Preached November 7, 2010
St. Matthew 12:15–22
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
This year, there are twenty five Sundays after Trinity before the first Sunday in Advent, so you can see that we are indeed nearing the end of our cycle of meditations on the process of sanctification in the lived Christian life. Each of these meditations has focused on some aspect of the lived Christian life as it relates to the process of sanctification, the development of personal holiness in preparation for our return to our Creator at the end of this life. None of these are simple “six easy steps” type actions that we can complete once and be done with, but rather they are battles that we must fight every day of our lives until the end. For this reason, it is evident that great perseverance is required, the desire and will to stay the course until the end.
As we progress in holiness, and in our understanding of the Kingdom of God, we experience something almost like having the Holy City of Heaven come down to us, to meet us half–way, to assist us as we live our lives on the earth. This grace is the final attainment of Christian character, granted to mature Christians, we believe in order that they may escape the bitterness of death in the confidence of what lies beyond.
We live on the earth, and therefore are citizens of our respective nations. As Christians, we are also citizens of Heaven. Thus we have a “dual citizenship” situation, and we must find a way to correctly balance the demands of both. St. Paul points out that there can be definite conflicts between the two!
St. Paul reminds the Philippians of the ones among them who have forsaken the ways of God to simply enjoy life without restraints and no longer follow what they were taught. He says Philippians 3:18-19 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) The key is the final phrase: who mind earthly things. Those for whom the things of this life are of greatest importance have simply lost the way, and they will not find Heaven. Instead, they have chosen to seek after the things of this life, and they will have whatever reward they will get in this life. I know far too many people who fall into this category, and I imagine that you do to.
We live in a time somewhat different from the time when St. Paul wrote these words. When Paul was writing, almost everyone believed in some sort of god or group of gods; the very idea of an atheist was virtually unheard of at that time. As we know all too well, that is not the case today. Today, in addition to Christians, there are members of various non–Christian religions, such as muzlims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., in addition to the Jews, and then there are simple secularists who want to ignore all religion and the aggressive atheists who wish to eliminate all religion, altogether a more complex situation than what St. Paul was facing. In order to preserve the civil peace, it is agreed that we must not proselytize with great vigor in the public places, so that street corner preachers and similar public evangelism are rarely practiced anymore today. We do have public means to reach out to the unchurched by means of television and radio, and of course our Churches are open, so it is not as though there was no longer any Christian outreach. Evenso, respect for civil convention regarding personal space has made it much simpler for anyone and everyone to simply avoid the Gospel today.
For those of us who are Christians, we need to understand that our true citizenship is in Heaven. That is our citizenship even now, not at some time in the future, but here and now even as we still live on the earth. Just as we might visit another country without changing our citizenship, so it is that we reside here below but have our true citizenship in Heaven. It has been described as saying that we live in the Kingdom of Grace which is a suburb of the Kingdom of Glory.
Because Heaven is our native land, we should be far more concerned about our interests there than about any earthly concerns. We are to regard Heaven as our true home, and see ourselves in that perspective. We are to be guided by heavenly principles and laws, and live in accordance with the spirit of obedience, love, and praise. We must continue developing the character and disposition to be worthy to enjoy the fellowship of the saints in Heaven.
As he does so often, St. Paul speaks a bit obscurely in the final part of our Epistle lesson when he says Philippians 3:20-21 For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself. The body that we have now is the “body of our humiliation.” It is the instrument by which we are induced to sin, it is the seat of temptation, it bears the scars of sin, and it shows the decay that results from sin leading eventually to death. Even so, St. Paul is telling us that we will receive a resurrected body, made new and conforming to the glory of Christ when we get to Heaven. Thus this body which is our habitation in this world of sin will also be ours in Heaven in a new and glorified but still recognizable form.
The same power which will renew and restore all of our bodies when they are brought into Heaven will also renew the world so that it will no longer be defiled with blood, with wickedness, curses, and blasphemy. The renewed body is a promise of a renewed world, made clean with a cleansing flame, in order to be the home of sanctified souls.
The Gospel lesson for the day follows this same theme of our dual citizenship, on the one hand our earthly citizenship and on the other hand our heavenly citizenship. The lesson is the familiar lesson of the attempt by the Pharisees and the Herodians to entrap Jesus by asking Him a question about the payment of tribute to Caesar. We are not so much concerned with this attempted entrapment as with Jesus’ answer. The key part of the exchange is this:
Matthew 22:19-21 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
Jesus looked at the tribute money and verified that the image and inscription belonged to the Roman Caesar. He then made it quite clear that we have a duty to the civil state to be loyal and render lawful service to the civil state, in that case even to the pagan Roman state. How much more so today then should we support our governments that are at least nominally Christian in principle, even where that principle is rather weak. We cannot make our religion an excuse for withholding our duty of service to our family, our employer, our local or national governments.
The only just claim that the heathen Roman Caesar had was as an acknowledgment for the benefits of law, security, and social order under his rule. What we pay to our governments is intended in the same fashion as a proper acknowledgment for the benefits of benefits of peace, liberty, security, religious freedom, and relative prosperity that we enjoy.
The claims of God, and what we should give back to Him, depend upon what we have received from Him. What have we received from God? We have our creation, our preservation, and all the blessings of this life. We have the redemption of the world, the means of grace, the hope of glory. Caesar is satisfied with the return of a certain amount of money that has come from his mint. God demands everything that He has made because we ourselves are His.
It is not often that there is any inconsistency between doing both the duty to God and the duty to Caesar. As long as Caesar does not try to intrude into conscience, then he should be obeyed. When and if Caesar tries to overthrow conscience, then he must be resisted, even to death. We in the US are looking at a time when there may be increasing instances where the government tries to usurp conscience, and we must be very much on guard about this matter. Our government has recently become far more intrusive into our lives than ever before.
Sometimes we tend to think in terms of a bright line separating things sacred from things secular, so that service to God is on one side of the line and service to man is on the other side of the line. This is not always a useful idea, however, because if we are to eat and drink to God’s glory, we are surely to do our public duties to God. We best serve man when we do it for God’s sake. If we do a job because Christ bids us do it, then we serve not Caesar but Christ.
In all things, we need to see ourselves as citizens of Heaven, on our way home but having not yet arrived. This will give the correct color to our thinking, and it will make it far easier for us to maintain the correct perspective on this life in order that we stay on the way of sanctification.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.