I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with Broadway writer Peter Stone on several occasions. Mr. Stone may not be a familiar name to you, but he was a librettist and two of his successful Broadway musicals each had stories in which we knew how they would turn out even before the lights went down and the curtain rises. And even so, although we know how the story would end, he had us on the very edge of our seats.
His last Broadway show was the musical “Titanic.” Yes, we knew how it was going to end. But through the pen of Mr. Stone his musical brought us face to face with our hubris. With our thinking that we were more powerful and more capable than any force nature could possibly place in our path. It showed us that no matter who we were, the most famous and the most wealthy, or the most humble and poor, we were all culpable to the egos of mankind. Is it any wonder things turned out as they did?
Mr. Stone’s other musical of which I speak is 1776. About the Continental Congress and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. No surprises there. We all know what happened on July 4th. Or do we? Was the journey to that glorious day really a walk in the park?
We know that on July 4th a Declaration of Independence is going to be proclaimed. We know it. We were taught that in school, we can read the document. But did you know that it almost didn’t happen?
Peter Stone started his story knowing where he needed to end up. The audience knew it too, how could there possibly be any tension, even with the twists and turns of his story? During rehearsals he hit on something ingenious. They would place a sheet of paper on the board, with the date, June 30, and change that date one sheet at a time as the story moved forward. With each tear of the calendar we inch our way closer to July 4th, but suddenly on July 1 the entire south, all the southern delegates, walk out of the congress. They walk out because the original draft of the declaration called for the abolishment of slavery. The document that was calling forth a new freedom, a new republic, saw that if all men were created equal then slavery would have to go. The southern states said it would be the ruination of their economy and they wouldn’t vote for it. They would forego independence from England, and continue to live under a unloving King George, rather than change their cherished way of life.
In Matthew Chapter 12 scripture tells us so movingly that “every kingdom divided against itself is laid to waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” Abraham Lincoln repeated these words four score and seven years later when the country went to war over the very issue debated in the Continental Congress. The scripture goes on to say, “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus is saying that his power, his ability to heal, to minister and to serve God is not from something sinister, but because the very power of Almighty God moves and works and breathes through him.
Our scripture concludes with, “either make the tree good, and its fruit good, or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.”
This goes for you and me. Is our personal house divided and the fruit of our lives tainted because of wrong thinking, wrong words, wrong beliefs? Do we expect a certain outcome, to bear good fruit and produce meaningful lives, but our words and deeds and our thoughts do everything possible to prevent that very thing? Our scripture reminds us in no uncertain terms that we need to be in concert with God, in words, deeds and thoughts, if we ever expect to get from where we are to where we want to be. We have to be in harmony with God if we expect our journey to survive the hills and mountains that so often are placed before us. If we are in touch with God and God’s work in our lives we can find the way to the other side of those obstacles.
In Matthew Jesus presents a world sharply divided into God’s kingdom and the kingdom of darkness, and indicates that one cannot be working for both kingdoms at the same time. Jesus is telling us we are not going to get where we want to be with divided thinking.
Finally, Jesus concludes with a warning that whoever is not on his side is on the other side. Jesus allows no would-be disciples to straddle the fence: one either follows him or opposes him. We either affirm the presence of God and God’s power in our lives, or we wallow in negativity and defeat. Where we place our words and deeds and thoughts will determine where we ultimately end up.
God does not listen only to what we say during Sunday-morning or evening church services. We are accountable each and every moment of our day. Each and every thought, one built upon the other, are what map out our journey. Are we headed where we want to be?
We use the term “liberty” to proclaim our liberation from something that no longer serves us. 1776 proclaimed our liberty from King George, but there was still much that needed to be done. The ending the framers desired required a compromise and that compromise tore us apart. The house was divided.
So we ask, is our blueprint for our life today in harmony with God? Do our words and our deeds and our thoughts match our commitment? And are we being steadfast in our faith that God will get us through the rough places and on to our goal?
The choices of our words, deeds and thoughts determine our journey.
Our choices set our course, our words frame our intention, our motivation shapes and proclaims our character.
So let’s look at Jefferson’s words, the other Jefferson:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Let’s stop there and put this in a new perspective. Our own personal Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. The right to be called children of God, filled with His grace, His blessing, and to walk in partnership with his son Jesus, whom we call the Christ. Each of us loved unconditionally, filled with abundant possibility and cherished as a unique expression of a perfect God.”
Herein is our game-changer. Herein our house is made whole.
Having a house that is made whole is one in which the dignity of all people is cherished. When our house is no longer divided we will stop seeing churches, places of God, burned because of hate and rancor. When our house is no longer divided we will see the rights of all our citizens, regardless of race or sexual orientation, as precious and valued. And, it is important, and also vital, that we always wish and desire for others those things that we would wish and desire for ourselves.
One of the last minute additions to the Declaration was a suggestion from the Delegate from New Jersey, who was an ordained minister. He said that nowhere in the document was there the mention of Almighty God, and how could they possibly hope to accomplish their goal without God’s help. And so they added these closing words: “And for the support of the Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
So, What truths are self-evident in your life?
Rev. Jefferson Beeker
We live our lives one thought at a time. Let each of those thoughts really count for something wonderful.
Be prepared to change your thinking and change your life.