Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
We believe that we are Children of God, created, redeemed, and sanctified.
And as children, heirs of the promise.
That promise is summed up in these words from Ephesians:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
To be children of God, and to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all creation, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, is to make a bold statement about the status quo in this world.
At the level of our faith, we are no longer citizens of this world, subject to the authority of earthly rulers and powers, but subject rather to the reign of God.
Having said that I should acknowledge that Paul does exhort us in Romans to be subject to the governing authorities.
However in Phillipians it is also written that “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We live, you see, as citizens of a foreign land, aliens and sojourners in this land, whose sights are set on the Kingdom of God that is promised, and are not content with the status of the world in which we live.
The Spirit of God is a restless spirit, that leans into the future, God’s future, and claims the promise of what could be and what will be.
H. Richard Niebuhr wrote about the relationship of the Christian to the world in his book, Christ and Culture.
Christ against Culture. For the exclusive Christian, history is the story of a rising church or Christian culture and a dying pagan civilization.
Christ of Culture. For the cultural Christian, history is the story of the Spirit's encounter with nature.
Christ above Culture. For the synthesist, history is a period of preparation under law, reason, gospel, and church for an ultimate communion of the soul with God.
Christ and Culture in Paradox. For the dualist, history is the time of struggle between faith and unbelief, a period between the giving of the promise of life and its fulfillment.
Christ Transforming Culture. For the conversionist, history is the story of God's mighty deeds and humanity's response to them. Conversionists live somewhat less "between the times" and somewhat more in the divine "now" than do the followers listed above. Eternity, to the conversionist, focuses less on the action of God before time or life with God after time, and more on the presence of God in time. Hence the conversionist is more concerned with the divine possibility of a present renewal than with conservation of what has been given in creation or preparing for what will be given in a final redemption.
Is the Kingdom of God a very present reality, or out there, somewhere in the future?
And what does that mean for our life in the here and now?
One of the things we do as Christians is to relegate Christ and his reign to the future.
The Kingdom of God will one day be, but is not now.
We hope for it.
Jesus will one day reign over all.
But not today.
Today we live as citizens of an earthly kingdom.
When we do that, we strip Jesus of the power and authority with which the Father has clothed him.
And we. . . can’t do that.
WE don’t have that authority.
But that’s not to say that we don’t often submit ourselves to earthly authorities, and declare our allegiance first and foremost to them.
When I look at the politics of this world, I’m convinced there are two basic viewpoints that govern our convictions and guide our actions.
Roughly, these worldviews correspond to the division between liberals and conservatives, but not entirely.
But in general, people fall into one of two camps.
The ‘conservative camp’ rallies around slogans such as “Make America Great Again”, and underlying that is a conviction that there once was an ideal time, and our challenge for the present is to reach back into our history to reclaim that which we once had, but lost somewhere along the way.
The ‘liberal or progressive camp’ believes that we are on a mission to make the world a little better, in every way, every day. It’s a belief that the future will be better than the past.
Using a Biblical image, one group wants to return to the Garden of Eden, the other yearns for the City of God.
The question is where do we find our hope?
One looks back to the nation of our childhood and hopes that we can return to that former time, often forgetting the challenges that we faced then.
The other looks forward to an idealized future in which we overcome the old challenges and wake to an ever better day.
Are your best days ahead of you or behind you?
That’s the question that underlies the politics of our day and which shapes our world view.
But the more significant question is whether the government under which we live has the capacity to fulfill the hope that we cling to.
And related to that, is the question of the Kingdom.
And our citizenship.
And who is our Lord and God.
For all of the differences that plague us, one thing most everyone can agree on is that things could be, should be, better than they are.
But who will make it so?
Put another way, just ask yourself this question.
“Does your hope for the future lie with the government or the Church?”
I’m not sure that I want to trust either of those as earthly institutions, as both of them have too often been flawed, becoming as much a part of the problem as they are a solution to it.
Perhaps the more pertinent question is a simpler question.
“Who is your Lord?”
And what does that mean for your life?
When you look to the future does your hope lie in earthly rulers like Barack Obama or Donald Trump?
Or in Christ, who is Lord of all creation and far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named?
Of course, as Christians we have no choice but to say that Christ Jesus is our Lord.
That’s who we are.
And yet, which authority do we submit to?
Do we live our lives as ‘good citizens’ of the United States?
Or the Kingdom of God?
When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom, he says:
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
There is nothing more contrary to an earthly Kingdom, than that first sentence: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
As a nation we kill our enemies.
We punish those who hate us, and shun those who curse us.
And, of course, we protect ourselves against those who would abuse us.
We celebrate our victories over others, and avoid at all cost showing any sign of weakness or defeat.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
When we hear such words of Jesus, most of us would conclude that an ideal such as this is simply not wise or practical with respect to governing our country.
“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.”
We may consider ourselves to be a Christian nation, but most of us would say that’s no way to run a country.
But just maybe, Jesus, whom we declare to be Lord of All Creation, knows something about life in the Kingdom that we don’t.
One final note:
When I get dismayed about the state of the politics in our land I find myself wishing that there was an option to be a citizen, not of this country, but of the Kingdom of God.
But actually, not. We are called to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, heirs of salvation, and Children of God.
We acknowledge one Lord and Father of us all.
That’s the life of faith, a life of being a sojourner, an alien resident of this land, but a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
It is to look forward in hope to the fulfillment of that Kingdom, while at the same time living our lives under the reign of the one true King.