The balancing act of living in two kingdoms

Column by Emily Perper.

Rev. Buzz Thomas preached about the nature of “dual citizenship” — sharing loyalties between the United States and faith communities — on Wednesday.

Thomas’ sermon was titled “Called to Serve Two Kingdoms: the Challenge of Christian Citizenship.” The readings were Acts 5:27-29, Romans 13:1-4 and Revelation 13:1-9.

Thomas began by reminding the congregation that the U.S. is different from the kingdom of God.

“For most of us, we live on a fault line, right? We have divided loyalties. We’re citizens of two kingdoms,” Thomas said. “Of course we’re citizens of the good old U.S.A., but we are also citizens of the kingdom of God, and how we balance those competing loyalties is the stuff of serious citizenship.”

Thomas said he wished Jesus had elaborated on which things belong to Caesar and which belong to God, and the readings for the day portrayed the nature and purpose of the state in three different ways. In Revelation, the state is, as Thomas put it, “a demonic beast, drunk on the blood of the saints.” In Acts, the state is a traditional defender of the status quo. And in Romans, Paul urges Christians to submit to government authorities because their power comes from God.

“To take any one of these snapshots of government as the final word on our duties to the state would be folly,” Thomas said.

Governments are not loving, Thomas said, but they can and should be just.

“True patriotism exists where people love their country enough to hold it accountable, and that’s where our faith traditions come in,” he said. “They provide us with those transcendent points of reference, those self-evident truths, if you will, to which all human institutions must be accountable.”

Religious consensus is nonexistent in the U.S., and there was never supposed to be religious consensus, Thomas said.

“There is, however, a civic consensus, and we have embodied that consensus in our First Amendment,” he said.

There are profound differences between religions and denominations.

“But America’s civic framework embraces those differences and allows us to live together, even contend with one another, as one nation, without destroying the body politic,” Thomas said.

That attitude has historic roots: Roger Williams, the first governor of Rhode Island, promoted religion freedom, thought he was unwavering in his personal faith.

“We do contend with each other — robustly, yet civilly,” Thomas said. “That is the genius of the American experiment that we celebrate today. I’m going to argue that it is America’s greatest gift to the world, this First Amendment.”

As such, faith communities should strive to protect the First Amendment. Thomas implored the congregation to read and watch the news, to vote, to run for office, to engage in society and to be visionary.

“Be gracious and forgiving,” Thomas said. “At the end of the day, it’s not a red state or a blue state — it’s a red, white and blue state. We’re all Americans, together.”

The Rev. George Worth presided. Paul Thomson and Liang Jing Jing (Kelly) from The International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons Chautauqua Scholarship Program read Scripture. Thomson studies law at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. Liang is from Beihai City, Guangxi Province, China, and studies English at Guangxi University. She read Scripture in Mandarin Chinese. The Motet Choir provided sacred music; the anthem was “A Hymn of Freedom” by Eric H. Thiman and John Addington Simons. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship and sacred music coordinator, led the choir.

There is one comment

  1. jesusandthebible

    Which things belong to Caesar and which things belong to God? I think Jesus does elaborate on this. First, he asks whose image and inscription is on the coin (the Roman denarius) used to pay taxes to Caesar (Mt. 22:20). So not only does the image of Caesar on these coins designate them as “things of Caesar,” but also the inscription, which was: “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.”

    When the disciples of the Pharisees answer Jesus’ question about whose image and inscription are on the coin, they say “Caesar’s” (22:21). Then Jesus says to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Because of the blasphemous inscription on the denarius, Jesus’ statement could be translated, “give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s;” these idolatrous coins glorify Caesar as divine, so why would Pharisees want to keep them? By all means, give them back; get rid of them. Jesus is not standing up for Caesar; he is putting him (and his coins) down.

    Since Caesar is not God after all, give to God the things that are God’s. This statement separates Caesar from divinity. As for the things of God, Jesus’ previous parable in Mt. 21:33-43 exposed how Jewish leaders (“tenants”) refused to give God the “fruits” of the vineyard (Israel). In Mt. 23:23 Jesus will tell the scribes and Pharisees they have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These are the things (of God) they should have done (given to God).

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