One Citizen - Two Countries

 

Proper 9A’20 (Independence Day Transferred)

5 July 2020

Matthew 5.43-48

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Facebook Live

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

 

“Grant, Lord God, to all who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, that , as we have put away the old life of sin, so we may be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and live in righteousness and true holiness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains, majesties above the fruited plain, America, America God shed his grace on thee, and crowned thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”[1]

Beautiful! As we processed in today past our display of American flags, we saw beauty, and we were reminded of the sacrifices of the brave who gave their all so that we might enjoy all of the freedoms that have been given to us. In 2020 we may find it harder to see America, the beautiful, as it is clouded by the ugliness of a pandemic, by an ever-widening political divide, and the renewal of racial tensions and civil unrest. But even in the midst of it all there is beauty still to be found.

People magazine identified “100 reasons to Love America,” during this pandemic. I’ll name just a few, with a few of my own thrown in: No.1: Peaceful Protests: Although some of these have turned violent and grab the majority of the headlines, many of them have remained peaceful, and respectful of others. We are free to disagree agreeably, and respectfully. There’s Dr Anthony Fauci, who has led the way with up to date scientific explanations of COVID19. There’s Corona Home Hair Cuts, and Saving money because there’s no place to go. There’s the phenomenon of Drive by birthdays. Long overdue renewal of our appreciation for Doctors, Nurses, and Frontline responders, a Blue Angel flyover of the metro area in their honor. There is the only one African American NASCAR driver, Bubba Wallace, and in a sign of solidarity, he was walked to the starting line of a recent race by all of his colleagues and pit crews. The Supreme Court upheld a civil court law that prevents job discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.  Harvey Weinstein is behind bars, there’s been virtual commencement addresses, Happy Hours, and Sunday Worship where literally hundreds are viewing our services weekly. We’re took one step closer to commercial spaceflight thanks to the successful collaboration between NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Musicians of all musical styles played free concerts from home, all the restaurants closed on one particular Sunday to rest and reflect. (Can anyone say “Sabbath!” – what a concept!) There was a reunion of the TV series Friends! Through the latest Star Wars, The Mandalorian, we have met “Baby Yoda” and have fallen in love, in April over 400 public buildings were turned blue including our National Cathedral to honor frontline and essential workers! Thank God for grocery workers whom we have taken so for granted! We now have “round the clock” toilet paper and hand sanitizer production! We’ve had more family time. Beautiful!

I’ll tell you about something beautiful I witnessed this week, that holds out the promise of racial reconciliation. The heat was sweltering and as I was approaching a four way stop there was a white man standing with the now proverbial cardboard sign. I wondered who if anyone would give him aid. Suddenly a black hand and forearm extended from a trucker’s window holding out money to the white man.  A black man who was a trucker, reaching out to a white man in need of assistance – let that image sink in.  Beautiful!

Like many of you, I love our country, I love our flag, and I pledge allegiance to the ideals for which it stands, one nation under God, with liberty, and justice for all. But at the same time, I stand before you today as a Christian priest and a representative of that other “nation” that we belong to as citizens– the Kingdom of God. I’m here to speak words not from a partisan place but from a sacred place, a place where we are all one, standing on level ground before God.

America is not Christianity and Christianity is not America. Many of our founding principles are supported by scripture, and the Episcopal Church has played a vital role in the formation of America, but we should always remember the followers of Jesus have always had trouble with governments wherever they have lived. The “Caesars” of this world have often thought they were God and sought and still seek others to follow them as if they were God. But this is unacceptable for the Christian for we are called by and answer to a Higher Authority. At baptism we have made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Because of their higher allegiance to God, Christian’s lifestyles have not always met with government approval. To this day there are Christians who don’t enjoy the religious freedoms we do, who are persecuted, imprisoned, and killed for their faith. In these days of pandemic, civil unrest, and political division the 4th of July weekend can bring the tension between our two citizenships into conflict. How are we called to pledge allegiance to the United States of America and to pledge allegiance to the King of kings and Lord of lords?

As Americans we have strong opinions and feelings about political parties and candidates, about personal responsibility of its citizens vs. the responsibility of the government to its people.  In today’s gospel reading Jesus is speaking of a Higher Authority far above and beyond all civil authorities. To do this he makes use of a rhetorical device called an “Antithesis.” He does this by stating a familiar “thesis” and then following it up with an “antithesis:”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”[2] and why? “so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” There it is - the calling of our ‘other citizenship.’

“Ok fella, I don’t know which planet you’re on, you can’t be serious – love your enemies – let’s get real?” Brothers and Sisters - the Word of God calls us to aHigher Authority and a greater task – to rise above the strife all around, to not pay lip service to prayer but literally stop what we are doing, sit down, or better yet, kneel down if we are able, and pray to God for these misguided souls, both foreign and domestic -whoever and wherever they are. If we really do that, we cannot hate our enemies, we can hate what they do, strongly disagree with their views, but we will see them as human beings created in God’s image, in need of God’s love and forgiveness – just like us. Beautiful!

Let us not forget that we are citizens of two countries - America and the Kingdom of Heaven. The following words were written by Pastor, and writer, Don Green, and with them I’ll conclude:

“Why do we as Christians assume our fate is in the hands of politicians? Our future does not depend on the next flawed candidate we elect. Our future rests with God. Nations rise and fall, but God’s kingdom is eternal.

So be on guard. Fly the American flag, but never higher than the cross. Take pride in the beauties of your homeland, but keep your eyes fixed firmly on heaven. Be grateful for the sacrifice of our servicemen and women, but never let it move you more than the sacrifice of our savior.[3]  

                           

Beautiful!

 

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?

                        Micah 6:8 NRSV



[1] Bates, Katherine Lee, Ward, Samuel Augustus, America the Beautiful

[2] From Matthew 5.43-48

[3] https://www.dailyrecordnews.com/religion/messages-of-faith-allegiance-to-god-and-country/article_69c1fcad-3daa-5841-9552-9f08fbb633ff.html

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