I would like to think that our biblical faith laid the foundation for this proposition. That all people, that every person, regardless of race, creed or gender, is created in the image and likeness of God.
President Lincoln continued: "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure." Our country has endured many critical rites of passage. The civil war, perhaps, marked the greatest crisis of all, and we are certainly divided today as a nation. And our divisions test once again if any nation so conceived can endure. The genius of a democracy is that everyone has their say and everyone gets their vote, but at the same time the challenge of a democracy is that, in the end, putting our differences aside, the common good must prevail.
President Lincoln continued: "We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that the nation might live". They all made the ultimate sacrifice, as have men and women throughout the history of this nation. We are able to gather in freedom of worship because they made that sacrifice. But there is something more, we are in this particular place because of another sacrifice, expressed in the words of the high priest Caiaphas in John's Gospel, "It is better that one man die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed". Leading St. Paul to write in today's reading, "May I never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ".
President Lincoln continued: "But in a larger sense we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power...The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." The scourge of the civil war resulted in 2 million killed. It took parts of the country close to one hundred years to recover from the political and economic devastation. But out of the ashes of death and destruction a new nation came to birth and an enslaved people began to walk free. A nation reborn would open its shores to millions of people oppressed and yearning to be free.
The President continued: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.." As I look around here today I know that our politics are left, right and independent. I know that the people in this room represent every shade and hue of the political spectrum. That is a fact and that is our right. But there is something greater that unites us that is deeper than that which divides us. Yes, we are all American, but more than that, we are the body of Christ. In this parish we are a microcosm of America. We come in all shapes and varieties and that is our strength, because we all make up the body of Christ. A sick body would be a body where everyone was an ear or a foot. "It means nothing", Paul writes, "whether one is circumcised or not." There are churches where everyone is expected to act and think in a bloc. Ultimately what matters is not your political affiliation, but that you are created anew in Christ.
President Lincoln concluded: "that we highly resolve that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."