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Our First Citizenship - By Pastor Thomas Engel


How we are starting out today will sound like a fairy tale, but as we go along, the intention is for it to become very real.

Let’s first get our minds imagining two kingdoms:

One kingdom is ruled by a corrupt king, who does awful acts. This king wants everyone to be like him, so he demands that everyone in the kingdom to do bad things, too. Everything in this kingdom is rotten to the core because only bad things are done.

Once you walk into the kingdom, you smell a foul stench and see the most horrendous things. It’s the worst nightmare of a place.

I can go on and on about how horrific this place is, but I will just ask you to keep in your imagination a place that has no good in it-not even an ounce of anything pleasant.

I almost feel that I’m going over the edge into inappropriateness for trying to have you picture such a “hellish” place, but I do have a worthwhile purpose for it.

For the second kingdom, I want to ask you to imagine the most beautiful kingdom. A place that is perfectly good in everything.

In this kingdom, the king is caring, fair, and kind, and he can only do good things for the citizens of his kingdom.

Each citizen is exceptional and special because each person is loved by this king. This king knows each individual very well.

As a citizen of this kingdom, you can only do perfectly good things.

Every person knows he or she is privileged to be living in this kingdom, for a person is placed in this kingdom out of no merit of his or her own.

No one takes this privilege for granted. The citizens of this kingdom show how they value this privilege by showing care to all others as they like to be cared for.

The goodness in this kingdom is so abundant that people hardly have to think about how to do good, for generosity and kindness are flowing everywhere.

I have to admit that as I was thinking about these two kingdoms that it might make for a video game. Since I don’t know anything about computers other than a little more about how to turn them on, I will leave the development of this game to some computer geek.

As I said at the beginning, with talking about kings, kingdoms, and good and bad, it might be sounding like a fairy tale or fantasy.

But, for baptized people of God, these two kingdoms are actually what we see in the 6th chapter of Romans as St Paul is describing the life that we have in baptism.

We can see how these two kingdoms are real in our every day lives with the naming of these kings.

The king who reigns over the kingdom where all is bad has the name of “Sin.” I’m sure you have caught on by now that the king of the good kingdom is Jesus.

In Romans chapter six, St. Paul is talking about two realms that are completely opposite of each other.

The one realm is the place where sinners like to be.

Although this place is a terrible place, sinners like to go there because it’s has with what they can connect with-sin.

Sinners do what sinners do-they sin.

St. Paul makes a strong argument that baptized people do not belong in the realm of sin.

With St Paul in his explanation about baptism, he is giving clear-cut lines.

He is so convinced that a baptized person is not to be in the realm of sin that he says that this person has died to sin.

Talking about a clear-cut line, when a person steps over the line of death, it’s final. The gap between life and death is such a wide gap that once you go over it, you can’t go back.

Here, St. Paul is talking about the death of our sinful old-self.

This death of our old-self is a good thing, for our old-self is our enemy that wants to cause us great harm.

With the old-self dead, a new-self is born, and we celebrate the birth in baptism of a new-self that is in the realm of all that is good.

We do have to give some attention to the sinful old-self. This old-self is dead but not gone.

The sinful old-self has no power as it can’t take over the new-self, but it sure does try.

To be sure, we will not ever have to face the consequence of eternal death in hell that the old-self deserves.

But, the old-self can still wander over to the realm of sin. We don’t belong there, but we do have to admit that we cross over with our big toe from time to time into that realm.

We even have to admit that, at times, we take a walk over into the realm of sin, and woe to us if we set-up camp there.

On the one hand, we are sinners and admit that we do sin. As long as we walk in this world and live in these bodies of flesh, we will sin.

But, sin is never to dominate us, and if we find that we are spending a lot of time in the realm of sin, we need to ask God to send His Holy Spirit with his big boot to kick us out of the realm of sin, which the Holy Spirit will do, even without our asking.

On the other hand, we need to be talking always about the good realm. It’s on this side that we are to give every thought.

We can can ask ourselves these questions every waking moment:

Who am I, and where am I? And, what am I to be doing as this person in this good place?

You need to decide specifically what the answers are in your life situations, but the general answers are:

I am a baptized person who is to be totally living in the good realm where Jesus is my King,and I am to be doing the good things of this kingdom.

As I was saying earlier about praying to God for the Holy Spirit’s help, I could not help but think how the Lord’s Prayer is a lot about staying where we belong in the good realm.

When we pray “on earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking God to make that “bad” realm as small as possible. It’s true that the “bad” realm will be here as this old world keeps going, but we can pray for as much of heaven to come here as it can.

We pray for God “to lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Here, we are asking God to keep us far away from the “bad” kingdom and its harmful consequences.

When we pray “thy will be done,” we find that only God’s will is done and not that of our sinful will. This kingdom is “good” because our sin is not in it.

When I was in seminary, a friend said that when he was growing up and was learning about baptism and its benefits in Sunday School and then in confirmation, he resented that he could not remember the event of his baptism because he was baptized as an infant as most of were.

He found that he wanted to be part of that decision to be baptized because he was seeing how important that day was for him.

As he went through confirmation, he learned one of the big points of baptism. God has given us the gift of baptism, and babies can receive gifts like a warm blanket and benefit from them, so, in the same way, a baby can receive faith and benefit from it.

This call to be one of God’s people is not at all of our making.

As humans with strong egos, we don’t like it when someone else tells us what to do. We don’t like for someone else to put us in our place.

We want to decide for ourselves what is best for us.

We do have some decisions to make for ourselves like should I eat Cheerios or Frosted Flakes for breakfast. I’m not sure how much the Holy Spirit is in that decision, even if I ask for that kind of help.

I think it’s more about that God has given me the blessings that I’ve different cereals to choose from.

I like to think the Frosted Flakes is part of “Give us our daily bread.”

But, definitely, when it comes to baptism, it’s all God’s doing. God has put us in our place. In our baptism, God has put us in the kingdom of the “good” where Jesus is King.

Unfortunately, the world has twisted the word “privilege” around so much that we don’t really know what it means.

For the baptized people of God, “privilege” is a good word. In this kingdom where God has put us, we receive everything that is “good.”

“Privilege” means that we get “good” things because we are “special” people.

God has chosen for us to be His people and to receive His “good” gifts.

We are “privileged” to have God’s “good” gifts like forgiveness of every sin, hope, love, care, mercy, grace, kindness, and so many good things that the list goes on and on.

St Paul, in this 6th chapter of Romans, is quite clear-cut about the two kingdoms and how they are so separated from each other.

Right now, in the world, things are not so clear-cut because sin does blur things up a bit.

This clear separtation is meant to be for everyone’s benefit, for the “good” is to always dominant over the “bad.”

One day when Jesus comes again the separtation of the two kingdoms will be final, and we not ever be stepping at all, not even a big toe, into the “bad” kingdom.

On some certain day, we will enter the “good” kingdom and live in its goodness for all of eternity.

I had a different conclusion for this sermon that was going to end with much of what I was just saying about ending up in heaven forever one day, which is a “good” thought to end with as it gives us a lot of hope in these hard times.

But, with what has been happening in our country, it has to be said that even in the “good” kingdom, we will have differences with others.

These differences can be expected, for God has given each of us “free will.”

But we have to emphasizing in these contentious times that in the “good” kingdom, we everything we need to get along. In our differences, we can come together to make things work for the “good.”

We, as baptized people were made-among other reasons-to do good works.

What this nation needs at this time are “good” works from citizens of the “good” kingdom.

More than ever, we need to be remembering that our first citizenship in the “good” kingdom where Jesus is King.

I’m not sure what exactly what those “good” works are-again, each of us needs to decide in all of our different life situations what those are, but I do know that these works are to come from what we have in the “good” kingdom like kindness coming from compassion for others.

As we are in the season of Epiphany, we see the manifestation of God in Jesus, so we do as Jesus did-show love and care to all people.

And to talk for a minute about what Jesus didn’t do. Later in his ministry when people were seeing Jesus’ powerful passion for people, especially for this who were oppressed, they wanted to make him an earthly leader.

But, Jesus stuck to his mission to save people from their sins by going to the cross, which was most important for the salvation of our souls.

Jesus cares, too, for our everyday needs as he fed and healed people when he walked this earth.

God has given us government to help us have those needs fulfilled-like getting the streets plowed when it snows and picking up our garbage.

The list is long what the government is to be doing, and it’s a debate about how long that list should be and exactly how those things are to be done, and all kinds of debates that go with these topics are okay.

Don’t get me wrong-I’m not saying not to get involved in politics and have convictions, but we are always to remember that our “first” citizenship is in the “good” kingdom where Jesus is King.

In many places in Scripture, we see Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We know that the all governments of the world are on the shoulders of Jesus and not on any human leader.

Knowing that Jesus has everything in his loving hands, we can go back to the world and live in the world as Jesus did. Although that world can be a tough place to show love, but we do it anyways because that is what baptized people of God do in the “good” kingdom.

In all that we do, let’s show people the “good’’ kingdom where Jesus is our “good” King.

If I had to give a prescription to give to the world in these times, it would be: stay home, and with your loved ones, bake cookies, and put on some old folk music like Peter, Paul, and Mary where we hear, “I’d ring of love between my brothers and my sisters, All, over this land.”

And, all the time remembering who you are-a baptized child of God, and where you are-in the ever present “good” kingdom where Jesus is King.

That is the most “real” thing we can do in this present troubled times.

After I finished this sermon, I actually did bake some cookies and listened to some folk music, and I got some peace-thinking about how, in these times, we can want as God wants-“earth to be as it is in heaven,”.


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