Brothers and sisters, let us not lose sight of what unites us.
To my fellow Christians in the United States of America. While we live in the US and most of us are citizens of this country, we are really resident aliens, “for our place-of-citizenship is in the heavens, from where also we are eagerly-awaiting the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20). Like Paul, Peter addressed Christians as strangers and temporary residents. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession. (1 Peter 2:9).
There are many things that I sincerely like about the US and I am happy to live here, but I have come to realize that the idea of dual citizenship, while attractive, doesn’t ring true with scripture. “No one can be a slave to two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) Our allegiance belongs to Jesus and Jesus alone. When we support or promote beliefs and policies in the vein of “America First” we are either cutting ourselves off from or elevating ourselves above the other citizens of God’s kingdom who live outside of the US. This is, in essence, prioritizing our allegiance to America over our allegiance to the kingdom of God. “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Lord, help us to truly be servants and to love all of our brothers and sisters with a sincere love.
I believe that we are suffering from a mythical, unBiblical view of the United States of America. The US is not some type of modern-day Israel. While many of the founding fathers may have been Christians or at least showed some degree of reverence toward God, I can find no Biblical support for the idea that God would one day call and set apart another nation to function like the original nation of Israel. We are looking for a city not made by hands, but coming down from heaven – the new Jerusalem. This flawed notion of what America is causes us to write ourselves into the Old Testament narratives. I believe that it is dangerous to apply Old Testament prophecies to the US. The United States of America is a kingdom of the world, just like Rome or Portugal or England or Germany. Therefore, we should not be surprised when it behaves like a kingdom of the world. We are exiles and if we would accept and embrace that we would be less confused and disturbed when non-Christians act like non-Christians. This does not mean that we are off the hook, quite the contrary. We are to conduct ourselves honorably among the gentiles, turn away from evil, do what is good, and seek peace. (1 Peter 2:12, 3:11) We should personally extend and work toward justice and mercy for the weak and powerless and look after orphans and widows. (Matthew 23:23, James 1:27) This is a humbling and difficult assignment, to which I do not yet live up to. God, please help us to be your ministers of healing and reconciliation.
Continuing on with the idea of reading ourselves into the Old Testament story, when we quote 2 Chronicles 7:14, as many American Christians like to do, perhaps we should think of this in terms of asking God to bring healing to the people of God, the holy nation that spans all international borders, rather than applying it to the USA. Until we accept that America is not God’s chosen nation or even a Christian nation we will continue to be distracted with trying to Make America Great Again rather than declaring that Jesus is Lord regardless of who occupies the White House or the Capitol. Jesus never said that his kingdom would grow by converting human, earthly leaders to enact Godly laws. The kingdom grows like the organic spreading of seed.
While many American Christians are full of despair, fearing that God will not bless us because of the people taking office this week, let us remember that we are already blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing, and on top of that, by global standards we are already richly blessed materially. Furthermore, even if we should suffer for righteousness we are blessed. If the church in the US loses freedoms or even becomes persecuted we will only be experiencing what many of our brothers and sisters already experience. And we are called to remember those in prison as if we were in prison and the mistreated as if we were mistreated. (Hebrews 13:3) The early church thrived and was blessed even under Roman emperors who persecuted and executed Christians. I fear that we are more concerned about losing our comfort than we are about the health and growth of God’s kingdom. Perhaps rather than praying that God’s will would be done in our nation (which can too easily be a cover for: God, would you please cause other people to behave the way that I think they should behave.), maybe we should pray that we, God’s people, would do and spread his will throughout this nation.
Since January 6th there have been many cries for unity. I, too, have longed for it. Paul told us to seek unity. However, even in the church this seems elusive though we claim to all hold Jesus as our common center. How much greater is the challenge of unity within a diverse people who do not all share a common center? Unity is defined as the state of being in full agreement. Does that seem at all feasible in the US? Perhaps the best that we can hope for as a country is harmony: a pleasing combination or arrangement of different things. While many Christians in the US want to claim that this is a Christian nation and believe that the overwhelming majority of the citizens are Christians, we need to realize and accept that there are many people who do not pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ and are not interested in seeking God’s will for the country. As I said earlier, we are resident aliens. Surely, unity by force or coercion is not what God has called his people to. Let us pray for and work on unity among God’s people with our center and standard being Jesus, the crucified, risen and living Lord, and let us strive toward harmony and peace within our nation.
While I believe that God is sovereign and all-knowing, based on what we see in Jesus, I do not believe that God is all-controlling. I believe that God is characterized by love, consent and participation. So, rather than saying: God, this must be your will; I hope that you know what you are doing. My longing is for us to pray: God, what is your will for me in this situation? What would you do, Jesus, if you were here, today, in this country, in this town, in this neighborhood? May we take to heart Paul’s challenge at the end of 12th chapter of Romans.
9 Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. 10 Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. 13 Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 16 Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 But, If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. 21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.