We are celebrating a national holiday this weekend. Monday is Labor Day. Labor Day is an American federal holiday that we always observe on the first Monday in September. This holiday celebrates the economic and social contributions of the American workers.
All three of our readings for this weekend remind us of the behavior that our Heavenly Father expects from us, His children. These readings also remind us of the kind of behavior that our Father finds unacceptable. This year just happens to be an election year. So in light of the topic presented to us in our readings, in light of our national holiday, and in light of our upcoming election, it would appear appropriate that we stop and consider what God expects of us as individuals and as a people. What is our responsibility as a child of God? What is our responsibility as a citizen of these United States? And how can we best honor those who have contributed so much to this great nation.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus says that, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within, and only that, are what defile.” (7:15) Jesus then lists the evils that we humans generate from within. Many of the items listed by Jesus are obviously addressed to the individual, but some of those evils could easily be applied to a society or a culture. For example, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, blasphemy, arrogance and folly could all be applied to a people as well as the individual. And we could discuss how each of these manifests itself within a society. But I will pick just one. Take the word licentiousness for example. Webster defines the word as meaning a total disregard for accepted rules and standards, or as morally unrestrained behavior.
Our First Amendment to the Constitution states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” That, by definition, is Liberty. We Americans hold that word Liberty as being almost sacred, and rightly so, for it defines the principles upon which our nation was founded.
According to author Lance Richardson, “The word, Liberty, is a most important gift from God. God has given each of us the agency to choose what we want in life. He will not force His will upon us. He allows us the freedom to choose, whether good or bad. Indeed, it is one of the greatest gifts we will ever receive from God. The Declaration of Independence explains that there are God-given inalienable rights granted to man by God. This is truth. And the greatest of these is liberty, for it is true Godly freedom. Very few kingdoms of the world have ever experienced such freedom. Very few have known true liberty.” Many, throughout history, have given their all to promote and protect the sovereignty, peace and freedom of these United States.
But there is a fine line that separates liberty from licentiousness, and our founding fathers were aware of that line. Fisher Ames, for example, who was the Founding Father and framer of that First Amendment is quoted as saying, “The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty.” George Washington, our first American President, said, “Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.”
As a faith filled citizen and as a child of God, each of us has a responsibility to make sure that we as a people do not enact rules and regulations that would permit our society to overstep the line that separates liberty from licentiousness under the guise of political correctness. We are bound to protect the fundamental Judeo-Christian ideals upon which our nation was founded; thereby honoring the contributions of the many who have labored so hard to make this country great.
All three of today’s readings remind us of the behavior that God expects from us, His children. And we, as children of God, have a responsibility to not only be faithful to the will of our Heavenly Father, but also to insure that we as a people remain faithful to these same principles and ideals.
In Deuteronomy (4:1-2, 6-8), for example, we find what is essentially Moses’ last will and testament to the people of Israel; in it, he passes on to them the totality of the covenant that God wishes to have with His people. Moses reminds them that they must neither add to nor subtract from this covenant, but rather to live this covenant as an essential part of who they are as a people of God.
In our second reading, James (1:17-18, 21b-22, 27)reminds us that our God is unchangeable. The relationship that God wishes to have with His children has not been altered and it has not changed. James reminds us of the importance of our maintaining our faith, trust and confidence in God. But he warns us that faith alone is not enough. Our faith must manifest itself through our deeds. James makes it clear that faith without works is dead.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus again reminds us of the behavior that the Father expects from His children. But we need to pay close attention to what He says to the Pharisees. When Jesus speaks out harshly to anyone, we should listen. In this Gospel passage (7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus strongly chastises the Pharisees for enacting and enforcing laws and regulations that are contrary to, or lack the integrity and heart of, His Father’s will. He said, “You disregard God’s commandments but cling to human tradition” (7:8). We, as individuals, need to be diligent in our efforts to remain faithful to the behavior that our Heavenly Father expects of us His children. And we, as a people, have a serious responsibility to make sure that we do not enact and enforce laws and regulations that are contrary to our Father’s will in our attempt to remain politically correct.
We are truly blessed by God for allowing us to live in a land of such freedom and liberty. Many have labored long and have contributed much to preserve and protect our liberty. But our founding fathers warned us of the fine line that separates liberty from licentiousness. We therefore have been given a great responsibility. As individuals we must remain faithful to the will of our Heavenly Father. And as a people we must do our very best to insure that our elected officials remain faithful to preserving and protecting God’s precious gift of liberty by remaining faithful to the principles upon which this nation was founded.