Pastoral Reflections on the 245th birthday of the United States of America

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

As we celebrate the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, here are a few thoughts from your pastor.

When our first parents rebelled against the Lord God and lost Paradise, the image of God in His human creatures from the moment of our conception was not obliterated. Our unbaptized neighbors, friends, and even those who consider themselves to be our enemies are all from human birth, like Christians, bearers of a fractured image of God (Genesis 1:27; Romans 3:23). To be precise: the unbaptized are not God’s children. They are His creatures. So, then, the image of God, however fractured, accounts for the ability of the unbaptized neighbor to do good, to seek truth, and to love and create beauty. It also accounts for the fact that the unbaptized may live more ethical lives than some of the baptized… as in the self-defined atheist who is both pro-life and a philanthropist. The presence of sin — the fractured image of God, the brokenness of God’s good creation in both unbaptized and baptized – accounts for man’s inhumanity to man.

The Lord God works through government (we Lutherans call it “God’s left hand”) by means of the law to protect life, to reward good, and to punish evil (Romans 13:1). We call this justice, being in sync with God’s will for human beings, a right keeping of God’s Law. Justice is never Gospel, and the blurring of the distinction between Law and Gospel ends up with a mishmash that is neither. Those authorized by government to preserve order in the service of protecting life and punishing evil may bear and use arms. Because government is made up of sinful humans, including sometimes baptized sinners, the laws enacted, the orders given according to those laws, and how those orders are, then, acted upon are subject to sin. This accounts for the objective moral evil known as legal abortion, which destroys unique lives. This accounts for war crimes. This accounts for officials, who do not protect their citizens and their property, as we saw throughout last summer’s riots, and, in January, when some trespassed and when a police officer killed an unarmed female veteran who had come into the Capitol to protest.

Because Christians are born in particular places and can immigrate to other places, as did two of my grandparents, we are subject to the laws of those places where we live. The governments of the places where we live may establish their own order, their own laws, and grant authority as they see fit; however, all authority comes from God, and those who do not protect life, reward good, and punish evil stand under His judgment. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., set forth during the last reprehensible days of segregation, Christians who obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29) will have to accept the consequences of their higher obedience. Those who believe laws to be unjust may protest, but they have no reason to expect anything but punishment by those who make and administer those unjust laws. We do well to remember that last summer’s riots were the greatest threat to the people who lived and worked there full-time, but few rioters were held accountable. Some elected officials actually and foolishly provided bail to violent criminals.

Holy Baptism into the death and resurrection of God’s beloved Son Jesus constitutes membership in Christ’s Church. The Gospel is, again, not societal justice and peace as is falsely claimed by some. We Lutherans believe, teach, and confess that the Gospel is the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation won by the crucifixion of God’s Son Jesus in human flesh. As this Lord Jesus commanded, His Church makes disciples of all ethnic groups by Holy Baptism. The color of one’s skin, the language of one’s family, being born in a male or female body, one’s socioeconomic class, and all the other particulars of human existence do not determine one’s identity in Christ’s Church (Galatians 3:28). The only identity that matters in Christ’s Church is Baptism (1 Peter 2:10). Conversely, this world’s identity politics constitutes a false gospel in which the narcissistic self creates her- or himself, chooses her or his own pronouns, and demands to be worshiped as she or he wills. Holy Baptism is, on the other hand, crucifixion with Christ and the death of the self apart from Christ. He or she, and no other pronoun, is already but not yet a new creation. The old is passing away. The life of the Holy Trinity, as Fr. Carl Voges often says, is streaming into the baptized through God’s Word and Sacraments… until we will finally be solely His in every way!

By birth or by naturalization, the baptized are citizens of particular nations. We are always exiles and aliens by virtue of our Baptism into Christ and our heavenly commonwealth (Hebrews 11:13; Philippians 3:20-21), but we are also properly bound to love our country and work for the good of our neighbors, to honor and pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:2), to pay taxes and obey all laws that are not forbidden us by God (for instance, abortion), to provide public service if called upon by our government, and to give God thanks and praise for the blessings He provides through government. If we wish to immigrate to another nation for a better way of life, then we are bound to do so legally – as did two of my grandparents and several of my great grandparents. As Christian exiles, love of country is penultimate, but it is required of us in recognition that all authority comes from God (Jeremiah 29:7).

Finally, because Christians confess Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), we recognize that all falsehood comes from the old evil one, the father of lies (John 8:44). Revisionist historians, who create narratives not based in fact, are liars, who will be exposed at the last judgment if not in this life (2 Corinthians 5:10). Christians are bound not to bear false testimony against their neighbors, and this extends to the neighbors whose historic service to God and country was not without sin but also not without love for neighbor. The purposeful intent by some to destroy monuments, to cancel the flawed public servants who served faithfully, to rewrite history in such a way as to destroy this country’s ongoing growth into the promise of its Declaration of Independence, and indeed to promote a hatred of self, of neighbor, and of country – all these things must be firmly rejected as Satan’s own works and ways. Why? Because the thief is always known by his stealing, killing, and destroying (John 10:10).

Christians, love your country, celebrate its independence, and continue to work to be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I love you,

Pastor Sam Zumwalt+

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

szumwalt

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 45 years and in May 2021 celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.