YoUnited States Of America - Week One: Avoiding Election Infection

With the election almost over--I feel like it's completely appropriate for me to conduct my own poll.  Everyone's been talking about polls, examining polls, taking polls, interpreting polls, denying polls (if they're not winning in them), affirming polls (if they are), so why not get in on the act?

Here are my poll questions for today, and we'll do this all by show of hands, and since none of you are here--it really doesn't matter, you can answer however you feel like. 

First question:  How many of you are enjoying this election season?  You are just digging this whole thing.  You are watching it like a train wreck about to happen. Raise your hand.  

Okay, second question: How many of you are ready for this to be over?  You've already handed in the towel, waved the white flag, given up. Raise your hand.

Okay, last question.  How many of you think that politics should come up in church?  That a preacher should talk about politics from the pulpit?  Many of you knew what the topic was going to be today so you tuned in even though you told yourself, "he shouldn't be talking about that," but you came anyway.  Maybe you came to see if I would crash and burn.  I get that.  But I hope to avoid any crashing and burning.  

Instead, what I want to do is to issue you all a challenge.  To everyone out there, I want to issue you a serious challenge that I don't think most of us Christians are going to be able to pull off.  

I am going to challenge you between now and November 3rd to put your faith ahead of your politics.  I want you to put your faith filter upfront and your political filter a little farther back.  

This is a challenge to be a Christ-follower first and a Republican second.  To be a Christ-follower first and a Democrat second. To be a Christ-follower first and Libertarian second.  

You might find this really hard to do between now and then, but I want to tell you why I believe you can do it.  Because there are things that can happen in your life that would make your political persuasion completely irrelevant.  

I have been with people during some of the worst times of their lives--and not a single one of them asked me in their moment of need: 

"Leon, could you just sit here and read to me portions of the Constitution?  Could you recite the preamble to the Declaration of Independence over me while I am lying here sick in the hospital?  

There are more important things in your life--you know this.  There are things that could happen to you right now that would make you forget there was an election going on, you know what I mean, right?

So keeping that in mind, you also know that your faith is more important as well.  This is why I am challenging you to put your faith before your politics between now and November 3. 

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't have an opinion--although some of us have an opinion about absolutely everything, which is just annoying to everyone else.  I'm told.  

I'm not suggesting that you not yell at the TV, the radio, rant at parties, tear up the newspaper, embarrass yourself at parties with your opinions--you go right ahead and do all of those things if you feel that you need to...  ahem.  

I'm also not suggesting that you vote for any particular candidate.  There are churches in America who hand out voters guides so that their church members will know who to vote for, who the church leadership or denomination sanctions. I'm not doing that by a long shot.  

What I'm challenging you to do is put your faith ahead of your politics.  

Some of you might be thinking right now, "Well, my faith and politics are all up on one another, my brother!"  You might say, the reason I'm a Republican is that I am a Christian.  The reason I am a Democrat is that I'm a Christian.  

Okay, okay... 

Put political parties aside for a moment.  Put all your hard feelings about political parties aside for a moment.  And then answer this question... 

What would it look like if you made all your decisions when it came to how you voted, who you voted for, what you voted for... on the teachings and the example of Jesus? 

What would it look like if you raised the value of your citizenship in the kingdom of God--over your citizenship in the United States?  

And when I say the kingdom of God what I mean is the kingdom that Jesus embodied, taught, showed, and promised to his followers---a kingdom that isn't a kingdom really, but more of a state of being where God ultimately gets what God wants... Shalom--God's Peace... everywhere, always.  

As Jesus taught, where there is shalom there is freedom... there is healing... there is enough for everyone... there is equality... there is peace... there is hope... there is love.  

What we need to realize if we are going to be able to make this happen in our lives and in our world is simply this:  

The kingdoms of this world are not anything like the kingdom of God. 

Today we're going to focus on a passage of Scripture from Romans chapter 13.  These verses are the ones that Christians love to use when their talk turns to party politics.  They also happen to be the ones that everyone uses when their side wins. Or they want to justify why they would put politics ahead of living like Jesus.  

In fact, these verses were used by scores of Christian leaders in Nazi Germany to justify their blind loyalty to Hitler and the Nazi regime.  

Here they are: 
1 Let everyone be subject 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, whoever 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 you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents 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 as a matter 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 to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

What exactly is Paul talking about here?  Is it really blind obedience?  It's not, in case you were wondering.  

Here's the problem:  Most Christians don't know how to read this well.  And the reason for this is that they read it as Americans first and Christians second.  Also, because more often than not, these verses are taken out of their context, which is what so many Christians do when they want to bend the Bible to fit their own narratives. 

You can't divorce this passage from its context.  In order to understand it more fully you have to read Romans 12:14-21, and then also move on to read 13:8 to round it all out, and to see what Paul is really saying here. 

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And then 13:8

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 

Paul is writing this letter to people who live in the seat of power for the Roman Empire.  Let's think about his context for a moment... 

Nero---despotic, narcissistic, violent, paranoid, greedy, power-hungry. 

Is Paul really condoning the Empire here---telling Christians to just put their heads down and buy into what the Empire is selling?  Of course not!  

Paul's exhortation here begins in chapter 12 with a universal lesson that applies to everyone, including the Emperor, but it is also specific enough that gives Christians their true marching orders, so to speak.  

Paul says here and elsewhere that Christians are to be good citizens, good neighbors, but with a caveat.  Paul advocates for being a law-abiding, person within the Empire--being at peace if at all possible... 

When you put the love of neighbor and pursuit of the common good behind the desires of the Empire, you violate the higher laws of the kingdom of God.  

Paul raises a serious question when he begins to outline all of the things that we might owe the powers that be---if you owe taxes, pay them... if you owe revenue, pay it...  if you owe honor, respect... pay that, too.  IF you owe it. 

This is reminiscent of the moment when the religious leaders came to Jesus and asked him "Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar?" They were hoping to trap him, and then turn him in to the authorities for sedition.  

Jesus asked for a coin with Caesar's image on it.  Someone had one.  He then said, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." 

Jesus amazed these guys with his wisdom and there were many people there who were impressed that he basically stated, "I could care less about all of your political stuff.  I came to bring about the kingdom of God.  I came not to take sides, but to take over."  

Jesus was about a revolution of love and Paul picks this up.  He is basically saying here in Romans "When we owe nothing but love to one another--all other obligations become less reality-shaping than they once were. " 

And in that moment... we are truly putting our faith before politics.  

How do we live this practically?  Especially now.  

1. The Common Good is the ultimate goal for everyone---we need to agree on this no matter where we land politically.  Listen, if a political candidate can't come to this conclusion, they aren't worth your loyalty, or your time.  

2.  Love of neighbor--we need to extend this to everyone, including our opponents.  Civility doesn't get the kinds of ratings that outrage and bombastic behavior garner. But there's a cost for perpetual outrage---our souls.   

3. View everything and everyone through a Christ-centered lens.  When our faith comes before our politics we find ourselves stopping before we act, stopping before we speak, stopping before we vote, and asking... "What Would Jesus Do?"  

The way we avoid election infection friends is to put our faith before our politics.  To put aside our fears, both real and imagined, and to trust that there is a better way forward if we are brave enough to embrace it.  

We don't owe anyone, any country, any state, any government... we don't owe anything but love, and that's a lot to owe, friends.  Let that guide you through these contentious times, and remember:  

The kingdoms of this world are not anything like the kingdom of God.  


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