May 1, 2013

Back in business, but not as usual

Our preschool teachers showed up every day but Friday the week following April 14, but the children did not. Their parents were too afraid to take them out into the streets.

Sunday, April 14, was the constitutionally mandated day of presidential election after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. It was a narrow race. By official count, Nicolas Maduro won by only 2,500,000 votes. Supporters of his opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, claimed election fraud, based on reports of boxes of ballots from expatriate Venezuelans being discarded. They continue to seek a recount, even though Maduro was sworn in as president of Venezuela on Friday, April 19.
There were protests in the days following the election, including marches and the Venezuelan custom of cacerolazo (banging of pots and pans in the streets). There were outbreaks of violence, resulting in seven dead and 61 injured, which each side attributed to the other. For example, here in Barinas, the burning of a clinic was attributed to post-election violence, although the newspaper El Nacional interviewed neighbors who said the fire started before April 15, and that there had been little chance of anyone being injured because the clinic had not been operating on a regular basis for some time.

Classes resumed at our preschool this week, although not all is back to normal at the national level (a brawl broke out on the floor of the National Assembly). Like many in our neighborhood, we have tried to stock up on food, although on our last trip to the market we were able to find only half of what we were looking for.

As I believe the Lord would have it, the appointed epistle reading (1 Peter 2:11-20) for the third Sunday after Easter (April 21 this year) according to the historic one-year lectionary was quite appropriate, and I preached on that text, especially this part:

"Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of them that do well. For this is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. As free, yet not using liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as servants of God. Honor all. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. "

And this is part of my sermon:

How should we understand this? Should we never take a stand in politics of our country? Should we never confront injustice?

Let's look at the behavior of the same San Pedro before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, in Acts 5:26-29:

"Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. And bringing them, set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, saying, Did we not strictly command you, that you should not teach in this name? And behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring upon us the blood of this man. Peter and the apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. "

The apostles were charged with preaching the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The first words in their defense established an important principle for the Christian Church: we are obligated to obey God rather than men. As for the affairs of the kingdom of God, especially the preaching of the Gospel, the government has no jurisdiction. Wherever there is a clear statement of Scripture, Christians should stand firm in the truth and the Lord's protection even if all the world condemns us.

Moreover, with respect to the law of God, the government can not prohibit what God has commanded in the moral law, or prescribe what God has forbidden in His holy law. As Christians we have spiritual freedom, ie, we are not under the condemnation even of the Law of God, for the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled all the law in our places, and also paid full price for our disobedience on the cross. Now God does take into account our sins, which merit eternal death, because of Jesus Christ. However, we do not use liberty for a cloak for malice, but as servants of God. We obey the law for love of God, not for fear of His judgment. We also recognize and honor the purpose for which God instituted civil government.

St. Peter says clearly that believers must submit, must be subject and obedient to all human authority and their institutions. The Lord has instituted civil government and has given it the right to use force of arms against criminals, but did not command a specific structure. A country does not have to be organized as a republic or monarchy, or oligarchy, or a socialist, or capitalist state. All these systems are invented by humans and no system can change the human heart, which is the source of evil thoughts and deeds.

But for any true believer, to be declared free from the law is not an excuse to disobey the government, for not complying with the holy will of God in every way possible. He will not, under the guise of being secure in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, become guilty of sin and the various forms of evil. That would be a shameful abuse of the freedom for which Christ has called us (Galatians 5:13). We are in the service of God, which is our greatest boast, that we are serving not as unwilling slaves, but as willing servants, whose greatest pleasure is to show the new spiritual life in works that will please our heavenly Father.

In comparison, let us look at St.Paul in front of the same Sanhedrin in Acts 23:1-5:

hen said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest?  Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. "

Why did Paul ask forgiveness? Was he not hit in the face? This was not a formal meeting of the national council, but was a group of men hurriedly gathered as consultants by the Roman official in charge of Jerusalem. The officer was in charge, was the only man who make a decision, and the rest were only advisors.

Paul was not present in the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin, but as a Roman citizen of the Roman commander in charge of Jerusalem. . But Paul's statement aroused fierce resentment of the high priest. This Ananias was not the high priest of the Gospels, rather he was appointed to the office by Herod of Chalcis. Forgetting that he was not the chairman of the meeting, and that Paul was not under his jurisdiction, he called on those who were close to the defendant to strike him on the mouth.

Paul's rebuke was quick and to the point. He called Ananias a whitewashed wall, as Christ had called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs (Matt. 23: 27). The bystanders, shocked by the words of Paul, asked him if he would revile the high priest of God, ie God's representative while he was doing the duties of his ministry (Deuteronomy 17:12). Paul's response can be taken as an excuse or apology. Ananias was present only as a member of the Sanhedrin, he did not occupy the presiding chair, nor was he wearing the robes typical of his office, and Paul did not know him personally. It is perfectly right and justifiable, if Christians criticize and rebuke the sins of the government, but this should always be done with due respect.

Now then, how do we apply these biblical teachings at this time of instability and uncertainty in our country? First, let's remember that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world and the only King of kings. Only his kingdom is forever, all the kingdoms of this world will pass away, the just and the unjust. God will judge wicked princes, all is in God's hands.

As citizens of the true kingdom of heaven, we are strangers and pilgrims here. However, the will of our King is to live in peace with everyone and avoid violence if possible. We honor all those in authority, and respect all civil laws that are not against the law of God.

As citizens of an earthly republic, we have the right and responsibility to vote and express our opinions. But, we must recognize that every political conflict is not the final battle between God and the devil. We will respect the opinions of others and treat every man and woman with respect as creatures of our God.

Because our spiritual freedom, and our peace with God does not depend on the circumstances of this world, but arise from what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. That this freedom and peace that passes all understanding be with each of you forever. Amen.

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