November 11, 2012
Sermon, Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity
God Our Home
Psalm 33, Philppians 3:17-21, Matthew 22:15-22
Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity
November 11, 2012
I cannot think of a more timely and appropriate passage of Scripture than those specified for today in our Prayer Book. America has just come through another exhausting election. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel have been burned. Thousands of ink cartridges have been emptied and sent to "landfills," and countless kilowatts of electricity have been consumed, all in the attempt to convince us which candidates are most qualified to save us money. And, of course, countless tons of mud were thrown. Now that it is over, a sense of exasperation has settled over our country as we have come to the realisation that we are deeply divided, and, no matter who is elected president, half of us don't want him. It is a good time to be reminded that our home is in God, and no matter what direction America takes, we will be alright.
I think the very first thing we can gather from our Bible readings is that it is lawful to "render unto Caesar." The Bible makes it clear that civil government is one of the ways God blesses humanity. Romans 13:1 tells us government is ordained of God. The book of Judges, after recounting the disintegration of the Hebrew nation, and the vice and civil and moral relativism into which it had fallen, says in 17:6, "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did what was right in his own eyes." There was no government to protect the rights of the people. So the strong preyed on the weak, and the rich oppressed the poor. Each person made up his own laws, and they often allowed him to do evil things to others. Returning to Romans 13:1 we read, "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers," meaning, the civil government. According to Romans 13:4, government is a minister of God, even Caesar. Corrupt as the Roman system was at that time, our Lord said, "render unto Caesar."
This brings us to the very point of government, its job, its reason for existing; it exists to defend the rights of the people. Romans 13:3 says it exists to be a terror to evil. It exists to give us a way to address crimes and grievances against us, without having to resort to vigilantism and personal vengeance. It allows the people to band together for common defense which prevents the strong from taking advantage of the weak, or enriching themselves by oppressing others. Revelation chapters 5-11 chronicle the breakdown of government in Jerusalem during its siege and destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D. As the rule of law disintegrated, criminal gangs took over, robbing and killing at will. It appears that people had a choice of three ways to die in those days. If they had food, they could die by murder because one of the criminal gangs would kill them for it. If they didn't have food, they could starve. Or they could try to escape from the city, which meant certain capture and crucifixion by the Romans. Government exists to prevent such horrors.
But not all government is good government. Even government that is chosen by the people is not always good. Wasn't Hitler was elected? In 1 Samuel 8 we read some of the evil things a government can inflict upon people. Referring to the king Israel asked for, Samuel warned, he will take your sons and daughters to be his servants. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and oliveyards. He will take your best livestock and the best of your land and claim it for his own, "and ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye have chosen" (1 Samuel 8:10-22). Many people today live under oppressive governments which prove the truth of Samuel's words.
It seems to me that I see two primary ways by which governments are established. The first, I would call government from above. By this method government is imposed upon people by those stronger than they. Any who oppose it are generally killed, beaten into submission, or escape to another area. The second I would call government from below. In this method the people band together for mutual defense and benefit. The rulers are subject to the will of the people, who, in theory, retain the power and authority of government.
The United States was formed as a government from below, but so was that of the former Soviet Union. Thus we see that even the best intentions can result in bad government. Many of the governments from below were established on a form of utopianism which attempted to establish a perfect world, or, at least, a perfect society. Some of them have been good, others, not so good, but none have created utopia.
This brings up an important point; even the best governments devised by man are run by people who share all the human frailties and limitations. Even the best governments have their problems, and prove the truth of the view that government is a necessary evil. Therefore it is important to see that our hope can never ultimately reside in government because our hope cannot ultimately reside in man.
Our hope resides in Christ. His is the one perfect government because He is the one perfect Governor. As a Ruler, He has no sin, nor is He susceptible to temptation. As the owner of all things, He has no need to manipulate His government for personal gain. He rules for the good of His people, and His Kingdom is the Kingdom of Peace.
His government does exist here on earth now. It exists in the hearts of people of many nations and races and backgrounds. It is not characterised by capital cities, geographical boundaries, or any of the structures that characterise governments devised by people. His government is the government of Heaven. Those who are citizens of His Kingdom actually have their citizenship in Heaven, in a place where corruption, crime, discord, and oppression are unknown. There are no frantic elections there, no concerns about the next ruler, no coups, no rebellions, no recessions, no wars, poverty, hunger, or bailouts. All is peace and goodness forever.
We actually have a glimpse of this in the fourth and fifth chapters of the book of Revelation. There we see God seated on His throne in perfect peace. On earth the tempests rage, wars and famines consume their victims, and the kings of earth make war on God's people. But their cursings and fightings cannot touch God. Nor can they harm those who have been gathered into Heaven. Chapter 6 shows the martyrs who died for the testimony, the faith, which they held. Where are they? Secure and safe under the throne of God. No more harm can reach them. They rest from their labours and enjoy the wonders of Heaven forever.
Your destiny, if you are in Christ, is with them. Your citizenship transcends that of any nation you may be a part of here on earth. You are united with countless others whose home is in God Himself, who will one day take you to be with Him in glory forever. Meanwhile you can be a good citizen of your earthly nation. You can and should give all due honour to its laws and rulers. You should pray and work for its peace and prosperity. You should do all for it that can be done that is in agreement with the teachings of Scripture. And you can hope and pray that its government will be good government that will allow you to live in freedom and peace. And, by God's grace, good government is not dead in America. By God's grace America can be better and do better, and will survive in some form in spite of our imperfections and problems. But we who are Christ's need to remember always that our hope is not in government, or even in America. Our hope, like our home, is in God.