A Christian Citizen in a God Ignored world” Let’s pray.. Rev. Stuart C. Buisch
Romans 13: 1-8
Do any of these exist? Christian citizens? Paul has rough words about so many topics but in Romans 13 some folk would suggest he really went off the rails. Sadly,as Reformed Presbyterian Christians we say the Bible is the authority for their lives and thus we must interact with these words. So,what better day than the fourth of July weekend.
There are several ideas to address: authority, the placement of rulers by God, rulers who punish the wrong, the sake of our conscience, paying taxes and finally love.Paul wrote in the time of an evil, non-Christian government –Rome. Yet he tells us to place ourselves under authority, all too often like theirs. Today we have a whole collection of styles of government and lots of interpretations of how to relate to that. In many countries with different constitutions there are leaders who are corrupt. Surely Paul wouldn’t suggest that we place ourselves under that authority. The countries where swearing allegiance to God is illegal how do those mix?
The only sense I can make of this as I have struggled for years to know how to pray for leaders here in the USA and abroad, is that these words require a deep faith in God who will be at work whether I can see it or not. Much as we might chafe against some speed limits on the roads,those laws are attempting to keep us safe.
It requires great faith to believe that no one could have authority without receiving it from God. It requires faith to believe that we need to obey because to do otherwise is to,as in vs 2,stand against God. Paul’s framework that ‘people who do right won’t get punished’ isn’t workable in the systems that occur in 2021. Certain authoritarian states required masks, vaccinations and apparently don’t have the loss of life that we have seen in USA. But we are a free nation, which cannot be ruled by political parties.
So how do we respond to this directive from Paul. First, we need to heed the counsel of other letters in the Bible, which challenge us to pray for our leaders. Pray for our government. This isn’t permission to curse in our prayers –tempted as we might be. Nor is it permission to assume all knowledge on our parts when we pray. Here is a case of standing in God’s presence and telling God what we see and seeking to know what God sees. The Psalm directs us to declare God’s glory to the nations.That is surely a step of faith.
The sake of our conscience is a challenge. How do we equip our conscience to follow in Godly ways. It is certainly easy to believe that God is not aware of the details that inform the itty bitty decisions we make each hour of the day. But each decision fortifies our faith and morality or wears away at it like the drip on a boulder which is destroyed by the constant interaction of such a small force as a drip.
Next,Paul directs us to pay taxes. Is this in case this letter is found by authorities in Rome?Perhaps but it also carries a level of rationality. Here in North Tonawanda and Western NY we like to have our roads maintained, our streets plowed clean of snow. We like our garbage picked up and our streets and homes safe from bandits and fire.All of this costs. Paying taxes seeks to make our community a better place to live. Taxes pay the salaries of those leaders that we are praying for too. Paul seems aware of the nuances of his time. Vs 7 Pay everyone what you owe them. Apparently having lived the generosity of the early church where everything was in common has passed out of practice and one can only wonder who wasn’t paying what. In my lifetime I have known people who follow Christ who refuse to pay certain taxes that they believe furthers parts of government practice that they disagree with.
Paul heightens this directive by combining it with taxes, duties, respect and honor. In my life there have been individuals in authority in the community, state, nation, world and indeed in the church for whom respect and honor would be a heavy lift. Those who objectify others in their office and their personal lives. Those who treat one person one way and others another way. Those who demand preference but would never provide that for anyone else. Being human in the cross cultural, inter-religious world that we inhabit can be most difficult.
If all of that is not a challenge enough Paul falls in line with so many other New Testament writers calling on his readers to not owe anyone anything except love.
We would do well this Fourth of July weekend to ponder what our freedom calls us to do and be? How does our following of Jesus Christ assist us in this process. This year let us live into our faith and believe that God is still over all and at work in ways we cannot always perceive.
In the Name of God, Parent, Redeemer, and Provider, amen.
Jacob Wrestling God, strengthen us as we struggle with our will and your will...
Suffering, triumphant Savior, remind us that redemption is complete and we simply receive...
Wind in the souls, refresh us with your easy yoke and light burden to glorify God.