- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2003

The following are excerpts from a sermon yesterday by the Rev. Dean Louis Moe at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in the District.

On this day, this Labor Day weekend in 2003, it is fitting that all of our texts speak of law, of daily life, of our labor as Christians.

Deuteronomy is a fine keynote: Moses speaks to Israel. Moses has reminded them (Deuteronomy 1-3) of all the splendid things God has done for them in their history and life. Then Moses reminds them in the great covenant between God and Israel of their side of the bargain: They must heed the statutes and ordinances the Lord has given them. They are to rejoice in the law and do it to the point that they as a nation can boast to all other nations that Israel is far superior in its quality of life, of goodness, of law under God.

A nation boasting of the superior quality of its law and life? What a contrast to some of our boasting, I fear. These past months, in the context of the debate about war in Iraq and many other circumstances, patriotic citizens and commentators alike boast of the U.S.A. being the world’s greatest power, the world’s greatest democracy, the world’s richest nation. We have the biggest watermelon in the world. We have the best universities. We have the best ice cream.

What does it mean for a people to boast of such things from the profound to the most trivial while Moses says a nation is to boast of the splendor of law and statutes?

Our boasting, of course, occurs now, as always, in a historical, specific context:

• We “celebrate” the dignity of labor on this Labor Day weekend, yet experience the highest unemployment rate since the Depression.

• We celebrate the 40th anniversary of “I Have A Dream” and the March on Washington (in which some of us participated), but now have the worst treatment of immigrants and refugees by our government in many years, as we know firsthand here at Grace with all our refugees.

• We celebrate progress in antiterrorism and security while individual freedoms are threatened and an unprecedented blackout reveals not only the soft underbelly of our great vulnerability, but also our paralysis dealing with energy issues.

• We celebrate the greatest democracy in the world while all of us who live here, live in the only capital in the entire world whose citizens have no direct representation in Congress.

• We celebrate the pursuit of happiness while forgetting a social contract in our origins, while “doing our thing” and, as a new study shows, finding anything but happiness in riches, in getting more.

• We celebrate the opening of schools and the goals of education, while morality and citizenship no longer can be taught along with Christmas carols, and we eliminate a copy of the Ten Commandments from the lobby of a courthouse of all things, the same laws revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

We, of course, live, thank God, in a unique nation with its separation of church and state. We live, one nation “under God.” But this gets reduced to American Civil Liberties Union trying to forbid school uniforms as an imposition on freedom and every expression of any religion — school prayers (although allowed in the Congress and Supreme Court), the tradition and history of religion in curricula, and display of the Ten Commandments — in our public and civic life, while ignoring major issues of freedom and law facing us today.

Moses boasts: “What other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law?”

James says: “Rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness. … Those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act — they will be blessed in their doing.”

No doubt, others may call us also demagogues, religious bigots, hypocrites, ignoring the rights of agnostics, atheists and various religionists. Thus, even if one person cannot agree to a nation on this Labor Day weekend living “under God” (“In God, We Trust”?) every expression of universal religious and human law (the Ten Commandments) and every expression of humble accountability to a greater power must be limited. In this context, let us understand that government of the people, by the people and for the people includes a support for nurturing our trust in God.

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