There can be no doubt that Jesus went to great lengths to make a clear distinction between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. With carefully chosen words and images charged with first-century political meaning, he constantly reminded his followers that they were to be a set-apart people, a people who lived counter-culturally by loving their enemies, praying for those who persecuted them, lending without expecting anything in return, and surrendering allegiance to a crucified and risen Lord.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest...But my kingdom is from another place.” In this kingdom, the humble are exalted, peacemakers rule, swords are beaten into plowshares, and the meek inherit the earth.
This is important stuff to keep in mind during the upcoming 4th of July holiday weekend. As proud as we may be of our citizenship as Americans, we must be wary of language that implies that the United States is God’s chosen nation.
Gregory Boyd has said:
“The holiness of the kingdom of God must be preserved. If Jesus refused to acknowledge and fight for Israel as God’s favored nation – even though it was the one nation in history that actually held this status at one time – how much more must his followers refuse to acknowledge and fight for America as God’s favored nation? To say it another way, if Jesus was committed solely to establishing a kingdom that had no intrinsic nationalistic or ethnic allegiances – not even with Israel – how much more should his followers be committed to expanding this unique, non-nationalistic kingdom?” - The Myth of a Christian Nation, p. 153
In light of Jesus’ instructions to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” I’d like to propose a 4th of July weekend that acknowledges both of these kingdoms, a 4th of July weekend that includes a healthy dose of compartmentalization. I would strongly urge church leaders not to extend Saturday’s celebrations into Sunday, but to use that time to remind us of the importance of making a distinction between God’s ways and the world’s ways.
On Saturday, let us be grateful for our freedom—to worship, to protest, to report, to be tried by jury, to vote, and to benefit from a free market.
On Sunday, let us remember that true liberation is found in sacrifice, that the Church usually thrives under persecution, and that our extra resources and freedoms only make us more responsible to care for our neighbors.
On Saturday, let us recall the forming of the U.S. Constitution and the triumphs of women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights movement.
On Sunday, let us remember slavery, the Trail of Tears, Jim Crowe, abortion, “collateral damage,” torture, Japanese internment, and the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who have lost their lives to acts of war. As Shane Claiborne says in Jesus for President, “The United States is Christian inasmuch as it looks like Christ.” On Sunday, let us remember that, until the Return of Christ, a “Christian Nation” is a myth, and that followers of Christ must seek to live counter-culturally, standing against injustice in all its forms.
On Saturday, let us wave the American flag.
On Sunday, let us worship in an unadorned place. Let us break the bread and drink the wine of a savior so subversive he was executed by the government
On Saturday, we should express thanks for the material blessings we enjoy.
On Sunday, we should remember how God judges nations that neglect the poor.
On Saturday, let us sing songs about our country—its beauty, its power, its uniqueness.
On Sunday, let us sing songs of worship to the One True God—and the One True God ONLY.
On Saturday, may we celebrate our ability to participate in the political process.
On Sunday, may we acknowledge the fact that the teachings of Christ could never fit into a political party or platform, that our faith is bigger than our decisions in the ballot box, and that aligning ourselves with power threatens the true message of the Gospel.
On Saturday, we should thank the men and women who have served our country.
On Sunday, we should acknowledge that war does not reflect the Way of Jesus.
On Saturday, may we honor and pray for our nation’s leaders.
On Sunday, may we look for Jesus in the sick and the poor, the imprisoned and the lonely, the hungry and the rejected.
On Saturday, let us express genuine thankfulness for the freedoms we enjoy, the history we share, and the progress we have made.
On Sunday, let us remember that this isn’t all there is, that this isn't as good as it gets. It isn't even close.
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