morning that was just read to us is the wise advice he gave them.

As I said, this prescription for a godly nation is really a FIVE-FOLD prescription, but each one is closely related to the other four.  Unfortunately, we don’t have time to go into too much detail with any one point.  But, here it goes…

 

The First Prescription is the most basic:  Godly nations OBEY God’s law.

 

As you will see, “obedience” is the key to national health (and, by the way, obedience is also the key to  our own personal spiritual health).  It’s no coincidence that, in these ten verses, Moses used the word “obey” five different times:

Obey the commands of the Lord..

“Obey them in the land…

“Obey them faithfully…

“Obey (God) as long as (you) live…

“Obey, obey, obey”  –  It’s not easy for us to “obey.”

Instead of simply “obeying God’s commands,” we can fall into the same traps the people of Israel later fell into – the two extremes Moses warns them to avoid:  He says plainly, “Do not add anything – and do not take anything away.”

You see, one extreme is that we might add our own set of human rules to the law of God, insisting that people observe them as if they are equal to God’s law.  This is what Jesus confronted his whole public ministry.  He was constantly running up against the man-made laws and prejudices of the legalistic Pharisees – rules that had no basis in scripture – rules that often focused on restrictions and condemnation for sin, rather than on love and liberation from sin.  Jesus often broke the laws of “religion” in order to obey God’s supreme law of love and grace. 

But it wasn’t just the Jews who developed a maze of legalisms that people couldn’t obey.  People in the Christian world have also layered on legalism adding to expectations of their members:

For instance: we love our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers and recognize them as fellow Christians – but we believe that the Roman Catholic church has added to the doctrines that people are required to believe in, and has required rituals that are not grounded in Scripture;

And, we love our evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant brothers and sisters, but are concerned that they have added a lot of “dos” and “don’ts” that reflect their own narrow understanding of Scripture, rules that more closely mirror their particular political and cultural biases than they do the spirit of grace we find in the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus

John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist movement, insisted that Methodists ought to abide by the laws and commands found in scripture, but BEYOND what is found in the Bible, there should be nothing else required.  I agree with Moses and Mr. Wesley!

The other extreme is to “take away” from the law.  We in our congregations are much more prone to do that than to add more restrictions and beliefs.  We don’t like to “obey.”  We would rather overlook – or evade – or ignore – or rationalize –  anything but “obey.”

You know, America in 2022 loves to think of itself as a “godly nation,” and we ARE godly – when it suits us.  We say we want prayer in our schools and the Ten Commandments posted in our courtrooms – but we ourselves don’t even pray at home, and we live as if the Ten Commandments were only the “Ten Suggestions.”  We pick and choose the rules we are willing to “obey,” and conveniently forget the rest. 

That being said – It is true that SOME of the “laws and regulations” we find in the Bible can be applied only to ancient cultures and customs – and may not have any validity in our day and age;  And certainly, some Old Testament rules and regulations (such as the Jewish dietary laws and purity codes) have been superseded by the New Testament.  It is also true that there are rules that appear in scripture can be interpreted in various ways, especially as we examine the meaning and intent of the original authors, leading to honest disagreements about how those rules might or might not apply today. 

But ignoring or dismissing certain laws of God simply because we don’t WANT to follow them would be like: a patient who got a prescription for a medication that would make her well, but who refused to take it because she didn’t like the taste or the side effects.  We can’t expect to have physical health if we don’t take our doctor’s advice.  And we can’t expect to have SPIRITUAL health unless we are willing to take The Great Physician’s advice – and He says that we are to “obey.”

The Second Prescription is found in verse 6:  Godly nations set an example for other nations.

Moses said to the people:  “Obey (God’s laws) faithfully, and this will show the people of other nations how wise you are.  When they hear of these laws, they will say, ‘What wisdom and understanding this great nation has!”

Just as individual Christians are called to be positive role-models of the godly life to others – nations are to set a godly example for the world.

Because, throughout our history, America has striven to be a godly nation, we have been the envy of the world.  Like the lamp held high by Lady Liberty, we have given light and hope to the world.  Millions have sought out a new life in this land (including most of our ancestors) and others continue to come to America, hoping to know the blessings of liberty.  With each wave of immigrants, they have brought their own form of faith.  American democracy and integrity have been the touchstone – the very definition of what nations should strive to be.

And yet, in recent years all that has changed.  The image of America is tarnished in the eyes of the world.  We are not the “shining city on a hill” that Ronald Reagan spoke of.  In 1989, President Reagan gave his Farewell Address to the Nation.  In doing so, he defined his vision of “the shining city upon a hill… (a)  tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace…”

America today is broken.  No longer are we living up to Reagans lofty words.  America in 2022 cannot be described as a “people of all kinds living in harmony and peace.”  We have forgotten the Psalmists words in Psalm 133, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when we live together in unity.” We used to be the model of a melting pot of the world’s people, who despite our differences, honor and respect one another.  And when we disagreed, we did so respecting the rights of others to hold other opinions. 

Not today.  We vilify and make enemies of people of differing political persuasions or segments of our diverse society – and more and more are resorting to anger and slander and violence to settle our disagreements.  This is not in the spirit of Moses’ words, nor in the Spirit of Jesus.  It is sin.

So, the world no longer can look to America as the model for living peacefully in a diverse society.  The world also no longer looks to America as a moral example. 

For billions of people around the world who have never had the chance to travel to the US or to have a personal relationship with an American, all they know of America is what they see on their TV or movie screens (If that isn’t a scary thought, I don’t know what is!).  It’s no wonder Moslem extremists and others see America as a morally corrupt and evil society – that’s the image we have chosen to project to the world. 

As Americans, we are called by this text from Deuteronomy to be that proverbial “shining city on a hill.”  But the truth is that because of our disobedience, our “shine” has been tarnished.

Moses tells us that, if we as a nation are faithful to live by God’s commands, other nations will once again be inspired by our wisdom and understanding.  Or as Jesus put it, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  Or, in another place, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Yes, – Prescription #2 reminds us that godly nations set a good example.

Verse seven gives us the Third Prescription:  Godly nations can call upon God, and be heard.

As Moses said:  “No other nation, no matter how great, has a god who is so near when we need Him as the Lord our God is to us.  He answers us whenever we call for help.”

We in the United States have always felt that we had a special “in” with God.  Because we claim to have been founded on Judeo-Christian principles, we assume that, whenever we “call on God” He will – not only HEAR our prayer – but ANSWER in our favor.

But there is a condition that must be met if we want God to hear our prayers.  We must first obey His commands.  You see, God willingly enters into a covenant relationship with ANY nation that will obey His commands.  Over and over in scripture we find this phrase from the mouth of God:  “Then – I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Rightly or wrongly, we Americans perceive ourselves as “The People of God.”  We wear our status as God’s people with pride, and forget that the covenant has two sides:  God will uphold HIS side of the covenant, and expects us to uphold ours.

We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that 42 times in the Bible we read that the blessings of God are dependent upon our obedience.  Listen to Psalm 25:10:  “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of His covenant.”

But we are prone to ignore God, and STILL think that we can call on him in times of difficulty.  But God is no fool!  He knows when we are “playing games” with Him – treating Him like a genie we summon from a bottle when we wantever something – but then put him back on the shelf when we can’t be bothered.

Isn’t that true?  We’ve seen it demonstrated vividly over the years.  Whenever there is a national crisis – or a terrorist attack – or a war,  we Americans rush into our churches and talk a lot about “spiritual” things and loudly proclaim our faith, asking God to bless and protect us.  But when the danger passes, we drift back into our worldly habits – leaving the pews empty.

John Maxwell described it this way:  “Too many Christians use the ‘skip and dip’ method of Christian living.  They dip into His promises, and skip His commands.”

Now, I’m not saying Americans shouldn’t be praying and asking God to protect our nation, and our service men and women.  We pray for them every day.  I’m just pointing out what Moses said – that only godly nations can call upon God, and have confidence that they are being heard.

A Fourth Prescription is this:  Godly nations deal justly with all their citizens. 

Moses declared:  “No other nation, no matter how great, has laws as just as those that I have taught you today.”

America is a nation of laws.  We can rightly be proud that we have a Constitution and Bill of Rights that is supposed to guarantee that all people in our country have equal rights and equal protection under the law.  Indeed, our Constitution and Bill of Rights are the gold-standard for all democratic nations around the world. 

And we have struggled mightily over the generations to try to make our society reflect the ideals of our founders.  In many ways, we have done well with following this prescription.  We have at least TRIED to live up to it. 

In the past few months and even days, we have seen demonstrated the tension that arises as we try to balance fairly the conflicting claims of various peoples, groups, and values that make up America – protecting rights of some while not stripping the rights of others.  Sadly, often this balance is not struck, and discord in our American family only becomes more acute.  These days will test the fabric of our country – are we still one nation, one family, one community?  Can we find common ground and solutions to our problems – solutions that are not driven by political passion but achieved through reason and compromise?  Time will tell…

America believes in standing up for the underdog, and that is good.  However, in practice, often the weakest and most vulnerable among us are discounted.  For instance, whatever you believe politically about the flood of immigrants coming to America and how that all should be handled, God is judging us on how we treat or mistreat them.  I’m not being political – I’m being Biblical!  In the Bible, the measure of a nation’s greatness is NOT its wealth or military power.  It is in how a nation cares for those in society who are the weakest and most vulnerable among us – particularly, the widow, the orphan, and the alien living among us.  And that requires humility and compassion for all.

In Exodus, God’s Word warns us over and over: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.  Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan;  If you do, and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.  My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword – your wives will become widows, and your children fatherless.”  (Sounds to me like God is pretty serious about this!)

America is SUPPOSED to be the Land of Opportunity – and in many ways, it is.  But some still have “less opportunity” than others:

  • There is a huge and widening gap between the rich and poor of our nation.
  • Discrimination due to race, ethnicity, or sexual-orientation has dramatically increased in recent years.
  • Women are still paid less than men for the same work, and women’s concerns regarding the agonized decision about their own reproductive choices are being completely overlooked in ways that will put many women’s lives at risk.
  • Blacks still do far more prison time than whites for the same crimes.
  • Even with advances in health insurance coverage, there are still millions who cannot afford to get the healthcare they require to live.
  • God-only-knows how many homeless men and women are wandering the streets of America.
  • And when money is tight, guess which segments of the population bear the brunt of cuts in governmental spending?

Our nation’s laws may be “Just,” –  MAY be just  –  but we still have a long way to go in guaranteeing that “Justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  But, still we must try – because godly nations deal justly with ALL their citizens.

 

The Final Prescription is this:  Godly nations teach the next generation to be godly.

Moses gave this command:  “Assemble the people.  I want them to hear what I have to say, so that they will learn to obey me as long as they live, and so that they will teach their children to do the same.”

Perhaps this is where we in America are falling-short the most – it’s probably our biggest and most serious failure.  For the most part, America’s children are growing up – without God!  For the first time in American history, a large majority of our next-generation is growing up in homes that have – either NO religious faith, or only NOMINAL affiliation with a church or faith tradition.  In fact, many of today’s children are growing up in – essentially “pagan” homes where there is no memory of ANY religious faith at all!

America today is one of the biggest mission-fields in the world!  When I was in seminary, a professor told us there were about 80,000,000 practicing Christians in America.  That sounds like a lot, until you realize that the population of America at that time was 250,000,000.  Even in 1985, two thirds of Americans were unchurched.  Today, membership in houses of worship has declined to only 47%, and on any given Sunday, only 22% of households are in worship.

Where are all these missing people?  Many are within a stone’s-throw of our church!

In order for any godly nation to STAY godly, it must pass that faith on to their children.  But, looking around our sanctuary this morning, we’re not doing a very good job!  Someone once put it bluntly – but accurately:  “The Christian faith is always just one generation from extinction.”  As it stands right now, Christians in America are an “endangered species – and if we don’t do something, and quick – Christianity may go the way of the dodo bird!

Friends, we at Tomoka, are doing lots of things RIGHT!  But sharing the faith with unchurch families with children is something we don’t do well, if at all.  But we need to try to do better!

You know, the more I think about that joke we began with, the more I think Moses would have agreed with the prescription that that doctor gave his absent-minded patient.  In our text, Moses is warning the Israelites – and through them, warning us in America:  “Be on your guard!  Make certain that you don’t forget…”  

July 4th is a day, not only for celebration, but a time for remembrance and reflection.  Tomorrow, may we remember the faithfulness of our fore-fathers and fore-mothers as they lived in obedience to God’s law.  And may we reflect on how faithful God has been in blessing and showing mercy on the United States of America.

Like the people of Israel, those blessings are ours as an inheritance – unless we, like that scatter-brained patient, forget God.

In the final analysis, the prescription the doctor wrote was right on target:  “Pay in Advance.”  That, in a nutshell, is precisely what Moses is trying to tell us.  You see – God is going to “get his due.”  We as a nation either will – pay God what He is due NOW; or we will pay-for-it LATER.  It’s our choice.

If we are smart, we will take the Great Physician’s” prescription – and pay Him in advance what is due.

 

© 2022 John B. Gill, III