Our Public Relationships
Isaiah 55:6-11 / Romans 13:5-10 / Matthew 22:15-22
September 23 and 24, 2017
Dear Christian Friends,
We are in the final of a four week journey through our annual theme, Missio Dei: Building God’s Kingdom. We have defined a mission as a purpose that orders and directs us toward a certain goal, as opposed to just sort of aimlessly wandering through life taking up time and space with no particular destination in mind. That our God has always been on a mission, is on a mission in this very hour, and will be on a mission until His Second Coming is indisputable. The Father sent the Son, on the Day of Pentecost both the Father and the Son sent forth the Holy Spirit, and from that day forward, the Spirit of God dwells in us and sends us to do God’s will in each and every relationship we have. Three weeks ago we focused on our mission to our intimate circle, two weeks ago our mission to our personal circle, last week to our social circle, and today to our public circle.
Who are in my public circle? Your public circle includes people with whom you play bingo, folks you don’t know worshipping alongside of you at Divine Service, and youth attending a national youth gathering. Green Bay Packer fans who are high fiving perfect strangers in the airport, Donald Trump supporters who are engaging on Facebook, and Donald Trump non-supporters engaging on social media or perhaps even protesting on the streets – these folks are connecting in the public circle.
We engage in the public circle whenever we take our private beliefs, our private opinions, and our private ideas into the public arena. Now in what some like to call the good old days, at least where I grew up, there was a fair amount of pressure to keep your private opinions to yourself. My great uncle Arnie Kressin (the New York Yankee fan) pulled me aside at a family gathering once and wanted me to know that we could talk about the Twins and Yankees all we wanted, but three topics we should never speak about out loud, religion, politics, and sex. Years later I was making small talk with my Aunt Linny and I asked her who she voted for, and I thought she was going to bite off my head. She made it crystal clear that her vote was secret and none of my business!
This morning we want to think about what it means to be about our Father’s business, even as we try to honor that older generation who warned us very clearly not to be sticking our noses into places where they don’t belong. One question we want to ask this morning. What does God’s love look like when we take our private convictions into the (public circle?)
That’s another way of asking the question – what does it mean to let our Gospel lights shine all over the neighborhood so that others may see our good works and give glory to God? How can we know when God is wanting us to be quiet and when He is wanting us to speak up? What does it mean to render unto God that which is God’s and unto Caesar that which is Caesars? Is it possible to respect the office while at the same time despising the person who is holding that office? Three answers to one question this morning, What does God’s love look like when we take our private convictions into the public circle? Three answers, one each from our three lessons already read.
Lesson #1 comes from the prophet Isaiah who reminding the nation of Israel that even though they were currently languishing as captives in Babylonia, God was still planning to use them to build His kingdom. Out of their nation the Messiah would come. This Servant would not only be the salvation of the Jews but also a light for the Gentiles. Although it didn’t feel like God was with them and loving them every step of the way, He was.
Answer #1 to the question of what God’s love looks like when we take our private convictions into the public circle is that it looks like rain and snow accomplishing the purposes for which they were (sent). According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, however, less than 20 percent are actually in church.
Research like that makes us wonder how it can be true that God’s Word isn’t returning to Him empty. How can it be true that God’s Word is achieving what He pleases and is successful in the thing for which He commissioned it? The answer to those questions is that God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are deeper than our thoughts. That’s another way of saying that our assignment is to work hard at planting the seeds of God’s Word, to work hard at watering and fertilizing and cultivating the tender plants, and to trust God to do the growing and providing of harvest.
A more encouraging survey comes to us from the Billy Graham Center, which surveyed 2000 unchurched Americans. Five insights from that research may surprise you. 1) Most have some church background. 2. Most quit church because they got out of the habit of going. 3. One third have plans to go to church in the future. 4. The unchurched are very open to a gospel conversation- 47% would definitely interact freely in such a conversation and another 31 % say they would listen carefully without participating. 5. If you invite them, they will come. 55% said they would come if invited by a family member, 51% if invited by a friend.
The kingdom of God looks like a Christian responding to a profanity laced tirade posted on FB of a friend who is as angry as she can be with her own families’ conflict and drama. Her response is simply, “I’m praying for you today, if you need somebody to listen, let me know.”
Same question, What does God’s love look like when we take our private convictions into the (public circle?)
Answer #2 comes from Romans 10, It looks like conversations and actions seasoned with (grace). In this chapter Paul was trying to help Christians understand what it meant to be loyal and obedient both to spiritual and secular authority. On the one hand, they were to pay whatever taxes were due, and on the other hand they were to owe nobody anything except to love one another. On the one hand they were to obey the laws of the land, and on the other hand, they were to spend their days looking for opportunities to help and befriend their neighbors in every bodily need, looking for opportunities to honor the institution of marriage, looking for opportunities to help their neighbors improve and protect their property and business, looking for opportunities to speak well of others, defend them, and put the best construction on everything.
Paul said it this way to the Colossians, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
The kingdom of God is like a family torn apart by the presidential election of 2016. Much of the damage done when folks on both sides of the election spoke their minds without filtering their speech through the cross of Christ crucified. These days, family members are tippy toeing their way back into controversy. These days, they are choosing their words more carefully than they used to choose, they are praying for wisdom more often than they used to pray, they are leading with repentance more than they used to lead with repentance. They are more interested in understanding other people’s opinions than they were in days gone by.
Which leads us right into the third answer to the question of what God’s love looks like when we take our private convictions out into the public circle.
It looks like citizens disagreeing without being (disagreeable) The Pharisees were about as disagreeable as you could be in the day of Jesus. The opening verse of our Gospel lesson reads, “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle Jesus in his words.” In these verses, the Pharisees join forces with their opponents the Herodians to try to destroy Jesus. They imagine they will throw Jesus off guard by flattering him with words of praise. Should God’s chosen people the Jews pay taxes to an evil government or not?
When Jesus answers that we should give to Caesar whatever belongs to Caesar and to God whatever belongs to Him, He is focused on the big picture instead of the various pieces of the puzzle. We are to be loyal and obedient both to the secular and the spiritual authorities. As we take our private convictions out into the public arena, we do well to remember how broad and how deep and how high and how everlasting is the love of our God for us. He loved us by creating us wonderfully and marvelously and with purpose in the first place. He loved us by redeeming us with his very own body and blood. He loved us by placing His Spirit inside of us in the waters of Holy Baptism. He loved us by instituting government, church, and marriage all with distinct purposes. And in our texts for today, he invites us to think about what it means to be citizens in both earthly and heavenly kingdoms.
Bernard Meltzer was a radio talk show host who offered advice to callers on a show called, “What’s Your Problem?” He had this to say about working through our disagreements with others, “If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along - whether it be business, family relations, or life itself.
Two thoughts in closing about what it means take our private beliefs out into the public arena in a way that gives glory to God. The first has to do with our religious persuasions, and the second has to do with our political persuasions.
First, the very fact that many of us are members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod means that we will be associated with certain and traditional teachings. You can go to our LCMS website and see dozens and dozens of our positions including the authority and inerrancy of Holy Scripture and the belief that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Over the years, we have taken public positions on controversial topics like slavery,the atom bomb, anti-semitism, and racism. Social issues like abortion, homosexual behavior, the definition of marriage, andt the list goes on.
How do Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Methodists disagree without being disagreeable? (Story of my mom and dad disagreeing about which church to attend, at one point Mom called off the engagement / eventually Dad agreed to go to church with her if she would marry him/ 13 years later Dad went through instruction and declined to join / then he went through instruction a second time and said ok / this weekend they would have been married for 70 years / they figured out how to disagree without being disagreeable.
Secondly, we think of working through our political differences. This used to happen over the back fence, in break rooms at work, and in coffee shops. These days 76% of all females use Facebook and 66% of all males. In terms of engaging on controversial topics of the day, it seems to me there are three kinds of FB users – those who stay entirely away from controversy, those who engage with the first thoughts that come to their mind, and those who season their conversations with God’s grace.
What does it look like when we season our conversations with God’s grace? This is what it looked like after Jesus gave the big picture kind of an answer in our text, “When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
The kingdom of God is like a woman who engages frequently and passionately on social media. She’s well read, highly opinionated, and famous for not backing down. At the same time, if you were to read through her history of commenting on FB, you would walk away with the very distinct impression that she loves her country, she loves her Savior, and she loves people. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.