Pastor’s Blog: Our Cruciform IDs

At every graveside of a Christian, a brief reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is suggested just before the tossing of dirt and those starkly hopeful words: “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to almighty God …ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Paul writes: “But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).

Baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection, marked on the forehead with His holy cross and sealed with the Holy Spirit, we belong to another Kingdom. The Hebrews writer says: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (13:14).

There is an immediate tension for us, because we are born into particular families of particular cultures of particular times of particular places. If one doesn’t want to live in the land of one’s birth, one may be able to immigrate. But, then, he will be subject to the laws of another land, and his life and lot in that place may not be better but worse. I think of that each time I hear some lesser luminary, needing attention like a drug, remarking: “If so-and-so gets elected, I’m moving to ….” One can almost hear the citizens of that land crying out, “Please, God, no!”

If I am a citizen of this land, I am subject to its laws whether I like them or not. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not surprised when he was arrested and sentenced to death even though he hoped to live. Martin Luther King was not surprised when he was jailed even though many of the racial laws were unjust. Those who violate our country’s immigration laws should expect to be arrested and deported. Those states who want to make up their own immigration policy should ask to secede from the union and pay back what ever money they owe the rest of the states beyond whatever federal taxes were paid. If they received more than they gave, then they should give the money back. If they want the Naval, Marine, and Army bases, they should pay for them. Federal laws, whether one thinks them unjust, remain the law, and those who disobey them should expect punishment. In short, I could live rather at peace with the notion of most of the state of California becoming a foreign country.

I was shaped by having two immigrant grandparents, one from Germany, the other from Sicily. They spoke their native tongue at home, but they spoke English with a foreign accent most of their lives. They loved the countries of their birth, but they loved this country more and were proud to be citizens, whose children were native-born and served in the armed forces during World War II. I loved the exotic foods our families ate (compared to our neighbors) and loved the cultural customs from the old world. But we were always American citizens.

As a Christian, I am a citizen of another Kingdom and to that Kingdom I owe my highest loyalty. I am to pray for those in earthly authority and live the best life I can as a citizen of the land where I live. I should obey my country’s laws as best I can. I should vote for those who have the gifts to serve as lawmakers and leaders. I should live as best I can at peace with those around me, cooperating as best I can with those who do not share my faith or my values. Because I am a citizen of another Kingdom, I am always pro-life. No one is more vulnerable than an unborn child, and, if I am heartsick at the Nazi holocaust in which German cousins were complicit, I must be adamantly opposed to laws that permit the murder of the unborn. Yes, more Americans have been legally murdered since 1973, than those legally murdered by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot combined. When I am told it’s only one issue, that sounds to my ears like a Nazi saying, “It was only a few Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and handicapped persons.”

And when I am told that I am anti-women for being pro-life, I think of Susan B. Anthony, the great, early American feminist, who was staunchly pro-life. And I remember all those young and old pro-life women, thousands and thousands, who march respectfully and peacefully each January in opposition to legal abortion. They don’t act crazy, talk about blowing up the White House, or spit and scream at lawmakers or claw at the Supreme Court doors. In short, women and men whose highest loyalty is to the Kingdom of God are pro-life, and we will continue to vote on behalf of the least of these Christ’s sisters and brothers, the unborn just as the oldest among us voted against Jim Crow laws.

I read recently that almost 80% of all Americans, regardless of ethnicity, are in favor of requiring photo IDs before voting. You can’t buy alcohol or drugs without a photo ID until you are well past the baby-faced adult years. Background checks are required before buying weapons. Why, then, should we flinch at having to show a photo ID before exercising the most important act of citizenship – voting in elections?

I will die, sooner or later, and my casket will be covered with a white pall and placed next to the baptismal font. The pall will signify that I have been covered by Christ’s righteousness through my Baptism into His death and resurrection. Except, apparently, unless I lived in a few other places, my name will be stricken from voter rolls. The pastor will say, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” as he throws dirt on my casket. I won’t be an American citizen anymore, but I will continue to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom forever. My loyalty to that Kingdom and that story is greater than to any other.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

szumwalt

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th 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.