Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sermon -- For the nation in recognition of Independence Day (July 3, 2016)

Focus on God's gift of our Nation in recognition of July 4.

1 TIMOTHY 2:1-7


In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul's first epistle to Timothy has much to do with the organization of a Christian congregation and of the Divine Services in it.  Perhaps it is surprising, then, what St. Paul highlights as one of the most important matters.  He writes, “First of all, then, I urge 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.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)  St. Paul urges Christian congregations, wherever they gather, “first of all,” to pray for their earthly rulers and authorities, whoever they happen to be.
     As Americans, we have the right to speak freely about our leaders and authorities.  We also seem to make it our duty to find every fault we can with them.  Though our leaders will have their faults—for, no one is faultless—St. Paul still tells us to pray for them.  Over the past 20 years, I have led the congregation's prayers for President Clinton, Bush, and Obama.  In about 7 months, there will be another name to add to that list.  We have also prayed for Governors Engler, Granholm, and Snyder.  Sadly, Christians have cringed at praying for these leaders.  Perhaps you have even withheld your “Amen” from those prayers.  If so, your problem is not really with those leaders as much as it is with the word of God.  For this is what the Lord says: “First of all, then, I urge 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.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
     In praying for your leaders, you are not endorsing their policies, anymore than St. Paul was endorsing Caesar's claim to be Lord or imperial persecution against Christians.  The reason for your prayers is exactly what St. Paul says, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:2)  We pray for peace that we may live in peace and proclaim God's peace.
     Perhaps one reason people are so passionate about politics is because people believe the government exists to fix all our problems.  It is true that the government serves to make life orderly and easier.  The police arrest criminals to keep communities safe.  The highway department is making I-275 a much smoother ride.  Congress distributes taxes to provide for community services and disaster relief.  But a government made up sinful people who serve a nation of sinful people is never going to fix everything in a broken world.  If you expect that, then the government is your god.  Or perhaps you despise your government, putting more effort into chest-thumping about your rights than in the responsibility of being an obedient citizen.
     The closest thing this world has ever known as a perfect government is when the Lord chose Israel as his special people.  In order to preserve Israel as the nation through whom the Savior would come, the Lord personally gave his laws to Israel.  And yet, the Israelites rebelled against God's rule.  They complained against God's spokesmen, Moses and Aaron.  They found God's laws to be oppressive.  They acted out in rebellion against the Lord and his word.  Eventually, they rejected the Lord's leadership and begged for a king so that they could be like all the other nations.  The problem was not the Lord, but the sinners under his care.  If that is what people think of government when the Lord is in charge, why would you expect anything better when sinners are in charge?
     No matter who is in authority, this is what the Lord tells us: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1-2)  This does not mean every ruler or government is always right.  If they promote evil, it is God's place to avenge, not ours.  The sins of rulers and authorities do not give us permission to sin against them.  If we do make it our role to avenge, then we should not be surprised if we incur judgment from both God and the state.  The state cannot tolerate rebels, and God does not either.
     We submit to the government authorities in obedience to the 4th Commandment.  We submit to the government because we recognize it for what it is: God's servant which he established to serve for the good of those it governs—both to keep peace and to promote safety and justice.  This is what we pray for.  We pray for peace so that we may live in peace and proclaim God's peace.  Therefore, we pray for kings and all who are in high positions.  This is good, and it is pleasing to God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all... (1 Timothy 2:1,3-6)  If you desire to be set free from a broken world, then the kingdom you crave is found in Jesus Christ.  This world is broken because of sin.  People's lives are messed up because of sin.  The police department and the courts are necessary because they have to deal with people who have sinned against each other.  But worse—death and damnation come because people are sinners.  God's judgment is incurred by us because we have rebelled against God with our sins; and God does not tolerate rebellion.
     There is no government program that ends death or rescues sinners from God's judgment.  There is no law which will fix or set you free from a broken world.  Only Jesus Christ does these things.  Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man; for Jesus is both God and man.  Jesus became man in order to live in our broken world and to render the obedience to the 4th Commandment which we have not.  Even though Jesus suffered unjustly before worldly courts, he did not spew out threats or curses upon these rulers.  Even though the likes of Herod and Pontius Pilate would act violently and wretchedly, Jesus never called for them to be overthrown.  Jesus was obedient to the governing authorities, even when they were cruel and unjust.
     But Jesus did all of this for us.  He submitted to the orders of both the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate so that he would pay the price for our rebellion against God and one another.  God does not tolerate rebels, and so Jesus was condemned and cursed for our rebellion.  He paid the price with his holy life.  Jesus, who was innocent, was crucified as a criminal so that we, who are law-breakers, would be declared innocent through faith in him.  But now Jesus is risen.  He lives and reigns in order to present us before God the Father as people who have been purified from all sin.  He lives and reigns to bring us out of a broken and sinful world into an eternal life in a glorious and flawless kingdom.  He lives and reigns over that perfect kingdom, and he is pleased to have us dwell in his kingdom forever.  You already receive some of those benefits now.  For, your sins are forgiven.  You live under God's favor.  You have the peace of knowing your verdict in God's judgment: You are redeemed, restored, and forgiven.
     We pray for peace so that we can continue to proclaim that peace through Jesus Christ.  While worldly governments rise and fall, the kingdom of our God endures forever.  No law can take away Jesus' sufferings and death; therefore nothing can take away your forgiveness.  No power can undo Jesus' resurrection from the dead; therefore, your resurrection to eternal life and everlasting glory always stands firm.  No ruler can take away God's love and favor from you.  Therefore, you get to serve God and your neighbor in peace.  This peace from God you always have.  This peace from God is what the world craves and needs.  Therefore we pray for peace in this world so that we can lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:2)  Then, by our words and actions, we can proclaim the peace of God which guards and keeps us in this life, and assures our place in God's glorious and eternal kingdom.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.