Message Manuscript for “A Different Pledge of Allegiance”
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Did you see the video of Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond’s son reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the DNC this past week? Here it is in case you missed it. Isn’t that great? And you will notice that he didn’t leave out “under God” as the Democrats were accused of doing at the convention. The pledge this little guy gave was powerful and has been popular in social media recently. Pledges of allegiance are powerful statements, aren’t they?
As we see in our Gospel text this morning, that’s what Jesus knew and why he asked his disciples to pledge their allegiance. After Jesus quizzed the disciples about what people were saying about who he was, he turned the question on them, asking “Who do you say that I am?” Before getting at their answers, it is worth noting where they were as he asked them these questions. As Matthew reported, they were in Caesarea Philippi, a city named in honor of Caesar Augustus, and was an important regional headquarters of the Roman empire. Jesus picked this city because he wanted the disciples to decide which empire they would follow/live for. He also wanted to make a statement about the distinction between the Roman empire and God’s empire. Rome’s empire was visible there in this city named after Caesar Augustus and also known for housing Roman gods of power. God’s empire was visible as well, not in the institutions of rock, mortar, and politics of violence but in the flesh, words, and works of the love of Jesus. This is much like how God was visible in Moses in the Exodus reading this morning, as he was the one whom God chose to confront the empire of Egypt and ultimately lead the Hebrews out from under the hand of a violent, enslaving Pharoah. Jesus was like a new Moses. The disciples–and the people who would later hear Mathew’s gospel–had a decision to make about which empire they were going with and which emperor.
As followers of Jesus today, we also are to make a decision about where and how we will pledge our allegiance–to Jesus and the empire of heaven or to the empire of this world. In this time when our lives and institutions are in upheaval, our allegiances are being tried and tested. It is sad to see how many Christians in our nation have decided to opt for the power of the American empire, with so many within our ranks selling their souls for recognition, political favor, control, and material gain. Christians I never thought would pledge their allegiance to anyone but Jesus have been willing to overlook his teaching in order to gain power for themselves and have their goals accomplished. This while neglecting his words and example of when it comes to loving their neighbor, caring for the sick, welcoming the stranger, doing justice for the oppressed, and serving others selflessly. Why are Christians the ones in our nation we tend to hear about the most when it comes to a refusal to wear masks, welcome immigrants, say that Black lives matter, expand healthcare, feed the hungry, block assault weapons, protect the environment, and dismantle white supremacy? Isn’t our refusal to do these things an answer to the question from Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” For too long, Christians in this nation have been on the wrong side of that question. Either we have decided not to pledge our allegiance to Jesus or we just don’t know who Jesus really is.
Knowing who Jesus is requires our spending time with him, like we have been doing in our Matthew readings. It involves listening to his words, watching his actions, and experiencing his grace and love. By doing these things, we can know what to say about Jesus and our commitment to him. What’s been helpful throughout the history of the church, at least since around 150 AD, is the Apostles’ Creed. This has been a way for Christians to pledge their allegiance to Jesus and hold fast to living under his lordship while living among other empires and their lords.
Peter was the first disciple to speak up and gave the right answer, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” His answer was the kind that led Jesus to see that it and the person who gave it were the material on which he could build the church. The same will true for us as we say our pledge of allegiance to Jesus.