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January 20th, 2020
“With malice toward none with charity for all . . .”
Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
bless all public servants in the government of this nation,
including our newly inaugurated President and Vice President,
that they may do their work in a spirit of wisdom, charity, and justice.
Help them use their authority to serve faithfully
and to promote our common life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
from Evangelical Lutheran Worship
Today our nation pauses for the Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden and Kamala D. Harris as President and Vice President of the United States. This stormy time of political transition has been characterized by a divided nation, deep partisanship and even violence. In my lifetime, this level of polarization is without precedent.
I hope that you will join me in praying for our new leaders and our nation. Our common humanity and interconnectedness require our prayerful engagement.
|Though unprecedented in my lifetime, our nation has been deeply divided in its past. Addressing the most poignant division of our nation near the end of our nation’s Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln addressed the nation at his Second Inaugural Address. Some have called it the most famous inaugural speech ever delivered by a president of the United States. It was also among the shortest at just 700 words. On March 4, 1865, only 41 days before his assassination, President Lincoln took the oath of office for the second time. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address previewed his plans for healing a once-divided nation.
Lincoln refrained from claiming a vindictive God who was on the side of the Union Army, but explored themes of ‘theodicy,’ the field of theological reflection that asks the question, “Is God just?” Speaking of the two deeply divided American peoples, Lincoln wrote:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered – that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.
The classic answer to the question of theodicy, “Is God just?” is that the answer is beyond our understanding. The answer resides in mystery.
The historical significance of the Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address was massive. The Civil War was well on its way to ending and Lincoln would be assassinated less than a month after the speech. And, the rhetoric Lincoln summoned was some of the most powerful ever employed in politics. His closing would make a fitting political benediction on this Inauguration Day in 2021:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
The speech is engraved on the north interior wall of the Lincoln Memorial.
On this Inauguration Day in 2021, you are invited to read with fresh eyes the words of President Lincoln 156 years ago. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address follows.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
|“Fellow countrymen: at this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends is as well known to the public as to myself and it is I trust reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future no prediction in regard to it is ventured.|
“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it – all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place devoted altogether to saving the Union without war insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war – seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
“One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves not distributed generally over the union but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen perpetuate and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered – that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses for it must needs be that offenses come but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him. Fondly do we hope – fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’
“With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
President Abraham Lincoln
March 4, 1865
Again, I hope that you will join me in praying for our new leaders and our nation. Our common humanity and interconnectedness require our prayerful engagement.
Blessings to you, O people of Trinity. May you be safe, may you be well, and may you be held in love.
It remains a privilege to serve as one of your pastors.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Robert Linstrom