Sunday, September 6, 2020

Proper 18

Romans 13:1-11
The Paradoxical (Ironic) State of the Christian

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Fortunately, there is clear guidance from the pen of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans.

Now we come to our Epistle lesson for this day. Paul places an obligation upon us – the obligation to obey those who are over us. Paul urges us that obedience to the officials and to the laws of government are God pleasing as he teaches that love is the fulfillment of the law.

Paul begins this section with a command. A divine directive.  Each must be subject to the governing authorities.” v.1

Paul makes it very simple for us. To resist the State is to resist God. To obey governmental officials is to obey God. Paul is on the side of law and order. We obey the laws of the State for good order and for sake of a good conscious.

Now, it is assumed that governmental officials are trustworthy ministers of justice for all. According to this viewpoint, the State is an order of God’s creation. It is the Father’s way of executing justice and restraining evil. Thus, government officials are ministers of God carrying out justice in society by punishing evildoers.

This teaching from Paul gives Christians a new insight into their attitude and response to government and its laws. To disobey the laws of the State is to disobey God who will bring judgment upon offenders.

Yet Paul does not insist on blind obedience. At all costs. If and when a government is corrupt and discriminates against or persecutes people, it is because evil powers have taken over and must be resisted.

The apostle reminds us to honor those over us as His representatives. However, if one of these demands something which God forbids or forbids something which God demands, we must obey God.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were ordered to pay homage to the king, they replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3: 16-18)

These Hebrew boys were never promised that the Lord would spare them.

They knew the Lord was able to intervene. Yet it was not given to them that deliverance would come. It did not matter.  They were willing to suffer and face even death if the Lord would not adjudicate their situation. Still, they submitted to a higher authority; the authority of God.

Until Jesus comes, we will be "pilgrims and strangers" in this world. Like those believers in Rome, we are surrounded by an alien culture. That needs to hear about Jesus. That needs to see His truth lived out by those who claim to know Him. Consequently, we submit to those who are masters over us.

So, how do we as Christians live our lives in this present world? These words of St Paul apply to us. They have helped guide our decisions with respect to responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. An issue which continues to be on everyone’s mind these days.

Our driving principle throughout these unprecedented times continue: “We are given to serve both faithfully and responsibly in loving service and care for souls and the health and safety of our members and our neighbors in the world.”

In our present context; the State has never declared that we cannot worship. Had any such an order been given we are obligated to obey God rather than men. The prophet Daniel is yet another example of one who courageously defied a king’s edict.  

Our Governor’s Order reads: Places of worship have been at this present time directed to implement strategies for services held in person with the goal of continuing to slow and contain the spread of COVID-19, while uplifting each other during this difficult time.[2]

This is an order we can live with. Under the 4th Commandment we follow the directives of our local health department and the State. Under the 5th Commandment we implement health and safety protocols for the good of all.  

When providing services in person, places of worship are encouraged to follow the minimum health and sanitation protocols while practicing social distancing.[3]

To comply with these directives we now offer two services at 9 and 11 am. We spread out. We wear masks.  We limit our worship service to 100 persons or less.  We’ve pulled our hymnals. We don’t pass the plate or pass the peace. We separate hosts and cups on the credence table.  

We continue to broadcast our 9 o’clock service on the radio as well as live stream our service via social media. We sanitize this room between services and throughout the week.  

We request members register to attend our services so that; in the event that someone tests positive for Covid-19 and was in our building, we can conduct reasonable and responsible contact tracing.  
We follow these directives for sake of a good conscience and in loving service toward our neighbor.

Martin Luther speaking on the topic of Christian liberty once said, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all.”[4]

I.                    As a Christian you are free from bondage. A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

In God’s Son is full perfection and fulfillment of all the requirements of God. As God’s Son Jesus loved perfectly. As God’s Son Jesus lived perfectly. As God’s Son Jesus fulfilled the will of the Father perfectly.

On Calvary’s cross we see - THAT GREAT EXCHANGE— God’s mercy and forgiveness purchased at the cost of His own Son! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:1 

In Him we see the contours of how love fulfills the whole law. Love compels us. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” V. 8 –You are to be free of all debt except the debt of love. The one thing we have over our fellowman is love. For love is the performance of the law. Love is the fulfillment of the law.

If you truly love your fellowman, you will not hurt him, steal from him, lie to him or covet what he has. –v.9

If we truly loved God, we would willingly obey God’s laws. Love is the answer to our delinquency, crime and moral corruption. The larger problem is, however, where can we get such love? How can we get people to love each other?

The answer sounds rather elementary yet it remains so fundamental. We must first experience Christ’s love for us before we can truly love and serve our neighbor.

“To be a Christian is to live under the sign of Him who came from heaven down to earth, to live under the sign of His cross and resurrection, and thus to wait hopefully, patiently, on this earth, by making it a better place - and to challenge the world, - through one’s vocation and the church to do the same.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

II.                  As a Christian you are in bondage to everyone. “A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Since the fall, man will continue to be self-centered always tempted to turn away from both God and neighbor alike; to fix his focus on himself. For this reason we need the Lord’s instruction.
The Law of God is a mirror, which shows us our sin. But it is also a ruler and a guide; holding up to our vision the loving service for which we were designed. In love you serve your neighbor.
A summary of the Law is useful. Paul explains, “Love is the fulfilling of the Law.” It keeps us from getting caught up in “keeping the rules.” Love simply does no wrong to a neighbor. V.10

It is factual. Love does fulfill all obligations, because love does no harm to anyone but seeks the other’s welfare. Thus Paul can teach us, Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

You have been designed to love and serve both God and your neighbor. Our obligations extend beyond the religious sphere to include the humanity in which we live. In the church we seek mercy. In this world we seek justice. Both are governed by the Lord’s truth; His integrity, His Word.

We have obligations to the State, established by God. Therefore, we ought to be subject, for it is both God-pleasing and useful. Christians should make the best citizens. Love God. Serve your neighbor. This is how you live your life as a redeemed child of God; thus becoming a sermon in shoes.         
Words –1,615
Passive Sentences –7%
Readability – 73.4%
Reading Level –6.1

[1] Luther’s Seal copyright © Ed Riojas, Higher Things
[2] Governor Holcomb’s Indiana Back on Track Order Phase 2 May 4-21,2020
[3] ibid
[4] ― Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty

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