Sermon: Thirteen

This is the sermon I preached yesterday. You can read it here and you can also listen to the podcast. Yes, Thirteen is referring to Romans 13.

Exodus 20:17, Matthew 22:34-40 and Romans 13
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Ten Words from God Series
June 17, 2018
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Download this episode (right click and save)

2yearoldcryingI’ve shared this before, but I first learned about the internment of Japanese Americans in high school. I can remember reading about the Issei and the Nissei, the names for the immigrant generation and the first generation of native Japanese Americans respectively.  They came to the United States seeking a new life and set up lives and communities along the Western coast of the United States. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the lives of these immigrants dramatically changed. All of the sudden, over 100,000 American citizens were viewed with suspicion.  In the days following the attack, the United States declared war against the Japan and we formally entered World War II. But our government also did something else. Executive order 9066, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt allowed for the government to round up those 100,000 Americans and place them into Internment Camps across the West.  The United States government forced 100,000 people whose only crime was to share the ancestry of a current enemy, to give up their homes and businesses, to leave their hometowns to go to camps where they stayed until the end of the war.

We look back at that time with a sense of shock and shame.  We wonder how a government, our government would be willing to do that to American citizens.

And yet, here we are 70 years later at another point in history when our government is doing something that seems unimaginable.  

We have all seen and heard the stories about families who come to the border who are forcibly split up children from parents to go to special detention facilities.  Vox, the online magazine states, “Between October 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018, at least 2,700 children have been split from their parents. 1,995 of them were separated over the last six weeks of that window — April 18 to May 31 — indicating that at present, an average of 45 children are being taken from their parents each day.”

This is part of a new “zero tolerance” policy by the Trump Administration, an effort to make coming to the United States, legal or not, as so horrible that people will stop coming. Many of those coming are requesting asylum, escaping violence in Central American nations.  But it doesn’t matter to our leaders. No matter what, if a family comes to our Southern border, the children are separated, even to the point to taking a woman’s child as she is breastfeeding them.

When asked to justify this policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded by using a passage in the Bible. This is what he said:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful. Our policies that can result in short-term separation of families are not unusual or unjustified.”

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Of course, I am speaking from Matthew, but I want you to remember that as we look at Romans 13.  This passage written by the Apostle Paul has been one of the most misused pieces of scripture in the BIble.  If you look at it alone, then it could be bent to excuse government policies which is what the Attorney General did this week. This passage has been used to justify government oppression which is not the intent of Paul.  Anglican Priest Fleming Rutledge has said that this passage has been used to keep people in oppressive situations. Today we are justifying the separation of young children by saying that Romans 13 says it okay.

Paul’s intent was to say that God created the world and that government is part of God’s created order.  Government is there to protect us, so we should be good citizens, paying our taxes and obeying the laws.

When you are reading Paul’s epistles which are letters to local churches, you have to understand it in that context. It is dangerous to take this passage whole as something that can be used in all times and places.  Yes, as Christians we should be good citizens and respect authority. But you can’t and shouldn’t use this to bless government activities. Romans 13 never tells us how to deal with a tyrannical government. You can’t really use this if the government is something like Nazi Germany. It is one thing to respect the authorities when the government is acting in a way that is just.  But Romans 13 has nothing to say when the government is unjust. The Attorney General also didn’t read the last part of this chapter where Paul tells the people not just to respect authorities, but to live in a certain way based on love. Paul says, “Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. 9 The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have,[a] and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself.[b] 10 Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.”

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Love is what is at the base of what we do.  If it isn’t seen as loving, then it isn’t love and it isn’t from God.  Ripping kids from their parents when they are already in a strange country where the language is different isn’t loving and it isn’t ordained by God. If someone tells you this, they are a liar. Even Paul knew that government even if it is good, is only provisional.  The ultimate power is not the Caesars of the Roman Empire or the United States, but it is found in God. When early Christians said that Jesus is Lord, that was dangerous. It was political, because in a place where the leaders were considered a deity, saying Jesus was lord was saying that someone else was challenging their power.

What is happening at the Southern border is not biblical.  It is not approved by God. The God that heard the cries of the Hebrew children killed by the Pharaoh, is not going to approve of destroying families.

I’ve spoken that the church is called to be a place where people of all backgrounds can come together at Christ’s table, especially at a time we are so divided.  But the church is also the church militant, it is called to speak out against injustice. We can’t remain silent when something like this is happening. We can’t allow the Caesars of this world to bend Scripture to justify their evil practices.

This is not about partisan politics.  This is not about bad Republicans and righteous Democrats. If you are thinking that way, stop it. We aren’t here to just speak out when we don’t like Caesar, we are called to speak out when the Cesar is unjust regardless if they have a D or R after their name.

You and I are called to speak.  This is a time to speak up. At the end of the day, we are called to love God and our neighbor.  Because to love God and neighbor are the foundation of every other commandment. If it isn’t loving it isn’t Jesus and if it isn’t Jesus we need to speak up.  Now is the time. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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