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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Homily for 23rd Sunday After Trinity (today)

The is the sermon I preached today at Redeemer as our pastor was away.

Twenty-Third Sunday After Trinity
November 11, 2007

Text:
Matthew 22:15-22

People say that the two topics you should never bring up in polite conversation are politics and religion because those are two topics about which most people have strong opinions. With another presidential election around the corner, Americans are becoming more and more passionate about the issues which are important to them.

Whether you are a Democan or a Republicrat, when you pull the lever on election day, you do so hoping that your guy or your gal will win the election and fix the problems of our great but ailing nation.

And quite understandably, during this time, people will wonder what relationship exists between what they believe in matters of religion and what positions they should take politically. We should make a distinction between church and state but we must also recognize that the concerns of the church and the concerns of the state often overlap. And that’s because religion is not just about what happens to you when you die but it’s about how we should live today.

Being a citizen of a nation is an important responsibility and has weighty implications. I have a friend who was born in a foreign country but has lived most of his life in the United States. According to our government, he is a full-fledged U.S. citizen. But according to the country of his birth, he is also a citizen of that nation. So which is it? Is he an American or a Swede? The U.S. government says that he is 100% American and nothing more. But the Swedish government recognizes both scenarios and says that he has DUAL citizenship. So my friend actually has two perfectly valid and legitimate passports. When he travels abroad, which he does frequently, he uses his U.S. passport, but he keep his Swedish passport up to date in case he ever wants to go somewhere like Cuba where U.S. citizens have difficulty. I sometimes kid my friend and ask, “What will you do if the United States ever goes to war against Sweden? Whose side will you be on?” While it seems unlikely that our United States will declare war with Sweden in our lifetimes, one can never be certain of such things. It is possible that my friend will have to decide where his true loyalties lie if the priorities of the two governments ever come into conflict with each other. His dual citizenship could cause a whole smorgasbord of problems.

As Christians, all of us have dual citizenship. We were born into this world as citizens of this present order of things. All living human beings share this citizenship and are our compatriots. But we who have been baptized into Jesus Christ were adopted into the family of God which makes also citizens of heaven. So like my friend, only on a much grander scale, all of us possess DUAL citizenship.

For there are two kingdoms in the universe or two realms. That’s what Jesus is teaching us when he says to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and render unto God the things which are God’s. There are two kingdoms: the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of heaven. But that is not to say that of the two kingdoms, one of them is good and the other one is evil. There are two kingdoms and both of them are good. That’s because both of them are established and governed by God.

There are two kingdoms. And they do not have identical purposes. They have different functions. Hopefully, they do not work against each other. That would not be pleasing to God. They have different purposes but their purposes complement one another for the ultimate purposes and the often hidden purposes of God.

God has ordained the Church and the State to accomplish his will, but they operate in quite different ways. God has ordained the Church to reconcile sinners to Himself by preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments. God has ordained the state to protect human beings from harm, to administer his wrath and justice against wrongdoers, and to generally provide for the temporal well-being of human beings.

Let me add that God did not establish civil government merely for the purpose of maintaining law and order but ALSO to perform works of mercy for the comfort, provision and assistance of human need. Moses writes very explicitly that it was God Himself who brought Joseph to become Pharaoh’s second-in-command for the express purpose of administering and distributing food during a widespread famine, a social service project which, as a matter of fact, saved Jacob’s other sons from dying of starvation, one of whom was named Judah who became the great-great-great-great grandfather of Jesus. So you could say that the governmental social program of distributing food run by Joseph, by God’s own design, served to insure that the savior would be born. God is even still, daily, working to preserve His creation through civil government.

The civil government is God’s instrument which he holds in His left hand to care for you and me. Thank God for civil government. Pray for our rulers because whether you like them or not, whether you voted for them or not, they are God’s agents established in their offices, not for selfish gain, but to serve you in His name. Like all human beings however, our rulers are flawed instruments, so we can’t blame God for their mis-steps. Even a virtuoso musician will sound bad if his instrument is out of tune. Even so, our rulers are God’s men and women, doing His work, even if they fail to recognize this themselves. And that is why St. Paul urges the believers at the church in Rome to obey Caesar, to pray for him, and to submit to earthly authorities as they would submit to God.

We do not ever have the right to rebel against our leaders or disrespect our leader or to disobey them with only one exception. And that exception is any time the civil government makes laws that interfere or contradict the Word of the Lord. For as the disciples said when they were being beaten for preaching Christ, “We must obey God rather than men.” At such times, we are obligated to disobey our earthly rulers even if it means our persecution or death. We must be ready to die for Christ just as He died for us if push ever comes to shove. Not only do individuals have a duty to obey God, but so do governments. And just because a thing is legal, that does not make it right. Nor does making something illegal necessarily make it wrong. Not only do individuals have a duty to obey God, but so do governments.

Over the centuries, there have been many different forms of government but all are of God. The Scriptures give us no prescription for what type of government we should employ. Americans tend to be a bit idolatrous on this point in that we tend to think that a democracy or a democratic republic is inherently Christian. If anything, one would deduce that the Bible favors having a monarchy because there is simply no other arrangement ever described in either the Old or the New Testament than that. I personally happen to believe that there are great advantages to our American way but that is debatable. The kingdoms of men come and go. Our way of life is not uniquely divine. And if the Lord does not return in between, the odds are that there will come a day when the nation of America will cease to exist. Thus our first love and loyalty is not to any particular earthly ruler or party or form of rule, but to the kingdom of heaven and the King who sits upon its sapphire throne.

There is no such thing as an illegal government for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Even though the Romans had invaded and conquered Israel, Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: "You would have no authority over Me if it had not been given to you from above." The Lord acknowledged not only that Pilate had legitimate authority over him, but he says that it had been given to him by God.

Some disciples of the Pharisees went along with a group of Herodians to ask Jesus a question. The Pharisees were highly religious men who strongly opposed the occupying government of Rome. The Herodians were the exact opposite. They were a party loyal to Herod, Rome’s puppet king in Galilee. Pharisees and Herodians had nothing in common, except apparently their opposition to Jesus.

The coin belongs to Caesar because it bears his image and carries his inscription. And we belong to God because we were created in His image and were inscribed with His promises at Holy Baptism. The Christian Church on earth is the instrument God wields in His right hand for it is the agency by which He calls all men to Himself. It is the agency by which His message of peace is made known. The church is God’s rule of grace and mercy whereby He declares sinners to be righteous on account of the blood of His Son. The church does not exist to make and administer laws, not to raise armies and levy taxes, but to conquer men’s hearts with words of hope and acts of compassion.

It can be difficult and confusing to live as citizens of two realms. But Jesus Christ is the link which bridges heaven and earth. He is Jacob’s ladder, the path to heaven. And He descended from the realm of the angels to subject himself to earthly rule, to suffering and deprivation and hardship and even death, not because of anything wrong which he had done, but to become the substitute for us. He became the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, the fall guy who paid the penalty of sin for us so that when our days on this earth are ended, we will enjoy being in the presence of the King of kings forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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4 comments:

Norman Teigen said...

I think that you have presented a very good exposition of the topic.

Judy P in Pgh said...

Is that YOU in the fancy robes?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Hey Judy! Actually, that's not me in the pic. But our church does have some purty gowns.

Peter said...

Nice sermon. And, on a side note, I like the line "whole smorgasboard of problems." Nice touch.

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