Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
July 1, 2012

Scripture:

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Itís Fourth of July weekend. On the Fourth of July we celebrate our nation, its independence and the values that, in theory at least, it represents. I donít usually build worship services around secular holidays, but I thought that the Fourth of July coming this week presented a good occasion for us to consider just what the proper relationship is between our Christian faith and our nation. The relationship that Iím talking about it usually called the relationship between faith and politics. For that way of putting the matter to be correct, however, we need to understand what the word politics really means. As I use the term here politics doesnít mean partisanship, the preference of one political party and its agenda over another political party and its agenda. Our word politics comes from the Greek word polis, which means city. In its primary definition politics means the way human societies structure their life together, how we live together in the city or other political entity. The question I wish briefly to address this morning is what is the proper relationship is between our Christian faith and the way we humans structure our life together as a society, as a nation.

Weíve all, I think, heard at least three different versions of that relationship. Briefly they are: First, a view that seeks to keep faith out of politics because it denies the validity of faith altogether and sees it as a necessarily destructive element when it speaks to political issues. This is the view of secular humanism, of atheism, of a philosophical materialism that denies the reality of the spiritual dimension of life. Second, a view that accepts the validity of faith and of a spiritual worldview but that seeks to keep politics out of religion and religion out of politics by saying that Christianity isnít political, that it is spiritual and private, not worldly and political. This is, or at least until recently was, the view of many people in the so-called mainline Christian churches like ours. Third, a view that combines Christian faith and politics but that understands the political issues of importance to Christians to be primarily socially conservative values, especially sexual values, and specifically opposition to the civil rights of sexual minorities and opposition to a womanís right to make her own decisions regarding reproduction. This of course is the position of the religious right in our country today.

I believe that none of these views is true to Jesusí approach to the relationship between faith and politics. The first, the secular humanist or atheistic view, is obviously not Jesusí view because Jesus had a thoroughly spiritual worldview, not a merely secular or materialistic one. The second view, the formerly mainline view that religion and politics are inherently separate matters that have nothing to say to each other, isnít Jesusí view because Jesusí gospel was thoroughly political. More about that in a moment. The third view, that Christian faith is political but that its political concerns are primarily homosexuality and abortion, isnít Jesusí view because Jesus said absolutely nothing about either of those issues. None of these commonly expressed views of the relationship between faith and politics correctly reflects Jesusí view of the matter.

Yet Jesus clearly had a view of the relationship between faith and politics, so there must be a fourth way in which he understood that relationship, and indeed there is. Jesusí fourth way understands that Jesusí message is inherently and necessarily political, that is that out faith has fundamental things to say about how we humans structure the way we live together in human societies. The central theme of Jesusí message is the Kingdom of God. How can a Gospel whose central theme is a kingdom not be political? Indeed, almost everything Jesus said and did had political overtones. He said that the greatest commandment is that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. We heard him say so in our first Gospel reading this morning. We donít hear that statement as political, but it is. Jesus was saying, among other things, that we are to love God and Godís kingdom more than we are to love any earthly kingdom or other political entity. The first Christian creed was the seemingly simple statement ďJesus Christ is Lord.Ē We donít hear that confession as political, but it is. It necessarily means that Caesar, whoever our current Caesar is and whatever his title may be, is not our Lord, not the one to whom we owe ultimate allegiance. Jesus is, and that statement is radically, powerfully political. When Jesus told Pilate that ďmy kingdom is not from this worldĒ as we heard in our second Gospel lesson this morning he was saying that his kingdom, unlike the Roman kingdom that Pilate served, was from God not from any earthly authority; but he was also admitting that he has a kingdom, that is, that the word from God that he brought to us is essentially political. It is about how we live together in community as much as it about how we live in our private lives.

Jesusí fourth way also understands that the political issues of central importance to Jesusí followers and all people who rightly understand religious faith are matters of justice and peace, not matters of merely private morality. Jesus said not one word about homosexuality or abortion, but he said a great many words about justice and peace. He said do not resist evil with force but resist it with creative, assertive nonviolence. He said blessed are the peacemakers, which is a thoroughly political statement that condemns the war makers in his time and in ours. He said blessed are you who are poor, a radically political statement that elevates the people upon whose subservience and poverty the privilege and the wealth of the elite rested and rests. He said blessed are the meek, a radically political statement that condemns the proud and the powerful whom the world honored in his day and honors in ours. Jesus knew and proclaimed a God whose primary characteristic is love, with love understood as giving of the self for the sake of the other. Justice is the social aspect of love. Jesusí Gospel of love is a political Gospel.

This is Jesusí fourth way of understanding the relationship between faith and politics, a way grounded in faith in God that seeks justice for Godís people and peace on Godís earth. The faith of Jesus Christ is inherently political. A teaching that divorces the Gospel from politics and makes it only a matter of personal piety may get some things about Jesusí teaching right. The Gospel of Jesus Christ does have a personal, spiritual dimension, but such a teaching leaves the Gospel incomplete. The fourth way of Jesus calls society as society and not merely people as individuals to care for the poor and vulnerable. Jesusí fourth way has, in a phrase from the great Catholic social teaching, a preferential option for the poor. It also has a preferential option for peace, peace obtained through justice and nonviolent resistance to evil. Jesusí fourth way is the way of a politics of peace and justice grounded in faith in God.

So as we celebrate our nation here in a couple of days let us remember Jesusí fourth way and how it call us to relate to our nation. It does not demand disloyalty, but it does demand that our primary allegiance be to God. It does not tell us how to vote, but it does tell us what questions to ask of our political candidates and what priorities to demand from them. Jesusí fourth way is the way of faith. It is the way of justice. It is the way of peace. May we have the wisdom and the courage to make Jesusí fourth way our way too. Amen.