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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that they are to submit to the left hand kingdom and the right hand kingdom said … AMEN
Was that ‘AMEN’ a little weak? Are you sitting there, ‘what is pastor talking about, what is left handed and right handed kingdom?’ This is a common way for we in the Lutheran Church to distinguish between the church and the state. The church being the right and the state being the left. Referring to Matthew 22: 15-22, Dr Luther said: “We should use his passage for our instruction in the attitude we should maintain toward these two Kingdoms: God’s and the emperor’s. We should accord each one its honor and due, both being ordinances and works of God…”1 This is something that is a little tough for, well pretty much everyone to accept. But Paul comes right to the point in today’s epistle lesson: “…for the authorities are ministers of God,…”. I am a minister, my purpose is, according to Dr Luther: “The spiritual power is to reign only over the soul, seeing to it that it comes to Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar, to the Gospel and true faith…” As a “minister”, that is my authority, I’m responsible to Jesus to assure that I faithfully perform my office. The Greek word that Paul uses, leitourgo,j clearly means a public minister, it also means a “servant of the state”, as a pastor, at least according to the Lutheran Church, I hold a public office also. Certainly as a public officer, I have a responsibility to serve the public as a Christian pastor. I serve by marrying people, under the state’s authority, I serve by publicly offering Christian teaching and preaching. My ministry isn’t just limited to Lutheran Christians, although my first obligation is to the church that I serve. As such, my first obligation is to Christ. St Augustine writes: “But as far as the spiritual side is concerned, in which we believe in God and are called into his kingdom, it is not right for us to be subject to any man who seeks to overturn in us the very thing which God has been pleased to grant us so that we might obtain eternal life.”2 There certainly have been governments that have tried to turn Christians away from Jesus. We see it in the world today, in China, southeast Asia, North Korea, India, middle east. We certainly watch with concern, as we discussed last week, groups like Isis in Iraq. The world has bizarre ideas about the church and it seems to believe that Christians should roll over and play dead, they think that the church should be passive and weak. We aren’t called to be stupid and when the world tries to force us away from Jesus we should push back and defend our beliefs. But we do that only in terms of attempts to make us deny Jesus and our Christian walk. St Augustine also writes: “…if anyone thinks that he ought to submit to the point where he accepts that someone who is his superior in temporal affairs should have authority even over his faith, he falls into greater error.”3 We have seen the world try to do that. In China and Africa where persecution is commonplace, Christians continue to defy the government and lift up Christ in worship and praise. Paradoxically we are called to serve the state, but never in any way that we deny Christ or attempt to undermine others faith in Christ. Also paradoxically the church has grown dramatically in both China and Africa. The Christian church in Africa is growing faster than any church in the world. When we look back in history, we see that governments, starting with the Romans, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Iron Curtain countries, countries that tried to suppress the church have ended up being destroyed. The pagans who destroyed the Roman Empire became more Christian than the Christians in Rome. The Christian church in Russia has grown dramatically after the fall of the Soviet Empire.
Abraham Kuyper the twentieth century Dutch journalist, theologian and politician in his famous proclamation declared, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine’! Is the reminder which should resound in the ears of every Christian..” There is no where and nothing that Christ does not reign. We may have rulers that seem to be acting against the church, but we have to remember that we still owe those appointed over us our compliance. As Americans we certainly have the regular opportunity to change the political situation, and we should vote and participate in government. Our participation should be, just as it should be in any area of our lives, always remembering Whose we are. We should participate remembering that we are sons and daughters of God’s and that should guide us as to how we participate. There are many in the church who have tried to make the church part of some political machine and that has been as much on the liberal side of the political spectrum as it has on the conservative side, but it usually results in the loss of credibility of all Christians. The liberal Christian church is not taken seriously in the world anymore, it is usually seen as just a different kind of social service agency. The conservative church has been seen as moralistic, attempting to make the government an instrument of the church. Neither liberal or conservative Christianity is endorsed in the Bible. In Biblical instances, we see that Christians might have to submit to the civil government, but always maintaining their integrity in Christ.
This does not keep people from trying to make the church an instrument of their political beliefs. I will happily describe my political resume to you and I can demonstrate that I have pursued my political beliefs in the political process. But you will never hear me pursue some kind of political agenda from the pulpit. Likewise I expect that will be respected by those who come to worship. You are more than welcome, frankly expected to pursue your political rights, in the context of being a Christian in the political process, but I would also expect that when you are in this sanctuary, that you respect that you are in the “right-hand kingdom” and that you leave all your political buttons and pamphlets in your car and make your discussion about Christian discipleship.
In 1 Peter 2:13, Peter also tells us to be subject to every human institution. That we Christians are to be good citizens. I’m sure you can imagine how the Roman Christians received Paul’s direction to submit to the Roman government that was persecuting them. There are times when Christians are called to submit, even to death. We don’t like to think about that, we certainly are inclined to resist that and there may be times when the Holy Spirit enables us or guides us to resist. But our witness is always more effective when we submit and yes, sometimes, suffer unjustly for Christ.
This may seem odd to the world, Dr Luther comments: “…I am not troubled that the world esteems the Church so meanly; what care I that the usurers, the nobility, gentry, citizens, country-people, covetous men and drunkards condemn and esteem me as dirt? In due time, I will esteem them as little. We must not suffer ourselves to be deceived or troubled as to what the world thinks of us.”4 We are not called to live for the world, we may be put in a position that we will be oppressed by the world and we may be forced to obey a leader who we do not see as Christian, and we are permitted to defend ourselves in faith in Jesus, we are not permitted to do so in a way that defies what the Bible teaches us. I know that this sounds confusing, and there is only so far I can go in fifteen minutes. So in terms of how we live in the world as Christians, remembering that our Savior sacrificed for us, how are we to act when we might have to sacrifice as a witness to Jesus who died for us? Take some time to think about that this week and how that might be in your life right now.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.