Does that mean that we are called to abandon our civic duty or our allegiance to our great nation? Not at all. We need to embrace it. No, we must embrace it. But we also hold dual citizenship. We are citizens of the United States. But a deeper allegiance ties us to the Kingdom of God. And God has invited us to change the world through his kingdom by embracing a lifestyle and calling that moves beyond what national citizenship alone could ever do. The Apostle Peter makes this point in his first letter. He says that Christians are a “royal priests” and a “holy nation.” Our life’s goal as members of the Kingdom of God should be to reflect the desires of its King – Jesus. Peter also calls us “temporary residents and foreigners” – people who are part of this world but also find their truest identity in the eternal. You see, for Peter (and for us), we don’t have to choose between allegiance to America and allegiance to the kingdom of God. It’s not an “either/or” decision. It’s an “and/both” decision. We should be committed to our nation. But where our nation falls short of meeting the desires of God’s kingdom – that’s when the church rises to the occasion.
So, what does the kingdom of God look like? How do we know when we are acting out the desires of our King? Well, fortunately, the Bible has a lot to say about that! The kingdom of God is found where you see love in action. Listen to this scripture:
Matthew 9:35-36: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
I love that scripture. It gives us a glimpse of Jesus in action. What was important to Jesus? The things in this scripture: telling the good news, healing the physical and emotional needs of others. And then Matthew says something really important, he tells us exactly why Jesus did those things. Jesus did them out of compassion – a deep abiding desire to help others who are “harassed and helpless.” To help those who are wandering around like lost sheep and fending for their lives daily.
Now, when we tend to think about images like that, we tend to think of people far off in another place that face overwhelming hardship. They certainly deserve our compassion. But really, the people we can reach most are the ones in our own backyard. Or maybe even in our own congregation…where the hurt lies beneath a thin veneer of confidence and pleasantries exchanged in the courtyard. We are all susceptible to that type of behavior. But here’s the thing. You see, people are more than a statistic. More than categories the government can record on a census. You don’t check a box for heartache, depression, or shame. To me, Jesus gives the ultimate example of how the Kingdom of God behaves in the story of the leper. Lepers were outcasts socially. They had to yell down the street where they walked, “Unclean!” over and over. In Luke 5, a leper falls down in front of Jesus and asks if “the Son of Man,” – the leader of the kingdom of God – is “willing” to heal him. Before he does anything else, Jesus displays one of the most remarkable examples of love in action in the whole Bible. He touches him. By doing so, Jesus says, “you are worthy of the human touch and compassion that so many people have denied you while attempting to keep religious rules.” Jesus said, “You are worth my attention, my time, my resources, and even the risk of disease. You are worth dying for.” In that moment, even before physical healing occurs, Jesus heals the leper’s soul. And those things are happening all around us – in this church.
When the Kingdom of God is in action, all types of healing and mercy and wholeness happen. When we act out our dual citizenship, the Kingdom of God invades the lives of those we come in contact with. A little yeast leavens the whole lump. That’s your part and my part. And that’s all God has really called us to. Our role in bringing about his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” is to be open and to listen for the Holy Spirit. And when given the opportunity, to act with a compassion and love that changes the world around us. I believe it’s a privilege to be an American citizen. For that I am very grateful. But I am even more overwhelmed by God’s invitation to be part of his family and to advance his mandate of grace. As we continue to celebrate our national heritage, may we be that much more mindful of our spiritual lineage as well. May that realization take root and we come to the Lord’s Table this morning.