Let us pray: God, come and be with us this morning as we hear your Scripture. Speak to us through it and through my words, we pray. Amen.
King of All
We Americans don’t have kings anymore. Sure, we can enjoy the wedding of Princess Meghan or Princess Diana, and enjoy the pomp and circumstance in our historical movies, and look at all the pictures of the royal babies, but we Americans don’t have our own royalty.
Maybe that’s why I was so struck by Psalm 66, which praises God as king. We don’t think of kings the same way that the Israelites would have, but together we celebrate that God is king of all the earth, who desires to be worshipped by all. And therefore God is the one to whom our ultimate loyalty is due, totally and utterly.
This is a common idea throughout the Bible. The psalms are full of it: “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne,” says Psalm 47:8. “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters,” echoes Psalm 24:1-2.
As I said, this is a running theme through the Bible, God’s kingship and our reaction to that truth. For human kings rarely react well to being told there is another, better king that they owe loyalty to. The prophets repeatedly are the ones tasked with telling them this truth, and the ones who were loyal enough to both their God and their country to tell their kings the truth, even when it wasn’t what they wanted to hear, even if it was dangerous for them. Jeremiah, for instance, was thrown down a well after repeatedly telling King Zedekiah and his people that the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians was coming (Jeremiah 38).
Jesus wrestled with this question, too, for instance when He was asked a question about whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17) Which is all well and good, of course, but we are left to untangle what that really means for us today. Everything belongs to God, but what has God entrusted Caesar with? What authority and area had God given Caesar, and where was he overstepping it with his cruelty and hubris?
And what about now? There are no kings anymore for us Americans–but we still have countries and loyalties. We still have to do the complicated work of figuring out what is Caesar’s and what is God’s, or what is America’s and what is God’s. When does our patriotism blind us to our more important loyalty to God? When does our country become too important?
There have been times in our country where we have put our country, or our own fears, over our call to love others. There is our history of racism and segregation, where fear and laws became more important than our shared humanity and our Christian call to love one another; there were Japanese internment camps in WWII, where we decided that security more important than seeing these people as children of God and treating them well. Any time, in other words, where we excuse bad behavior, even immoral and criminal behavior in the name of expediency, because “something has to be done” or because “this is too important”.
Look. I’m not up here to preach my politics. Both sides do this. People who don’t take sides at all do this. As Christians we are called to do better than this, and to tell our elected officials to do better. We are lucky enough to live in a country that shares many of our ideals–the Declaration of Independence, after all, says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We believe in equality, and freedom, and do our best to live that out as a country. Sometimes we really flop, but we try, and we keep trying.
But it doesn’t matter how great our country is–our faith in God is still more important. Our loyalty to God is still more important. Our Christian faith means that we cannot be blinded by loyalty to our country, and we cannot worship our country along with our God.
Let us give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.