One of the greatest speeches ever  concludes with the phrase, “With Malice Toward None, With Charity For All.” These words were spoken by Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address. People who heard it that day said the President’s  address sounded more like a sermon than a political speech. It drew heavily from scripture. It was exactly what our divided Nation needed to hear at the time. It still speaks to our deeply polarized Nation today. President Lincoln, whether he was aware of it or not, was acting as divided America’s “Pastor-in-Chief.” Lincoln’s goal was to console and heal a wounded nation suffering from a deep, self-inflicted wound. Lincoln concluded his Inaugural Address with these soaring, gracious words that transcended everyone’s expectations: “With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds,...to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.” The power of his address comes from its immediate historical context.

America had been at war with itself for 4 years. Our uncivil, Civil War had cost 625,000 American lives. Nearly every town and every family on both sides lost loved ones. The losses in terms of death and destruction to our nation were devastating. The number of those killed in all of our subsequent wars is equal to the number killed in our Civil War.

At Lincoln’s 2nd Inauguration the end of the war was in sight. But Americans on the winning side were very bitter and angry. Any joy at the near prospect of victory was drowned out by a raging desire for revenge. The strong sentiment in the North was that the Secessionist Rebels must pay dearly.  The hot spirit of retribution was widespread. There was talk of treason trials and imprisonments.

The newspapers which had been very critical of Lincoln’s leadership in the early stages of the the war now praised his strong, steady leadership as it drew to a close. This would be the greatest moment of his presidency. They fully expected the President to boast about this great national triumph, and about his personal success as commander-in-chief of the victorious Union forces. 


But the president sounded no note of triumphalism. Not a word of self congratulation. No swagger or boasting. No personal attacks directed at his critics in the media. No dancing on the graves of the defeated dead. No demeaning or disparaging remarks about his defeated foes. He did not characterize his opponents as evil. He did not call for revenge. He did not claim that God was on his side. Instead he called on his fellow victors to walk humbly. “Let us judge not that we be not judged.”  

The president did not pretend to know God’s will, but he did speculate that on the slavery question there was plenty of blame on both sides.  Perhaps Providence prolonged this conflict “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” He concluded his address by inviting his fellow Americans to turn away from the anger of war and proceed in the post war period, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” 

Lincoln was assassinated six weeks later—shot on Good Friday, April 14, 1865. He died the next day—and many remembered these powerful words, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”  Lincoln’s hope for one nation, undivided by race or region was not realized, but this appeal to forgiveness and reconciliation became an inspiration and beacon for generations of Americans ever since who have sought to transcend partisan politics.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all” sums up Lincoln’s legacy to the American people. These words defined Lincoln’s vision for a post–Civil War America.  Sadly, his words were not heeded by that generation. A great opportunity was missed. But Lincoln’s words have outlived the shortcomings of Reconstruction. His words have have endured because they embody America’s, and humanity’s highest ideals. We need to heed them now just as much as when they were first spoken. 

Lincoln’s generation fought to preserve the Union. Lincoln knew that only forgiveness and love could redeem it.   

“With Malice Toward None, With Charity Toward All” is the heart of the Gospel. These words capture the spirit of Jesus Christ and define the rule by which he lived. They are the golden rule that can make our nation great in the eyes of God. They are the words, if we heed them, that will make us a glittering city on a hill to all people everywhere.  Amen  

Pastor Norm Erlendson 

The Spirit of Holy Happiness

Acts 2:1-8, 12-21

Disney World is popularly known as the “happiest place on earth”. I have been there a few times and it is indeed a delightful place that offers a lot of fun for young and old alike. But whether visitors stay there for a weekend or a week, they might also go away thinking that Disney World is also one of the most “expensive places on earth.” Whatever happiness one finds there certainly doesn’t come cheap. However, happiness is more affordable at restaurants and bars that offer a “Happy Hour” when drinks and certain menu items are available at a discount.  But we all love happy places whether they cost us money, or save us money. We all are engaged in a search for happiness Monday through Saturday, but what about Sunday? Why aren’t churches known as the happiest places on earth? And why isn’t the Sunday morning Church service known as a Happy Hour”? Maybe church attendance across all denominations is on the decline because churches are not generally known as happy places.

In the contest for our attention and time, the contemporary church seems to be losing out. Church attendance has been on the decline for quite some time. More than half of young adults who have grown up in church-going families now identify themselves as unaffiliated with any church. Volumes have been written to explain its loss of popularity.  For one thing our social world is very different from what it was a generation ago. There are certainly a lot more things going on Sunday mornings. Churches today have a lot more competition than they once did. However, I don’t believe the problem of declining attendance and waning interest is totally due to what’s going on outside the church. The church is becoming invisible because much of what the church does happens behind closed doors, and a growing number of people see the Sunday morning worship hour as boring and irrelevant to their lives. They see it as a dreary hour, not a happy hour. Perhaps the beginning of a solution can be found in the Origin Story of the Church.

The remarkable story of the beginning of the Church on the day of Pentecost is told in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. From its first day the church was a place of celebration, so much so that a sanctuary couldn’t contain it. It all began when the apostles, and about 100 others, were gathered for Sunday morning worship. They were quietly sitting, praying and waiting for the Promised Spirit, when they heard the rushing sound of a powerful wind.  Suddenly, the wind blew open the doors of their meetinghouse. As it swirled around them they noticed to their amazement that their hair was on fire! This was the Spirit, crashing into their sedate Sunday morning meeting, rudely interrupting their order of service. 

In the grip of fear and awe, they ran into the street dancing, singing and praising God at the top of their lungs. A large, diverse and curious crowd soon gathered around. This was a crowd of men and women who were pilgrims from all over the world. They had traveled to Jerusalem to observe this High Holy Day. They asked one another, “What does all this mean?” Some thought it must be an Act of God. Others said it sounded like a drunken party. Imagine people mistaking a church service for an Octoberfest! Peter spoke up in defense of his congregation. “We are not drunk. We are not full of wine. It’s only 9 am. We are filled with the Spirit of God. This is actually the fulfillment of the promise that God will pour his Spirit on anyone and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. What you see here is what Spirit-filled people do.” 

Three thousand people responded to that invitation and were added to the church that day. The presence of the celebratory spirit of happiness is the Promise of Pentecost. When Jesus said, “I will build my church,” he intended it to be a community of the blessed, and the happiest place on earth. Jesus people are happy people. Happy people attract others because happiness is contagious. When Jesus said, “Blessed are you,” he meant that we have every reason to be happy in all circumstances. Be happy because God is for you and not against you. Be happy even when you mourn because God will comfort you. Be happy when you feel small and meek because you will inherit the earth. If a church today would flourish, it must recover Jesus’ legacy of happiness. It must embrace the spirit of Pentecost. Let’s work to make our church, the happiest place on earth. Let’s pray that the Spirit will blow open our doors and make 10 am every Sunday morning a “Happy Hour.”

Pastor Norm Erlendson