No city on earth was heir to so much that was uplifting and spiritual as was Jerusalem. A banquet speaker was saying one night that those of us who live in Brooklyn walk among great memories of souls like Henry Beecher and S. Park Catman. True. But very modest by comparison are ours with the memories that gathered around Jerusalem. Through her streets had walked the prophet Isaiah. The lament of Jeremiah was native to its streets and lanes, and the dust of Jerusalem had been dampened by the tears of that weeping seer. There in Jerusalem, David, man after God’s own heart, had lived and died.
Here was a city in whose life there should have pulsed the strong things of the Spirit. So many times God had been to Jerusalem. God had walked that city’s streets in the national deliverances he had given the city, when heathen enemies had camped at her walls and laid their pagan siege at her very gates. God had been with Jerusalem in all her trials, afflicted in all her afflictions, in the midst of her while the heathen raged. Singers like David had sung God’s music in the midst of this city. Prophets there had thought God’s thoughts after him. Jerusalem should have echoed down the centuries the cry of Joshua: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And yet this great city, blessed of heaven, beautiful for situation, site of the holy temple, witness to the deliverances of the Eternal One, had not known or cared that all of this was gone. The spirit of the people of this city was unmoved and unsensitized toward their God. Blessed with the chance to live in the high places of the Spirit, they chose to dwell in the valleys of small thought and dull living. God had been there, and they neither knew nor cared. Jehovah had knocked at their door, and they never thought to answer. The day of their visitation had been lost on them, and thus the sad cry of Jesus: “because thou knew not the time of thy visitation.”
I wish this nation could realize that God has not given us all this for nothing. Especially ought we to think of our republic on this Independence Day Sunday. America has been visited in so many ways by God. Our natural resources are the envy of the world, and our human resources have come from the ends of the earth. America is a great and worthy dream of human dignity and equality beyond the accidents of race, breed, or birth. America represents in its democratic assumptions a brave new venture in the faith that people of diverse backgrounds and differing creeds can live together in harmony and mutual respect. This, I believe, is a God-given concept which is basic to the American contract with history. How often we have scarred the dream and violated the high destiny to which God has called this land. Now and again, we have gallantly moved forward toward the fulfillment of our destiny as a free, equal society. But we have too often fallen back, as if the destiny were too high for us. In all of these shifting scenes of stress and strain which mark our history, the God of the nations is testing us and sifting us before his judgment seat. He is examining our willingness to test in our commitment to freedom whether, in Mr. Lincoln’s words, a nation “so conceived and so dedicated” can long endure. If we but knew the things which belong to our peace.
God, likewise, does come to every life, as well as to the life of the nation. Think you that in your childhood, when you could not fend for yourself, it was mere accident that there were loving hands that cared for you? Behind the care of our parents is the care of another who is also our Father, our heavenly Father, who sees and cares for his own. Behind the food they, our parents, gave us was the food the heavenly Father gives. Behind the clothes they put on our backs and the shelter they provided looms the figure of another who is the giver of every good and perfect gift. Eyes really open can see God in the rising sun that warms our day and in the quiet of twilight preparing us for slumber, in the changing seasons providing variations for our eyes and hearts, in the leaping lightning and in the roaring thunder. Eyes really open can see God when families sit around a casket and give up a loved one to him who has been our dwelling place in all generations. Listening ears can hear God in a little baby’s cry, since like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear him. But so often, we fail to see and to hear. Joy comes, and we miss God’s presence. Sorrow comes, and we do not see God’s mercy in somber garments. So often we miss the day of our visitation. And yet, God is so patient. Hear that lament, like a heartbroken sob in Jesus’ words: “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace, but now they are hid from thine eyes.” Even today, so many missed chances to look up and live. But even today, still there is opportunity.
For some of you, there have been so many times that God has visited and sought you. You bit your lips and froze your hearts and held back by grim determination from his will. And yet he pleads, even today. It is now nearly midnight, the day passes, but even now. You will know what is your problem. Perhaps it is your home that’s collapsing around your head, with the sense of family at the very breaking point. You have had many opportunities to make your home good and secure. Many visitations of warning and promise as to how you could do it, and yet you’ve wasted the green years. But even now, it can happen, and you can know the joy of a home of love and unity. Now, today, in every facet and element of your life, the glow and glory of the visitation of God can belong to you. For God has not quit on you, will not until you’ve gotten completely deaf to his voice and sightless to his appearing. The days can flash with new meaning, and there can be for you, amidst the decayed corruption of all that has happened, the wild, glad cry that Martha gave to her sister Mary when Lazarus was a long time dead: “The Master is here and calleth for thee.” Things are different. The Master is here. So many of you have given up, downgraded your possibilities. And heaven knows, with the mistakes we all have made, it is understandable. We have not known what belongs unto our peace.
The wild, glorious good news of Christ is that even now there can be a new life that soars and sings. It is not too late, not yet, for your God waits, and you have only to strike out on the path where Christ stands out and beckons and bids you trust yourself to him and to what he wants to do in your life. One affirmative nod of your head, one firm yes in his direction, and the wondrous adventures and the far, high places of the Spirit can belong to you. Even today, now.