Liberia: "A New Heart for Our Nation" - Liberia Inaugural Sermon

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Monrovia — Sermon Delivered on Sunday, January 15, 2006 at the Thanksgiving and Intercessory Service for the Inauguration of the New Government for the Republic of Liberia at First United Methodist Church, Ashmun St., Monrovia.

My thanks and appreciation go to the Chairperson and members of the Inauguration Committee for selecting me to serve as the preacher for this very important occasion in the history of our country. Indeed, this is an honor for me and my family. Also, I praise and thank God for bringing peace to our country through the sacrificial efforts of the International Community: the U N, ECOWAS, the AU, EU, the Government of the United States of America and all friendly nations. We are grateful to the Christian Denominations and our Muslim brothers and sisters in and around Liberia for their prayers for peace. It is a good thing that we as a nation and friends of Liberia can assemble here today to thank God for answering our prayers, and granting us the desires of our hearts. So let us rejoice and be glad for what God has done for Liberia. What, then, should be our response to that which God has done for us?  Should we shout for joy? Should we dance? Should we sing?

In consideration of these questions, I have decided to speak on the theme: A New Heart for Our Nation - The text is Matthew 5: 1 - 12, with emphasis on verse 8 which reads thus: "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God."

Matthew 5 is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. A faithful and an obedience heart is the focus of this sermon. Jesus addressed this message to his disciples because these were the leaders recruited and trained for the promotion of God's kingdom on earth. These were the persons who were to hold positions and power in God's earthly kingdom. But Jesus was quick to warn them that positions, power, pride and money must not blind their eyes from doing the will of God. "If you heed to my command and lead my people whom I will entrust unto you, you will be blessed," said the Lord.

It is good to be blessed, my brothers and sisters. To be blessed means to be happy, to be fortunate, to be free, to accept one another, and to take responsibility of the blessings that God has given to us. In other words, when we are blessed, we look back and share the blessings with others. In summary, to be blessed means that a person will experience hope, joy and redemption. But the requirement to enjoy God's hope, joy and redemption is to be pure in heart, says our Master.

To be pure means to be clean from all falsehood and vanities. It also means rightness of mind and singleness of motive. In this text, the word heart is used figuratively and it means the total personality which includes the mind, will, and emotion.

When paraphrased, the text is read: How happy are those who have no desire for falsehood, who do not swear to lie, who have singleness of mind and strength to do the will of God. Such persons will experience the visitation of God in their lives. They will always dwell in the holy place of the Most High.

Those who are pure in heart:

a.     will see and know the purpose of God in the world.

b.     will be aware of the movement of the Divine will of God in the midst of suffering, hunger, pain, and rebelliousness.

c.    will know, by intention, the leading of God's Spirit when others feel bereft.

d.    will be a people of vision.

Such people foresee the future from a positive point in light of what God has ordained for the human family.

No wonder why Jesus told his disciples that only the pure in heart will see God. At creation, God had placed a very good heart in every human being. This was intended to reflect God's image and likeness. That is, the very heart of God was placed in us, allowing us to live in a state of purity. But oftentimes, we refuse to use God's gift of a pure heart to us wisely. Scriptures tell us that humankind lived in fellowship with God without fear or shame.

But something happened, and the relationship was broken! The sin of disobedience entered that perfect state of life through the manipulation of the Devil. The mind, will, and emotion of the human race became totally polluted, and resultantly, human beings could no longer live in the presence of the Holy God. Sin made them to appear naked. In the same way, our sins, over the years, have not only separated us from God, but from one another as Liberians. Just as humankind fled from the presence of God, hid themselves and covered their bodies with leaves (Genesis 3:7-8), today, we find ourselves fleeing from God's presence, and becoming overwhelmed by the evils of this world, which include, crime, pollution, violence, rioting and other vices. These evils continue to tear us apart as a nation and people, thus leaving us heartless, hopeless, senseless, helpless, careless, rude and naked. But brothers and sisters, I have the belief with a new heart and our new leaders, we can defeat the evils which have brought disgrace to us as a nation over the years.

People of God, historians tell us that in 18th century England, there were problems of pollution, crime, violence and rioting. The English people had just discovered gin. As a result, people got carried away with excessive drunkenness. Worst of all, family ties disintegrated. But one important question that comes to mind is, what saved England from that terrible situation? How did that nation overcome its nightmare? We learned that England was able to overcome its national tragedy through John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. His movement had profound religious, social, economic and political consequences, which transformed and saved that nation. But this would not have been possible if John Wesley did not cultivate the pure heart which God had given him.

Around our world today are evidences of the holistic nature of John Wesley's understanding, acceptance and practice of a pure heart as declared by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.

What is important about the Methodist Movement is that it began as a spiritual revival and a spiritual awakening. This nation of ours, Brothers and Sisters, needs a strong, spiritual revival and re-awakening. This will help create and improve the socio-economic, political, and religious life of our country. We need Liberians who will do for this day in Liberia what John Wesley did for his country. Liberians, we need a new heart - a heart that is kind, peace-loving, and caring - a heart that is dedicated to the rebuilding of this nation of ours.

We can understandably compare John Wesley with past African leaders like the late Presidents William V. S. Tubman of Liberia, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sheku Toure of Guinea. These men not only fought for social, economic and political rights in their respective countries but they worked real hard for the unity of Africa. Out of their tireless efforts, came the Organization of African Unity (OAU, now the African Union (AU). The late Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere is another role model in the exercise of good leadership based upon the concept of a new and pure heart for one's country. World report said that President Nyerere died without having millions or billions of dollars of his country's money stacked up in banks around the world. He led his people and country in love, humility, honesty and integrity.

Also, the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is another example in West Africa who united his people and was working towards uniting Africa with a pure heart. And sure with the first female elected president, Africa will be united towards peace, justice and sustainable development.

Today, fellow Liberians, God has given us a new leader. A Mother, whom I believe, has a gracious and kind heart, ever willing to lead Liberia forward, by God's command. It is therefore our responsibility to surround her with a new heart for our nation, and thus press forward with a movement for sustainable development. This movement, like the one started by John Wesley, must take into account the spiritual, educational, health, and agricultural needs of our children and people.

I can assure you, Madam President-elect and your corps of leaders, that if you do the will of God concerning His people in Liberia, your administration will be blessed and your godly leadership that will invite everyone on board will make a positive difference for our country. In his book, The Leader Within, Howard G. Haas writes, "You Cannot Lead by Yourself. You Have To Lead Through People. Just as there is an art of leadership, there too is an art of followership". Remember the words of Jesus, when He said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'.

With a new and pure heart, Liberia, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will be saved. A new and pure heart will move us towards tolerance and peaceful co-existence. With a new heart, we will rededicate ourselves to a national spirit, and move on eagles' wings across the length and breadth of this land.

This new heart will help transform our country into a glorious land, a land of liberty and justice for all. This new heart will move us from despair to hope and inspire us to turn from greed and violence.

With a kind, loving and sincere heart, the things that caused Liberia to be a 'failed state' over the years, will totally be of the past. We will no longer think of the 1979 rice riot which eventually led to the bloody civil war. The consequences today are widespread corruption, bribery, disrespect for the rule of law, justice, and honesty in government, the Church and business transactions.

With a new and pure heart, we must rise to leadership in order to serve and protect our people and country and not ourselves. Too much of selfishness had kept Liberia backward for long. It is about time we put Liberia first. It is about time we focus on the security of Liberia. For too long we have lived in the state of insecurity but God says, "I have given you a new Liberia and I am ready to transform your hearts. And with this transformation, you will totally be free from threats, looting and indiscriminate killing."

In this spirit, Brothers and Sisters, God is urging us never again to be a stubborn people. Stubbornness is an impediment to happy living. With pure hearts, we will hear God's invitation to us in these words, "Come unto me and I will forgive your sin. You are stained red with sin; I will wash you as clean as snow. Although your sins are deep red, you will be as white as wool" (Isaiah 1:18, GNB). That is, God is committed to the process of producing new hearts with sustained peace and unity for our country and neighbors.

Because God desires a new heart and spirit for our land, He says to us, "Give up all the evils you have been doing, and get yourself new minds and new hearts" (Ezekiel 18: 31). Let us heed the word of God, and believe and claim what God has

promised. For He says in Ezekiel 36:25-26, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and make you clean from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove from your hearts of stone and give you a new heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."

Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, with a new heart for our nation, there must be a genuine commitment to the constitutional responsibility within the three branches of government in order to make the laws of our land to work. This implies that God wants the three branches of government to work together in the spirit of unity, justice, integrity, accountability, transparency, and moral uprightness. Once these virtues are upheld by you, our leaders, then we, the citizens will happily submit to your authority without murmuring. In the words of Paul, as recorded in Romans Chapter 13, verses 1 and 2, comes this admonition: "everyone must submit himself/herself to the governing authority, for there is no authority except that which God has established." Your authority, as our leaders, is established by The God of love, justice and peace. Therefore, you are called to lead and walk humbly with God with new hearts.

A new heart for our nation therefore requires:

1.    a demonstration of sorrow and regret for the sins we have committed against God and each other for these many years. We, as Liberians, must grieve over our wickedness in relation to God's standard of righteousness and the power of God's rule in our lives.

2.    a demonstration of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Madam President-elect and Vice-President-elect, elected members of the Legislature, distinguished guests, brothers and sisters of the household of faith, the way forward for Liberia, a country emerging from the ruins of war, is for every Liberian to take on a new and pure heart so that peace, reconciliation and national unity will be the hallmark for restoring the years the locusts have eaten.

With a pure and new heart for our nation, the blessing of God awaits us, as it started with a peaceful free and fair election. We must, however, remember that the inauguration is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Therefore, God expects us to take advantage of the most important portion of the blessings which is the rebuilding our lives and country. And the rebuild will not be achieved without the participation of all political parties and their supporters. Let us remember that this is everyone's country.

Finally, fellow Liberians, I pray for a faithful and an obedient heart for this country, once called the "Sweet Land of Liberty." For you see, with a faithful and an obedient heart, we can do God's good will and He will abide with us forever. He will heal us. He will guide us. He will empower us to overcome every difficult challenge that is before us. He will embrace us and bring us victory and success. For it is written, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord and whose leaders and followers are pure in heart." For when we shall have accomplished our task here on earth, then, we shall see God, as he has promised" and our former relationship with Him at creation will be re-kindled.

I therefore, challenge you, our new leaders in these paraphrased words of caution from John Wesley that you do all the good you can to all your people in all the counties, districts, townships, cities, towns and villages. You are called to lead us with kindness, love, justice and equity. And at the end, Liberia will experience the transformation as a new Nation whose people will exhibit a pure heart.

Kent M. Keith in his book, The Paradoxical Commandments for Christians, adds his voice to John Wesley's Counsel in these words for the work you have been called to do for our nation:

·    People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered.

Love them anyway.

·    If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.

Do good anyway.

·    If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.

Succeed anyway.

·    The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

·    Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway.

·    The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.

Think big anyway.

·    People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.

Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

·    What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

·    People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.

Help people anyway.

·    Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.

Give the world the best you have anyway.

JESUS DID IT ANYWAY

In anticipation of this national rebirth, I now invite us to rise, sing and dance the song of hope, joy, happiness, "Liberia! Sweet land of liberty" written by Ambassador Marron Cassell.

Liberia! Sweet Land of Liberty. We prophecy to you, you will rise,  you will shine, you will prosper in Africa. Yea, the world.

Liberia, you are lifted, Amen, you are lifted. We prophecy to the world, you are lifted, Amen  Alleluia, you are lifted.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God".

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN

The Rev. Dr. John Innis is resident Bishop of the United Methodist Church in Liberia, which is headquartered in Monrovia. He has established the Liberia United Methodist Empowerment Foundation to accept contributions for reconstruction of the church's work in post-war Liberia.

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