Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Power of Story (Galatians 1:6-24) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I don’t know why but everyone loves a good story.   I believe there is a universal human need for stories.   Stories that enchant us, that capture our imagination, that help us make sense of our lives and our world.  I remember reading children’s stories and telling stories to our sons when they were little.  I could use it to get them to behave.  I would say, “All right no story tonight” and they would say, “OK, we’ll be good, we’ll go to bed, please tell us a story.”

Stories of course stretch back to time immemorial.   The Greeks, the Romans, the Jews and the Persians were renowned storytellers.   Every village and town had their own resident storyteller.  Storytellers often traveled from town to town. 

One such collection of stories is the legendary Arabian Nights or One Thousand and One Nights from Islam’s golden age.  The story goes that the King of Persia would sleep with a virgin each night and have her executed the next day.  Then he met Scheherazade. The night passed by, and Scheherazade told the king a mesmerizing tale, but stopped in the middle of the story. The King asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was not time, as dawn was breaking.  So, the King spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night.  The next night, Scheherazade finished the story, and then began a second enchanting tale which she again stopped halfway through, at dawn.   The King again spared her life for one day to finish the second story.

At the end of one thousand and one nights, Scheherazade informs the King that she has no more tales to tell him.  Fortunately, during these nights the King had fallen in love with Scheherazade.  She had made him wiser and kinder through her tales.  He spared her life, married her and she became the Queen of Persia. 

Our lives are stories aren’t they?  Your life is a story and my life is a story.  Our lives are rich stories which tell of sadness and joy, solemnity and humor, successes and failures, challenges and adventures, and defeats and triumphs.  Our lives are stories being told every day. 

Have you heard of Storycorps?  Storycorps is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate the lives of everyday Americans by inviting them to record their stories.  The Storycorps sound booth travels from city to city and sets up shop.  People are invited to bring one person with them whose story they want told, and the two of them sit in a sound booth for 40 minutes and talk. When they’re done, they get a CD with their story on it, and another copy is sent on to be archived in the Library of Congress. You can hear their stories weekly on NPR. 

Like the story of a young mother running through the hills from Mexico to the US in socks, so as not to make any noise, in order to escape drug violence and find a better life for her children.  And the story of a Vietnam Vet, whose high school sweetheart, married someone else when he went off to war.  He never stopped loving her, and never married, until he found her 40 years later, single again, and made her his wife. 

So far over 40,000 Americans have had their stories told and preserved.  The founder of Storycorps, Dave Isay, says his mission is for people to know that their stories matter and won’t be forgotten.  Let’s say the Storycorps trailer rolled into our church parking lot today.  What story would you tell?  Are you living a good story?

The Bible is a really a collection of inspired stories - stories about God, people, events, and nations.   But what makes the Bible unique is that these stories coalesce into one story - The Greatest Story Ever Told, God’s decision to send His Son Jesus Christ to save fallen humanity, whom God created in His image, and to restore this broken world to its original splendor.   

That story is the Gospel.  The English word Gospel is translated from the Anglo-Saxon word, god-spell or God-story.  The Gospel is God’s story, the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and final coming in glory for the salvation of the world.   In the Bible we meet people like us, imperfect, flawed and searching.  Dave Isay is confirming what the Bible tells us—that every person’s story matters, because God has created each of us in His image and out of His amazing love, sent His Son to forgive us and restore our fellowship with God, to heal our brokenness and make us whole, and to restore all of creation to its original grandeur.

Our story from Galatians focuses on the Apostle Paul.  His Jewish name was Saul.   He had received rabbinic training in the Jewish law and traditions in the city of Tarsus under the great Rabbi Gamaliel.   He was a summa cum laude, a scholar, who advanced in Judaism beyond many of his age.  He was bursting with zeal for the traditions of Judaism.  He violently persecuted the church.  He inspired fear in the hearts of the early Christians.  He was authorized and commissioned by the Jewish high court in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, to go out and arrest and imprison men and women who were called “Followers of the Way,” who were so named because of Jesus’ saying “I am the Way.”  Saul’s intent was to snuff out this heretical Jewish cult.  Saul himself watched as the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death.

But God had other plans for Saul.  On the road to Damascus to arrest more followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem, God stopped him in his tracks.  Ultimately Saul became Paul, a passionate, dedicated and brilliant theologian and Christian missionary to the Gentiles.  

Paul testifies here that there is one gospel, not different gospels, but one, the gospel of Christ, which he received not from human origin, but through a revelation of Jesus at the time of his dramatic conversion on the road.  He writes: “God through His grace, set me apart and revealed His Son to me.”  Then we learn what happened after his conversion.  Paul traveled to Arabia, then later on returned to Damascus, and after spending three years there, he went to Jerusalem.  Some time later he traveled to Syria and Cilicia.  What did Paul do during those years after his conversion?  We don’t know. 

I believe God was preparing him during those three years for his future calling as a teacher and preacher of the gospel and missionary, whose mission was to plant churches in Europe and Asia.  He was undoubtedly studying and training for his calling as a missionary of the Gospel to the Gentiles.  Perhaps Paul was doing some networking in anticipation of his coming vocation.   By God’s grace, the story of Jesus changed Paul forever.   That is the power of the gospel.

The astounding truth is that God’s Story meets our story through faith, and our lives are never the same, it changes everything.   Conversion occurs when God’s story intersects with our story and his Spirit begins working in and through our lives.

God’s story intersects your story and mine at 4 points.  At the Incarnation, where God in Jesus becomes a human being, like you and me; at the Crucifixion, where God dies and atones for our sins on the cross; at the Resurrection, where God overcomes sin and death and opens up the assurance of life after death for believers, and Pentecost, where God sends His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and to transform us and empower us and lead us and guide us for the rest of our lives.

God sent Jesus into the world to reveal himself, to make God known. Jesus is God’s revelation to humanity.  Second, God determined to restore the nation of Israel, to inaugurate the kingdom of God and to reconcile the world to himself.

But perhaps we could answer that in a more personal way. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest.”   Jesus demonstrates God’s love to us.  Jesus came to bring us new life, a full life, a meaningful life, a hope-filled life, a joy-filled life, a righteous life and a committed life and to assure us of a future life in heaven.

The glory of the gospel story is that God sent Jesus to overcome the power of sin, everything wrong with the human race and this fallen world and the power of death.  The crucifixion and the celebration of the resurrection at Easter testify that Jesus overcame the power of sin and death.

The power of God’s story.  We read in the letter of Romans 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith.”   

I close with this story.  Recently, I was speaking with a Black Presbyterian Minister who used to pastor one of our churches here in San Diego years ago, before he moved out of state to accept a call to another church.   After being in L.A. for a church function, he had come down to San Diego for a visit.  He told me that during those years in San Diego, he spent much of his time working in the community with troubled teens through sports and other activities at his church.  He wanted to reach these teenagers for the gospel and sports are a good technique. 

One day, a distraught mother told him that her teenage daughter was missing.  She had of course filed a missing person’s report with the police.    She had been asking around the neighborhood and learned that it was possible that her daughter had been taken for human trafficking.  She had received a tip about a house where her daughter might have been taken. 

This pastor called another pastor and the two of them went to the house.  They were ordered to go away.  The pastors explained why they had come and that they would not leave.  They were allowed to enter the house.  At some point they saw the girl and a couple of other girls.  One of the guys put a gun to this pastor’s head and said to leave or they would kill them and to not tell anyone if they valued their lives.

This pastor said he just reacted.  He threw his arms around the young man holding the gun, started praying, told the young man God loved him, that what he was doing was wrong, and that they would not leave no matter what.   Then, something shocking happened.  The young man started to cry.  He motioned that they could leave and that they could take the girls with them.  How did it end?  This pastor had just come from an ordination service for this same young man, who after doing time, had become a Christian, gone to seminary, and had been called to pastor a church in Los Angeles.

The power of story.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”  Amen!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Traveling to a Distant Country (Luke 15:11-24) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Former Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Bob Patterson described his pitch to Cincinnati Reds' Barry Larkin, who hit it for a game-winning home run, in this way: "It was a cross between a screwball and a change-up. It was a screw-up."

Celebrity chef and former Food Network television star Paula Deen is now the tarnished chef.  She was fired from the Food Network for admitting to using racial slurs years ago.  In the eyes of some Americans, Paula Deen's use of racial slurs is unforgivable.  But in the eyes of an African-American group known as Black People for Paula, the lady should be forgiven.

The members have even organized a rally set for next month outside the "Good Morning America" studio in New York in hopes of making it on air.  According to a screed on the coalition's website, "The Black community has forgiven Paula, it's time for us all to open our hearts and give this good woman a second chance."   What do you think?

Yes, there are moments, there are days, there are times, when we are not at our best.  Do you know what I’m talking about?   Times when our best is not enough, times of personal failure, of not fulfilling our honest intentions or meeting our expectations, of disappointing ourselves or others, of regrets, of mistakes that hurt others, of shame and embarrassment, of guilt over something we did or forgot to do, of feelings of hopelessness and helplessness when we can’t seem to get control over a bad attitude or bad behavior. 

Yes, we all mess up at times.  Theologically, it is an expression of human sinfulness.  And sometimes we carry the heavy burden of guilt or regret or shame like an albatross around our neck.  Often forgiving yourself is more difficult, than forgiving others.  Why is that? 

Have you ever thought - what was I thinking?  “If only I could turn back the clock; if only I had asked for help; if only I had not spent so much money; if only I had thought it through; if only I had been there for my friend; if only I had told the truth; if only I hadn’t been so desperate; if only I had communicated better with my children; if only I had been there for my family or worked harder at my marriage.”  Millions of Americans participate in support and recovery groups to deal with just such issues.

We live in a culture which worships success and shuns failure.  Americans are generally forgiving if you tell the truth and come clean and don’t lie or try to cover up the truth.  We hear the word redemption; the chance to make amends, to make something right frequently through the media today.  Whether it’s relating to people in sports or politics or acting or music, we hear: “Now he or she has a chance for redemption.”  

We strive to hide or deny our failures and regrets.  Memories of personal failures are some of the hardest things to deal with in life.  If we allow them too, they can consume our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.  Dwelling on them can invade our nights with sleeplessness and adversely affect our health.  At some time in our lives we all need a second chance. 

Which takes us to our story from the Gospel of Luke.   We have nicknamed him the Prodigal Son, but Jesus in telling this parable, never called him that.  Jesus just referred to him as the Younger Son.  So who gets in trouble most I wonder, the first born or the second born?  As a first born son I of course know the answer to that question.

This young man takes an advance on his inheritance, says – “See Ya,” and sets out to travel the world.  He traveled to a distant country.  That was his downfall.  He traveled away from his family’s supervision and traditions and follows his own desires and impulses.  His goals were wild living or loose living the scripture tells us. 

Now, alone, broke and hungry, he comes to his senses and hires himself out to work with pigs; that is pretty low for a Jew.  He knew he had brought shame upon the family name.  He believed that his place and future in the family was over.  That’s when he repents:  “I will go to my father and say:  Father I have sinned against heaven and you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son, treat me like one of your hired hands.”     Yes, in one form or another, we have all traveled to a distant country.

What lessons can we discern from this story?  First, remember that everyone fails!  You do, I do.  You are not perfect and neither am I.  You and I are human beings; to err is human.  One of the things that unites human beings is failure.  Nothing links us like our shortcomings and foibles and imperfections, no matter who we are. 

One of the persons I have always admired is evangelist Rev. Billy Graham.  But even Billy, whose has preached the gospel to more people than anyone in history, knew what it meant to fail.  The story is that in 1950 he arranged an audience with President Harry Truman.  President Truman gave him 20 minutes.  Billy showed up at the White House on July 14 wearing a pistachio-green suit, red socks, a hand-painted tie and white–buck shoes.  Graham met with Truman in the Oval Office.  As his time came to an end, he asked the President if he could pray.  Truman said Yes, and Billy Graham prayed for an additional five minutes.

As Graham left the Oval Office, reporters asked him all the details of the meeting and Graham told them everything - everything he said and everything Truman said.  Then Billy and his evangelistic team re-enacted the Oval office prayer on the White House lawn, while photographers snapped pictures.
President Truman was annoyed, to say the least.  He was annoyed at Graham’s attire; he was annoyed at Graham’s questions.  He was annoyed that Graham overstayed his allotted time; he was annoyed that Graham had quoted the president without White House authorization.  He was annoyed that this evangelist had tried to use the entire event for publicity.  And Truman made it known that Rev. Graham would never be invited back.  Billy Graham soon realized that he had made a big mistake.  He later referred to the incident as the “Truman Fiasco.”  Graham realized he had the opportunity to influence spiritually, the most powerful man in the world, but instead of influencing him he had alienated him.  He had great opportunity and failed miserably. 

Second, the story reminds us that failure is not final.  It is not fatal.  God gave Billy a second chance.  Graham was able to rebuild trust with future political leaders and ultimately became a respected and sought after spiritual advisor to several future presidents.   It takes courage to admit your failings and humility to ask God to forgive you.  The Bible says: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
In the Bible, King David failed when he committed adultery with Bathsheba.  Paul before he became a missionary to the Gentiles was Saul, who persecuted the followers of Jesus known as “The Way.” The prophet Jonah failed when he ran away when God called him to go and preach repentance to the people of Nineveh.

These men also became some of the greatest leaders in Israel and the Church.   Like the Younger Son, they had regrets, they had to deal with guilt, they knew what it felt like to let themselves down, to let others down and to let God down. But you can also see from the success they had in life, that their failure did not get the best of them.   Neither did it thwart the purposes and plans God had for their lives.  That is something to always remember.   Your failures won’t stop God’s plans and purposes for you.  Whatever your problem may be today, it’s not as hopeless as it appears.  Maybe you believe your life can never be put back on track because of something you did in the past, but that’s not what God believes about you. 

We must never allow other people to define us by our decisions or circumstances.  Former first lady Barbara Bush's press secretary, Anna Perez said there was a time when she dreamed not of having a White House office, but simply of having a roof over her head.  When Perez was in the fifth grade she came home from school one day and found her mother, two brothers and two sisters sitting on the street.  They had been evicted.  She writes: "Mom had to split up the family."  "I lived with my fifth-grade teacher for a while. But no matter how bad things got, I remember what my mother kept telling us:  We are not defined by our circumstances.  We are defined by our ability to overcome our circumstances.”

Yes, we can change.  The sun’s temperature can’t be changed.  The pull of the moon on the oceans can’t be changed.  But we can change and be changed.  Your tomorrows do not have to be carbon copies of your yesterdays.   We are not stuck being the way we are today forever.  What do you want to change in your life? 

Third, remember, God forgives, forgets and restores.  God gives us second chances.  No one word describes the character and personality of God like the word Grace.  Grace reveals God’s heart at its core.   Even though the Younger Son rejected God, as represented by the father, God didn’t reject him.   The God we worship is merciful and forgiving.  

Grace means failure is written in pencil.  Grace means we can be forgiven.  Grace means we can start again.   Grace means that we can learn and change and grow from failures, regrets, and personal disappointments.  Yes, failure is neither final nor fatal.  We can choose to dwell on them, to wallow in them or choose, trusting in God’s help and the help of others, to overcome them.

Recall these promises of the Bible: “Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will not be angry forever.” “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” 

The heart of God is pictured in the father in our parable who saw his wayward son far in the distance, and filled with compassion, ran and put his arms around him and kissed him and threw a party for him with the words –“For my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.”

A final lesson of this story is that we need to learn to forgive ourselves.   Forgiving yourself is essential.  We have a tendency to hold ourselves more accountable than we do others, to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others.   Dwelling on regrets robs you of the energy you need to become the person God wants you to be and to be the person others want you to be. There is a difference between forgiving what you did and forgetting what you did.   Forgiving is learning to honestly accept what you did, in spite of remembering it. 

Like the younger son, repent before God and ask God to help you make needed changes in your life.   Ask for forgiveness from others that you hurt intentionally or unintentionally, strive to make amends.  Ask for God’s power and grace to help you find the capacity to forgive yourself.  Ask God to help you believe in yourself again, to restore your sense of value, worth and confidence.   Give yourself time, forgiveness takes time, it doesn’t happen instantaneously.  For until you are able to forgive yourself, you will never know, you will never experience the peace of God.

We cannot turn back the clock and undo those moments we deeply regret, but we can stand fast in our resolve to open our hearts to the Lord.  And by doing this, you will discover God’s forgiving power to help you let go of the past and experience spiritual renewal for today.

As someone said:  “Failure is written in pencil, God’s grace is written in permanent ink.  God can erase your failures and take them and make them into something good.”  God is ready to forgive and to help you get a fresh start.  What will you do with this opportunity?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Free in Christ (I Peter 2:13-17; Galatians 5:1-2; 13-14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I remember what a thrill it was, years ago, when our family took the ferry out to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty.  It was in August and it was hot.   I’m sure many of you have had the opportunity to see the Statue of Liberty.   This iconic symbol of national freedom reopened on this Fourth of July, eight months after the storm Sandy pounded Liberty Island.  The idea of freedom was of course at the core of the founding of America.

The right of privacy and freedom are central in the controversy about Edward Snowden who has outed stories about telephone and internet surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Administration, the NSA.  We hear that surveillance of Americans by electronic means is nothing new, that it’s been going on at least since 9-11.  Is this much ado about nothing?   

Some say – “I have nothing to hide, let them listen.”  Others say U.S. government spying on civilians has reached a dangerous level.  The rationale given is national security, to keep us safe, to prevent plots and attacks by Islamic terrorists.  And yet the surveilling of former CIA Director David Patraeus I felt was troubling.  Was it a violation of the 4th Amendment which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures?  It always comes down to that delicate balance between personal freedom and the public good, between individual liberty and national security, doesn’t it?  What do you think?

Historically, political, economic and religious freedom was a motivating force in the American Revolution, with cries for self-government and freedom of worship and fair representation.  Today the protection and preservation of our constitutional freedoms continues to drive us although the peope and the courts sometimes disagree when it comes to those 5 freedoms listed in the first amendment.    

Especially since 9-11 and the awareness of the world of global terrorism in which we live, the complicated debate between personal privacy and the government’s need to know grows more intense each day.   We treasure our freedom and yet we also desire security and safety for our selves and our children and grandchildren, so we have witnessed a gradual increase in surveillance in government buildings, businesses, churches, sports arenas, national monuments, airports, train stations, banks, schools and that trend will continue.        

This July 4, 2013, celebrates 237 years from that historic moment when the Continental Congress voted to approve and sign the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.   Ever since that momentous day we have celebrated Independence Day with fireworks, picnics and parades.   We Americans have built a nation based upon a covenant under God.   We believe that freedom is a God endowed and indispensable right.  We believe freedom is worth making the ultimate sacrifice for.  We are aware of regimes in history and today where people live in fear and oppression under dictators.  We praise God for our freedom as a nation and we thank the men and women, who have sacrificed their lives to ensure the liberty which we enjoy.   

Recall these famous words from the Declaration of Independence – “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, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”     True national freedom always has inner-tensions.  The drafters of our Constitution sought to strike a proper balance between a strong central government and one that protects particular freedoms and protected rights for states and individuals.    

In our morning scriptures we are likewise reminded that the reality of human freedom originates from God.  Galatians says:  “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”   You and I were created by God to live free lives in our relationships with God and one another.  Theologically, Christian freedom is a divine gift; it reflects God’s will for our freedom is grounded in the liberating work of God in Jesus Christ.    

The Bible is realistic about human freedom.  It says that human beings are not autonomous; we are never totally or fully free.   We are always subject to some lordship, always vulnerable to some yoke of slavery.  If not the lordship of God, then to some other influence or power.  

We think of some today who are slaves to their emotions, to their desires, to their impulses, to their fantasies.  We think of some who are addicted to drugs, to pornography or alcohol, or gambling or money or power or violence.  Can one become a slave to a particular ideology or dogma or philosophy?  The Bible says human beings are slaves to sin, that is, to self-centeredness, to self-worship, to idolatry, to rebellion against their creator.  Yes, we can become slaves to evil, to the evil one, to Satan.   The question is – to whom are you going to be in bondage?

But the good news is this - For freedom Christ has set us free.  Through faith in Christ, we can begin to experience the free lives which God intended for us.  Therefore, stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.   For one can slip back, back-slide as we used to call it into bondage to some other master.

What is freedom in Christ?  It is a paradox - Christian freedom is becoming a slave to Christ.  It is being a servant to God.  I Peter says:  “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.  Honor everyone.  Love the family of believers.”   We read in Galatians:  “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”  It is based on Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself.”   We read in I Corinthians:  “Though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win some of them.  To the Jews, I became as a Jew in order to win Jews.  To the Gentiles, I became as a Gentile in order to win Gentiles.  To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.” 

The 16th century Reformer Martin Luther paraphrased this truth in these words:  “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all and subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone.”  Is that a helpful perspective on Christian freedom?  Christian freedom is at the same time freedom from the controlling power of sin and Satan and freedom for service, for worship, for witnessing, for glorifying God and for loving others in obedience to the command of Christ.  We are only truly free when we are a slave to Christ.

Is the Christian understanding of freedom is radically different from a worldly understanding?  What do you think?  The scripture says we are only free when through the power of God’s love we are slaves to one another.   True freedom is always expressed in love and this freedom to live free lives, is made possible by the Spirit of God, who dwells with us and in us.  It is God’s Holy Spirit who gives us the power to live in freedom.

Think of other examples of this biblical truth of freedom.  Elden Trueblood writes:  “We have not advanced very far in our spiritual lives if we have not encountered the basic paradox of freedom, to the effect that we are most free when we are bound.  But not just any way of being bound will suffice; what matters is the character of our binding.  The one who would like to be an athlete, but who is unwilling to discipline his body by regular exercise and by abstinence, is not free to excel on the field or on the track. His failure to train rigorously and to practice abstinence denies him the freedom to go over the bar at the desired height, or to run with the desired speed and endurance.  Slavery to self-discipline is the price of freedom.”  

And isn’t that true also of work, of raising a family, of being a mother or father, of getting an education, of learning a craft.  We are most free when we are bound.  But what is paramount is the character of our binding.  Is it a binding that leads to loving others, to service, to sacrifice, to sharing, to generosity or is it another kind of bondage?

We reflect finally upon another biblical truth, freedom always comes with a cost!    God sent his only son so that by submitting to the slavery of death, we might be set free through faith for life.  The letter of Philippians says:  “Jesus Christ through in was in the form of God, emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, so that we might find new life and freedom in him.”   II Corinthians says: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich for your sakes, He became poor, so that through His poverty, you might become rich.”

Remember what happened to those 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?    Twenty-four of them were lawyers and jurists.  Eleven were merchants; nine were farmers and large plantation owners.   They were educated men; men of social standing and property.  They signed that document knowing full well that the penalty if they were captured was imprisonment and death.

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Two lost their sons serving in the Continental Army; another had two sons captured.  Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.  Carter Braxton, a wealthy planter saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy.  He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.  Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly.  He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

At the battle of Yorktown, the final battle of the war, Thomas Nelson Jr, knew that the British General Cornwallis had taken over his home for the general’s headquarters.  He urged General George Washington to open fire anyway, the home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.     The signers pledged: "For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."    Amen!