Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sermon - Pentecost 17 - Romans 13:1-10

Pentecost 16, September 4th, 2005
“God is Right-Handed”
Romans 13:1-10

I want to begin by saying just a few words about the recent hurricane Katrina and the damage left in its wake. I’m sure our hearts and prayers go out to the many victims of this tragedy, and perhaps you even know some personally. I know that many will also give generously to support relief and cleanup and rebuilding efforts. The loss of life and property has been, and continues to be staggering. But God is still God. We don’t always know why he allows one tragedy to occur while preventing another. His ways are mysterious. But may this event serve for us as a reminder that life is short, that we live in a broken world, and that only God can fix it. And he has promised to fix it one day. As all creation groans with the pangs of childbirth, looking forward to that day, may we continue on in faith, looking forward to the kingdom that is to come, through Jesus Christ.

Our sermon today is based on the Epistle from Romans 13. Here St. Paul gives some instructions about the Christian in relation to the Government. His line of thinking is built on the commandments, and on Jesus’ own teaching about government (Render unto Caesar what it Caesar’s). Today we will examine all this a little more closely, but also move on to another authority, a greater authority in Christ.

A little boy wanted $100 to buy a new bike, and his mother told him to pray to God for it. He prayed and prayed for two weeks, but nothing turned up. Then he decided perhaps he should write God a letter requesting the $100.00.
When the postal authorities received the letter addressed to God, they opened it up and decided to send it to the President. The President was so impressed, touched and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a check for $5.00. He thought that this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy.
The little boy was delighted with the $5.00 and sat down to write a thank-you letter to God, which read:
Dear God;Thank you very much for the money. I noticed that you had to send it through Washington. As usual, they deducted $95.00 for themselves.

Nobody likes to pay taxes, but would you believe God tells his people they should? That the Bible tells us to obey the government, honor it, and respect the governing authorities as agents of God?

I. The Fourth Commandment
The fourth commandment reads:
You must honor your father and mother.
Q. What does this mean?
(Our Small Catechism explains):
A. We must fear and love God, so that we will neither look down on our parents or superiors nor irritate them, but will honor them, serve them, obey them, love them and value them.

Notice, our parents AND “other authorities” or “superiors” are to be honored. Just like Paul says here in Romans 13. We should give everyone what we owe him:
Different authorities, different spheres on influence, with differing demands on us. But each of these is to be respected by God’s people, as an authority put in place by God. Do we always do this? And why does it matter?

If you disrespect the (rightful) authorities, you are in effect, disrespecting God. If you break the law of the land, you are breaking God’s law. God does not rule and keep order in the world directly, but he does it through parents, teachers, bosses, police officers, judges, kings and presidents, and through any earthly authority in its rightful auspices.

Notice I said “rightful”. The principle of Peter always applies here, “We must obey God rather than man!”. Earthly authority can never supersede God’s authority or conflict with it. If it does, “we must obey God rather than man”. But in most cases, we honor the authority as representative of the Lord.

II. Two Kingdoms
Martin Luther used a handy phrase to explain this. He called it the theology of “two kingdoms”. The idea is, that God rules the world in two different ways. Through earthly government and earthly authorities, he rules by laws, regulations, power, and (as Romans also makes clear) through the power of the sword. This is what Luther called the left hand kingdom. Then there is the right hand kingdom – the realm of the church, the Gospel and grace. It’s more foreign to us by nature, but infinitely more full of blessings.

In the Left hand Kingdom rules a kind of authority we humans are used to, the exercise of superior force to make people do things, and prevent or deter them from doing other things. When we think of an authority figure, we think of someone strong, maybe overbearing. Someone worthy of respect, perhaps, but also to be feared. And someone who, ultimately, tells you what to do.

Now the left hand kingdom is good. God brings many blessings through it. For one, he keeps a general sense of order in the world. We have seen what can happen when law and order break down – and sinful human nature is let loose. Violence and theft run rampant. Through governmental authority order is kept so that we may live in peace.

Also in the left hand kingdom, God provides for our physical welfare, safety and security. And yes, even roads and schools and the like, blessings of the body, are part of God’s ordering through the left hand kingdom. Humans authorities are never perfect, but they are ordered by God himself.

Why do we then, so often dishonor such authority? And what is it in us that urges rebellion against authority of any kind? When someone tells you, “you HAVE to do this!” why is your first reaction, “Oh yeah? Make me!”. Like when you tell a child not to touch something, but they stick their finger out and get it as close as they can without touching, watching, testing the limits. What can I get away with?

We are sinful humans. We don’t like laws and rules, much as we need them. Because we are not perfect, and we don’t meet the standards of the law.

A college friend of mine once went to a workshop in which the presenter illustrated how many years of jail time each of us would be serving, had we been caught for each and every minor law-breaking we committed. If every time you went over the speed limit, every time you jaywalked, parked illegally, or ripped a tag off a mattress, every time you broke a copyright law, or fudged on your taxes… if we ALWAYS got caught, most of us would be in jail for a number of years.

How much more would we be in hot water according to the laws of the right hand kingdom, that is the moral laws of God? The laws of the state are fairly limited, compared to God’s law which says, “Love God with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. Yes, the laws of the right hand kingdom are harder to keep. But one other thing about the right hand kingdom of God is different. There we find forgiveness. There, we find Christ!

III. God is Right Handed!
Perhaps the most important thing to know is that God is Right Handed!

If the Left hand Kingdom seems to take, take, take, ($5 for you and $95 for us), in the Right Hand Kingdom, God simply gives (100% for you, free and clear).

In the left hand kingdom, you must pay for what you get, earn your living and guard your property. In the right hand kingdom, God’s riches are a free gift in Christ, he guards them for us, prepares for us heavenly real-estate.

The left hand kingdom can mete out punishment, judgment and the like. But in the right hand kingdom, sinners are forgiven! The left imprisons, but the right sets free!

In the left hand kingdom, if you break the law, you can be put to death. But in the right, Jesus faces death and takes our place in the grave.

The left hand kingdom has the power to take life away. But in the right hand kingdom, Jesus Christ brings us life!

God administers justice in the left hand kingdom through government and authority figures. In the right hand kingdom he gives Pastors who bring his grace, in word and sacrament.

What a blessing to know and be known by the true king of all, Jesus Christ, whose kingdom is not of this world. Who rules our hearts and minds in peace. Who makes us co-heirs of God’s kingdom, and promises us mansions in heaven.

We Christians have a sort of dual citizenship – in the world, but not of it. We live in both kingdoms, and enjoy the benefits of each.

Both the left hand and the right hand kingdoms are good gifts of God. Through both he brings order and blessings to his people. The left hand, the secular, the earthly kingdom is far inferior, though. For in the Right hand kingdom God brings his Grace in Jesus Christ – which will last forever. Isn’t it nice to know that God is right handed? In Jesus Christ, Amen.

The Fourth Commandment teaches Christians to honor rightful authority, for it is a gift from God. Earthly authorities remind us of the heavenly authority who rules on our behalf, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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