As most of you are aware, last week I was in Washington DC attending the Festival of Homiletics – homiletics being just a fancy ten-dollar word for preaching. And what a festival it was!
Four or five sermons a day from some of the best preachers in North America – the majority of them being African American! It was a great follow up to Pentecost Sunday… and what better place to have a festival of preaching than in Washington DC…
Wait a minute you say,
Faith and politics don’t belong together…
Preachers should preach and stay out of politics
What about the separation of Church and state…
Well, have I got news for you: indeed the theme of the festival was ‘Preaching and Politics…” and, on Thursday evening 2000+ people took part in a Church service at National City Christian Church and then walked silently to the White House in support of the #ReclaimingJesus movement.
#Reclaiming Jesus is an effort by mainline denominational leaders in the United States to reclaim the moral discourse from the evangelical, fundamentalist community. Written in the fashion of the Barmen Declaration, a document composed in 1934 by Karl Barth and other Christians during the rise of Nazi Germany, it makes six statements of belief and rejection… all in an effort to remind the followers of Jesus that the movement Jesus began was in fact a political movement – debunking therefore the first two cautionary statements!
Faith and politics do belong together! And preachers should preach on politics. As to the third, the separation of Church and State… not formally proclaimed in Canada as it is in the United States, is about protecting the Church from undue influence by the state!
Said in another way by Martin Luther King “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”
So, let me be clear. This Jesus we follow who walked the world in sandals and reminded people of their worth in God’s eyes – who preached inclusion and justice, who opened the table to all and extended unmerited grace to those who saw themselves and unworthy and broken…
This Jesus who entered Jerusalem on a donkey NOT a Dassault Falcon 7X… This Jesus who stepped into circles and invited the one without sin to cast the first stone… This Jesus wasn’t trying to get his followers ready for some cushy existence beyond the clouds… No, this rabble rouser was trying to bring heaven on earth – preaching and living in ways that invited others to work with him in bringing God’s kingdom – God’s realm to earth…
Now in a world of Kings and Queens and Princes and principalities of power and control if that’s not a political movement I don’t know what is… Think about it. We say it every Sunday: thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
This is not some pious thought, some window dressing, it is a revolutionary statement and one that should, in discernment, influence our action.
Discernment. Not a weighing of the pros and cons, not a check-list of best case scenarios but discernment. Says Henri Nouwen:
Discernment, on the other hand, is about listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with God’s desire. As discerning people, we sift through our impulses, motives, and options to discover which ones lead us closer to divine love and compassion for ourselves and other people and which ones lead us further away.
At the end of the day I am not interested in your politics or mine. I’m not interested in Conservative, Green, Liberal or NDP. I want us to hear, focus on and follow Jesus’ politics. I want us to let the politics of Jesus challenge, critique, and even change our personal politics.
Jesus’ politics have implications for our lives. The politics of Jesus is different from the kind of politics most of us see, experience, and probably even practice. The politics of Jesus is driven, led, anointed, and filled by the Spirit, the life of God.
Jesus’ political identity is rooted not it party affiliation or even his constituents! No, its rooted in his baptism – in the waters of creation, the heavens that opened and the voice that speaks and declares, “You are my Child, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
From there, led by the Spirit into the wilderness he faces the great temptations and corrupters of all politics: materialism, power, self-interest – and he overcame them – by rooting himself in love.
In the dusty wasteland he claimed his identity and refined and clarified his message and the direction of his life – and he moved into the world empowered by and filled with the Spirit and taught in the synagogues of Galilee. The people liked what they heard. Jesus “was praised by everyone.”
In today’s gospel, just two chapters in, he has announced the arrival of God’s realm, called some followers, begun to teach and heal. The first is a leper, who says to Jesus “I want to be clean.” The second is a paraplegic who gets lowered into the house through the roof… and the religious authorities began to whispering among themselves… and Jesus says to the man, “Get up pick up your stretcher and start walking.”
And then, of all things, he has supper with a tax collector – likely a Jew like Jesus who had bought his way into a cozy job and who now was hated by all – collecting taxes from those who could not pay and from those who didn’t want to part with any of their wealth!
And then, the story we heard a few moments ago: where the religious leaders accuse Jesus and his followers of breaking the rules. And Jesus says, “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless? No one said a word…
From here on out everything Jesus does will be grounded in a politics of good news: release from bondage, restoration of sight, freedom from oppression, and divine favour. His politics is revealed in healing the sick, casting out demons, forgiving sins, feeding the hungry, raising the dead. His politics stands at the center of and is the content of his crucifixion and resurrection.
At the heart of Jesus’ politics is an unspoken and yet ever present question: Where does it hurt? Where does it hurt?
A little over a year ago this question formed some of the basis of my interview with the Joint Search Committee when I was called to the Sackville Pastoral Charge and grounded a letter I wrote to the Pastoral Charge in response to the call that was extended to me.
Where does it hurt? That’s the question that drives and directs Jesus’ life and ministry.
Where does it hurt? What could 4.5 billion dollars (the cost of Trudeau’s Trans-Mountain Pipeline) do to address hurt in this country?
Could it help to provide Canadians with living wages so that people aren’t struggling just to stay alive?
Could it contribute to the establishment of a universal childcare program so that single parents don’t go into debt for proper care?
It could go a long way toward helping us a nation adapt to the unprecedented impacts of a warming planet – or at the very least, strengthen Alberta’s economy through jobs training and up-skilling oil sands workers to assist in the inevitable transition away from the fossil fuel industry?
Or, perhaps on a most basic level, $4.5 billion could provide access to clean drinking water for Indigenous communities – with a billion dollars to spare?
Jesus’ politics is large and all encompassing. No one gets left out. Jesus does not put conditions or qualifiers on his politics. Divine love knows no boundaries and has no favourites. That’s what upsets and angers the religious leaders of the day!
Jesus’ political agenda is not determined or influenced by who is in or who is out, who is good or bad. It doesn’t seem to matter to Jesus who you are, what you have done or left undone, or what you life is like.
It’s really pretty simple. Are you poor? Good news to you. Are you a captive? Release for you. Are you blind? Sight to you. Are you oppressed? Go in freedom. Divine favour is not given to the poor, the captive, the blind, or the oppressed because they are good or righteous but because God is good and righteous.
So let me ask you this. How does the politics of Jesus compare with your own?
How does it compare with the rhetoric and rubric of our present political leaders?
Good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, declaring God’s favour. If that’s the politics of Jesus and we claim to be disciples, followers, lovers of Jesus, doesn’t it need to be our politics?
What if we adopted Jesus’ political platform as our own? What if we began our political thinking and conversations by asking, “Where does it hurt?” What if we entered those difficult and divisive situations with that question? What if we let that question establish our priorities and guide our decisions?
Presence with and compassion for another human being would replace resolving issues, fixing problems, and winning votes. We would listen more than we speak. Power would look like cooperation and collaboration. We would have to have the courage and will to stand with another in his or her pain, and the vulnerability to risk letting another stand with us in our pain. We would open rather than close places, people, and ourselves to the divine favour. We would know the fulfillment of “this scripture” here, today, right now.
That’s the kind of politics I want to support and be a part of. How about you? If so, I hope you’ll join others in supporting the resolution to become and Affirming congregation – because believe you me… this is a political act!*
* The ending at Upper Sackville was slightly different – something like, “Let us leave this place and practice Jesus politics – looking for the hand outstretched for a cup of water, a bit of bread, shelter from the rain, refuge from the pain… and let us love. Let us love and in that loving bring healing…