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Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22 (NIV)
- Hymn: CW 772 “O God Most High, Your Saints Below”
- Psalm 96D: “Sing to the LORD, Ye Distant Lands”
- Hymn of the Day: CW 619 “Praise the Almighty”
- Communion Hymn: CW 671 “Your Body, Given for Me, O Savior”
- Communion Anthem: “How Beautiful”
- Hymn: CW 775 “Before You, Lord, We Bow”
Pastor Jon Enter SalemLutheran.org
Theme: In God We Trust Text: Romans 13:1-17
Did you know, the United States of America is 247 years old. That’s a long time for a nation to remain free. But, when you look at our history in context of the world, America is a child among the nations. Egypt, China, Rome, Greece all make America’s history seem so short. Consider what a brief time our nation has existed: When Thomas Jefferson died, Abraham Lincoln was a young man of 17. When Lincoln was assassinated, Woodrow Wilson was a boy of 8. By the time he died, Ronald Reagan was a boy of 12.
There you have it. The lives of four men can take you all the way back to the beginning of our country, 247 years ago. We are so young. And yet we stand tall among these nations because of the principles on which we were established: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Thus begins the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate especially on the Fourth of July but even now in October and all year as we live out our freedoms in this great land. With freedom comes great responsibility. We are free but we are not free to live lives of excess. We are free in this country but we aren’t free to live however we want.
That sounds paradoxical. You are free which means you should be able to do whatever you want but we have laws in America that prevent you from doing whatever you want. You can’t turn left on a red light even if there isn’t any traffic present. You can’t build almost anything without a permit (that takes months to get). There are things you might want to do (like drive 75 MPH on Highway 36) but you can’t because it’s illegal. Are you free?
Yes, you are! Our nation’s laws are on the books to keep you free. What? It’s true! Without the laws that regulate us, we would have no freedoms. If people were allowed to settle their own disputes without the court system, there would be daily drive by shootings. If people were allowed to shoot on sight anyone as they wished, we couldn’t canvass neighborhoods. If people were allowed to drive as recklessly and as dangerously as they wanted without the threat of fine or conviction, the number of vehicular deaths would skyrocket. If people were allowed to build anything they wanted on their properties without following safety codes, the loss of life would be astronomical as buildings everywhere would collapse under the weight of our Minnesota snowfall. We have laws to keep us safe and alive!
Yet, some of the laws that are on the books are old and outdated:
* In Rochester, Michigan, the law is that anyone bathing in public must have the bathing suit first inspected by a police officer!
* In Kentucky, it’s the law that a person must take a bath once a year.
* In Ohio, it is against state law to get a fish drunk.
* And just to warn you if you go to Florida over spring break, it is a state law in Florida that if you tie your elephant to a parking meter, it must pay the same fees as a car.
* Oh, and be careful! It’s against the law to walk over into Wisconsin from Minnesota with a duck on your head. You’ve been warned!
Ridiculous, huh? Those laws don’t make any sense so they’re ignored and not enforced. The problem with our constantly corrupt society is that many people view laws in general as being bogus, outdated and worthless “suggestions”. When people ignore the laws of the government, calm neighborhoods change into gang bangers hideouts and peace turns into terror.
Picture the vandalism and looting that takes place in the celebrating cities of championship sports teams. Picture the 1992 riots that erupted in Los Angeles after a predominately white jury found the four officers innocent of all charges of brutalizing Rodney King. Lawlessness ensued and a few days later 53 people were dead and one billion dollars in damages were left in the aftermath. We all know what happened with the death of George Floyd and the rioting and destruction that followed.
Those images stir within us the real reminder that the government we have and the laws we are forced to live under are blessings given to us. It is a blessing to be governed by our government. But who governs the government? There is a popular and true phrase that comes to mind here: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Government officials have power with checks and balances but there are always ways around those roadblocks and so our government has undeniably become filled with corruption, greed and foul immorality.
This corruption causes our sinful minds to cry out: “I don’t have to follow this government because it’s corrupt to the core.” Our scripture text refutes that sinful thought. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2).
All authorities have been established by God. God can stop anything from happening that he wants and God can allow anything also to take place. To rebel and bad mouth our public officials is to rebel and bad mouth God. We are, instead, to pray for our elected officials. We are also demanded by God to submit to the laws of the land whether we like them or not. Our crimes against the government does not just awaken the wrath of Uncle Sam, our civil sins enact the wrath of God as well.
God has established our government to bring us order: to protect the faithful and to punish the wrongdoer. Rebelling against the government is a rebellion against God and all sins are serious in offenses in God’s court carrying with them: hell. Ask yourself: “Am I really, truly repentant of the traffic violations I make sometimes on a daily basis?” Just because an officer of the law doesn’t catch you in the crime, God’s eye in the sky is all-knowing and all-punishing. Ask yourself: “Am I really, truly 100% honest on all the line items for my taxes?” What extra income do you make that you don’t report? You might not be audited by the IRS but you are being audited by God. Ask yourself: “Am I really, truly honoring my government officials and praying for them or am I emailing around jokes badmouthing them or laughing uncontrollably at the latest “zinger” aimed at those who lead us?” They might not hear your insubordination and your destruction of the fourth commandment, but God sure does.
If you are at a loss on how to deal with our laws and corrupt governing officials, look at Christ. We are led by our own government—a government that we the people elect. But Christ and his Jewish kinsmen were oppressed by foreign rule that brutalized its seized citizenry. Examine Christ’s most famous reply to a question about the government: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). God condemns our actions of rebellion and our begrudging obedience (which is no obedience at all): “Submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Friends, we have not followed this command from the Lord. And so, as we enjoy the freedoms of America, we need to ask the Lord to free us, to make us independent of our sins by removing them from us. We realize our wrongs and we plead to the Lord to forgive us for the sins we commit against the government that our Lord has graciously given us. Through the love of Jesus who lived perfectly under the laws of the government and under the laws of the Lord, we are freed, forgiven and made faithful to the laws!
Jesus gave respect to the bloodthirsty Roman government and to Pontus Pilate who knew he was convicting and crucifying an innocent man. And yet showed them respect and honor. Because he knew we didn’t. Because Jesus knew every need of every sin of every sinner on this world. Jesus knew his authority was beyond the simple court of Pilate and King Herod. Jesus’ eyes were focused on His Father’s throne. Jesus’ heart was focused on getting you released from the eternal death sentence we owed God. That is why Jesus submitted to Pilate who was beneath Him so that He could exalt us. Christ Jesus was obedient so that we could be freed. And that is what you!
You are free! Not just in America, but eternally! When you remember that truth, it’s easier to obey the government.
The government is God’s agent. We must obey its laws with one exception. If the Government commands us or allows us to break God’s law, “we must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29).
This statement was read over a PA system at the football game at Roane County High School, Kingston, TN, by school Principal, Jody McLeod.
“It has been the custom at Roane County High School football games, to say a prayer and play the National Anthem, to honor God and Country. Due to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, I am told that saying a prayer is a violation of Federal Law. As I understand the law at this time, I can use this public facility to approve of sexual perversion and call it ‘an alternate life style,’ and if someone is offended, that’s okay.
I can use it to condone sexual promiscuity, by dispensing condoms and calling it, ‘safe sex.’ If someone is offended, that’s okay.
I can use this public facility to present the merits of killing an unborn baby as a “viable means of birth control.” If you’re offended, no problem…
I can use literature, videos and presentations in the classroom that depict people with strong, traditional Christian convictions as “simple minded” and “ignorant” and call it “enlightenment.”
However, if anyone uses this facility to honor GOD and to ask HIM to bless this event with safety and good sportsmanship, then Federal Case Law is violated. Apparently, we are to be tolerant of everything and anyone, except GOD and HIS Commandments.
Nevertheless, as a school principal, I frequently ask staff and students to abide by rules with which they do not necessarily agree. For me to do otherwise would be inconsistent at best, and at worst, hypocritical… For this reason, I shall “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” and refrain from praying at this time. However, if you feel inspired to honor, praise and thank GOD and ask HIM, in the name of JESUS, to bless this event, please feel free to do so. As far as I know, that’s not against the law…yet.”
One by one, the people in the stands bowed their heads, held hands with one another and began to pray. They prayed in the stands. They prayed in the team huddles. They prayed at the concession stand and they prayed in the Announcer’s Box!
Somehow, Kingston, Tennessee, remembered what so many have forgotten. We are given the Freedom OF Religion, not the Freedom FROM Religion. May we remember who is in control of all the world and follow his laws!
Finally, friends, obey your government. Pray for your officials. And obey the Lord above all. God bless America as we live as Christian citizens within this great land. Amen.