Americans are all about rights. I have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I have the right to believe and practice whatever religion or spirituality I choose. I have the right to
say whatever I want to say. I have the right to murder if I choose. I have the right to marry who or
what I want to marry (man, woman, or other). I have the right to a good education, to own a car,
and to buy a home. I have the right to be who I want to be and do what I want to do because I am an
What responsibilities go with these rights? Only those I volunteer to do. I have no problem
being responsible for the things I am passionate and interested in. I will help those I want to help
and support the causes I choose.
Rights and responsibilities like these are the prevailing American way of thinking. Yet
Christians living in America are called by God to renew their minds by the Word of God. I appeal to
you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy
and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but
be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of
God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2). The Word teaches a very
different paradigm than personal rights and chosen responsibilities, namely God given gifts and
Before God no one has rights. God owes us nothing, but we owe Him everything. Our lives
and all the good things that we have are His gifts to us. Our lives and existence are not ours to do
with as we please, rather we have the duty to live according to God’s will. God has given all people
the duties to protect and preserve life, to pursue justice, and to seek peace. God gives particular
duties to people and institutions according to vocation: for instance, husbands are to love, lead, and
care for their wives; fathers are to bring their children up in the instruction of the Lord, to
discipline, provide, and protect them; police are to protect and serve their communities from law
breakers; doctors and nurses are to heal people; and rulers are to rule justly for the benefit of the
people under their authority. Every vocation that God gives to people comes with blessings and
duties for which one is ultimately accountable to God.
The Church of Christ has a few vocations: receiving the forgiveness of sins, life, and
salvation that Christ Jesus purchased and won; giving God thanks and praise in return; testifying to
God’s great saving acts in Christ to fellow believers and to unbelievers; and preserving God’s good
creation. In other words, the Church proclaims the Gospel that justifies sinners in Christ to all
people and promotes justice and peace in the world. Everything that the Church is and has comes
from Christ who justifies which enables the Church to serve the world in love.
When you gather for the Divine Service to receive the gifts of Christ through Word and
Sacrament, remember that you have no right to be there or any right to receive, but are there by
God’s grace in Christ. Remember that in all of life you have no rights and no self-chosen
responsibilities. You have something much better: God’s gifts and God’s chosen duties.