I remember my first day at my first church:
My secretary informed me that, as the new pastor in town, I was scheduled to preach the sermon at the annual, ecumenical Independence Day Service.
‘But Independence Day isn’t even a Christian holiday.’
My secretary just stared at me, saying nothing, as though she were a soothsayer foreseeing my self-destruction.
Independence Day Weekend is a time when a lot of churchgoers expect their pastors to preach about America or politics or patriotism. And there’s nothing wrong with those things.
But, in my denomination at least, the bishop laid hands on me to proclaim not America but the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The bishop laid hands on me to preach the Gospel, and the Gospel is that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The Gospel isn’t Jesus is going to be Lord one day; the Gospel isn’t Jesus will be Lord after he returns to Earth to rapture us off to the great bye and bye.
The Gospel is that Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, is Lord.
The Gospel isn’t that Jesus rules in heaven; the Gospel is that Jesus Christ rules the nations of the world from heaven.
To confess that Jesus Christ is Lord is to profess that something fundamental as changed in the world, something to which we’re invited to believe and around which we’re called to reorient our lives and for which, if necessary, we’re expected to sacrifice our lives.
To confess that Jesus Christ is Lord is to profess that at Easter God permanently replaced the way of Caesar, the way of the world with the way of Jesus, a way that blesses the poor, that comforts those who mourn, a way where righteousness is to hunger and thirst after justice and where the Kingdom belongs to those who wage…peace.
I was commissioned to preach the Gospel.
And the Gospel- the Gospel of Paul and Peter and James and John and Luke and Mark and Matthew- is that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And in their day the Gospel announcement had a counter-cultural correlative: Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.
And in our day, the Gospel has a counter-cultural correlative too.
Jesus is Lord, and ‘We the people’ are not.
Jesus is Lord, and the Democratic Party is not.
Jesus is Lord, and the Republican Party is not.
Jesus is Lord, and America- though it’s deserving of our pride and our commitment and our gratitude- is not Lord.
As wonderful as this nation is, we are not God’s Beloved because Jesus Christ is God’s Beloved and his Body is spread through the world.
Independence Day is as good a time as any for Christians to remember that as baptized Christians we carry 2 passports.
We have dual citizenship: 2nd to the US of A and 1st to the Kingdom of God.
Independence Day is as good a time as any to remember that as baptized Christians, our politics are not determined by Caesar or Rome or Washington. As baptized Christians, our politics- our way being in the world- are conformed to the one whom God raised from the dead.
Independence Day is as good a time as any to remember that you can be a proud American. You can be thankful for your country. You can serve your country.
But if you’re baptized, then you’ve pledged your allegiance to Jesus Christ, and your ultimate citizenship is to his Kingdom.
And even as we celebrate the 13 Colonies’ independence we shouldn’t forget that our primary calling as baptized Christians is to colonize the Earth with the way of Jesus Christ.
That’s what we pray when we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come…’
Through our baptism we leave the old world and we are liberated into God’s new creation; so that, as baptized Christians, we live eternity in the here and now.
That’s what Jesus means by ‘eternal life.’
That’s what Paul means when he says elsewhere that all the old national and political and ethnic distinctions do not matter because the baptized are now united in Christ.
For Paul, baptism is our naturalization ceremony in which allegiance and loyalty is transferred from the kingdoms and nations of this world to the Kingdom of God.
As baptized Christians, we are a People who carry 2 passports, who have dual citizenship but only 1 allegiance.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take pride in our American identity; I am saying that our primary identity should come from the Lordship of Christ.
(And in too many cases, it doesn’t.)
I’m not saying our independence isn’t something to celebrate; I am saying that our dependence on God, which we’ve been liberated into by the resurrection of Christ, should be a greater cause for celebration.
(And very often, it isn’t.)
I’m not saying that the flag shouldn’t be a powerful symbol for us; I am saying that the Cross and the Bread and the Cup and the Water should be more powerful symbols.
(And, let’s be honest, most of the time they’re not.)
Because as baptized Christians, we belong to a different Kingdom, a Kingdom that can’t be advanced by force or political parties or legislation or constitutional amendments- we belong to a Kingdom that can only be advanced the way it was advanced by Jesus Christ.
And sacrificial love.