November 1, 2020

                                                                              Rev. John Watts

                                                                              Nampa First UMC

 

SAINTS OF THE MOST HIGH

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

Ephesians 1:15-18

 

Rufus Miles served under four presidents – Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.  He also was an author.  But he may be best known for something he once said.  He said, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”  It’s named after him.  It’s called Miles’ Law.  You’re probably familiar with the saying.  “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”  In other words, your perspective on life is shaped by your experience in life.

Election Day is Tuesday.  Where do you stand?  Who are you voting for?  It probably depends on where you sit.

Like pretty much every church, this church has plenty of Democrats and plenty of Republicans.  We get along real well, most of the time.  You probably know that Idaho leans Republican.  I don’t think this church leans one way or the other.  If we had a presidential election here, with just our own church members voting, it would be real close.  And this year more than most, each of us is pretty well set, one way or the other.  Not many minds are going to be changed.

So my question for you is not who gets your vote, but who gets your loyalty regardless of who gets your vote.  Are you a Christian first and a Republican or a Democrat second?  Is Jesus your Lord regardless of who is your president?

And here is the harder question.  Are you able to follow Jesus even when following Jesus puts you at odds with your deepest political convictions?

We’ll come back to that.  And we’ll come back to Miles’ Law.  But first let’s look at that passage from Daniel.  We live in strange times, and this is a strange passage of scripture if ever there was one!

Daniel has a dream.  In his dream, he sees four beasts emerging from the sea.  We didn’t read the part where these four beasts are described in bizarre detail.  The first is a lion, with wings like an eagle.  Then the wings are torn off and the lion stands up like a man.  The second beast is a bear, with three ribs in its mouth.  The third beast is a leopard, but with four wings and four heads.  The fourth beast is the strangest of all.  It is described as “terrifying and frightening and very powerful” (7:7).  It has iron teeth and ten horns.

Then the dream takes a dramatic shift.  It is still strange stuff, but it takes us from terror to hope.  “The Ancient of Days” and the “Son of Man” are introduced.  The four evil beasts have now met their match.

We picked up the passage where Daniel is told what his dream means.  The four beasts are four kingdoms.  They are not named, but they are usually understood to be Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.  Then we come to this verse:

          But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever – yes, for ever and ever (7:18).

Saints of the Most High.  This is All Saints Day.  This is the day we remember and honor and thank God for our saints.  Saints of the Most High.

They receive the kingdom and possess it forever.  What kingdom?  It can’t be any earthly kingdom.  It can’t be Babylon, Persia, Greece, or Rome.  Because earthly kingdoms are temporary.  It has to be the Kingdom of God.  That is the only kingdom that lasts forever.  “Yes, for ever and ever.”

So what would our saints tell us about Tuesday’s election?  Here’s what I think.  As long as we are alive, we are fixated on the present moment.  But once we graduate from this life, once we become Saints of the Most High, then we can see the big picture.  Like God can see the big picture.

Kind of like the forest and the trees.  When you are lost in the woods, all you can see are individual trees.  But then you climb that high mountain, you can see the big, beautiful view that was impossible to see before.

Daniel’s dream is scary.  Four beasts.  Four kingdoms.  Lots of doom.  Lots of gloom.  And then Daniel’s dream takes that turn.  He gains perspective.  He is able to see that, scary as the present moment is, God is still in control.  He gets this vision of the big picture.  And what he sees is not terror, but hope.

When we lit that 18th candle today, I was thinking of my mom.  She graduated to sainthood two-and-a-half months ago.  She didn’t live long enough to vote in this election.  I think I know how she would have voted, though I know she would also have had nice things to say about whoever she didn’t vote for.  That’s just the way she was.  But I also think she has some wisdom now that she didn’t have before and that the rest of us do not yet have.  She is able to see the big picture.  She is able to see that the fate of civilization does not hinge on who gets elected, despite all the ads we’ve been seeing.  Jesus will still be Lord.  God will still be in control.  We will still belong to him.

I read a book years ago with a passage I keep coming back to.  A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken is a hard one to read with dry eyes.  A young woman dies of a mysterious illness and her husband writes this book to tell their love story.  He says it was only after his wife died that she came to life for him in the wholeness of the life she had lived.  When she was alive, she was always alive in a particular moment in time.  She was a baby, or a child, or a teenager, or an adult, or in the final days of her all too short life.  But when she died, all these chapters of her life became equally real and equally present.

He said it’s kind of like reading a novel.  While you are reading it, each character is trapped in the particular circumstance of whatever page you are on.  But you read the final page, you close the book, and now it’s like every page you have read is open all at once.  The person you have been reading about and caring about has now been liberated from the constraints of time.

I think of my mom that way.  I remember her at every stage of life that I can remember over a span of almost 65 years.  I see pictures that remind me that she actually had a life before I was born.  And here’s the reason I mention this.  What’s true of her is true of all of us.  When we are caught in the moment, it’s hard to see the big picture.  Things can seem important that in the big picture aren’t that important at all.  Or things can seem unimportant that in the big picture turn out to be very important.

Is it possible for us to see the forest while we are still trying to find our way through the trees?  The passage we read from Ephesians suggests that maybe it is.  Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus that he is praying for them, praying specifically that God will give them a “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (1:17).  What is that?  What is a “Spirit of wisdom and revelation”?  It’s that same big picture vision we’ve been talking about.  It’s the ability to see more than what is right in front of our eyes, to see what really matters and what really doesn’t matter.

Why is this important?  Paul’s reason might surprise you.  Here is the whole verse:

          I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better (1:17).

That’s the reason.  So that we can know God better.  Wisdom and revelation is given in order to deepen our relationship with God.  Paul continues:

          I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance of the saints               (1:18).

There’s that word “saints” again, on this All Saints Day!  And also the word “hope.”  A really important word.  And once again this big picture vision.  It says, “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.”  There are a lot of things that physical eyes can’t see that the eyes of the heart can.

I think I can safely say we are all a little jittery on this eve of the election.  I heard an ad the other day that said, “The fate of the nation is on the line.”  It could easily have been an ad for either candidate.  The stakes are high.  The tension is high.  And the danger of missing that big picture vision of what matters and what doesn’t – that too is very high.

If you are a Christian, what matters is Jesus.  What matters is your relationship with him.  What matters is following him.  What matters is not any earthly kingdom, past or present.  What matters is the Kingdom of God.  And what matters in the Kingdom of God is love.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Not that your political party or your political candidate don’t matter.  They do, but Jesus comes first.  And here’s the thing.  Jesus does not line up perfectly with the Democrats or the Republicans.  You could argue that Jesus lines up better with the Republicans, because of his values.  You could argue that Jesus lines up better with the Democrats because of his concern for people.  I could preach a sermon that makes Jesus sound like a conservative Republican and I could preach a sermon that makes Jesus sound like a liberal Democrat.  Half of you would love the first sermon, half of you would love the second sermon, and by the third week you would all hate me.

Here’s the problem.  When we look at Jesus through the lenses of our political glasses, we are going to see a Jesus who agrees with our politics.  And it’s hard to take off those glasses.  It’s hard to see Jesus as he is, not as we want him to be.  As I said at the beginning, it’s real hard to follow Jesus when following Jesus puts you at odds with your political convictions.

And the problem is bigger even than that.  Even if we are successful at removing our political glasses and seeing clearly the one true Jesus, we are still going to disagree.  It’s guaranteed.  Why?  Miles’ Law.  “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”  Your perspective on life is shaped by your experience of life.

Here are just a few ways we experience life differently:

  • Where you live.
  • How you were raised.
  • Where you were educated.
  • If you were educated.
  • What you’ve been told.
  • What you’ve seen.
  • What you’ve experienced.
  • What you’ve seen others experience.

Some of these we have control over.  Most of these we don’t.  Our political views were not formed in a vacuum.  We all have reasons for seeing things the way we do.  And for not seeing things the way the next person thinks we should.  Recognizing this is a sign of maturity.  And I think you might agree with me on this – we could use some maturity in our political discussions these days.

Three quick action steps and we’ll be done.  Actually just three words: listen, learn, and love.

1) We need to do a better job listening to those who don’t experience the world the way we do.  Make the intentional effort to listen to someone who is not at all like you.  Not so you can formulate your brilliant response as you pretend to be listening and then pounce so you can win the argument.  No.  Just listen.

Listen across lines that divide us. Haves and have-nots; Christians and non-Christians; young and old; black and white; brown and white; gay and straight; married and single; immigrant and native born; those who have served in the military and those who despise the military.  Listen to someone whose world is very different from yours.

2) And having listened, learn a few things you maybe didn’t know before.  Be a student, not just a critic.  My humble observation is that one of our problems is we have too many critics and not enough students.  Be a student.  We all have a lot to learn.  If you are a great critic and a poor student, you will discount everything you hear that doesn’t fit perfectly within your own very limited world view.  And you will stop learning.

When we say, “I don’t know how anyone could believe that!” we are really saying more about ourselves than we are saying about the other person.  We are saying that we have not bothered to make the effort to learn why the world looks so different to other people than it does to us.

3) Finally, love.  I know, every sermon ends with love.  But for followers of Jesus, it’s all about love.  “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.  That’s how you will be recognized as my disciples, by your love for one another.

There have been friendships that have ended over this election.  There are family members who are no longer speaking to each other.  There are a lot of conversations that carefully avoid mentioning anything remotely political, which may not be that bad an idea.  Although it’s better to take turns listening and learning.  But if you can’t do that respectfully, change the subject to something that isn’t controversial.  Like mask or no mask.

Don’t burn a relational bridge over a political disagreement. People matter more than politics.  That’s something I think even Democrats and Republicans can agree on.

In the big picture, what matters is love.  Important as this election might seem, in the big picture it’s going to be a very short paragraph in some high school kid’s history book 50 years from now.

And 50 years from now, most of us will have joined the saints we have remembered today.  And we too will be able to see as they see.  The big picture.  What really matters and what just seemed to matter at the time.

May we listen to them.  May we learn from them.  And may we love, as they loved and still love us.

 

Thank you God for our saints.  “We feebly struggle.  They in glory shine.”  And God, may that prayer that was prayed for saints long ago, be a prayer for each of us.  Grant us your spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we can know you better.  Open the eyes of our hearts so that we might see the glorious hope to which we are called.  And remind us God, even on the eve of this election, that we are not called to be Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Socialists, or Libertarians.  We are called to be followers of Jesus.  That comes first.  In his name we pray,  Amen.