Just a Thought … Living in the Land God Gave Us

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4 -7 NRSV)

Jesus and Jeremiah agree. Live in faithful obedience to the government. Paul even says that governmental authority is part of God’s care for us, for all authority is given by Creator God. The story of Jeremiah’s letter advances it even further. The people are to live and be good citizens wherever God has seen fit to place them. Even though now they may be citizens of another homeland, they are to behave and thrive and pray as if they belong in the place to which the Lord has drawn them. They may be aliens in the land, but they are there by God’s design and they must care for the land and seek its welfare. Only in the city’s wellbeing and welfare will their own wellbeing and welfare be secured. Accordingly, they would have to pay taxes to the emperor or the king, if required by law. And they would need to accept the complete authority of the government until such a time that God saw fit to return them to their own country.

Perhaps there is a parable in this for the contemporary lives of us as Christians in America. We celebrate annually our truly glorious Day of Independence. Once citizens of Great Britain, our ancestors bravely fought for freedom and achieved it at last. Boldly they claimed the land as their own and became its citizens. But, whether British or American, many of those who first settled our land were Christians seeking freedom of religious expression. They believed they were God’s chosen people, drawn by God’s own hand to a brave new land. Ultimately, they were citizens of Gods kingdom. But they were dispersed to new colonies and new worlds to establish a place to live and flourish. There, they worked to construct a whole new place of law and order. They built houses, villages, towns, and cities. They planted gardens, farms, and ranches. They prayed for the land. They gave their children in marriage and multiplied and opened the borders of the new country to other refugees and exiles who came for innumerable reasons to the new shores of America seeking a life of freedom and opportunity.

Not all of us here in America worship the same God or worship God in the same way. But those of us who do worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, have much in common with those early Christian aliens who settled this land long ago. We, too, are citizens of the kingdom of heaven as well as dwellers in this land of freedom. And, we are here, we trust, because this is the land in which God has purposefully placed us. For the time being, America is our home. Therefore, we have very little choice. We need to live as if we are to stay. We may long for Jesus Christ to return and take us to our proper home. But that hope is only a future promise. We cannot know when it will occur – maybe 7 years, 70 years, or perhaps 7 times 70 years. Until then, we are here in this great land of ours to stay. We build, we plant, we live, and we pray for the security of the land that God has graciously brought us to. If our land is secure, then our welfare is safeguarded.

Jeremiah’s letter of assurance and of future hope is also our reminder that God has given us this place
for now, but has not forgotten that one day, we shall be taken home. How shall we live in this divinely
blessed but temporary setting? Beyond celebrating our great independence from paying taxes to some
other king, how shall we behave? Paul and Jesus agree. Render unto our government all that is due it.
Even when we fervently disagree with the authority of our government – and as Americans, we correctly
believe this to be our right – we should pray for our country, seek its welfare, and live as good neighbors
alongside the people God deliberately has placed all around us.

The Fourth of July is a day of fond remembrance but likely it is also a day of fond forgetfulness. It is not the day we like to remember the times when our nation has been in the wrong. There have been plenty of episodes that have been painful and shameful. That is part of life, and it seems, is part of every society and nation. We should not take comfort in the notion that we are no worse than other nations and societies. With all that God has freely given us in this blessed land, it would not be inappropriate for us to hold ourselves to a higher standard of moral conduct than many other places in and around the world. Americans have not always been good neighbors in the world community. But we can be. And, more than any other group, Christians in America need to be, indeed, Christians are called to be good neighbors by God.

To secure our welfare and to provide future promise in this temporary home of ours, Christian people can spread the light of God’s love in this land of freedom and opportunity. We can render unto the Lord God the things that are God’s. That is, namely, ourselves and all that we possess in the land. If we love our neighbors as ourselves and we give so that “welfare” comes from the hands of God’s people rather than from the collective, impersonal hand of the state, we shall be safeguarding the place of our dwelling, as well as making it more secure for all.

What Jesus and Jeremiah seem to be saying is something like: we should never let our institutions do our Christian loving for us. We must live in the world that God has given us stewardship over. Therefore, we truly need to pray for it, be a part of it, seek its welfare, render to its authority that which is due, but ultimately act in genuine love and treat all people and peoples as our loving neighbors. Sometimes this means we will need to correct our government. We may need to speak out, to protest, to vote against those who lead us in harmful directions. But, of course, that is really no hardship. We, more than any other people on earth, have the right to do so. That is precisely what the colonists fought the Revolution for. It is what we celebrate on Independence Day: the right to speak out and act in such a way that we secure the welfare of this nation as well as the welfare of the world.

I can think of no better group of people to take the lead in this. American Christians should celebrate with joy our precious freedoms more dearly than all other people, for we know that until we fully realize our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, we are placed in a realm where we are free to act in ways that can and will shape and secure it according to God’s eternal plan. America certainly is not the New Jerusalem. But, until that promise is fulfilled, and as we are living in the land God gave us, it is right that we pray, in all humility, thoughtfulness, together with neighborliness, “God bless America.” Just a thought . . .

Pastor Paul