Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sermon for October 18-19

The Twenty Third Sunday After Pentecost
October 18-19, 2008
Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Dear Friends in Christ,
“[Christians] are not united on [the abortion issue] because most go under the assumption that WE have the RIGHT to decide what is more important. That WE have a choice in what WE want to see in our churches, in our communities and the country. Does anyone dare these days to say, "THUS SAYS THE LORD!"? NO because polemics is shut down as unloving. Discipline is unloving. Tolerance is the watch-word. Feeling replaces sound thinking. Relationship replaces truth. Sin is no longer REAL sin. The Law is watered down. The REAL gospel is no longer needed, you see, because we are not THAT bad off, after all. Just make us feel good. Don't call my party evil and advocates for a culture of death. It is my party after all!” Thus writes Rev. David Emmons. In this letter, Rev. Emmons describes the situation and attitudes in this country with great precision and accuracy. Many American Christians have abandoned a belief in truth. Thus they no longer are able to speak clearly on moral and political issues. In one of the most shameful things I have seen in recent weeks, a poll showed that American Christians ranked life issues as the seventh most important political issue behind such things as the price of gasoline. It makes me ashamed to call myself a Christian. And it should make you ashamed as well.

In our text, Christ is approached with the question of whether or not we should pay taxes to the government. Christ’s answer is broader and more inclusive than just that question. He says: "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Render. What does the word “render” mean? The dictionary definition that applies here is to give what is due or proper. Wrapped up in that is the idea that we give everything that we owe. This is an obligation both before God and man - both halves. That means that we are responsible to God not only for what we render to God, but also it means that we are responsible to God for everything that we render to man. St. Paul echoes this idea: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7)

So what do we owe to God and man in a republic? We don’t have a king to which we must pay homage and swear fealty. We owe our Christian world view, our judgement, and our vote. Yes, we as Christians must judge. We owe this to God and our neighbor. Some will say we can’t impose our morality upon the nation. Well, someone’s morality is being imposed upon the nation.

In America, we vote by what is called “Australian Ballot”. That means we vote privately, without some official looking over our shoulder. But we are not alone in the voting booth. God is with us. God knows our vote. And we are responsible to God for that vote. We must vote for the things of God and the benefit of our neighbor. To this end, we must be knowledgeable voters. Did you know that most voters make their decision based on the physical appearance of the candidate? No wonder most republics fail! We as Christians owe it to God and our neighbor to be knowledgeable about the issues and the candidates. That means we must invest time and energy in the process.

So what should be our priorities in the voting booth. We as Christians do not think like the world. We have different priorities. So what are they? One: Anything that would prevent the Church from proclaiming the full Word of God. Thus we oppose hate crime legislation because this would be used to prevent the Church from speaking. This is not just fantasy. There are pastors in Canada and in some of the Scandinavian countries who are sitting in jail right now for saying that homosexuality and the ordination of women are sins. This is hate speech under hate crime laws. So our first priority is opposing anything or anyone that would prevent us from proclaiming the full counsel of God. Two: Life Issues. God is the author of life. God determines length of man’s days. God opens wombs and closes them. Abortion and euthanasia are abominable acts before the Lord. They are attacks upon the most innocent and most helpless among us. Neither abortion or euthanasia are loving acts toward our neighbor. We must vote to protect life, much as an earlier generation was called upon to vote against slavery. It took more than a hundred years from the time the fight against slavery was begun by Benjamin Franklin until slavery was finally abolished in the U.S. in 1868. So too will the battle over abortion be a long fight. We might not live to see the end of it. That does not absolve us. We owe it to God and our neighbor to vote for life. Three: Opposition to the homosexual agenda. Here again we have an attempt to call evil good and good evil. We must be guided by Scripture and oppose homosexual marriage and other attempts to redefine the family. The family was defined by God at the time of creation. We cannot redefine it. Four: To stop the advance of militant Islam. Christianity is tolerant. Islam is not. We oppose the advance of militant Islam because it would prevent us from practicing our faith. In countries governed by Sha’ria law, you cannot freely proclaim the gospel. Only after these things come more earth bound things like the economy and the price of gasoline. These issues are governed by our love for our neighbor. We look first at how various policies will effect our neighbor. Our earthly self interest comes last. It like the title of the book written by Chicago Bears running back Gail Sayers - “I’m Third”. Sayers explains, God is first, my fellow man is second, I’m third. This is how we must approach the issue of voting. God first, our neighbor second, me third. We look at our positions and compare these to the positions of the candidates. Then we vote for those who best match our positions as Christians. We owe this both to God and our neighbor. We don’t have the right to decide for ourselves. We must listen to the voice of God.

We have heard a great deal about God’s law today. We need that. As Christians we need to know and understand God’s law. The law teaches us God’s will. Teaching the law is part of the Church’s catechetical task. But obedience to God’s will must be placed into the context of the Gospel. Otherwise, it becomes self righteousness. Why do we seek to be obedient? Because we earn something from God? No. Just the opposite. Our obedience is a mark of our giving thanks to God. We are righteous before God because Christ has forgiven our sins. This is the Gospel message that we so desperately need to preserve. It is a matter of eternal life and death. So we go into the voting booth as redeemed sinners - as people who have been forgiven of their sins and who continue each day to be forgiven. Having been forgiven it is right that we seek God’s will for all aspects of our lives. The reality of being forgiven must never be divorced from any part of our lives. We look at all things through Christ’s eyes. Just as Christ had compassion on us, we are to have compassion on our neighbor. That extends to our vote. And our neighbor includes the unborn and the infirm. Amen!

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