I saw Dinesh D’Souza’s movie entitled “America” and found it to be fascinating. It is particularly interesting to view our country through the eyes of an immigrant who has chosen to be here rather than being an American by birth. The premise of the film is what the world would be like today if this great country had never been birthed. It is a frightening thing to consider. But what stood out to me in the movie was how polarized people are about our nation. One generation was raised to believe that America is the Promised Land, which is how Dinesh sees it, while another generation was raised to see this country as an oppressive bully that was wrongly conceived. I was shocked that some people Dinesh interviewed, who were Americans, actually wished that America did not exist. The question that this polarization presented to me was how we are disciples of Christ are to believe and behave when it comes to this nation and our citizenship in it.
First we need to get our loyalties in proper perspective. We just read in Hebrews about the saints who have come before us were sojourners, seeking a homeland, which is a city prepared by God. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians that our citizenship is in heaven. This of course does not mean that we cannot take an earthly citizenship or even love our nation but it does mean that we need to keep our ultimate focus on the prize of our heavenly citizenship. When you read the Book of Acts you can see how St. Paul used his Roman citizenship as a kind of ace up his sleeve to open up opportunities for the Gospel. But it is also clear, both in Acts and in his Epistles that his central identity was that of a servant of Christ who was already seated with Him in heavenly places.
One might object that such a perspective would make us ambivalent citizens but I would argue that it actually makes us just the opposite. It makes us better citizens. I say that first because it keeps God as God and country as country and allows you the freedom to speak of one without the other. What I mean by that is it helps us have a healthy separation of Church and State. Read in the Old Testament how God dealt with Israel for her idolatry and you will understand that when we either make an idol out patriotism, as some people on the right will do, or when we place our government in the place of God as our Provider, as some on the left will do, then we may be setting ourselves up for judgment. What is needed is the healthy view of a Christian, who will not call Caesar “lord” but will pray for the king and all in authority as the Scriptures command us to do. That is what is best for a nation.
Second having the priority of our citizenship in heaven makes us better citizens because being citizens of heaven gives us a greater objectivity to both support and critique our nation, and that is what good citizens do. Heavenly mindedness equips us to offer reality checks. If America is your only hope then one of two things is going to happen to you. You will either fall into deep despair about how far we have drifted from our founders’ vision or you will become blindingly loyal and allow ever increasing encroachment upon our freedoms. Neither of those options helps anyone.
May I make an audacious declaration? Because we have the first amendment and it is the 4th of July I think I shall. As Christians we have a better take on reality than secularists and statists and so we are even better equipped to provide a reality check for our country in order to keep it healthy. Why do I say that? I say that because our faith informs us both in whom we trust AND the limitations are of the state. This nation was founded on the truth that we have been given our rights by God and not by the State but how could a secular humanist or an atheist make or defend such a claim?
It is not an accident that ancient kings and pharaohs and caesars declared themselves divine or that modern philosophies like communism require atheism. They do this to put themselves or the State in the place of the one true God. But we as Christians, who through Jesus Christ know the one true God, we can call upon the state to perform its God given role and require it to stay within that God given role. We pray in the 1928 prayers for the State to punish wickedness and vice, because that is their job. St. Paul argued that is why God has given the sword to the State. But as we just saw in the Supreme Court ruling we are to challenge the State when it steps beyond its boundaries and infringes on our God given rights. The illegal and immoral attempt to require a Christian family run business to violate their conscience and pay for measures that cause an end to life was shocking.
And I think it is also best for our nation when Christians stand up for the truth and push back against the lies. The Supreme Court ruling was a victory for religious freedom but the cries and lies throughout the media and social media is that it was an attack on women’s reproductive rights. Here is the reality check. Hobby Lobby was not opposed to women’s reproductive rights. Their plan offered 16 different contraception methods. They didn’t even say a woman could not have an abortion. They just were saying that if they want to end life then they were not going to pay for it. That was as decision that the owners of Hobby Lobby came to through religious conviction, and given our constitution, it was both amazing and distressing to me that this should have gone all the way to the Supreme Court. It is also amazing and distressing that only 5 of the Justices saw it for what it was, a violation of religious freedom. To show you how far things have gone, in 1993 President Clinton signed into to law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was passed unanimously by the House and only had 3 no votes in the Senate. Now barley 20 years later we could use another such law to restore our religious freedoms but what would be the chances of getting a near unanimous passage today?
Being amazed and distressed leads me to a third reason that our heavenly citizenship makes us better citizens. That is because we know the power of prayer to move the hearts of people and rulers. Paul writes to Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge you that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We should never underestimate the power of prayer and think to ourselves “Well all I can do is to pray about it.” Prayer is the force God utilizes to bring about change. If we are not praying then we are a part of the problem.
In the 1970’s I heard an incredible teaching on praying for our governing authorities and I was terribly convicted that I was not doing it. Since that time I have seen a number of governing authorities come and go and to be very honest with you there are some that I have had great difficulty praying for. In my flesh I wanted to pray against them rather than for them but I knew that was wrong. If in our Gospel lesson today Jesus tells us to pray, even for our enemies, then it would clearly be wrong for me to pray against our authorities. What I try to keep in mind, when I have find myself choking out a prayer for someone that I think is doing great harm to us, is that St. Paul was calling upon Timothy to pray for the very government that would soon kill him.
Another great example of praying correctly is what I have placed in your bulletin. The picture is of the Anglican Chaplain who led the Continental Congress in prayer. It is fascination to me that this Continental Congress, called for the nation yet unborn, to engage in fasting and prayer. Notice how they were praying for the king and for peace even as war loomed. It was not a prayer of vengeance and animosity towards that king; rather it was a prayer of humility and repentance on their part. Listen to these words. “that we may, with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins; and offer up our joint supplications to the all-wise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events; humbly beseeching him to forgive our iniquities, to remove our present calamities, to avert those desolating judgments, with which we are threatened, and to bless our rightful sovereign, King George the third, and [to] inspire him with wisdom to discern and pursue the true interest of all his subjects, that a speedy end may be put to the civil discord between Great Britain and the American colonies, without farther effusion of blood:”
As Christians we can and should repent to the Lord on behalf of our nation. When we pray it is not an “us” versus “them” proposition. We call upon God to forgive us because if we don’t no one will. We pray for our nation because there are some wonderful promises and example in the Bible of the Lord responding to such prayers and healing the land.
A fourth way that our heavenly citizenship makes us better citizens is that it requires us to seek and serve Christ in all people. As Christians we know that when we are doing it unto the least of these we are doing it unto Him. Caring for one another and for those who cannot care for themselves makes us a better nation. It moves our country from the mentality of the 80’s, when the motto was “Greed is good,” to the command of Christ to “love one another.” It was pointed out in Dinesh’s movie by a researcher that religious people give 4 times the amount of money to charities than secular people and so our heavenly mindedness makes the world a better place.
Being raised in a military family, I was raised to be patriotic. I am to this day. While I don’t have blinders to what America has done and is doing wrong, I do not accept the shame that revisionists want me to have for being an American. The histories of these revisionists is lies and we are not to live in lies. At the same time I am more than just an American, I am also a disciple of Christ. As such my focus is the kingdom of God and seeking that kingdom above all things. I also believe that the things that ail our land will not be ultimately solved through politics. What our nation needs is a King or rather I should say the King of Kings. He alone can heal our land. So let’s have our heavenly citizenship inform our earthly citizenship, call our nation back to God and call upon God to heal our land. May God bless America.