Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Pentecost 18, Proper 23A (October 16, 2011)
TITLE: “Heavenly Citizenship”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel lesson just read from Matthew 22, with focus on the words, Render to Caesar that which is Caesars, and to God that which is Gods. We also will examine the important phrase from the Epistle: Our citizenship is in heaven.
Now before we begin the sermon proper, I have to explain something. We are starting sermon studies in confirmation class, and I promised the kids that I would make it really really obvious where the Law and Gospel were in the Sacrament. So if I have an aside to them every so often, that’s why. But on to our text.
Heavenly citizenship. That’s how Paul describes the Christian. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20–21).
But what does this heavenly citizenship entail? What does it really mean for us sons and daughters of Adam, as we live and work and struggle here, now, in the midst of a very earthly life? What does this heavenly citizenship mean to you? Does it change who you are? Does it change your relationship to your neighbor, to those in need around you?
There really are two ways that Christian’s have traditionally looked at this question. One way is to think of it like this: “‘I’m but a stranger here’ means that I am not a part of the world. It means that I can blissfully ignore my neighbor in need, and anyone and anything around me. I am a Christian. I am above such things.”
The problem with this view, of course, is that it is simply not true. Heavenly citizenship doesn’t mean that we write off the earthly as irrelevant or beneath us. If this were true, why did Jesus come to earth at all? Why did God become man if w are really supposed to ignore or belittle the world and everything that is in it? Remember the words of our Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” If we take heavenly citizenship to mean that I don’t have to serve my neighbor, then we are breaking the Ten Commandments. That’s the Law for you students.
A part of what this means is that the Christian Church must have her feet firmly planted here, on earth, in the midst of all of the trials and troubles and difficulties that this life beings about. If we don’t do this, and it is oh so tempting, if we don’t do this, then we risk becoming so heaven oriented that we actually forget we’re on earth! We forget that we are also here to serve our neighbor.
Now the other view of heavenly citizenship is that I can only think of things below, because heaven is just too hard to understand and really get a grip on as a Christian. I know heaven is coming, and I don’t really understand it, so I’m just going to worry about the here and now and not be overly concerned with what’s coming.
In this view, the things of this life actually take on too much importance. We can start to get the idea that we’re God, and that we are the ones who are at work here below ordering everything according to His holy plan. There are many churches the world over that have become so here and now focused, that they lose the connection between taking care of and serving the needs of today and taking care of and serving the needs of the whole person, body, soul and spirit together. Churches that forget about heaven and eternal life in Christ has forgotten the Gospel.
Remember again the words of St. Paul in Colossians chapter three:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1–4).
So then if we aren’t to be so heavenly focused that we forget we live on earth, and we aren’t to be so earthly focused that we forget our hope is in heaven, how then are we to live as children of God?
We live and serve our neighbor not because we are trying to create heaven on earth. We live and serve our neighbor in love because heaven is our home. Think of it this way. God has given you all things. You are set to inherit eternal life, where you will be changed from this sinful sack of flesh to a new, glorious body, perfect in every way. But even more than that, you will be at peace. You will be at peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. You are at peace with everyone because of what God has won for you. That’s the Gospel.
All of this begins now. We have hints of this all around us, pointers and signs that lead the way to this great mystery. Baptism, preaching, the Lord’s Supper, absolution, all of these and more point to this great and beautiful reality that because God has done all these things for you, you are free to live here, now. You are free to enjoy the gifts that God gives you. Gifts of family and life and the things of this world. But even more than that, you are free to share those gifts with everyone around you.
The Pharisees in our text want to trip Jesus up with this distinction, but our Lord does not stumble or falter. He knows full well that we live in the world but that we are not of the world. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Give the world its due. If taxes, then taxes. If tribute, then tribute. If that means taking care of your neighbor more than seems reasonable to you, then do it anyway. Why? Because you also render to God what is His. And you, dearly baptized, are His. You are His body and soul.
So come, feast on our Lord’s body and blood. Live as citizens of the heavenly kingdom. Give freely because Christ has so freely given to you. Come, eat, live, and give everything of yourself, because God Himself will fill you up more than you can possibly imagine. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith unto life everlasting. Amen.