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Pastor's Corner: Benefits of dual citizenship

 

Last updated 10/9/2020 at 11:50am



There are a couple of ways I have been reminded to be grateful for dual citizenship in recent weeks.

For starters, in the one realm, the United States of America, as we all know, there is a very contentious general election campaign nearing its conclusion. Though I don’t have an antenna or cable TV subscription, I’ve still found myself and my household subject to more than a fair share of advertising. Essentially all of it negative. The main route these ads seem to reach us is via YouTube, which my children utilize for instructional videos related to homeschooling this year as well as for fun, like learning to draw their favorite cartoon characters.

Because of the persistent negative tone, I have to field questions from the 10-and-younger set like, “Why does one awful guy named Steve or another get to go to Washington? Isn’t there anybody good ... and not named Steve?”

Also, I am one of the (as of 2019), 42 percent of American citizens who possesses a U.S. passport. That passport, in ordinary times (i.e. before the rest of the world understandably became unimpressed by the U.S. response to COVID-19) granted visa-free travel permission to 185 other countries in the world. Now it never sees the light of day, stashed away in a fireproof safe for hope of better times. It need not be in the glovebox when a drive to Lethbridge isn’t even in the cards.

Now when I mention dual citizenship, it’s not that I have a secret Swiss passport or something. I am talking about a condition that grants no extra set of legal rights or ability to pass through any additional sets of border controls.

In fact, citizenship might not even be the right word for it. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are subject to the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is a wonderful but also mysterious thing. In his way, Jesus describes for us what it means to follow him and be a part of this kingdom through parables that are often difficult to understand. Sometimes his companions in ministry are puzzled and can get him to explain them, as with the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13:24-43. Other times, they will be left intentionally ambiguous, Jesus says (Matthew 13:10-17), and we are challenged in new ways in various times and places to understand how they apply to our contemporary circumstances.

I don’t bring up this concept for the purpose of escapism, though escape from reality as it currently exists certainly sounds nice in a lot of ways. The reformer Martin Luther introduced a theology of God’s rule through “two kingdoms”: one of secular authority with laws and consequences for breaking them, a “sword” wielded to keep the peace, and a Kingdom of Heaven, in which those sorts of carrots-and-sticks and judges and enforcers are no longer necessary. The latter kingdom has a “now and not yet” quality, breaking in through various glimpses but because of our fallen human nature, the former remains necessary.

We live in both kingdoms. Two different worlds. The latter holds no elections as it fits the parameters of what on Earth remains a myth, the perfected “benevolent dictatorship.” The gates are open without passport control (Rev. 21:25). But being a part of it has implications for our participation in the former. We learn in the Kingdom of Heaven that the last shall be first and the first shall be last (Matt. 19:30, 20:16). That the one who helps is a neighbor to the one in need, not the one who looks most like them (Luke 10:25-37). With a ballot in front of us, we may be tempted to ask if we are better off than we were four years ago. In voting, yes, but in all of our walk with God in Christ, we need to keep in mind another set of questions: Who is my neighbor? Is there a way they can be better off today and tomorrow? And how am I called to join with God in making that real and true?

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The Rev. Sean Janssen is pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Havre and Christ Lutheran Church in Big Sandy.

 

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