Sunday, November 6, 2016

November 6, 2016

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC

 

JESUS FOR PRESIDENT

Matthew 5:1-16

 

Okay, election day is two days away.  We’ve had our series on leaders in the Bible.  Maybe your vote on Tuesday has been influenced.  Maybe not.  I’ve been careful not to tip my hand on who I’m voting for.  Churches can lose their tax exempt status when their preachers start endorsing candidates from the pulpit.  But today I’m going to throw caution to the wind and just say it out loud.  JESUS FOR PRESIDENT!

There was a book with that very title written by Shane Claiborne a few years ago during another presidential campaign.  It’s one of the most unusual books I’ve ever read.  Especially the first few pages.  Here they are:

claiborne 1

claiborne 2

claiborne 3

claiborne 4

          The words are too small to read, I know, so here they are:

You grew up in a good family; hardworking dad and a mom who was there when you needed her.  They taught you and your little brother to share and showed you how to pray every night before bed.  In Sunday school, you learned about Jesus and sang all the songs with the rest of the kids.  There was Noah and his ark, Moses and the Ten Commandments, and little baby Jesus asleep on the hay.  You learned about the blessing that was America and were grateful to live in a country led by good Christian leaders.  With a hand over your heart or above your brow, you pledged allegiance to God and Country, for the Lord was at work in this holy nation.  But lately you are beginning to wonder if this is really how God intended things to be.  And you question if God is really working through places of power.  Maybe, you wonder, God had a totally different idea in mind . . .

 

lt’s a clever title for a book, so I thought it might be a clever title for a sermon, but the truth is Jesus doesn’t want the job.  Jesus was pretty much offered the job at the beginning of his public ministry.  Remember the temptation story?  Satan took Jesus to the top of a high mountain with a view extending endlessly in every direction.  Then Satan said, “All this can be yours – all the Kingdoms of the world, all the glory of all these kingdoms.  All you have to do is bow down and worship me.”  That’s all.

No eating corndogs in Iowa.  No trudging through snow in New Hampshire.  No kissing babies.  No being accused of kissing grown-up babies who didn’t want to be kissed.  No WikiLeaks to explain.  No FBI investigations.  No fundraising.  No debates.  No mudslinging.”  Jesus said, “I’m not interested – begone, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:8-10).

So Jesus isn’t running.  You can write in his name, I suppose.  I’m guessing more than the usual number of people this year will.  But Jesus doesn’t want the job.

In fact, the very next chapter tells us that what matters to Jesus is very different from what matters to most earthly rulers we’ve ever heard of.  It’s called “the beatitudes”.  It talks about being meek and merciful and pure in heart and working for peace and justice and righteousness and taking it as a compliment when people hate you and say nasty, mean, false things about you.  It’s not a typical politician’s campaign speech.  Which is another reason Jesus isn’t running.

This idea of having a powerful leader who will solve every  problem and make everything wonderful actually goes back long before Jesus.  The Israelites wanted a king.  “Give us a king like all the other nations” they said to Samuel the prophet (I Samuel 8:5).       When you read this part of the Bible carefully you will see that God wasn’t all that crazy about the idea.  God was their king.  God was all they needed.  God didn’t want them to be like the other nations.  God had something better in mind for them.

But the way the story is written, God relented.  God let them have their kings.  Some were good.  More were bad.  The first was Saul.  The last was Zedekiah.  This was over a span of about 450 years.  It ended with the Babylonian exile.

And then Jesus came and the hope of many was that this at last was the king they had been waiting for.  But Jesus turned out to be a very different kind of king.  As we saw last week, Jesus wasn’t into power.  Jesus was into love.  Jesus wasn’t a mighty warrior.  Jesus was a suffering servant.

Christians of all people should know that.  And so every four years it’s disappointing to learn that a lot of our Christian sisters and brothers don’t.  A frequent topic of conversation in a lot of churches these days is how we can make America a Christian nation.  And the frequent answer is that we can do it at the ballot box.  Elect real Christians.  Vote out the ones who aren’t.  Then we Christians will have the power to impose our religion on everyone else.

That is so far removed from what Jesus was all about!  That is power politics.  Jesus was never into power politics.  Jesus was into meek, merciful, peaceful love.  And if that’s what Jesus was into, how come so many of his followers are into something else?

One of the leaders we talked about in the series was Jeremiah.  Jeremiah never would have been elected president.  He never would have been elected dog catcher.  He was hated and despised by his own people.  They considered him a traitor.  Because he told them what God had told him:  Don’t fight the Babylonians.  Don’t match your power against theirs.  Exile is not what you planned.  Exile is not what you wanted.  But trust God that God can do great things even while you are in exile.  And that’s exactly what happened.

Christians living in America today are living in exile.  Because this is not a Christian nation.  When President Obama said that, he was criticized, but he was right.  We are a nation founded on freedom of religion.  We are free to be Christian.  We are also free to practice some other faith or no faith.  And that “no faith” option, sad to say, is becoming more and more popular.

Right here in Nampa, Idaho, Nazarene capital of the world, I saw a bumper sticker last week that said, “Religion: Because Thinking is Hard”.

We used to live in a culture that at least appeared to be Christian.  We saw pictures of the way it used to be on the screen earlier and many of us can remember those days.  In school every morning pledging allegiance to God and Country.  Never imagining that the God we love and the country we love could ever be in opposition to each other.

Times have changed.  Those who truly follow Jesus, who take seriously the beatitudes, who do their best to actually live the teachings of Jesus are in the minority.  Kind of like the Jews living in Babylon were in the minority.  We are way outnumbered.

So what if we were to do what Jeremiah told the Jews in exile to do?  Accept it.  Don’t fight it.  Accept that it’s not going to change anytime soon.  Love those who don’t share our faith.  Don’t fight them.  Don’t condemn them.  Don’t act superior to them.  Don’t join the growing chorus of complainers and critics and cynics.  What good will that do?

Instead, what if we were to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which [God has] carried you into exile?”  That’s exactly what Jeremiah told the Jews to do (29:7).  In other words, bloom where you have been planted.  Work for peace.  Work for justice.  Meet hate with love.  Meet cynicism with hope.

And maybe if we followers of Jesus work at that long enough and hard enough, those who used to have a negative opinion of Christians might eventually come around and say something like this:  We don’t believe the way they believe, but we’re sure glad they’re here.  This would be a poorer place without the Christians.

And in the process of “seeking the peace and prosperity” of our city, what if we joined hands and worked together with people who also care about what we care about even if they don’t share our faith?  They don’t need to be the enemy.  They can be the ally.  Here’s how Tim Keller puts it:

One of the things that will happen when you actually take seriously living in your Babylon – when you actually take seriously getting to know the people outside your church – is that you will get to know people who don’t believe in God who are kinder, wiser, better, and more generous than you.

Is that even possible?  That there might be someone who doesn’t even love Jesus who is kinder, wiser, better, and more generous than you?  If you’re a Clinton-voting Democrat, is it possible that there are Trump-voting Republicans who are kinder, wiser, better, and more generous than you?  If you’re a Trump-voting Republican, is it possible that there are Clinton-voting Democrats who are kinder, wiser, better, and more generous than you?

What if we stopped fighting and started cooperating?  What if we changed our frame of reference from “us versus them” to “we’re all in this together”?

Whenever we are threatened, we tend to regress.  I think that happened to the United States fifteen years ago, on September 11, 2001.  We think of that as a terrible day that at least brought us together as nothing since Pearl Harbor had ever brought us together.  Well, it was a terrible day.  But what brought us together I’m afraid for many of us at least was our hatred of those who had done this to us.  It was our determination to teach those terrorists a lesson they would never forget.  So how’s that working out for us?

Gandhi  wasn’t a Christian.  He was kinder, wiser, better, and more generous than a lot of Christians.  He said that if we live by “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” eventually we’re going to all be blind and toothless.

Ten year ago, October 2, 2006, a young man with a gun barricaded himself inside a one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Pennsylvania and started shooting.  He killed five young girls and injured five others before he killed himself.

So how did the Amish community respond?  They forgave the shooter, they embraced his family, especially his mother, Terri Roberts.   There was an interview with her on public radio recently.  Here is what she said:

We had a very private funeral for our son, but as we went to the gravesite we saw 30 to 40 Amish start coming out from around the side of the graveyard, and they surrounded us like a crescent.  Then love just emanated from them.  I will never forget the devastation caused by my son, especially in the situation with Rosanna.  Rosanna’s the most injured of the survivors.  Her injuries were to her head.  She is now 15, still tube-fed and in a wheelchair.  And she does have seizures and when it gets to be this time of the year, as we get closer to the anniversary date, she seizes more.  That’s certainly not the life that this little girl should have lived.  So I asked if it would be possible that I might come and help with Rosanna, once a week.  So I read to her, I bathe her, I dry her hair.  One of the fathers the other night said, “None of us would have ever chosen this, but the relationships that we have built through it – you can’t put a price on that.”  Their choice to allow life to move forward was quite a healing balm for us, and I think it’s a message the world needs.

Shane Claiborne mentions how the Amish responded to this act of terrorism in his Jesus for President book, and then he makes a comment that is sort of a joke but sort of serious if we’re really going to take Jesus seriously.  He says we ought to turn over our Department of Homeland Security to the Amish.

That’s what I think Jesus might do if he were president.  Of course, we’ll never know because he doesn’t want the job.  Jesus would do a lot of things that would bewilder and upset a lot of people.  He did that while he walked this earth.  But he also did a lot of things that laid the foundation for a new and a better world.

We can build on that foundation.  Building on the foundation Jesus laid is going to be a whole lot more important than whoever we vote for on Tuesday.  We can do the hard work of love and mercy and forgiveness as we “seek the peace and prosperity” of this country in which we are so privileged to live.

It’s our home, sort of.  For Christians, our real home is heaven. For Christians, we’re always living in exile.  But as long as we get to be here we can do what Jesus told us to do at the end of our scripture for today, at the end of the beatitudes.  Be salt.  Be light.  Let the light of Jesus shine through us.

If we do that, whoever we elect as our next president, we’re going to be all right.

 

Dear Jesus, light of the world, it’s pretty dark these days.  And it’s pretty easy to get discouraged.  We pray that your light will help us see what so many miss.  It may be bad, but it’s never as bad as it seems.  It’s never so bad that you can’t make it better as you work through us.  As your light shines through us.  As we join hands even with those who don’t know you and love you as we do but who just might be kinder and wiser and better and more generous than we are.  And who, once they meet you, might be kinder, wiser, better, and more generous yet.  In your name, Amen.