ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH FEBRUARY 21, 2016
“ARE YOU WILLING?”
Philippians 3: 17 – 4:1; Luke 13: 31 – 35
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Questions aout citizenship have been in the news a lot lately. In Canada, The Oath of Allegiance Act was challenged when a young woman refused to show her face during her citizenship ceremony. In the United States many illegal immigrants have given birth on American soil to Am. citizens creating legal and moral dilemmas for Am. immigration. When people hold dual citizenship and are living and paying taxes in one country, when tragedy strikes, to what extent is the second country responsible for their well-being? What is Canada’s responsibility, if any, to protect and bring back children born to radicalized Canadian women married to ISIL members in the Middle East – are these children Canadian citizens and if so, what is our obligation? Some Mormon communities see their settlements as commonwealths of heaven with their own laws and citizenship. They reject the authority of the secular state while receiving welfare from these same governments. They believe they’re called to destroy “Gentile” governments and “bleeding the beast” is one way they weaken their enemy.
In the heyday of Christendom, when western democratic countries were based their laws on Biblical values and politicians believed they were servants under God, being a Christian citizen was simple – devout Christians were co-operative citizens. By being a good citizen one assumed they were pleasing Christ. At times in history this wasn’t so clear-cut. In Nazi Germany committed Christians went along with an evil regime because “good citizens” did what the government said. They learned the government isn’t God and they’d been misguided in their allegiance to the ruling authorities.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus had been in Galilee teaching when some Pharisees came to warn him that Herod Antipas, the king, was plotting to kill him. This is the same Herod who beheaded John the Baptist for calling him up on the carpet for his ungodly lifestyle – divorcing his wife to marry the wife of his half-brother Phillip. Herod knew there was a connection between John and Jesus. As Jesus’ popularity grew, Herod began to view him as a threat to the throne. The Pharisees advised Jesus to “get away from here” (Luke 3:31). Jesus’ replied, “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m casting out demons and healing the sick; the third day I’m wrapping things up. Jerusalem is where prophets are killed.” (vs. 33) Jesus is clear that he’s not afraid of Herod and will not be cowed by him. Herod may think he’s a powerful threat but he’s outside his jurisdiction – prophets die in Jerusalem not Galilee. He goes on to refer to Herod as a “fox”, a term we’d use to call someone sly or clever, but in Jesus’ day “a fox” was a term of contempt referring to an unimportant, powerless, even effeminate man. Any regular citizen would realize this is not a good way to address the King. Jesus viewed Herod as insignificant in the grand scheme of things. His threats carried no weight because he was not the one in charge. He may have been Kind but he was not Lord. Jesus had his mission from God and it was God alone that he heeded. The authority and power of an earthly overlord meant nothing to Jesus – his Lord was his God and God was directing him to Jerusalem. His fate was not in Herod’s hands, but in God’s. Jesus didn’t view himself as a citizen of Herod’s kingdom, Jesus’ was a subject of his heavenly Father and no one else.
Paul held the same view. He told his readers, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20) Paul reminded the Philippian Christians that just as Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, neither is ours. We are first and foremost citizens of heaven and subjects of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Think of it this way: if a Canadian is a person who lives in Canada and is subject to the government of our country, then a Christian is a person who lives in Christ and is accountable to him above all else. We may live in Canada but our true home, our real country is heaven. When my mother’s family immigrated to Canada, most of them settled in and called Canada home. My grandfather never could. Although he lived in Canada, his true home was Italy. Eventually, he left to live there. In the same way, while we live on earth, in a wonderful country called Canada, our true home is far away where Christ lives. Our true leader is Jesus Christ. Our allegiance is not to the laws and customs of any earthly realm, but to the laws and customs set by our heavenly King.
Now I’m not inciting treason or civil disobedience. I’m not suggesting we stop paying taxes and bleed the beast. What I am saying is that when the government speaks we need to discern. Not everything a government does is in keeping with the will of God. Because something is legal doesn’t make it right for us as Christians. Many years ago the government decided Sunday shopping was the right of all Canadians; as Christians we knew that a day of worship and rest was pleasing to God. Not only did we not stand up for Christ, we gradually stopped our own practice of keeping a day set apart to remember what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Recently at an R.C. hospital in California a doctor was sued because a woman, who had just delivered a baby, requested to have her tubes tied and the doctor refused. Tying a woman’s tubes is a perfectly legal act but this doctor believed it wasn’t an action that would please her Lord. She refused to put the law of the land before her church’s teaching. For many years now Canada had no law on abortion. While running for office our Prime Minister said that new Liberal MPs were being screened on their views of abortion and “will be expected to vote pro-choice on any bills.” This means all Roman Catholics and many other Christians are not welcome in the Liberal party. If a pro-abortion law is passed, many doctors could find themselves choosing between obedience to the crown and obedience to their Lord. Again, pro-life doctors in Quebec find themselves in a similar dilemma. Does making euthanasia legal also make it right? When the laws of the land conflict with our Christian morality, are we citizens of Canada or citizens of heaven? If the government decides to exterminate an entire race of people, as in Nazi Germany, does one “do their duty” to the regime or to Christ? Who is our Lord? By whose rule are we ruled?
Hugh Latimer was the Bishop of Worcester, England during the time of the Tudors when the reign over England flipped back and forth between Protestant and Catholic rulers. Latimer was chaplain to the Protestant King Edward VI. He was later burned at the stake as a heretic by the authority of “Bloody Mary”. The following story helps us to see how his end came about. One Sunday Latimer was leading worship when the King entered the sanctuary. Everyone gasped knowing that Latimer’s head would be on a stick if he said something to offend the young monarch. Latimer stood in the pulpit and said, “Latimer, Latimer, Latimer. Be careful what you say, the King of England is here.” He paused and continued, “Latimer, Latimer, Latimer. Be careful what you say, The King of Kings is here”. Rev. Hugh Latimer feared only one Lord. He served one Lord. He was obedient to one Lord. That Lord was not England, it was Jesus Christ. Are you willing to be that faithful and that fearless?
It’s interesting that both Jesus and Paul lamented over those who did not call Jesus “Lord”. Jesus said, “Behold, your house is forsaken. I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (vs. 34) When Jesus’ referred to “your house” he wasn’t speaking of the Temple or he’d have said “God’s house”; he was speaking of the nation of Israel and the citizens of Jerusalem. The phrase “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is a quote from Psalm 118:26 referring to the Messiah. Jesus is saying that until they recognize he is the Messiah and respond accordingly, with more than lip service as they did on Palm Sunday, they will be on the outside of God’s grace. Because Israel rejected Jesus, God abandoned them. In Philippians 3:18, Paul also weeps over those who “… live as enemies of the cross of Christ” because “Their end is destruction…their minds are set on earthly things.” (3:19)
We’re blessed in Canada because our governments still uphold basic human rights and freedoms, which create a just nation where all people equal. Values which don’t contradict our faith. Yet as our country drifts farther from the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ, into a secular worldview, we will need to become more discerning about what honours our Lord and what does not. We can no longer assume a “Herod” will do that for us. It is left to us to live in ways that are best for us as Jesus’ followers and which bring him glory. The world is changing and it is complex but many people and nations could find themselves forsaken, outside of God’s grace awaiting destruction. We are first and foremost citizens of heaven and subjects of our Lord, Jesus Christ. May we be willing to live for him.