It is the special gift of the serpent that he is not only able to construct his own diabolical versions of the things of God but that he is able in turn to disguise what he is doing. He creates a fake, and then turns around and disguises it as something safe
and innocuous. That is, he is not only the false prince of a false kingdom, but those who are citizens of his realm have no idea that that is where they live. Because, for instance, the separation of church and state is an enshrined principle of these United States, precious few recognize that the statism we have embraced as a culture isn’t merely bad politics, it is bad theology. That is, the problem with statism isn’t ultimately the intrusiveness of the state, but the presumption of the state. The problem isn’t that they control our lives, but that they think they are God. The affront isn’t to our liberties, but to God’s prerogatives. Would that we were more zealous to protect His authority than to protect our petty liberties.
Consider the Lord’s prayer through the eyes of the average American. While the federal government is writing checks to “artists” whose work consists of crucifixes floating in jars of urine, or images of the virgin Mary covered in elephant dung, it is at the same time seeking to make it a crime to “desecrate” the flag. How many of us understand what desecration is? It means to make unholy, or to treat that which is holy as unholy. Our fathers in Washington insist that their flag must be hallowed, it must be treated as holy.
When the citizen of heaven prays, he asks God that we on earth might come to obey and rejoice in our Lord as those who have entered their reward already do. We want to be as obedient as those who are in glory. When the citizen of these United States prays, he asks the state to impose our will on other nations, as it is imposed here. He asks that this kingdom would, even with carnal weapons, bring our vision of paradise to bear on every corner of the globe. We call it exporting democracy.
When the citizen of heaven prays, he asks God for his daily bread. When the citizen of these United States prays, he asks his god to provide his daily bread, his college loan, his mortgage insurance, his health care, his prescription drugs. He asks his god to make sure the stock market keeps climbing. He asks his god to provide jobs and a chicken in every pot. He even is brazen enough to ask for miracles. A hundred years ago a great epidemic passed over this land. Thousands died of influenza, and the nation responded in prayer, to the living God. Twenty years ago, a new epidemic began to spread in America. Once again Americans prayed. The difference this time is they bowed toward Washington, asking the state to cure AIDS.
When the citizen of heaven prays, he asks God that his debts might be forgiven, as he forgives the debts of others. When the citizen of these United States prays, he asks the state to create more debts, to cover his own debts. He asks the bankrupt state to borrow still more money from the future, so that he too can continue to borrow more money from the future, and pay off those debts in inflated dollars.
When the citizen of heaven prays, he asks God to lead him not into temptation, but to deliver him from evil. When the citizen of these United States prays, he asks his god to keep him away from evil, to tax his vices, to sue the vice providers, to buy airtime to cajole us all to eat better, and buckle our seat belts, and if all that fails, to pay the doctors to undo our mistakes.
When the citizen of heaven prays, he affirms that the kingdom, the power, and the glory all belong to our Father. When the citizen of these United States prays, he affirms that the kingdom, the power, and the glory belong to the party with which he is affiliated.
God tells us not to put our hope in princes and horses, and we, fools that we are, think that because our world is ruled by presidents and nuclear missiles, that we have outgrown this danger. We would be wise to remember this simple historical truth: not a single Christian was martyred in the first century because he believed Jesus was the Messiah, because he believed Jesus was raised from the dead. Every Christian martyr to fall at the hands of the Romans fell for one simple reason — he refused to take the pledge of allegiance. The Roman pledge was rather shorter than ours — Caesar ho kurios — Caesar is lord. Tens of thousands of Christians went to their death because they confessed the first creed of the church — Christos ho Kurios — Christ is Lord. They knew where their citizenship lay. If His kingdom is to come in greater fullness in our day, if His will is to be done in these United States as it is in heaven, then the church of Jesus Christ must learn where they are citizens. For His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory. Amen.