“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” ~Philippians 1:27
The apostle Paul intentionally uses political language, the very Greek words from which we get our English words “politics” and “politicians,” to drive home a very important point to the little church in Philippi: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:20)
To confess that Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not. To claim citizenship in heaven is to declare our allegiance, first and foremost, to God’s Kingdom, not the Empire. To conduct ourselves politically or to behave as a citizen of that Kingdom and as subjects of our crucified and resurrected King is to first understand that none of it is of this world. The Kingdom to which we belong transcends all national borders. The Kingdom respects no geographical boundaries or distinctions of powers. And as colonists living under the rule of our Christ, we rise above any national thought, national pride, or national agenda. The Gospel of Jesus levels all of us into an eternal and international community of those who follow the Savior. And it’s his Kingdom that deserves — no, demands! — our undying allegiance.
If citizens of heaven do choose to engage in the politics of America or any other earthly country, we approach it, above all, from the standpoint of our relationship with God through his Son, our only King. Scripture tells us that disciples of Jesus survive in a hostile environment not by legal proceedings against persecutors but by endurance; not by imposing a lifestyle on others through law but by living holy lives that compel others to watch us; not by destroying others with emails and sound bites but by respecting them even as we witness to the eternal truths of the Gospel; not by hating and killing but by loving and serving. And praying.
With that in mind, I want to offer a few things this weekend for your reflection as you and I remember and respond to what happened ten years ago.
Christianity Today has devoted the entirety of its current issue to Christian reflection and response to the terrorist attacks of 9-11. It’s all very good reading. Varied and provocative. There’s an especially interesting section entitled How Evangelical Leaders Have Changed Since 9/11 which contains the thoughts of preachers and pastors and authors and worship ministers and other church leaders. It’s good. The best in that section comes from William Willimon, an outstanding Christian author and theologian:
On 9/11 I thought, ‘For the most powerful, militarized nation in the world also to think of itself as an innocent victim is deadly.’ It was a rare prophetic moment for me, considering Presidents Bush and Obama have spent billions asking the military to rectify the crime of a small band of lawless individuals, destroying a couple of nations who had little to do with it, in the costliest, longest series of wars in the history of the United States.
The silence of most Christians and the giddy enthusiasm of a few, as well as the ubiquity of flags and patriotic extravaganzas in allegedly evangelical churches, says to me that American Christians may look back upon our reponse to 9/11 as our greatest Christological defeat. It was shattering to admit that we had lost the theological means to distinguish between the United States and the Kingdom of God. The criminals who perpetrated 9/11 and the flag-waving boosters of our almost exclusively martial response were of one mind: that the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid. All of us preachers share the shame; when our people felt very vulnerable, they reached for the flag, not the cross.
September 11 has changed me. I’m going to preach as never before about Christ crucified as the answer to the question of what’s wrong with the world. I have also resolved to relentlessly reiterate from the pulpit that the worst day in history was not a Tuesday in New York, but a Friday in Jerusalem when a consortium of clergy and politicians colluded to run the world on our own terms by crucifying God’s own Son.
My great friend Jim Martin has used his blog, A Place For the God-Hungry, to ask preachers this week what they’re going to preach this Sunday. Again, the nearly 50 comments are worth reading. They are varied and provocative. Very helpful in guiding us to reflect and respond in a manner worthy of our Lord’s Gospel.
Our Messiah has commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. As disciples of the Prince of Peace, we are also to pray and anticipate and work toward the ultimate shalom that will be realized when God’s Kingdom comes in all its glory, when our Father’s will is truly and finally done on earth just as it is in heaven. A good resource for meditation and reflection in these areas is the Book of Common Prayer. I would especially recommend the section on Prayers for Peace and Justice.
For Peace: Eternal God, in whose perfect Kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength but the strength of love; so mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever. Amen.
For Peace: Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth, that in tranquility your dominion may increase until the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
For Our Enemies: O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies, lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A few months ago, Jim Gardner turned me on to Kurt Willems at The Pangea Blog. Kurt is a former classmate of Jim’s at the Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. You might check out his angle on how Jesus washing Judas’ feet on the night he was betrayed serves as our model for dealing with our enemies. The article is “9/11 and Jesus’ Approach to Enemies of the State.”
My great hope is that when we gather in the name and manner of our Lord Jesus this Sunday morning we will think and speak and behave and worship in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. While we’re naming the evil, may we also point to the sovereignty of our Father who “reigns over the nations” and “is seated on his heavenly throne.” While we’re praying for soldiers of the United States military and their families, may we also lift up the soldiers and families of the Iraq and Afghanistan armies to our God “who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” And while we teach and preach on the repentance and restoration of America and America’s churches, may we also teach and preach on the redemption and the reconciliation of all of creation according to the holy will of our eternal Father.
Lord, come quickly.