20th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 24 – A)
October 18, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. Matthew.
As we find ourselves on the cusp of Election Day, I’ll bet all of you are looking forward to the end of the campaign commercials and phone calls. It’s been several months of one ad after another and they’re rarely more than attacks on their opponent. I wonder if these commercials make any impact at all. Do they change peoples’ minds? Maybe, but they’ve never changed mine. The commercials do serve a purpose though; they remind us of the importance of voting and understanding the candidates’ positions. Somewhat disappointing is that only about sixty percent of Christians voted in 2016, especially considering the policies that are up for election. Some have said that Christians need to stay out politics and focus instead on God. Some of you may think I’m doing something wrong by even bringing this topic to the pulpit, and that I should stick with Jesus. Jesus would probably disagree with you, at least based on the Gospel for today. The reality is that Christians have a responsibility in both realms of our lives: The Church and the State.
To be sure, Jesus does make a distinction between government and God, but it’s not a distinction in which they are entirely opposed to one another. Rather it’s a distinction in which they’re in relationship with one another. When we understand that relationship, it makes this text very appropriate sixteen days before an election. Understanding that relationship does not tell us who to vote for. It tells us where to vote from, and as people redeemed by the blood of Jesus, we vote from a heart of faith in Him and in His truth.
By teaching about two separate kingdoms, the Kingdom of the Right and the Kingdom of the Left, Luther introduced a unique concept among Christians. The relationship between the two begins by understanding that even though there are two kingdoms, there is only one King. God is in charge of both and He works in and through both. In the Kingdom of the Right, God rules over His people with His grace as it’s administered by His Church on earth. We don’t enter this kingdom through some human royal bloodline or citizenship. Truth be told, we come from a sinful blood line as citizens of Hell.
But we have a Savior! Our Lord took upon Himself our human nature from the moment of His miraculous conception. His holy life He lived in our place. His holy suffering and death on the cross satisfied our King’s justice and paid sin’s awful wages for you once and for all. His holy resurrection guarantees new life for you here and the certain hope of your own resurrection when He returns. He splashes this new life and certain hope upon us in the waters of Holy Baptism. He gives us His Holy Spirit and makes us members of His Kingdom, royal sons and daughters. He nullifies our original citizenship under Satan and brings us into His Kingdom, whose glory has no end.
We have joyous responsibilities in His Kingdom, things to “render” to Him as our text says. He calls us to render our love to Him and to our neighbor. He calls us to render obedience to His commands to live as royal sons and daughters. He calls us to bring others into His Kingdom as we witness to His love in word and deed. He calls us to influence the culture in which we live by being its light and salt, and this brings us to God’s other Kingdom, the Kingdom of the Left.
In the Kingdom of the Left, God’s rules over us through authorities He places over us such as parents, employers, teachers, and the government. The government is obviously the focus today. God reminds us in Romans 13 that the governing authorities come from Him. He works in and through them to accomplish His will. And as we have responsibilities in the Right-Hand Kingdom, so we have responsibilities in the Left-Hand one. We are to “render to Caesar” as our text says. God asks us to honor our public leaders and pray for them. We’re to obey the laws and regulations government places over us unless they require us to do violate God’s commands in the Bible then we obey God rather than man. We’re to participate in our government as we’re able and we use our Christian faith to guide us when we do.
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barret is being denounced by her opponents because she’s a practicing Christian. She says that she won’t use her faith to decide issues of law, but her opponents think that the Christian faith should immediately disqualify an individual from certain jobs or positions. What they fail to appreciate is that we don’t leave our Christian citizenship papers behind when we participate in political activities. We have dual citizenship; we live in both kingdoms at the same time. This dual citizenship means that our Christian citizenship dictates how we relate to others in the political arena. Things like, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Speak the truth in love”, and “You are the Salt and Light of the world” still apply in the Kingdom of the Left. Afterall, our ultimate goal goes beyond trying to change the culture. We desire that God would change hearts and minds to know Him.
But Pau’s command to “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” also applies. God calls us to boldly stand up and proclaim God’s truth, and to stand against those lies that Satan speaks. We both stand up and stand against by being voices in the public square and influencing people, laws, and policies that protect God’s truth. And like Jesus, we engage the issues of today from the perspective of God’s truth. It’s His opinion that leads us in choosing candidates and supporting or opposing legislation, As you may have read in the August Lutheran Witness “Your identity in Christ trumps your identity as an American and even as an individual with opinions. Every time. No exceptions.” God’s truth overrides everything!
This is one reason why it’s important not to lump all the issues out there under the category of “political issues.” It’s true that some issues are purely political and Christians can disagree (as long as we do so in love). We can disagree on things like taxes and health care and immigration. And even though I have my own opinion on these topics, I have no business sharing them from the pulpit. However, when it comes to God’s truth issues – the sanctity of life, the holiness of marriage and human sexuality, only God’s opinion counts. On these issues, I’m compelled to speak God’s truth because they’re being disparaged and denigrated by the media, Hollywood, the universities, and by every level of government in America. Still, I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, rather where to vote from; our Christian responsibility to proclaim and defend God’s truth.
Here are some examples: We can disagree on the best way to care for the poor. But if someone suggested that we can deal with poverty by killing poor people, obviously we’d be guided by the Fifth Commandment which condemns murder. We can disagree on the best way to deal with a crisis pregnancy situation and debate the pros and cons of parenting vs. adoption. But when people suggest, as America has done for nearly fifty years, that we deal with a crisis pregnancy by killing the unborn baby, we must disagree and proclaim God’s truth about the sanctity of life. All life is sacred from the moment of fertilization. Right now, a new amendment to Iowa’s constitution denying the right to abortion, is working its way through the system. As Christians we must support it.
We can disagree on the best way to deal with suffering associated with chronic or terminal diseases or the effects of aging. We can discuss the options of home care, nursing home care, hospice care, whatever. But when people suggest we deal with human suffering by killing the sufferer – which is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia through Physician Assisted Suicide = we would be compelled to boldly proclaim God’s comforting truth about His ability to work in and through suffering to accomplish His will and purpose. Assisted Suicide, by the way, is an issue that that will surface in Iowa depending on the results of Election Day.
We can debate the best treatment for those who are transgender, those who are confused about their gender and identity. Is intensive therapy necessary? Will the kids just grow out of it? But approving puberty blocking drugs and surgery, even for minors, we’re violating God’s Word. He is the one who determines our gender, and the horrific modification of a person’s body is a sin, one that Christians cannot endorse.
So, what do we do? How do we as baptized citizens of the Kingdom of the Right go about engaging our fellow citizens and government in the Kingdom of the Left? As Christ came humbly, and yet boldly proclaimed the truth, for He is the Truth, we engage from a humble perspective. We admit our imperfections, even as we speak the truth with gentleness and love. Remember that the bottom line isn’t changing the culture. It’s changing hearts.
We also honor those God has placed in authority over us, especially those with whom we disagree. We pray for our leaders at every level of government, for our country, and that God, as Lord of the nations, will be at work according to His will. We pray also for the election of candidates who will uphold God’s truth.
As Christians, we must educate ourselves and to identify the differences between political issues and God’s truth issues. When we vote, we must look at the totality of the policies and candidates and understand which candidates or policies we must flat out reject as contrary to God’s Word. And whenever we get a chance, we let others know the truth of the Scriptures and God’s will for all aspects of our nation so that they too will vote according to God’s truth while also understanding their roles as citizens.
Jesus says, “Render unto Caesar” which is amazing considering that many of the Caesars after Jesus, were terrible and evil men. We may not like them or their policies, but we follow, honor, obey, pray for, and respect the government God placed over us. Because we also “Render unto God” by loving Him and our neighbor. Read and learn His Word so you know what He teaches. Obey His commands to live as royal sons and daughters. Bear witness to His love in word and deed. Engage the culture in which we live by being its light and salt to change it for good and, more importantly, so others might know the love of Jesus, His gift of forgiveness and eternal life. This is what it means to vote from and not for: God is pleased when we vote with hearts informed by His Word.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen