Independence Day Weekend “Honor to Whom Honor Is Owed”
July 3, 2022 Romans 13:1–7
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ;
On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress of the original 13 American colonies declared itself free from the rule of the British empire and king George III, adopting the Declaration of Independence. The Revolutionary War began one yr earlier (1775), and fighting continued in various places until 1783, when British general Cornwallis surrendered, and the Treaty of Paris was signed. America’s independence has been celebrated ever since; the 4th of July became a federal holiday in 1941, and it is one of the days to recognize the servicemen & women from all of America’s wars, who have been called on -or volunteered- to defend our nation in order for us to live in peace and with liberty.
Neither Independence Day, Veterans Day, nor Memorial Day are Church festivals;
yet, in His Holy Word, God certainly does address the relationship between Church & State =
HE governs both of those ‘two kingdoms.’ The kingdom of the left is the world; the kingdom of the right is the Church. God has certain expectations for His people as Church and as citizens.
So, we heard in Romans chpt.13, we are obligated to pay what we owe: “/taxes – to whom taxes are owed, /revenue – to whom revenue is owed, /respect – to whom respect is owed, /honor – to whom honor is owed.”
Today we recognize the honor we owe to the men & women of the armed forces of the United States, who are (or were) trained to be ready to defend us from those who threaten life & limb; from our enemies, both foreign and domestic. We honor them best by honoring the God who is Lord over His two kingdoms.
Our military men & women who have served, or are serving our country now, also serve God in their work. For ‘there is no authority except from God,’ says vs.1. We remember that Jesus said the same thing to Pontius Pilate: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”(Jn 19:11). Pilate had power in civil authority; yet he was an agent of God, even though he was a pagan unbeliever. To him was due a certain honor for the position he held, with authority over people & their lives; whether he acknowledged God or not.
We know from Bible history that the Jewish leaders insulted & disrespected the Son of God;
likewise, Pilate allowed Jesus to be beaten by the soldiers, flogged & crucified.
But when Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin court and Pontius Pilate, He was courteous & respectful. The leaders of the Jews and the Roman authorities were abusing their power, but they were still to be held in respect & honor, because they filled the positions of authority in the world, which comes from God, the Creator & Lord of this world.
Tradition says that the Apostle Paul was executed under emperor Nero. Even when he faced that threat, Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1Tim 2:1–4).
We pray for good, orderly government; because even if those in authority are not Christians, it results in a stable society in which the Gospel can spread & faith can be lived as a good testimony to God. This is the doctrine of the two kingdoms. The kingdom of God’s left hand is government, and =because of sin= in His left hand, God holds a sword. Thru governments, God establishes order in the world, and punishes & controls those who do evil.
As our lesson said, the ruler “is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” We honor our military men & women when we honor the way God has chosen to work thru them in His kingdom of the left to preserve life & liberty.
The kingdom of God’s right hand is the Church. Jesus Himself, after finishing His work of our salvation on the cross & thru the tomb, by His blood atoning for the sin of the whole world, He ascended to the authority of the right hand of God, & continues His soul-saving work to rescue sinners, until He returns in glory = when earthly kingdoms will be no more.
Thru the kingdom of the right, thru His Church, God gives-out the forgiveness of sins thru the preaching of the Word, and thru His Sacraments. So humble, repentant sinners look to the Church for mercy from a loving God, who forgives them for the sake of Jesus, who did spiritual battle & won our world’s chief war. In & thru the Church, the Father forgives your sins, and the sins of all who believe in His Son, who is giving us the eternal victory.
In the one kingdom, God operates by force, and ultimately makes man serve & follow His will & plan. The earthly ruler ‘does not bear the sword in vain’, but serves God’s purpose.
But in the other kingdom, God operates by grace = not force; His Church operates by love; inviting, persuading, proclaiming Christ. The two must never be mixed. God’s Church cannot use force to threaten & make people believe in their hearts; and a government cannot survive on grace alone or else it will be overrun by its evil enemies. This fallen world needs both force and grace in their proper place, with God overseeing both kingdoms.
So, to serve in the armed forces, as well as in law enforcement & in gov’t, is a difficult position for Christians to be in; for they serve in two kingdoms. It’s difficult, but not impossible; because they serve & obey the one God, who is over both. Today we owe honor to those who have served well, or are serving well in the military, taking up arms & supporting deadly conflict, defending life & liberty against those who would cause chaos & death.
We also honor those in positions of gov’t authority who, at times, must make hard decisions about war and punishments for wickedness. But in owing that honor, we primarily honor the Almighty, our Creator, who is governing all things for the sake of His saving gospel, so that His Church can do its work of proclaiming the Word of God; so that, as John says, ‘that all may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in His name.’ There are two kingdoms at work for that one purpose.
Until the world’s Savior returns, this sinful world needs governments & militaries =with soldiers/sailors/& airmen= who work in the kingdom of God’s left hand, because sin must be curbed & punished, and civil peace maintained, so that God’s earthly blessings are received with thanks & joy. And this sinful world also needs the Church =with altars, laity & clergy= who work in the kingdom of God’s right hand, because sin must also be forgiven & absolved, and righteousness be taught & learned, so that the good fruit of the Spirit will be a living witness of the world’s one Savior, Jesus Christ.
So today we honor our veterans who have served well in war time and peace time.
And we honor the servicemen & women who are trained & stand ready now to defend us from worldly enemies. They serve a larger purpose. But most of all, we honor, praise, & worship God, who Himself is the mightiest fortress, the trustiest shield and weapon, who commands the hosts of heaven against all our enemies, and who has gained us the victory in Christ that will endure forever.