Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sermon: February 28 (2nd Lent)

You can imagine the wanted posters up around Israel, with titles declaring him Activist, Criminal, Rebel. All the terms that Herod would have used against Jesus. John the Baptist was already arrested. His cousin Jesus had now attracted enough attention from Herod, think of the healings, the parables, and Jesus who never accepted Herod’s authority and avoided his capitals. Some Pharisees felt they had to warn Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him. And Jesus replied,
"Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way."
Those words remind us that Jesus lived in a time where politics and religion were intertwined, as they are today. He knew that Herod Antipas had no power to stop him but he also knew there was a price too…
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!"
Jesus knew he would get into trouble from the powers that be. He challenged them directly and indirectly. But they would not interfere in his mission, in what he was called to do, in his proclamations, in healings, in all that was part of his ministry. 2,000 years later, sometimes we lose the sense of the provocative nature of his ministry but not always. I think of…

Those in the unofficial Church in China, who stay hidden to hear God’s word without oversight from the Chinese Government.

A Washington DC Church which started a soup kitchen; local residents took the church to court to shut them down.

A National Church Body that was denied an opportunity to advertise during the Super Bowl when the network rejected their ad showing that gay people were welcome at their worship services.

The IRS announced that it will investigate an Episcopal Church for a sermon given just before election day that criticized the president and the war.

These are but a few examples of where Churches get into hot water because they were following God’s call to mission and those in power reacted. But we can also get overly connected with the political system too. In a study of the religious habits of young adults, the Millennial Generation, the study concluded
“But youth's religious disaffection and dropping out of organized religion is largely due to discomfort with religiosity having been tied to [conservative] politics."
For many in the younger generation have looked at the Church being too cozy with partisan politics, that the Church and the parties have become too synonymous, that the Church is OK with the status quo. Religion and politics has been of the American landscape, especially when we consider the movements to end slavery (the abolitionists) to the suffragettes to the temperance movement, to the civil rights movement & today with our care for creation with the environmental movement. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it,
“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
We must have a voice in today’s politics but it must go hand in hand with our Gospel beliefs. When Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican Archbishop of South Africa was criticized for being too political , he said
“I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”
The challenge remains for us to not get tied down to the politics of the day but rather make sure what we are doing is in line with the Gospel. John Danforth, was once a senator from Missouri and an ambassador to Sudan, he also happens to be an Episcopal Priest. When asked about his view on religion and politics he said,
“it's what like St. Paul says, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. I mean, you're not going to know, and that's the point, to bring to this humility, but to bring to it a good-faith effort to try to live a faithful life and to try to act in the realm of politics as a faithful person. Knowing, however, that you are not the grand oracle of God's wisdom and that God's truth is not your truth — there's going to be a gap there — and a recognition that the other person who has come to very different conclusions also has made a good-faith effort to be a follower of the Lord. So, I mean, I think it's a matter of good faith and trying your best, but bringing humility to bear.”
Danforth’s moderate approach has much to be said for it. Whenever we enter into politics faithful, humility should also be with us. As I thought about how some might today be bringing their faith into the realm of politics in a way that make it the conscience of the state and not a tool, I think of a group called the elders.
“The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.”
They are working in places like Cyprus and Sudan, Gaza and Myanmar, to “promote dialogue and peace building; and supporting efforts to alleviate human suffering, particularly caused by armed conflict, extreme poverty, injustice or intolerance.” Two of the elders that I know best are Jimmy Carter, our former president and Desmond Tutu, both of whom are doing this out of their own faith. It strikes me that what they are doing is what Jesus talks about
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”
And I think we get it right, when we know that Jesus would be walking with us, to help alleviate poverty and end war, to help reconcile those torn a part, to raise the concerns of those in need and to help witness to the love that God has for all of God’s children.
“Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness. The ones that are held in high regard are not militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They have a commitment to try and make the world a better place.”(Desmond Tutu)

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