Billy Graham Center

1985 Sermon

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In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

You may be seated.

President Reagan, Mrs. Reagan, Vice-President Bush, Mrs. Bush, fellow clergy, ladies and gentlemen. Last night it was my privilege to attend the gala honoring President and Mrs. Reagan. I don't know when I have laughed so much or felt such a keen sense of patriotism and pride in our country as I did last night. It also showed me that we can have a lot of fun and entertainment and keep it clean.

I'm both honored and humbled to participate in my role as a preacher of the gospel. And I'm reminded of the man from North Carolina who attempted to enter his mule in the Kentucky Derby. His friends and neighbors said, "You don't think he can win, do you?' And he said, "No, but look at the company he'll be in!" (Laughter) And this weekend I have felt that I'm in the company of great people.

But we are gathered here today because that our nation and its leaders need the help of God. Here we affirm that we are not only a free and independent people, but in a far more profound sense, we are a people dependent upon God. Only if we maintain that attitude of trust and dependence will we have the strength and wisdom to fulfill our responsibilities. We are in danger if we overlook the spiritual dimensions of national leadership.

Over twenty years ago, President Kennedy had in his pocket a speech he was to deliver at the Dallas Trade Mart. At the end of the speech, he was quoting from the Bible these words, "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." This service today is appropriate because our presidents and vice-presidents take their oaths of office by placing their hands on the Bible.

It is also true that we are a pluralistic nation. We have a constitution that guarantees to all of us human freedoms, of which religious freedom is foremost. In America, any and all religions have a right to exist and to propagate what they stand for. We enjoy the separation of church and state and no sectarian religion has ever and, pray God, will ever be imposed upon us.

It is most often in religion that the world finds its value systems and its moral guidance. I've been many places in the last few years where the masses of people are looking wistfully over their shoulders for Moses and Christ to show them the way. Only the living God can fill the moral vacuum that exists in our world.

In a pluralistic state, we have learned to live with each other and to respect each other's religious and political convictions. But at the same time, whatever our religious convictions may be, we're all aware that we are dependent on a power higher than our own. To say that we are living at a critical moment in history is an understatement. At this moment, especially during the last two weeks, most of the people of the world are praying that God will bring an era of peace to our world.

Today we face new challenges that previous generations could never have dreamed of. Some are unparalleled opportunities. Some of these challenges, however, are unparalleled dangers which threaten the continued existence of civilization on this planet.

The greatest threat, however, lives deep within our own hearts, which are infected with the possibility of greed, hate, and lust. And the fact that our media carries daily stories of wars and terrorism and crime and social injustice testifies that something is wrong with human nature.

This is why we have religions all over the world. They are trying to do something about the void in their own lives and the need to atone for their own sins and failures. And the need to seek guidance and wisdom from their god or gods. Christianity teaches that this is why Jesus Christ came on that first Christmas night, to bring peace between God and man and between man and man. Unfortunately, man rejected his offer of peace and we have been suffering ever since.

And that is the reason he emphatically taught that human nature has to be changed by being born into God's family. We were born the first time into the human family, with the moral disease called sin. We can be born into God's family, with sin forgiven and victory over sin. But God Himself has to change us if we are willing to allow him to do it.

It is possible for us to live in peace with ourselves, our families, in our communities and between nations. Confucius in his Analects gave us the Silver Rule. The Bible gives us the Golden Rule. However stated, it means I will love my neighbor as I love myself.

But in my natural state, I cannot do that. God must through the Resurrection events perform a miracle in my life and give me the power to change my life.

During the next four years, many of you here today will have to make decisions of state, perhaps greater than those made by any of your predecessors. Because of modern technology, you will hold in your hands the destiny not only of America, but the entire world. Christ said, "What shall it profit a man if gains the whole world and loses his own soul." I believe that that applies to nations as well as individuals, for a nation that loses its spiritual courage will grow old before its time. Even if we gain all our material and social objectives and lose our souls, it would be a disaster.

As you work to lead this nation and our world to new heights of social justice, peace, and economic prosperity, you also have the opportunity the nation to its greatest moral and spiritual heights. This is a tremendous opportunity and an awesome responsibility. Jesus once said, "Onto whom much is given, of him much shall be required." Those who have the greatest power always need the greatest guidance.

There's a truth reiterated throughout the teachings of the various religions but especially in the Bible, that no man rules except by the will of God. There is a mandate that is higher than the ballot box and it comes from God. We have a responsibility not only to all the people of America and to the people of the world, but we also have a great responsibility to the God of our fathers. And someday, as we stand before him, we will have to give an account.

In less than two hours, President Reagan and Vice-President Bush will place their hands upon a Bible and their oath of office for a second time in a private ceremony at the White House, because the public ceremony will be tomorrow. In circumstances of great joy and in circumstances of great sorrow and anxiety, other presidents have also done this, whether on a plane in Dallas or on a porch in Vermont or against the majestic backdrop of the United States Capital, they will be putting their hands on the book from which we have received our ideas of freedom and justice and our morals and value system.

This afternoon, President Reagan will toss an important coin to decide who kicks and who receives the ball in Pala Alto. Millions of Americas will be glued to their televison sets, as the 49ers and the Dolphins decide the professional championship of 1984. When President Reagan was governor of California, he took his eleven year old son Ron to see the Los Angeles Rams play in the Coliseum. The Rams were young Ron Reagan's favorite team and they lost that day. And after the game, Mr. Reagan and his son went to the dressing room, where they greeted the coaches and the players. And while they were there, the team paused and dropped to their knees for a time of prayer together. Governor Reagan later wrote to coach George Allen saying, quote, "I just want you to know that I walked out of that dressing room with my feet off the ground. To stand there with an eleven year old boy when his heros dropped to their knees in prayer was something I'll never forget and for which I will always be grateful. Nothing a father could tell his son would ever match the impact of that moment. I don't know if the fellows will ever know what that meant." End quote.

Prayer should be the habit for everyone on this team we call America. Whether elected official or private citizen, whether before a difficult event or after it, whether in victory or defeat, in an increasing complex and dangerous world, we need to drop to our knees and acknowledge our dependence upon God.

I believe that God is calling us as individuals and as a nation today to repentance and faith in Him. To repent is to acknowledge our need of the Great Physician in our lives, to have faith is to accept His prescription for the healing of our souls and to begin to act on his instructions.

Could this be., as we have already heard in this Inaugural event, the beginning of the new beginning in which we will put into practice the things our religious faith teaches us? I have been abroad a great part of this year and since coming I have sensed a new optimism, a new patriotism, and a growing religious faith among the American people. A few years I was asked to go to Plymouth, Massachusetts to help them celebrate the 350th anniversary of the landing of those early Americans. At the very beginning, those early Americans dropped to their knees in prayer. And it is my prayer that today will be the beginning of a new beginning spiritually, in which we will be a nation on its knees, depending on that same God.

On this solemn occasion, as a great nation goes forward under its chosen leaders, may all of us, citizens and leaders alike, go in the strength and the wisdom and the courage which we can only receive from God. Our first president, George Washington, said, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." And he was right. This is what has helped make America great. God bless President and Mrs. Reagan and Vice-President and Mrs. Bush and all of those in this administration during the next four years.

(Transcribed from tape T5220 in Collection 26 in the Billy Graham Center Archives)
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Last Revised: 1/6/05
Last Revised: 1/5/05
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