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A sermon given January 17, 2016 at the Alafia River Rendezvous Church Service

There is purpose for your life. Your purpose revolves around bridging the gap between yourself and your Creator. It depends upon your ability to search and find salvation through God’s undeserving grace. But there is a lot of evil around that is focused on keeping you and me from ever reaching God’s salvation. Evil attacks the very thing mankind needs to find God. God’s strategy from the beginning of time has always been to make and keep covenants, contracts of sorts, with His people. God also makes covenants with His nations. And what is God’s covenant with America? God’s part is to walk among us, to be our God and our part is to be His people. (You find it in Leviticus 26:11) Our leaders have also made a covenant with its people. It is called the U.S. Constitution. It is no more than a contract between our government and its citizens. And like all contracts, it is only as good as the commitment of both parties to honor it. It would be dangerous to assume that evil does not want to destroy our Constitution and, in turn, see our freedoms slip away. Take away freedom and you take away our bridge to our salvation.

The good news is that God will help us to find Him, love Him, and obey Him if we let Him. To uphold our end of the covenant, God knows we will need a few things: liberty, protection and the opportunity to prosper to name a few. Our founding fathers knew this too. Why these three? To establish God’s work on earth without His help is fruitless. The evil in our world is powerful so we need all of the help we can get. Our Rendezvous motto this year is “Bridging the Gap with our Ancestors.” So this morning, I would like to step back in time and see, what can be learned from our ancestors about God’s liberty, protection and prosperity.

Before the founding of our country, our forefathers had already experienced the “Dark Ages” of religious freedom. The Medieval Inquisition started around 1184 and continued well into the 1400’s. During this period, tens of thousands of “non-believers” were tortured or killed. Non-believers were those who did not subscribe to a specific model of beliefs. In 1401, the King of England issued an edict to immediately arrest anyone who preached religious thoughts against the king’s brand of religion. A second offense resulted in immediate death. In 1685, the king of France demanded that all accept French Catholicism or be immediately exiled or put to death. It almost sounds like today’s Middle East news doesn’t it?

Our founding fathers each understood the threat evil possessed against their faith. For generations, they were not free to pursue their God. But yet, each knew that a righteous nation blessed with abundant resources and with a government “Under God” could find God’s Kingdom and thrive and grow. Our founders understood that in such a nation, all blessings would be equally shared with both believers and non-believers. Any spiritual enlightenment would bring men and women closer to God and closer to Christ. And this would be a good thing. While we would constantly be reminded that we were endowed with certain inalienable rights, we would also be reminded that it was our responsibility to pursue and secure those rights ourselves. But in a world filled with evil and without God’s assistance, these rights could be difficult, if not impossible, to secure. Yes, we have been granted the privilege to pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness but without the blessings of our Creator, our nation could have remained entrenched in the dark ages. Worse yet, we could find ourselves returning to the darkness.

hiawathawampumSo Liberty is our first point today. What did our ancestors learn about having and holding liberty? I would like to begin with the Iroquois, who somewhere between 1,000 and 1,400 A.D., created “The Great Law of Peace.” The document was first recorded on wampum belts and later, translated to paper. The Great Law was created to form a confederacy among their tribes, the Oneida, Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, and the Seneca. It was, what many believe, an influence to our own Constitution. Its purpose was to prevent tribal interference in everyone’s daily lives and meant to enhance individual freedom by separating their civilian governing bodies from the military and from religious affairs. The Great Law allowed differing beliefs among tribes to coexist and recognized the importance of one’s beliefs, no matter what their origin. There was outright freedom of religion in the “The Great Law of Peace.” So to start construction on our Alafia Bridge, we begin with the foundation on the banks of history where our ancestors first stood.

Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson would have noticed that the Iroquois tied their tribes together into a perfect union, much like we see in our own preamble of the U.S. Constitution. Both documents stress unity and providing liberty for posterity. The Great Law defined numbers of representatives, their powers, and requirements, just as our own Constitution does. The formal creation of an executive office was also defined by the Iroquois. But unlike our own Constitution, the election and choice was left to the clan mothers. The Iroquois had the wisdom to know that the mothers of their warriors were the ones to choose their commander in chief who held the power to make war and to place their children in harm’s way. The Iroquois Law defined checks and balances, created a centralized government. It included a guarantee of free speech, defined levels of authority between tribes and gave individual rights to each tribe just as we have done with our own States. Concepts like the forbidding of quartering, the unauthorized entry or seizure of one’s lodge, was also principle of The Great Law as well as in our own Article 3 of the Bill of Rights. Satan’s fight against mankind begins with liberty. Instinctively, the Iroquois knew this. When any nation keeps God’s commandments, they will find salvation. Liberty is simply our right to choose and it is our Constitution that still defends that right for us to choose God.

Our second point of God’s covenant is to be ready to accept His protection. Like liberty, God is ready to give us His Divine Providence. Our role is to be responsible enough to recognize it and embrace it. Both The Great Law of Peace and our Constitution recognized unity as an important ingredient of protection. To state this another way, we can never be united with our God unless we are first united with ourselves. Remember your Biblical story of Lucifer and his exile from Heaven. Let me refresh your memories. Lucifer (Satan) wanted to take over heaven and be God. He did not want to do what he was created to do, that was to serve God. So our Creator cast him out. From that moment, evil existed. It still exists today and will exist until we are united with our God by Christ’s work on the cross.

But is there a difference between evil men and patriots? Without God’s hand, His Providence, there can be no difference. The Iroquois knew this, our founding fathers knew this too. Supporting a covenant with our Creator requires the energy of all in pursuit of God. As King Solomon himself said in Ecclesiastes 3:11-13, “11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”

Our Alafia bridge construction continues using the timbers hewn from a federal republic, where sovereignty rests with the nation’s people and their representatives rather than with a king. For unity to exist, peace must exist. The people must participate, the government must listen and then together all must make tough choices. Yet, we watch our nation’s interest in maintaining their liberty steadily decline. In our last elections, over 100 million people of voting age did not participate. Those that did not vote, chose to abandon their nation to the influences of evil and did so at the peril of their own liberty. Our forefathers never envisioned ever-expanding bureaucracies, regulations and debt. They envisioned a land where people were free to use its rich resources in pursuit of their own happiness, happiness found only through pursuing the shared goals of a national covenant. It is safe to conclude that if you ignore the very God who created you, the God that can guide and protect you, the journey will be a disappointing one. Even the Iroquois mothers knew that the chief who leads their tribal nation impacted its liberty, safety and freedom. Clan mothers also held to power to remove their chief too.

Our first chief, George Washington, had little or no formal education, George Washington had a less than stellar record in the military. He had been in charge of Fort Necessity and lost it quickly to the French. He had never led an army in battle, never commanded anything larger than a regiment. And never had directed a siege. George Washington would be idle for 15 years before he again assumed the role of Commander in Chief. Yet, time after time, God would stand with him. George Washington believed that America had a covenant with God. Here are just a few examples of God’s protection of our first chief and of our cause for freedom:

  • In July of 1775, an unprepared Washington came to retake Boston. The battle would be at Breed’s Hill. As our troops made ready for their assault, the British just abandoned Boston. Had the battle ensued, we would have lost. The American troops were no match for the British troops on that day.
  • Then there was the battle of New York. In April of 1776, Washington prepared to defend the city. Outflanked by the British, our troops were on the verge of collapse when the decision was made to retreat. But the route across the Hudson River was open water and the British navy was on guard. On the night of August 29th, a fog covered Long Island and covered Washington’s escape. Our army survived to fight another day.
  • Not long after a victory at Trenton, Washington was camped near the town of Saratoga. The British General John Burgoyne prepared to attack. However, Burgoyne was encumbered by his spoils of war, such as the stolen fine china he carried with him and a large entourage of prostitutes for his pleasure. Washington repeatedly condemned such behavior because he believed that the Americans were fighting under a covenant with God. Could this have been a factor in the surprising defeat of Burgoyne in October of 1777?
  • General Cornwallis was pursuing Nathaniel Greene’s troops in the southern colonies. Yet at three times, a night storm would flood a river and stop Cornwallis at the banks just after Greene and his troops crossed. Would you call three perfectly timed storms protecting our patriots a coincidence?
  • To end our revolution at Yorktown, God sent the French navy and Lafayette, to block Cornwallis’ retreat by ship. The British navy, coming to free Cornwallis, would be stopped by the French at the Battle of Capes. The British navy re-provisioned and tried again, only to be blocked by a storm that kept them in New York. With Washington’s troops winning the siege at Yorktown, Cornwallis would try a nighttime retreat, only to be blocked by a nighttime storm. So on October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered.

When a nation has a covenant relationship with God, God protects their liberty and provisions their safety. In 1783, Washington said “Glorious indeed has been our Contest: glorious, if we consider the Prize for which we have contended, and glorious in its Issue; but in the midst of our Joys, I hope we shall not forget that, to divine Providence is to be ascribed the Glory and Praise……I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.”

But we cannot forget our third point, God also expects to support our prosperity. Here, though, we must be careful on how we define prosperity. While many in this world view material gain, power, influence and pleasures as prosperity, God’s history tells us that when we are ourselves confident of our own salvation, we have gained the most valued treasure that can be found. The ultimate prosperity comes when you are assured the right to choose an eternity with a loving, nurturing God above everything this world offers. So our true prosperity is defined in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights, as well as the equal assurance of prosperity for all. So how is our part of our covenant with God going these days?

lexingtonWell, it’s time to finish our bridge that we started on the shores of our ancestors and finish it on the banks of the Alafia River Rendezvous. I propose to you, however, that it is not the bridge itself that is most important but what you will choose to carry across it from one side to another this week. It was early in the morning, before daybreak, on April 19, 1775, when the Battle of Lexington began. Captain Parker assembled his small army near Lexington realizing they were too small to take on the British force. “Stand your ground. Do not fire unless you are fired upon, but if they mean war, let it begin here,” he encouraged his men. A British lieutenant rode ahead of his ranks, waving his sword in the air and shouting to the patriots, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, or you are all dead men!” At that point, an unknown shot came from someone in the ranks or maybe from someone hiding behind a wall or tree. “A shot that would be heard around the world.” The British soldiers then opened fire on the Americans. Badly outnumbers, the minutemen quickly fled.

Lexington Green would never be the same. The first to die in the Revolutionary War that day would be John Brown, Samuel Hadley, Caleb Harrington, Jonathon Harrington, Robert Munroe, Isaac Muzzey, and Asahel Porter. Jonas Parker, Captain Parker’s cousin, would crawl to his own doorstep and die there. The very right to express your faith, your freedom to live under the protections of our Constitution, the Constitution itself, even your right to freely choose your country’s leaders was earned for you that day by these eight men. Thousands more would cross the bridge connecting us to our ancestors through their many sacrifices. So what does the foundation on the Alafia side of our bridge look like? Our Alafia side of the bridge is anchored on people who will defend the unity of our great nation against the evil that tries to divide us. It rests upon the banks of a free people who care enough about liberty to be engaged, to take the time to know and chose their leaders carefully and, when necessary to die to protect their liberty. Our Alafia side of the bridge shares the Gospel’s message of grace and salvation through Christ with all, confident in God’s providence and prosperity. It is Christ who built our bridge! It is through history that God reveals His plans for us. Are you willing to cross our bridge this week? Will you carry the Truth, carry our Covenant and carry Christ’s message of God’s blessings to those you will meet this week? Will you make a difference this week?

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
~Jeremiah 29:11-13

16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
~2 Corinthians 6:16-18