You walk into your little Lutheran Church on Sunday morning and it’s just like every other Sunday. The beautiful altar is built like a city, with towers and pinnacles, like the New Jerusalem coming down from the clouds now anchored in front of you. On either side stand the flags, the flag of the United States on one side, the white “Christian Flag” on the other. Just like every Sunday since WWII when it became fashionable to put political flags inside the sanctuary.
But the next morning the Texas legislature declares independence from the United States and you now live in the National Republic of Texas. Or maybe there was a referendum. Regardless, you are now a citizen of Texas, and no longer an American. Or maybe the Republic of Texas grants you dual citizenship. No doubt there would be conflict. Lifelong friends will disagree on whether it was right, or legal, or smart. Legal experts, lawyers, and alarmingly, the military get involved and things get precarious. But no matter how peacefully it happens, there is bound to be disagreement about why and how.
Then the next Sunday rolls around and the church parking lot is plum full. You overhear boisterous greetings and see joyful hugs. But you also see the hand extended by the rancher to the “transplant” left dangling in the air. You stay neutral, nodding greetings at everyone, neither greeting one another with a “Mornin’ fellow Texan!” nor with “Mornin’ fellow American!” No, you simply nod your head and pass by everyone, walk up the steps of the church into the narthex, grab your bulletin and step into the sanctuary.
What do you see? There’s the altar, white and pristine with the communion elements already set in the middle. What do you see next to it? Which flag is flying? Which “side” wins? Where does the church stand on this?
We can argue whether its possible for a state to secede from the Union. We can argue if Texas has some “special exemption” to do so, as rumor abounds. It might never happen. This could very well be a useless scenario and a waste of computer bytes, but for the greater implication and truth. To whom is a church loyal? To which nation does the Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints belong? When the flag is placed inside the church building what is being communicated?
We are blessed with stability in our nation and its borders, despite the deep differences and social division we have. We haven’t had to face changing borders and changing governments like many countries do, and have in the past. But this is temporary. Nations do not remain forever and every “Eternal Kingdom” has come, and will come to an end.
Which flag flies next to the Holy Altar of God? Which flag is planted inside the Kingdom of God? For we are, and are present in, the Kingdom of God when we gather in that holy place to receive God Himself and to commune with the Holy Trinity, with the angels and archangels, with the saints visible and invisible. We have a Lord and a Kingdom not of this World.
This truth made heads roll in ancient Rome. Caesar claimed lordship complete and Christians were condemned as traitors to Rome for claiming Jesus as Kyrios, even of an unearthly kingdom. But Kingdoms rise and fall, Nations come and go, and our inheritance is eternal. You are a holy nation to God (1 Pet. 2:9).
What belongs in the sanctuary? Who is Lord?