Monday, November 29, 2010
A godly, peaceful, quiet and dignified life...
As our nation prepares to assemble in homes from coast to coast and island to island, we take a moment to remember, to consider, and to give thanks for the blessings God has shown to us in our land and the purpose for which God has established government and leaders – what Lutherans call the “kingdom of the left.” It is a difficult time worth pondering. There is still trouble in the Middle East, we still have soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, now we hear sparks of conflict in Korea, and travelers faced the choice of a scope or a grope at the airports... It might be a good time for us to think for a moment on what is the purpose of government and why God has appointed leaders for our nation, as well as giving thanks for our freedom and so many rich blessings.
It is easy to say that we have these things in order that we might have a good life. The problem usually arises in trying to define what makes a life good. God does not define a good life as one that is measured by wealth or an abundance of things (like those early bargains on Black Friday morning tempt us to think). God does not define a good life as either the abundance of wealth or its absence or the abundance of things or a poverty of things. Rather, a good life is a life lived in faith and in faithful response to God's grace in Christ Jesus.
We might be tempted to define a good life as one filled with accomplishments. Who can forget the poignant scene in the movie Mr. Holland's Opus when he comes face to face with his retirement, wonders whether his life has made a difference, and then sees a band full of students from the whole of his teaching career. Oh, that we all had such tangible proofs that our life accomplished something that will endure beyond us! But as touching as this is, that is not how God defines as a good life. Accomplishment is nice enough, but a good life in God’s eyes may not find any notice, appreciation, or earthly monuments. The good life is that life we live in Christ and in response to Christ's gracious gift of salvation.
As we heard in the Epistle, a good life is peaceful and peaceable. This peace is not the absence of conflict or trouble but the peace of which the angel's sang on Christmas morn. It is the peace of God's favor richly and lovingly bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus, His Son. It is a peace received in faith and extended to those around us – be they familiar as family or distant as strangers. God's peace freely given in Christ and given away in Christ's name. This is the good life.
A good life is godly and quiet. It is not a life made profane by the fleshly pursuit of whim or desire or a loud life that screams ME FIRST. A godly life is lived in worshipful response to the grace that can never be repaid and to the gift that makes us always debtors to His love. A quiet life is lived out in the peace of Christ, where attention and boasting are occasioned by God’s rich gifts and blessing and not who we are or what we have done.
A good life is dignified. Dignity is not solemnity or formality but the gracious nobility that is God's gift to us of His esteem and favor. It forms and shapes our character and integrity so that what flows to us in Christ, flows through us to others in His name. This also means that we seek not what is vulgar, base or common, but what is sacred and noble and excellent. We strive not for what is minimal but the best we have to return to the Lord because He has given His excellence to us in Christ our Savior.
This day brings out both the worst and the best in us. The worst is the self-indulgence that fills our bellies while our souls starve, more hungry for earthly blessing than heavenly grace. The worst in us is the self-centeredness that presumes we earn or deserve the blessings so abundant in our nation. The good life is not the pride of the Pharisee but the humble joy of the publican who kneels in humble awe of the God who has chosen to love him, forgive him, and restore him.
The worst in us is the selfishness that thinks of me before others and before God. What is in our interest is not what defines the Christian life but what is good and right and true, what glorifies God and is true to His grace, and what promotes and extends His gracious reign of love and compassion.
What is the best in us is nothing less than faith that hears and responds, that receives and rejoices in all that God's mercy provides us. What is best in us is nothing less than a grateful heart which overflows with thanksgiving that we get not what we deserve but grace upon grace and mercy new each and every morning. What is best in us is nothing more and nothing less than living in faithfulness to Christ even when this path is unpopular, misunderstood, and causes us to be persecuted for His name's sake.
So what is the role of government except to provide us a free arena in which we have the liberty to live out this peaceful, quiet, godly and dignified life of faith? This is why God has given the sword of His authority to the leaders of the nations – not to bring His kingdom on the earth by human might but to provide the freedom and opportunity for us to live unhindered and unconstrained, the good, the peaceful, the quiet, the godly and the dignified life that Christ has made possible by His dying for sin and His rising to everlasting life. Such a government not only protects the weak and the vulnerable, seeks justice and equity, and encourages virtue, it allows us the freedom to be the people God has called us to be in our baptism. This is the government for which we give thanks tonight and for which we pray daily.