But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
- 1 Peter 2:9-12
A periodical arrived in the mail, and emblazoned in red across the front were the words, “Summer of Rage” Possibly true… I haven’t read the article, but I’m familiar with the authors. A bit ago, walking through the grocery store, I listened to my current favorite podcaster, Victor Hanson, as he recounted a variety of data and statistics indicating continued decline portending national implosion. He doesn’t specifically say the nation is collapsing, but he comes close. Distrust between the people and our leaders is so powerful it is almost tangible. Distrust among races and neighbors is increasing, not necessarily in violence, but in distance. That is never a good thing. Distance fills itself with a miasma of them/us. A generation or two of people have been so poorly educated, even (especially…?) at our best and priciest institutions, that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong or fact and feeling. I could go on, but really, why bother? I suspect each of us has a laundry list of what we think is wrong.
The general atmosphere of the nation feels brittle, as if with just a little bit of pressure applied in exactly the right place will open a deep and irreparable fissure in the populace, that is, you and me and the other 330 million people with whom we live (give or take 15-20 million illegal and uncounted people). The questions that haunt me are, “How are Christians supposed to respond? Is it even possible to make a difference when so many don’t even believe in God, much less Jesus Christ? What are You doing, O Lord?” Do you wonder, too? To me, the issues are not ultimately or even primarily political. The challenges we face are spiritual, deeply so, but I confess to a measure of uncertainty regarding our awareness of the spiritual aspects of our current time. Do we recognize how much influence spiritual realities have upon the physical world in which we live? I am not sure we do.
The other day I came across a post written by a fellow Methodist, Mark Tooley. I confess that I laughed aloud, but not for the reasons one would think. In his post, Tooley quoted at length a sermon preached by John Wesley in 1775. Certainly, nothing in Wesley’s sermon was remotely humorous, and neither were Tooley’s remarks funny. Rather, because the 246-year-old sermon spoke so clearly to our time and was so applicable to today, an acute sense of relief and of hope welled up within me and popped out as laughter.
Entitled “National Sins and Miseries” and based on 2 Samuel 24, Wesley preached on the difficulties of his day, the fighting and conflict among neighbors, the drunkenness and gluttony, vulgarity, ingratitude, jealousies, and more. While naming many of social ills of his time, which mirror so closely the problems we face, Wesley pointed out that we all tend to think of our own suffering as a result of others’ sins. Then, he added that “our own vices [are] sufficient to account for all our sufferings. Let us fairly and impartially consider this; let us examine our own hearts and lives. We all suffer: and we all have sinned. But will it not be most profitable for us, to consider every one his own sins, as bringing sufferings both on himself and others…” Tooley does a great job with his remarks, and a link to his post, which I hope you will take the opportunity to read, will be added to a new "resource" page on Servants' Feast site. However, I want to stop here and turn to the point of our repentance, each for his or her own sin.
How often do you repent for your sin? When we repent, we are to turn away from our sin and, by the grace of God and the Spirit within us, seek to avoid continuing in sin. How often does the church you attend repent for sin? As Christians, do we truly live as God’s chosen people, as His holy nation, a people called out of darkness and into our Father’s marvelous light? Are we first citizens of God’s holy nation, or is American citizenship and identity more important? Do we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit to those around us? Are we humble, meek, and self-sacrificing? Most of all, do we believe in the power of love to overcome evil and to defeat lies?
Wesley’s sermon pointed to God’s judgment of England, as was done in King David’s time, and which I think we can see in America today. Once we were a Christian nation, but today, we, the Christians, are not dramatically different from those who know Christ not at all. We live virtually indistinguishable lives among the atheists and pagans around us. So many of us are true believers in Jesus Christ, but far too many are not true trusters in Christ. Long ago, we became too advanced and sophisticated to trust that this world and all that is in it belong to our God, the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen. What does the Lord know about retirement plans and mortgages? How can He be expected to affect such matters as genes and germs? Really, what could Jesus, a Man of two millennia past, know about sociology and psychology, about race and culture? Then, fully invested in our world, we turn to one another and ask, “When is the Lord going to make things right?”
Our God did not make things wrong, and He already has made them right. Our task is to live out His victory over the world and all the darkness of sin and evil. We are not to participate blindly in the quagmire of worldly thought and then, in turn, expect God to step in and make everything fine again. Instead, God will step into our lives when we repent and ask Him to make us right again. There are national sins, but our national sins reflect the sins of our own souls – the greed, the materialism, the arrogance, and every other sin you can name. Moreover, the only race qualifier for national sin (or any sin) is “human.” Skin color and ancestry neither increase nor decrease the sin of the soul, for souls are not wrapped in colors. To be Christian is to be the chosen race, true across time and space.
Several people have sent me videos and articles predicting the return of Christ, and I am amazed at how many people believe His return is imminent based on the chaos and conflict of today. Nations have risen and fallen throughout history, and Christ didn’t return on those occasions. I do not think the USA is just any nation, for it is a nation founded by and for Christians. The demise of the nation, if indeed that is happening, does not necessarily indicate anything except our failure to live in truth and to teach devotion to Jesus Christ from one generation to the next. Although I’m a little hesitant to point this out, the fact is that a great many of us are not the least ready for Christ’s return. We have lived thoroughly worldly lives with a worldly mind and worldly values and priorities in our church life and in our private lives with, as one columnist put it, “a little Jesus sauce” sprinkled on top. This is not how we want to meet Jesus.
There is hope, however. In Christ, there is always hope. In Wesley’s time, the faithlessness of the English people was comparable to what we experience today. In his book, How Should We Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer references a Cambridge history scholar writing about Wesley’s time period. Schaeffer wrote,
“We should also mention the impact of the George Whitefield/John Wesley revivals and the early Methodists and others who emerged from the revivals, from whom came so much emphasis on political, educational, and economic reform. In fact, the Cambridge historian J. H. Plumb indicated that it was not too much to say that, without the influence which the Whitefield/Wesley revivals had at the grass roots, it is doubtful whether England would have avoided its own version of the French Revolution.”
When we wonder how to respond to the events around us – deaf and destructive leadership in a variety of institutions, hawking racial divisions, championing the destruction of the human being in search of the self, inflaming national conflict, and such – suggesting that repentance and prayer are sufficient sounds child-like. But then, we are supposed to come to Jesus Christ as little children. We are God’s children, the Author of every good and the Creator of all that exists. He has the power and the will to work in our own generation. The only limitation on God is the measure of faithful obedience of His children – or the lack thereof. We must choose to live as God’s people, strangers in a foreign land, a holy nation, honorable and virtuous, not contentious.
Then, and only then, the tide will begin to turn, as people respond to the evidence of peace, goodness, mercy, and love in us. When we live as God’s chosen race in purity, in the priesthood of self-giving and self-sacrificing, others will be drawn to the light of God – a light made all the brighter by the deep darkness of this time and this generation. None of us is responsible for changing the direction of the nation, but each one of us is responsible for living as God’s own possession, purchased by His blood. In His likeness, we are called to live as a loving and life-bearing people toward a generation, or three, who suffer self-inflicted lacerations in their souls.
When we do these things, God will act in ways we cannot foresee. He will accomplish more than we imagined possible. The French Revolution held great appeal to many English citizens in the late eighteenth century, but the Christians – specifically, the evangelical converts of Whitefield and Wesley – were the phalanx of goodness and light that held firm against the tide of evil threatening to devastate England as was happening in France.
We don’t know what God will do, and we will not find out unless repentance and prayer begin within each of us.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau