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Evan Earwicker: The American Dream, Luke 7:20-21

February 22, 2022

Audio Recording

Church History
Church History
Evan Earwicker: The American Dream, Luke 7:20-21
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Sermon Transcript:

:00 Well, good morning west side, and thank you for being here. My name is pastor Evan. I am well, my name is Evan. I am a pastor and it is really great that you have joined us on this holiday week and happy president's day. I want to start out today by having you imagine for a moment, that in the very near future, we're not ruled by a secular government, but we're ruled by a Christian government. So government laws are made in sync with the teachings of the church. Church leaders are involved in governing the people, the head of the church leaves the government and can make the Bible, the law of the land. In essence, your pastor is also your president. How does that make you feel? The obvious question is which pastor that's the real question.

00:54 Well, if you're a, if you're thinking, what would this scenario actually look like? You don't have to wonder because ladies and gentlemen, today, I give you the Supreme governor of the church of England and king of England himself, king George, the third, how dare you cheer for that tyrant king George, the third, of course, king George, infamous on this side of the pond as the guy who let us get away in the revolutionary war. So today we are in church history and, what we're doing in this period of time that we're gonna look at today is we are founding the nation, the American dream. This is going to be fun. You guys excited about this? I'm excited about this. As I said, king George, the third was one in the long line going all the way back to Henry the eighth in 1534, when the church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic church and king Henry, the eighth decided, you know what?

01:50 I'm not such a big fan of rules, especially around marriage. And so he broke away from the Roman Catholic church and made himself the head of the church, how convenient, and from then on the head of the state in the nation of England has also been the head of the church of England. And this is important because today we're going to look at kind of the history of what brought the church to where it was by the time the founders signed, the declaration of independence, fought the revolutionary war and founded the United States. So here's the deal. I know that within this room, and I've had conversations with many of you, there are people on not all sides of, of, of how they view America, but there's people probably right now, you're wearing American flag socks because, you're, you're a Patriot. You, you love the station so much.

02:40 you know, you bleed red, white, and blue. There's others who really struggle with the history of the United States and the good and the bad and the ugly. And, and so, talk about the history of the United States is one that brings up a lot of tension. And so what I want to ask you to do is, as we talk today is maybe set down preconceived notions. I know as I've done research for this message today, I've been surprised at what I've found in some good ways and some interesting ways. And I would encourage you and ask you, would you go along with me on this ride, as we talk about the history of the church, as it relates to the founding of the United States, let me pray for us as we get into this, and it's going to be fun, Lord, we thank you for all the ways that you are at work in every season of history throughout the pages of history.

03:30 As we look back all the way from the beginning, Jesus, when you walked to the earth, you have been at work refining and shaping and guiding your church. And so today we pray for your church here in this country. We pray for, for the American church that you will continue by your holy spirit to refine and shape and guide us. And we pray that you would bless this nation, pray this in Jesus name. Amen. Amen. All right. So in the 16 hundreds, we have groups coming to the new world. the pilgrims were the first in the 16 hundreds. And then about 10 years later, a group of Anglican church goers, who felt that the Anglican church or English church was far too close to the rituals and traditions and aesthetics of the Catholic church. They were disgusted by this. And so they made it their mission to purify the Anglican church.

04:24 Can anybody guess what their name was? The Puritans. All right. Many of the peers in the state in England, and actually the tensions got so great between the crown and the spirits ends that it broke out into civil war in 1640. But before that in, I believe it was I'm going to get some dates wrong. So we'll just say 1620 something. A group of these Puritans came and they founded the Massachusetts bay colony. And here they are landing and founding the Massachusetts bay colony in 1630. Now you might've heard that the Puritans came here seeking freedom of religion. That's true, but they weren't seeking freedom of religion for everybody. They were seeking freedom of religion for themselves in that really what they did is they imported the Kings methods of enforcing a specific religious set of rules on the people. They imported that, but instead of the king making the call, it was them.

05:23 And so the Puritans land, they set at Massachusetts bay colony and they rule with an iron fist, but it's a religious iron fist, all the rules of the Bible. As they see them, they enforce and enact as law. it's so strict. This gets really dark. As they begin to try to govern the people with religious law, things like the Salem witch trials happen, where people are accused of witchcraft and, and, people are in involved in this superstitious beliefs that they can get involved in the civic system and people are put to death and hump. it's a dark period. Also. They're not very popular. The religious laws of the Puritans are so strict and so ruthless that the Puritans and their leadership eventually fall out of favor. But while this is happening in Europe, a new era is beginning the age of enlightenment.

06:21 So in the age of enlightenment over in Europe, we have guys that look like this, some great hairstyles going on. I just want to point out some of these, but we don't have time. So we're going to keep moving. But, thinkers and scientists like Pascall and Newton Galileo, later Voltaire John Locke, many others are quickly replacing medieval thought of the dark ages. the superstitions with things like gravity, electricity, reason, scientific method, they are bringing the world out of the dark ages with thought and science. And as they do this, they don't find a lot of fans within the church leadership in Europe. And here's the thing that many times new discoveries, new information and truth can be a threat, not to God, but to powerful religious leaders. And so what happens is many of these thinkers and these enlightenment thinkers, especially the earlier group like Galileo and Newton fall out of favor with the church because the church is afraid of losing the control that it has over the people and what we find by the later stages of the enlightenment as these enlightenment thinkers gain fans and these fans that some of the biggest fans are guys with names like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison.

07:49 What we find is that these men are not atheistic. Some are, but not all of them. Many of them actually are looking to science and looking to reason and looking to the natural world to find the handiwork of God at play. And so I would say this, the truth is no threat to a living God emphasis on living, right? If God is just a tradition of powerful religious people, the new information and truth is going to threaten those power structures. But if God is alive and if God is true, the know truth can threaten him. And so the age of enlightenment doesn't bring us to a place where people abandoned following Jesus. It brings us to a place where people start abandoning, following and being controlled by a superstitious medieval way of thinking. And I thought of this when I read about the age of enlightenment out of Psalms 19, where David writes the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

08:51 Day after day, they pour forth speech night after night, they reveal knowledge, centuries and millennia. Before the age of enlightenment, David is looking up to the heavens and saying, there is knowledge out there. And of course, science, wasn't a big thing in David's day, but he was speaking prophetically that everything around us actually reveals the handiwork of the fingerprints of the creator. And so we go back to the colonies. Now, the age of enlightenment is happening in Europe. Many of our founders are caught up in this way of thinking these men that, that were enlightenment thinkers themselves, like Jefferson would be listed among the enlightenment thinkers eventually. But back in the colonies, the Puritan rule still deeply unpopular. And towards the end of the reign of the Puritans comes the revivalists. These are men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, these evangelistic preachers who go from town to town many times preaching out in fields.

09:48 And thousands of people come to Christ in a new expression of worship. Instead of this compulsory, forced worship where there's no other option and no other choice. And you either get in line or you get punished. They express a new way where we choose to come and worship a living God and their fire and brimstone preachers, no doubt about it, a product of their age. They talk a lot about hell and a lot about the punishment of God. And yet the holy spirit works through their message and a revival spreads across the colonies in what we call the first great awakening. And so we have to understand that those two things are happening, the age of enlightenment and the revivalists. And it's this combination of these two things. I think I have a picture here of, I think this is who would this be Galileo with his telescope, right?

10:39 So the age of enlightenment, and then that's how we had the revivalist. And right in the middle are the founding fathers of the United States who are in both worlds. They live among this revival that's happening in the colonies. And they also are part of the age of enlightenment. And so when they sit down to write the declaration of independence, the constitution, the bill of rights, it's this background that they write this Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This is really, really important to the founding fathers because they've seen what goes wrong when the church and the state are one, they've seen the kind of corruption that comes out when power unchecked is merged with religion. And this is what James Madison said about it. This is why it's bad for the state. He said, the purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores.

11:38 The ceaseless strife that is soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries bad for the state creates unnecessary wars. We don't want to go there in this new world, this new nation, we're going to have a separation between church and state, because it's good for the state. Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island. He was also an Anglican minister. and then eventually got kicked out by the Puritans of the Anglican church and founded co-founded the Baptist church in America. So if you know any Baptists, they can thank Mr. Williams for that. But here's what William said about the idea of the merging of church and state and what that does to our worship. He said, forced worship stinks in God's nostrils. I like that visceral, Roger Williams believes so strongly that the church needed to stay separate from the powers of government. Why? Because government power corrupts the church.

12:36 And if you've been with us the last few weeks, you've seen this over and over again from Constantine on every time that the church becomes one with the government, we get problems in the church, corruption seeps, and the holy Roman empire was not good for the church. Why? Because power corrupts, faith. And I would say it this way, that the merging of church and state is actually bad for both. It's bad for both. this idea of forced worship. You know, I've, I've, I've officiated enough weddings, as I'm thinking back, and I've never stood on a stage like this during a wedding. And, and as the vows are being read, I've never heard anyone say, I love you so much because there's literally no other option.

13:26 I will love you to my dying day because I can't find any one else, not very romantic, right? And I would say this about our faith. I believe this, as I looked through the gospel that Jesus never intended our faith to be like an arranged marriage. He never intended it to be enforced by the rule of law on pain of death. That the faith that we enter into was always intended to be a choice because in choice there's relationship and choice there's love. And so, as we think about this idea of keeping the church and state separate for the sake of keeping corruption out of the church, we have to understand that that Thomas Jefferson is not the first one to think of this. Thomas Jefferson is not the first one or James Madison to be aware of the danger when power comes into play with our faith.

14:18 And I want to take us actually, to John chapter six, we're going to look at this in the gospels John's after six today. And, I want to look at this story of Jesus when he feeds the 5,000. So Jesus has been teaching and doing miracles on a small scale. for some time his reputation has, has increased and increased, but all of his miracles up to this point have been kind of one-offs where he'll heal a single person. this represents when Jesus feeds 5,000 people from a small lunch of some loves and some fish, it represents the first time where Jesus does a miracle for the masses. And in Jesus' day, food is hard to come by. Okay. people are hungry. He is ministering and preaching among a rural peasant class. And so when he sits with them in the, in the wilderness and he begins to break bread and it feeds everybody, they're really, really excited because here's a teacher, possibly a Messiah who is not just giving us lectures to fill our days, but he's filling our mouths with bread.

15:26 This is really exciting to them because they're thinking, man, we've got this charismatic leader and we have unlimited free lunch. It doesn't give in this. And so they are so excited about this prospect that Jesus might be the one who could not only meet their spiritual needs, but meet their physical needs that they surround him. And in John chapter six, verse 15, they surround him. And what do they want to do? They want to make him their king. They want to put them into a place of political power because the thing is, this is great. We've got our guy. We can install him as king. He can not only be a king who leads us spiritually, but politically against Rome and unlimited free lunch, what could be better? And so Jesus is there among them and he senses and he gets the sense, like they are going to force me into a position of political power.

16:21 And so in John chapter six, verse 15, it says this when Jesus saw that they were ready to force them to be their king, what did he do? He slipped away into the Hills by himself. I can't imagine a leader today with such popularity. Literally as pastor Dave told me, literally having people eat out of the Palm of his hand. And when they gather around him and say, you are our guy, he slips away. It's interesting. He actually goes up into the Hills. And by the end of this story, he actually walks across a lake to get away from the people, literally walking on the water to avoid these people that are trying to make him king. It's so clear, crystal, clear to Jesus that the way the kingdom of God would come and the way that his mission would play out was not going to happen because of political power or government means it just wasn't going to happen. There was something deeper going on with what Jesus came to do. So Jesus refuses to be their political leader. He multiplies the bread, the one-time, but in verse 34, we see he refuses to do it on command.

17:41 And when he tells the people, what he is offering is actually himself. He goes from their hero to a big disappointment. And look what happens in verse 66. It says this after this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him, see a teacher who feeds the people and who's willing to become king. That kind of checks all the boxes, but at Messiah who comes not to give us free lunch every day, but to do something different and to offer himself and to walk towards the cross, that's not what we signed up for. And I have to think that sometimes what we project onto Jesus is our ideals for what will get us into a place of influence, power, and control and what we will find as we follow Jesus. If we are truly disciples of Jesus, as we follow him, there will be a point where we get close enough to him to realize that he's actually not going to check all the boxes that we think he should in order to put ourselves into a place of power.

18:53 And when that happens, will we continue to follow him? Or like many will we walk away? You know, I have this, this idea, this thought when I read that, that as soon as they tried to make him king, that Jesus slipped away, that there are moments when churches try to make Jesus into a political force. And I wonder if it's that moment that Jesus slips away from our midst, that when we come to Jesus with expectations of things that Jesus had never come to do, that we might lose his presence among us. And so going back to these founding fathers, I think it was actually a stroke of brilliance by the holy spirit that guys like Jefferson and Madison, and said, you know what? We should keep these things separate political power, nothing wrong with it necessarily, but it does not belong merged with the presence of Jesus and the faith that we have in the cross.

19:54 So this idea of, of power and faith, as we've seen it, it weaves its way all the way through because humanity weaves its way all the way through the history of the church. I love what, this guy, Andy Squire's, he's a, he's a songwriter. And he wrote this. He said, Christ is hard to follow because we desire, pleasure and power, and he's not offering us any, what he offers is himself. And for many of us, that is the greatest disappointment of all the greatest disappointment of all. Maybe that when we come to Jesus, looking for free lunch, what he says is, come take up your cross and follow me for anyone who tries to keep his life will lose. But anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. And so when we, when we understand what discipleship really is, what following Jesus really is, it changes our approach, not only to how we interact with our faith, but how we interact with the world around us.

21:01 And this is what we're going to see as we continue looking through the early years of the nation. in the old Testament, God had a, a nation. It was the nation of Israel all the way through after the, the covenant is made with Abraham. And then another covenant is made with Moses. The agreement is that God will be the God of the nation of Israel. God has a nation. When Jesus shows up on the scene, he sits with his disciples and in his teaching, he says, listen, I'm in instituting a new covenant, a covenant in my blood. And it's at that moment when Jesus institutes and brings about a new covenant, that he could have started a new nation, Jesus instituted a new covenant on the cross. And if he wanted a new nation, he could have started one instead of a nation, Jesus started a church instead of a nation.

21:55 Jesus started a church and he asked those who are hungry and thirsty to come to him, to lay down your life, to take up your cross and to follow. And this is the most difficult of all things is when we realize what it takes to participate in this new covenant, by his blood is to follow him in self-sacrifice there's this moment when the Pharisees are surrounding Jesus. And they're asking him about the, you know, the, the topic of, of his sermons, the idea of the kingdom of God coming to earth, and they're looking for it, right? They're wondering like, what, what, what do you see Jesus? Is, is it here? Is it there? Is it, is it in the temple? Is it the nation of Israel? Is it some other force is going to come and conquer Rome? Where is the kingdom of God point to it?

22:47 And this is what Jesus said. He said, the kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, look, here it is. Or there for behold, the kingdom of God is where in the midst of you, the kingdom of God is not this external force. That's going to come in and take over. It's not going to, it's not going to run Rome out. The kingdom of God is going to emerge from inside of us by the holy spirit, the kingdom of God is going to be reveal itself, not there or there or there, but among you. And we'd find that shortly after this, this gospel of Jesus and this kingdom of God would be opened up not only to the Jews in Jerusalem, but to the ends of the earth at every tribe and tongue and nation would be invited in to the kingdom of God. That is among us.

23:39 And so here's the, the elephant in the room, right? Is that the church is a representation of the kingdom of God. What happens when that church no longer represents the kingdom? What happens when we find that the church is not, functioning in a way that is following Jesus in ways of self sacrifice? What happens when the church no longer holds up our side of the bargain when it comes to the covenant that Jesus made on the cross? You know, I've, I've looked through the, this period of history, as we head towards the civil war. and what many have called the original sin of the nation, which is slavery. it, isn't in decline as churches grow, as churches are established and they begin to grow and, and the revivals sweep through the country, churches grow, but so does the institution of slavery.

24:47 And it makes you question, why, why could this great evil of slavery grow and not decline when churches are growing? Well, it can get pretty heavy and depressing to think about that. And I'd rather not think about that, but it's important that we look at the ways that the church doesn't always get things, right? Because if we don't, we'll understand, we know this from history that we'll just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. And so as we look at the, the Dawn of the 19th century, 18 hundreds, all the way through the civil war, what we find is that there are those courageous people inside and outside of the church who begin to stand up for the gospel in meaningful ways. Even when the church at large is unable to get the job done.

25:44 And when something like slavery that is so evil, but it becomes the status quo. It is much easier not to rock the boat. It's much easier to leave things alone, but there was a, over in England, there was a evangelical Christian, a member of the house of commons. His name was William Wilberforce. And, he goes to bat to ban the slave trade in Britain. And by 1807 slavery, is banned in Britain. And the international slave trade is effectively shut down. It would take another 50 years for that to happen in the American south. And it's, during those 50 years that an escaped slave and Methodist preacher named Frederick Douglas rises to natural national prominence and takes the church to task for its indifference of the evils of slavery. He ended up, becoming a great friend to president Abraham Lincoln. He sat with him many times and debated, the importance of emancipation for slaves.

26:48 Now, not later, not teared out, not, not subtly, not in a way that would, that would appease different, parties to try to keep the union together. No, the evil of slavery was so great. Frederick Douglas would tell Lincoln emancipation has to be complete, and it has to be now on the day of Lincoln's second inaugural Frederick Douglas stood with Abraham Lincoln in the east room of the white house. And Lincoln told Frederick Douglas. He said, Douglas, there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours. And this is what he wrote to the church. Frederick Douglas said I'd well, mostly upon the religious aspects, because I believe that it is the religious people who are to be relied upon in this anti-slavery movement. Do not misunderstand my railing, do not classmate with those who despise religion. I love the religion of Christianity, which comes from above, which is a pure peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated full of good fruits.

27:46 And without hypocrisy, I love that religion, which sends its voters to bind up the wounds of those who have fallen among thieves by all the love. I bear such a Christianity is this. I hate that of the priest and the Levi that goes up to Jerusalem to worship and leaves the bruise and wounded to die. I despise that religion, which can carry Bibles to the Heath and on the other side of the globe and withhold them from the Heath and on this side, which can talk about human rights, yonder and traffic and human flesh here. I love that which makes us voters do to others as they, would that others should do to them. I hope to see a revival of it. Thank God it is revived. My goodness. What I love about not just this, but all the writings and the words of Frederick Douglas is that he was a prophetic voice to power, not to say, just burn the whole thing down, not just a, you know, churches are bad, let's just close the doors and do something better.

28:48 But from within the church, as a, as a Methodist minister of the gospel, he stood and he sat in the white house with president Abraham Lincoln. He spoke truth to power that it wasn't outside of the church, that good things should flow just because mistakes had happened and the church couldn't get the job done. And, and, and many times the church would turn a blind eye to slavery. Frederick Douglas, didn't say, you know what to hell with all of you, quite literally, no. He said, listen, we have to realize that is within the church and all its influence in all its power that the, into slavery will happen. And what Frederick Douglas is, is pleading for with Abraham Lincoln and the church is that those who have power would extend it in meaningful ways to those who have none. And so this is where I find the beauty of the church in early America.

29:42 And I think the church today is that for those who have power, we have a job to do to extend that power, to those with no power and to those with no power, like an escaped slave, like Frederick Douglas, the courage to stand up the courage to speak truth, to power in prophetic ways. And if those of us with influence and power, and I'm aware, you know, standing on a stage like this and the influence I have, that I have a responsibility with great humility to listen to the voice of those who don't have as much power or influence as I do so that what so that we can see the kingdom of God happen on earth as it is in heaven.

30:31 I want to read one more quote from an author named Dominick Gilliard. He said, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ still good when it costs me everything, the gospel is not merely a get out of hell free card. It is a divine invitation to participation to serve as co-laborers with Christ in restoring all things which includes not only broken people, but systems, structures and communities that have been perverted by sin to God. You know, there's a beautiful thing. When the church rises up and says, we're going to be about the mission of Christ on the earth, not to arrange political systems to our liking, not to consolidate power, not to become the world's greatest voting block that you've ever seen, but instead to take whatever power we have and to extend it to the least of these like Jesus did, you know, in Philippians chapter two, Paul encouraged us that we should have the same mindset as that of Christ Jesus, who, although he was in the very nature, God didn't consider that equality with God, something to grasp onto.

31:34 Instead he made himself nothing taking on the very form of a servant and being found in the likeness of man. He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. And so we are invited into this same kind of cruciform life that a Jesus who had all the power and yet walked willingly to the cross in the greatest act of self-sacrifice would invite his disciples to do the same thing, that where we have power and influence as, as citizens in, in the mightiest nation, on the face of the planet that we would, as the church, realize that the invitation of Christ is to take up our cross, to lay down our lives and to follow him.

32:24 We saying, and we're going to close here. We sang today, the song amazing grace. And if you know the story of, of how that was written, John Newton was a slave trader, who had a radical conversion experience. And he gave up a trading in the slave trade and he became an Anglican minister and he sat down and he wrote those beautiful words, amazing grace, how sweet, the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I'm found was blind. But now I see, and he would become the pastor and mentor to a young William Wilberforce, who, as I said, would, would push through legislation in the house of parliament to ban international slave trade. You see when God gets a hold of our heart, we, we might be surprised at what work he will do through us to bring reconciliation and rights to wrongs. And so I want to close today out. I know this can feel kind of heavy. Obviously these topics are heavy. but close out with this realization is the grace of God on his church that is still at work, still stirring us up, still bringing up, those streams of his presence that will continue to push us forward into looking more like Jesus.

33:52 And as we receive his grace today, we ask this question, Jesus, how can I lay my life down? How can I follow you? How can I be a disciple of Jesus? So Jesus, a day, we receive your grace on our lives. We thank you for the ways that throughout the centuries, you've both preserved your church and you've, you've created beauty in the middle of, of difficulty and struggle and tension and mistakes. And in that, in those places, your presence has brought us through. We thank you for the great grace that's on your church today in this nation, we pray that it would continue to grow as we willingly follow you.