How can I live a life of faith?

We offer ourselves to God, for the glory of God. And we fall down and we get up.

Living as a Christian during the Soviet regime


An interview with Latvian Pastor

- Juris Rubenis

Baptized Patriots

Written by William A. Kolb


When I was a younger preacher, I felt that a sermon on patriotic days had to be either-or: either country or God. But as the years have gone by, I have realized that most everything in life is both, and. And so it is with Church and state.

You know the familiar passage from Mark’s Gospel," Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s."

The quote comes from a confrontation that Jesus was having with the local people in great power over other peoples’ lives, people who wanted to get Jesus out of the way so that they could keep their hold on power. So they put to him what they thought was for Jesus a lose/lose question. They pointed out that the coin he was holding had been issued by the civil government, and that it had on it image of the emperor, Caesar. They had asked him whether he would advise the people to pay taxes to the Roman government. They knew that if he said yes, he was telling the population to support an repressive occupation force, and what’s more an anti-Temple, secular power. And they knew that if he said no, Jesus would be arrested for sedition.

And, as scripture says, Jesus amazed them, because his answer put the ball squarely back in their court. They would have to decide what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God!

"Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto God that which is God’s": You see it is not one or the other; we have loyalties and responsibilities to both country and God. Those responsibilities co-exist and sometimes overlap....

You see, we love our country but the cross is higher than the flag. Hopefully we will [n]ever have to choose between these two loyalties. And as long as we do not, our task and mission as patriotic Americans is simply and profoundly, to be faithful to our baptismal vows. [We are] baptized to be leaven in the national loaf, to be conscience, compass and compassion in our society, to be advocates of justice, mercy and love as the way the world ought to be.

We Christians have no corner on the market of such values, but we are charged with infusing them as best we can into the fabric of the society in which we live, the United States of America, whose birthday we observe and celebrate today.

To apply our baptismal vows to our citizenship requires that we go beyond symbolic gestures and acts when confronting complex societal problems --such gestures as prohibiting flag-burning as a way to make us loyal and passionate about our country, or such acts as posting the Ten Commandments in public places as a way to make us moral.

The destruction of a symbol does us no harm. The public display of rules for living, by itself, does us no good. What is needed is application of baptismal vows to our very souls so that each and every person of faith - whether it be the faith of baptism, the faith of Bar Mitzvah or the initiatory rites of Hinduism - that every person of faith be part of turning back the tide of secularization in our increasingly individualistic society.

If we take seriously, for example, the baptismal vow that we will persevere in resisting evil, and that whenever we fall into sin we will repent and return to the Lord, we will be part of turning our country from secularism to humility and to the love of God. If we take seriously our vow to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, we will be part of turning our country from extreme individualism to a society of individuals who know we are part of community.

A democratic republic such as ours can remain strong only as long as it rests on a balance of individualism and community; that is, where each person is responsible for self, but also knows that he or she is part of the fabric of humanity around them. If the balance between individualism and community is lost, society can be in trouble. Today individualism has by far the upper hand and it has hurt us. We must care for one another or we may all be lost one of these days.

In the Gospel Jesus says, "Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." This country was founded on reaching out to those who need help. Witness the words on the Statue of Liberty; see if they do not sound like those words of Jesus: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuge of your teeming shore. Send these the homeless, tempest tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

We have such a proud history of reaching out to others. Not always perfectly or consistently, but we as a nation have, hopefully, more to feel good about than to regret. Just in the past fifty years, think of some of the war victims we have welcomed, many of whom have prospered: Koreans, Vietnamese, and just recently, Kosovars. For the good of our soul as a nation under God, we must back off some from the growth of individualism that worries always about our individual rights, our individual security, and our individual prosperity at the expense of shutting our minds and hearts to the injustices and victimization and the poverty of those around us.

Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."...

Whomever or whatever we serve, we come under their yoke. Jesus calls us to take his yoke upon us. That sounds rough. It sounds like we are to be weighted down and yoked in. But the fact is, we have so many choices and temptations in this life, that if we wish to be on God’s side, if we wish to be a force for good and goodness, for compassion, love and mercy, we will find freedom to grow and to be, under the yoke of Jesus.

And so on this morning of the 4th of July, we pledge our allegiance to and take on the yoke of the highest power in our lives, that we might in fact be better citizens for our country.... As St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, "For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."


Copyright ©1999 Calvary Episcopal Church
Excerpted from a sermon delivered at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, July 4, 1999, Independence Day.