Please see the previous post to catch the introduction to this sermon.
Don’t you wish our world could be as simple as a children’s story? The people of Kazoo lived happily ever after when THEY heard from the teacher. But we seem much less willing to respond to Christ’s call to love. That seems especially true these days in our country, as “red people” and “blue people” take up swords of words against the other, slashing and cutting, trying to suggest that the others are bad people and that our country is doomed if those of us who are right can’t be in power. The rhetoric gets harsher and harsher and the crowds get more and more frenzied, with supporters of one or the other shouting “he’s evil,” or “he’s a terrorist,” or even “kill him.”
The scary part for us is that some of the most partisan, the most frenzied, those most worked up into a lather about the folks on the “other” side are people who claim faith in Jesus Christ. These persons, both on the left and on the right, believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has ordained a particular political philosophy which is unbending and nonnegotiable. In their desire to ensure that God’s desires are carried out in the world, these spiritual warriors throw themselves into a political agenda which is divisive, hateful, and demonizes anyone who doesn’t believe like they do. And before you know it, good Christian people find themselves saying all sorts of things that are far from the teachings of Jesus.
It is never part of God’s values to spew forth words of hate.
It is never okay to ever suggest that someone’s politics justifies their being put to death, no matter how serious or not.
Some days I wonder if we’ve ever really heard the teachings of Jesus at alll?
You see, Jesus was absolutely clear that the central value of the kingdom that he was bringing into being was what the Hebrews called “hesed,” the steadfast and unbending love that is given by God to us. As we’ve talked about before, the Greeks and Romans called this value agape, and the primary example of this sacrificial love for the other was demonstrated in Jesus Christ, the one who refused to get pulled into the political arguments of his day and who was ultimately crucified for advocating another way. To be a follower of Jesus from the earliest days was to understand that hesed is at the center of who we are, and when we are practicing hesed, we can never demonize another.
This was, I believe, connected to Jesus suggesting that the things of Caesars were Caesars, and the things of God were Gods. You see Jesus was being pulled and pushed from all sides to take a stance as a political leader. After all, most everyone believed that the Messiah would be a new king who would ride in on a white horse and throw the evil Romans out of the land, restoring Israel to greatness. All sorts of “messiahs” had come before Jesus, promising that they would triumph only to be defeated under the weight of Roman military might. So when a new possible messiah came on the scene, it was assumed that this person would thrust themselves into the political dealings of the day.
Yet, Jesus refused to do this. Instead of espousing a political philosophy he called on all to love one another. Instead of suggesting that the Romans were evil, he told the folks around him to pray for their enemies and to turn the other cheek. Jesus was bringing a new kingdom into being all right, but it was a kingdom unlike any that had every existed before, a kingdom of God in which love, justice, and righteousness rule.
This understanding of a new kingdom permeated the early church for hundreds of years. In the earliest days, Christians willingly marched to their deaths in their refusal to acknowledge the primacy of the Empire, believing instead that their citizenship was in another realm – the heavenly realm. They weren’t antagonistic to the politics of their day; they didn’t try to overthrow the sitting governments. But they refused to bow to the power of the emperor, reserving their loyalty and allegiance to their creator, redeemer, and sustainer. They lived in this world, but they were not of this world for their focus was directed on a new kingdom reality.
This “otherworldliness” of the early church has led some to suggest that Christians shouldn’t be involved whatsoever in politics for that very reason. “Why should we vote,” they ask, “when we don’t believe that any of this is part of our concern? Shouldn’t we separate ourselves out completely?”
The question has been asked for many years, and there have been many experiments in creating “utopian communities” which ignore the political realities around them and organize themselves instead around kingdom values. However almost all of these communities have, over time, found themselves engaging more and more with the secular political process as they recognized that living the life of hesed leads Christ’s followers to work for love, justice, and righteousness however we can, through both religious AND secular means. As the writings of the prophets remind us, those who follow in the way of Jesus are responsible for ensuring that our world is a just place in which all are treated fairly. We, the followers of Jesus have been called to be co-creators with God in bring forth God’s kingdom here on earth, just as it is in heaven. We, the body of Christ, are called to proclaim love however we can, be it handing out food on a street corner, or voting to help the needy at the ballot box.
We live in a time when the observers of our world, the commentators and pundits want to categorize us as being “red staters or blue staters,” “values voters or economic voters,” conservative or liberal. They seem to believe that Christians should fit in one box that is clearly defined and seldom changes.
But boxes are never able to hold God. Every time we think we have him boxed in, he breaks out and wild things begin to happen. And for those who follow Jesus, boxes are simply something to be crushed and thrown aside.
You see friends, followers of Jesus are neither red or blue.
Followers of Jesus are neither Republican or Democrat.
Followers of Jesus are hesed people.
And that color guides everything that we do.
For our creator, the one who made us from dust,
believes that all colors equally must
love one another, with all of our might,
for to love is the thing that is always quite right.
And when Hesed is the center of life,
then both red and blue can put down our knives.
For the creator of all, the night and the day,
created all to be perfect, in their own unique way.