God's Politics - Week One

This week I am preaching the first of a two part sermon series entitled “God's Politics: Red, Blue or Christian?” When I first planned this series, the national election was over a year away, and the reality of actually preaching on politics the Sundays before and after the election had not really landed upon me.

It has now, to be sure.

I have spent the last two weeks on vacation and out of the US, which has been a mercy in that I haven't had to endure the constant barrage of political ads these last days before November 6th. But I wasn't entirely shielded from it all. It seems that all around the world people have an opinion about what's happening in the US, and for the next few days everyone seems to be watching.

I have been struck by just how much seems to be riding on this election for so many people. I have also been struck by how sharply divided Americans are over the election's outcome. And the fascinating thing is, there are well-meaning and faithful Christians who find themselves on opposite sides of the political fence from other well-meaning and faithful Christians.

It's too easy to try to lump Christians into one simple kind of category, and to assign a voting trend to that category, as if Christians were truly unified. One needs only count the number of Christian denominations in America to realize that unity isn't exactly a Christian strong suit.

I am constantly reminded that most church-y people don't like it when their pastors are too "political," unless of course their pastor agrees with their political views. Then it's not only okay, it's encouraged. I'm also aware that political advocacy from the pulpit is a dangerous and slippery slope for pastors and preachers.

I've heard that this Sunday there will be many preachers who will defy the long held American value of the separation of church and state by declaring which candidates they are voting for in the election. They are doing this to prove a point and to possibly challenge certain laws that threaten the tax-exempt status of a church when it's pastor acts as a political advocate or tries to convince his/her congregation how to vote.

I'm not going to do that, in case you were wondering. I hope you vote, but it's none of my business who you vote for.

I do, however, think that it's important for Christians to be involved in politics and to be engaged in their civic duties. And I believe that Christians don't necessarily have to agree with one another on how to be faithful Christians who are engaged in politics, but I do believe we must agree on the Biblical truths that should guide our efforts. God's word is truth and their are many Biblical principles that are absolutes, but the way we apply these truths and principles can be filled with fumbling efforts and clouded by the fog of our own uncertainty.

Christians should find agreement in one thing, however:
The kingdoms of this world are not anything like the kingdom of God.

The kingdoms of this world may promise a great deal but in the end they can't deliver the real change that needs to take place for the kingdom of God to exist here on earth as it does in heaven.

I can speak with authority on this, because I know something of politics having come up in the hardscrabble high school political scene in the early 1980's when I successfully ran for student body president as a high school senior.

I had two things going for me at the time: my opponents were morons and I had my girlfriend and future wife as my campaign manager and speech consultant. I also understood the real issues that were facing the largest voting block on my school: pre-pubescent teenage boys. Their issues were simple enough: they fretted over their changing voices, the fact that they had not yet mastered the art of speaking to girls without sweating profusely and they dreaded their frequent persecution at the hands of the jocks. The fact that my two opponents were jocks, did little to endear them to the aforementioned demographic, I might add. Ultimately, I wowed the electorate with campaign posters, elaborate political stunts like handing out colourful flyers by the drinking fountain and then of course giving the most important speech of my then short life.

My speech which was carefully crafted and edited by my campaign manager, touched on all of the issues that affected the vast majority of students at my school. Namely, the fact that the disgusting burritos they served for lunch were killing us, Homecoming needed to kick butt, and there needed to be more time in between classes. There were other things I am sure, but I've forgotten them.

I won 70% of the vote. And I learned something, too. If you want to be successful in politics, it doesn't really matter what you say, it's how you say it.

At the time, I could no more do anything to change the burritos or extend the in-between class time than I could grow a moustache, but when I talked about these things as if I could, I won.

Heck, I suppose for a few moments I actually believed I might be able to make a difference, but the reality that there were forces controlling things that were much more powerful and unrelenting than I imagined never really hit me until later. But by then I was elected, which was what really mattered to me then.

By now you are thinking that I've grown a bit cynical and that I see political candidates as just talking heads eager to tell us what we need to hear in order to garner our vote, playing on our fears and sympathies often simultaneously so that we will pledge our allegiance to their campaign, hitch our wagon to their wagon train, believe that they (and anyone who agrees with them) are the only ones who can save/take back/move forward/etc., our fine country.

Okay. Maybe I've become a tad cynical. But here's where the rubber meets the road for us Christian-y types: either we believe that God is in charge or we don't. When we put all of our faith and trust of the future into the hands of politicians, political parties or even political ideologies, we run the very real risk of making them an idol.

By the way, an idol is something that we worship in place of God.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul has quite a lot to say about what it means to be both a Christian AND a citizen. He writes,

“1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Because the government at the time was pagan, many Christians were loathe to obey the government and even less inclined to honor it and submit to it.

You might be saying, “but that was all so dreadfully long ago, wasn't it? Things are so much different now.”

Here's a snapshot of how things were in Paul's Jewish context in the first century: To begin, there was a large group of people who resented the strong Roman government that ruled much of the known world, and who believed that if Jews simply returned to their fundamental beliefs, historic values, and their traditions, they would be freed from government oppression and excessive taxation. Then there others who believed that the best approach was to simply appease the government, after all the Romans had brought order, safer travel, education, and the aqueduct to much of their Empire, and these were all good things.

Of course there were also people who believed that the only chance they had was to violently overthrow the government, and those who betrayed their own people and their principles to curry Roman favour.

Honestly, it doesn't sound that dissimilar from the debates and opinions that people are having right now in our own culture.

So in the midst of all this, Paul lays out some guidelines for Christians to behave like good citizens with the ultimate goal being the right and winsome proclamation of the Gospel.  And to stay focused on the things that united them, rather than the things that divide them.

The word that stands out the most to me in Paul's discourse is "submit." Not exactly the sort of thing that our rather modern ears want to hear when we are speaking of government, am I right? Yet there it is, bold as brass.

To sum up, Paul declares that part of being a faithful follower of Jesus is to be a good citizen, to pay taxes, to honor those in authority and to do one's civic duty.

And to never forget that it is God who is ultimately in charge, and that no man, no government, no political party can provide the sort of peace, hope, well-being and love that we find in God through Christ.

Not once does Paul say that Christians should engage in politics because politics, politicians, political ideology and government hold the key to our happiness and well-being.

Here it is: If you think that the names on the ballot that you check off this Tuesday hold the key to your happiness and well-being, you're worshipping the wrong things.

When people begin to “worship” politics they can quickly lose their way.

For example, some people grow to worship the idea of expanded government so much that they no longer value individual responsibility, excellence and achievement as virtues that are worthy of admiration.

Others bow down to the idea of limited government so much that they look past the poor and the marginalized that often get left behind when their are no safety nets to protect them.

So what will it be for those of us who call ourselves Christians? Will it be Red or Blue? Democrat or Republican? Limited or Expanded Government? Conservative or Liberal?

Or something different altogether...

What if we really got this--that the kingdoms of this world are not anything like the kingdom of God.

Unlike the kingdoms of this world, the kingdom of God is not marked by division. The kingdom of God is hopeful for the future and not fearful. The kingdom of God is not full of dread or cynicism. The kingdom of God is not self-serving. The kingdom of God is not bent on conquest through coercion.

The kingdom of God is centred on one simple and life-changing fact: Jesus won. Hope won. Life won. Love won.

Presidents will rise and fall. Elections will come and go. Those of who call ourselves Christians should not shy away from political engagement. We should vote. We should be good citizens and honor those who are in authority as they are worthy of honor. But we should never lose sight of the fact that the symbol of the kingdom to which we are truly citizens has no banner, no flag, no campaign slogan.

It's only symbols are a cross and an empty tomb.

So this Tuesday, prayerfully consider who you will cast your vote for, and do so as a good citizen, one who proclaims the Gospel in all that you do. Pick the candidate that you feel best represents what your heart tells you to be right, true and grounded in Scripture.

Do not condemn your brothers and sisters in Christ who live out the truth of the Bible in ways that you do not agree with.

Instead, know that the kingdom of God lives within you both and that the same Savior who went to the cross, was raised from the tomb and lives to bring you both grace and peace.

Because Jesus won, you will win.
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