Navigating American Citizenship: A Journey of Faith and Civic Duty
17th Sunday after Pentecost - 9/24/2023 | Philippians 1:27-30 ESV
Worthy Citizens of the Gospel of Christ
In a rapidly evolving American landscape, we must reflect on the changing dynamics of our nation. Are we, as Americans, increasingly consumed by self-centered pursuits and personal gratification, or are we steadfastly fulfilling our responsibilities to both our fellow citizens and the United States of America? In this exploration, we delve into these themes, examining how we can conscientiously embrace our roles as citizens and the challenges that come with it.
The Economic Lens: Beyond the Fiscal Focus
As the next general election looms, it is understandable that economic concerns dominate political discourse. Inflation, national debt, rising taxes, and currency fluctuations loom large on the horizon. However, we must pause and ponder whether these economic challenges should eclipse the multitude of other pressing issues confronting our nation, both on the domestic and global fronts.
Challenges to Our Society:
Moral Resilience and Civic Duty: Our moral values continually face external pressures. Reflecting on the values that define our nation and devising strategies to fortify them for future generations is of paramount importance for both our faith and civic responsibilities.
Global Engagement and Sacrifices: The escalating pressures of international conflicts, such as Ukraine's confrontation with Russia, necessitate thoughtful deliberation. We must carefully weigh potential consequences and the sacrifices made by our service members, understanding the intersection of faith and civic duty.
Border Security and National Welfare: The porous southern border presents formidable challenges, including the influx of immigrants, illicit drugs, and criminal elements like the Mexican Cartels. Addressing this issue is vital for both our security and the well-being of our citizens.
Human Trafficking and Protecting Vulnerable Lives: The alarming surge in child trafficking is deeply troubling. Combating this issue demands a unified effort to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, aligning our faith with civic responsibility.
Ideological Divides: We grapple with ideological threats from various quarters, including movements like Wokism, Transgenderism, and Cultural Marxism. Upholding God's truth calls for a thoughtful approach from both faith and civic angles.
Preserving Free Speech: Our freedom of speech faces threats, and we must staunchly safeguard this fundamental right, as it is essential for the robust exchange of ideas and the preservation of our democracy, which is intertwined with our civic duties.
Drawing Inspiration from Our Forebears: The American Struggle
Our forefathers, the heroes of independence, our valiant soldiers, and civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., all understood the inherent challenges of being American. Achieving justice and freedom demands tireless effort, and the American Dream is attainable only through hard work, perseverance, and sometimes sacrifice. Their examples guide us in both our faith and civic responsibilities.
A Lesson from Apostle Paul: Embracing Struggle and Civic Responsibility
The teachings of the Apostle Paul offer valuable insights into the concept of struggle. Paul faced immense challenges and used vivid language to describe the Christian journey. Just as Paul urged his readers to stand firm, work together for the faith, and not be daunted by opposition, we too must embrace the challenges and conflicts inherent in our faith and civic duties.
In Paul's words, "Let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ." This directive reminds us that, as citizens, we should conduct ourselves in a manner that reflects the values and principles of the Gospel. We can interpret this as a call to be exemplary citizens in our great nation, embodying the ideals of compassion, justice, and service, integrating our faith and civic responsibilities seamlessly.
Citizenship: A Privilege and a Journey
Citizenship is a privilege, one that is both granted and earned, not merely declared. Just as becoming an American citizen requires meeting specific legal requirements, being a citizen in the Kingdom of Christ entails a transformative journey and a commitment that is far from effortless.
According to God's definition, Christians are not born into His kingdom by default. Instead, they are reborn through faith and transformation. Scripture tells us that our physical birth places us in a state of spiritual separation from God, described as being dead, enemies of God, aliens, and citizens of the kingdom of darkness. Therefore, to become citizens of Christ's kingdom, we must be born again, born of water and the Spirit, as Jesus himself proclaimed.
The Struggles of Rebirth and the Sacrifices It Entails:
Through the potent message of the Gospel and the sacrament of Holy Baptism, God bestows rebirth and spiritual life. Faith in the Gospel becomes our creed, charter, ideology, constitution, and Bill of Rights as citizens of Christ's kingdom. However, this rebirth is not without its struggles.
Our rebirth into Christ's kingdom mirrors being baptized into His death. In this profound act of baptism, our old selves are symbolically buried with Christ, and we are made alive through His victory over sin and death. Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, sacrificed His life to defeat our enemies of sin, death, and the devil. Our citizenship in Christ's kingdom was secured through His sacrificial bloodshed. There was nothing free or easy about it.
The Challenge of Christian Citizenship: Standing Firm in Faith and Civic Responsibility
Living out our citizenship in Christ's kingdom is equally demanding. By identifying as Christians, we automatically become adversaries to those who oppose the truth. Jesus, who proclaimed Himself as "The Truth," warned His disciples that they would be hated on account of His name. This hostility towards Christians is a result of our association with the ultimate truth-bearer, Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul, writing to the Philippians and all believers, acknowledges the inherent struggle in Christian citizenship. He states that believers are granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for His sake. This suffering is part of the same conflict and struggle that Paul himself faced. It's a stark reality that Paul underscores, and his words resonate with clarity from his jail cell.
Embracing Our Responsibility: Living Worthy of the Gospel in Both Faith and Civic Duties
Returning to Paul's exhortation in the text, he urges us to "conduct yourselves as citizens worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Just as we did not make ourselves worthy to be Americans, we likewise cannot make ourselves worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, we can certainly live in ways that are not worthy of the grace and struggle of Christ and His servants.
For instance, claiming to be a Christian while persisting in unrepentant sin, disregarding certain commands of the Lord to accommodate our preferred lifestyle, prioritizing worldly pursuits over the study of God's Word, or complaining about suffering as if it were unjust - all of these behaviors diminish and betray the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They reveal ingratitude and unappreciativeness for the privilege of citizenship in His kingdom.
The Call to Proclaim the Gospel: A Shared Responsibility in Both Faith and Civic Life
In our text, the Apostle Paul directs our attention to a specific activity in the lives of citizens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—one of paramount importance. Depending on how we handle or neglect it, this activity not only affects our salvation but also the salvation of others. It concerns the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel itself.
Paul commences his letter to the Philippians by expressing gratitude to God for their unwavering support of the Gospel. He commends them for their continuous participation in the Gospel, starting from the day of their conversion and extending to their present-day support of his ministry, even from his prison cell. Paul's heart swells with gratitude for their prayers, a wellspring of comfort and strength during his incarceration.
Remarkably, Paul acknowledges that God is using his chains as an instrument to advance the Gospel. His unwavering commitment to proclaim and defend the faith, despite his circumstances, serves not only to encourage fellow Christians in their daily struggles but also to introduce the Gospel to the very guards who hold him captive. His courage inspires other believers to take up the mantle of Gospel proclamation themselves.
The Impact of Bold Proclamation and Unity: A Ripple Effect in Both Faith and Civic Engagement
Consider the implications on the progress of the Gospel if the Philippians—or we today—shied away from boldly proclaiming its truth, diluted it to appease contemporary sensibilities, or avoided the trials Paul endured. Such an outcome would be a grievous tragedy, leading listeners away from the Savior and towards destruction.
Hence, Paul fervently desires that, whether or not he can visit the Philippians again in person, he will always hear that they conduct themselves as citizens worthy of the Gospel of Christ. This means standing firm in unity, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel, and fearlessly facing those who oppose them, a principle applicable to both our faith and civic duties.
Unity Amidst Opposition: A Vital Imperative for Both Faith and Civic Engagement
Dissension within any group can swiftly erode its strength. A united company of soldiers, confident in their abilities and trusting in their comrades, can be nearly invincible. However, if the enemy manages to instill fear or hopelessness in a few soldiers, the entire company weakens, rendering it ineffective in achieving its objectives.
Similarly, being bold advocates of the Faith and proclaimers of the truth of the Gospel in our world today, as in Paul's day, is an enduring struggle. Sharing what Jesus truly teaches about sin and sinfulness, faithfully administering the Holy Sacraments, and boldly proclaiming that salvation lies only in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ—all of these actions will face opposition, marginalization, mockery, and even persecution. Nevertheless, our unwavering proclamation will bring honor to the One who endured hell to save us, and our witness will be a testament worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Preserving Unity in the Face of Struggle: A Shared Goal in Faith and Civic Responsibility
In our journey as citizens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are confronted with challenges that test our resolve. It's crucial to recognize that these challenges, though formidable, are an inherent part of our faith. If we allow intimidation, threats, and opposition to drive a wedge between us, causing divisions and undermining our unity, we inadvertently provide the enemy with an opportunity to infiltrate our ranks, impacting both our faith and civic engagement.
When we break ranks with one another and begin to speak against our agreed-upon confession of the Gospel, we risk criticizing each other for being too conservative, too "Old Lutheran," or too strict. Such divisions not only weaken our collective witness to the Gospel but also put individual members at risk of losing their faith. The consequences are far-reaching, with souls potentially being lost along the way, emphasizing the importance of unity in both faith and civic responsibilities.
A Call to Unified Action: Our Strength in Unity for Both Faith and Civic Engagement
As citizens of the Gospel of Christ, our very identity is rooted in struggle. We must remember that Christ redeemed us from our enemies through His profound struggle. The servants of Christ, exemplified by individuals like the Apostle Paul, have brought us the good news of Christ, The Gospel, through immense personal and spiritual struggles. Throughout history, God has achieved His greatest victories through various forms of struggle, including our own.
A Unified Witness: Honoring Our Savior in Both Faith and Civic Life
The path of a Gospel citizen is not without its trials and tribulations. Yet, we are called to face these challenges with unwavering faith and the bold confession of the Gospel. Let us strive to conduct ourselves as citizens worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing that our unity, courage, and perseverance in the face of struggle will ultimately bring honor to the One who redeemed us and strengthen the proclamation of the Gospel for generations to come, a mission that transcends both our faith and civic responsibilities. Amen.