190818 – Politics and Religion

Yr C ~ Pentecost 10 ~ Luke 12:49-56

It has been said that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite company. But then, this isn’t polite company. This is church.
And in case you think I’m just making a flippant joke, I’m not.
Polite company is all about putting social graces above all else – about keeping things light and uncomplicated – about avoiding anything of substance or import for fear of ruffling feathers or causing people to feel uncomfortable.
If you think that’s what church is about, even a little bit, then I’d suggest that you’ve never been introduced to a guy named Jesus!

So today, we’re going to talk politics and religion. I’m going to start with a disclaimer. Nothing I say today will be partisan in any way, shape, or form. By that I mean that I will not be supporting or advocating for or against any particular Canadian political party. If you think I’m saying something about a certain party, well, that’s you reading into it.
I will strictly stick to principles. If, when you apply those principles you think it’s poking at your preferred party, then that’s something you need to spend time praying about.
This sermon will be entirely non-partisan. I’m Larry Doyle and I authorize this message!

Somehow, somewhere along the line, some people seem to have gotten the bizarre idea that Jesus and Christianity were only about being nice.
‘Do good deeds and earn your way into heaven’ is a shockingly simplistic and utterly incorrect view of what we’re about here.
Jesus doesn’t champion niceness – he champions justice.
And justice usually demands confrontation and conflict – because those who hold power and cause injustice (whether they realize they’re doing so or not) don’t like to be challenged or told they’re wrong – and they certainly are reluctant to just let go of the power they enjoy.

This group of topical sermons that I’ve been preaching this month has turned into an inadvertent series. We began two weeks ago by taking a look at all the components of our worship service, then last week we looked in depth at our mission statement. So we started with deepening one’s experience on a Sunday morning, then talked about deepening one’s experience as a disciple of Jesus and a church member, and today we’re talking about taking all that and applying it out there in the real world.

That’s a really important concept.
Church stuff isn’t just for church.
What we’re doing here is not confined to this hour, or this place. God’s clear call for us is for transformation – first of ourselves, and then of the world.

In Hebrew there’s a phrase – tikkun olam – which means any activity that seeks to heal and improve the world, and brings it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created.

In Greek there’s a word for the well-being of the world – for the building up of life, health, and sustainability of the city, our communities, and all within them. That word is polis – and that is where we get our word politics from.
Tikkun olam/the healing of the world, and polis/politics, are absolutely what we’re supposed to be about beyond this place.

We come here to feed our spirits and fuel our way.
We come here to open ourselves to transformation.
We come here to learn how to love God, love people, and love one another ever more deeply and fully.
And then – and this is the really important part – we take all that transformational love and head out from here and go out into the world and share it, apply it, wield it, stand on it, live it.

And here’s a promise for you. I promise that the moment you take your transformed (and transforming) self out there and try to live out the love, and worldview, and ethical stance, and heart for justice that Jesus teaches – as soon as you tune your heart to the healing of the world – as soon as you begin to apply your faith to your politics – well, you are going to encounter pushback, conflict, opposition, and, I’m sad to say, nastiness.

Listen to this scripture passage from Luke 12 again, this time from The Message translation of the bible. Jesus says:

49 “I’ve come to start a fire on this earth – how I wish it were blazing right now!
50 I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up – how I long for it to be finished!
51 Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!
52 From now on, when you find five in a house, it will be – Three against two, and two against three;
53 Father against son, and son against father; Mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; Mother-in-law against bride, and bride against mother-in-law.”
54 Then Jesus turned to the crowd: “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’ – and you’re right.
55 And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’ – and you’re right.
56 Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.

‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ appears to be on holidays here.
Instead, we get a Jesus who is telling it straight.
Read the bible. I mean really read it. The main topics are not about where we’ll spend eternity.
The main topics are about justice, and power, and human dignity, and an ethic that is so immersed in God’s love and holiness that anything that does not reflect that beautiful light needs to be challenged.
God’s constant refrain is justice: that it’s hard, or that it’s costly does not diminish its necessity.
The bible is filled with prophets who dare to speak truth to power, and focus God’s holy light on the state of our society, and invite us – no, implore us, badger us, challenge us – into transformation and change.

Jesus said, I’ve come to start a fire on this earth – how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up – how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!”

“Turn everything rightside up,” he says – because too often the way we do things has turned God’s intention for the world to be ‘blessed and loving’ upside down.
We’ve screwed it up. Jesus teaches us how to fix it.
But let’s not pretend that his prescription is going to be painless.
Shining God’s light into places we’d rather it not illuminate – whether that’s in our own lives or in the way we do society – is uncomfortable, and it’s going to cause upset and division.

And then Jesus talks about households divided, and families standing against one another. If you’ve ever been part of a big family gathering where religion and politics start to get discussed you know all about families standing against one another! It ain’t pretty!

Our religion, our faith journey, shapes who we are at a fundamental level.
How can we not talk about that? How can who I am at my deepest level offend you?
It may offend you if I tell you that you have to be just like me – but that’s different.
That’s not about my faith anymore; it’s about me telling you you’re wrong.
That doesn’t heal the world. That doesn’t build the community.
So it’s not the topic of religion per se that’s the problem – it’s what we tend to say about it, and how we try to use it as a weapon to win an argument. That is not loving.
No wonder such talk causes divisions.
But it doesn’t have to.

Similarly, talking politics does not have to divide and offend, but it usually does, because we don’t actually talk politics; we talk partisanship.
Remember what politics actually means: it’s about the building up of the life, health, and sustainability of the city, our communities, and all within them.
Partisanship, on the other hand, is about how my party’s plan is right and your party’s plan is evil.
No wonder such talk causes divisions.
But it doesn’t have to.

Listen to this advice offered on our denomination’s website.
Here’s our Church’s view about why our faith must be used to inform and engage our politics:

“If we are to build a just society and a caring world, we are, as people of faith, called to discern which leaders and their parties will help make that happen. If we are to be part of a society that honours diversity, opposes hate and xenophobia (which is the irrational fear of the ‘other’), and is open to people fleeing persecution (again, read the bible where it clearly says we’re to welcome the alien, offer hospitality to the stranger, and protect the refugee), we must call on candidates during campaigns and political leaders to uphold these values in political discourse and in action.”

This is not about partisanship. This is about tikkun olam – healing the world.
This is about politics – building healthy, sustainable communities.
We do have an election coming this fall, and I do encourage you to vote – but I will not tell you from this pulpit who to vote for. That’s up to you to figure out.
If you think I’m picking on your preferred political party then your quarrel isn’t with me – it’s with Jesus.
And if you think I’m supporting a given party then, again, that’s just your interpretation of how faith values align with a given party.
I have not said a single partisan thing today, but I suspect I’ve ruffled some feathers, either by going too far, or not going far enough.

Luke 12:51 Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!

Our faith journey helps us form a set of values and principles that we’ve discerned as God’s desire for the world, that we’ve learned through the person and teaching of Jesus, through creation itself, through the bible, and through our community of faith. (That’s right out of our mission statement, by the way.)
If we don’t take those values and principles and apply them out there in the world then all we’re accomplishing here is an hour of feel-good hiding from the world.

I think this is the part that upsets me so much when I watch the news.
When I see people who trumpet their Christian faith as loudly as they can, and then sit idly by, or worse, actively and vocally support things that are clearly ‘black letter’ contradictions to the plain message of scripture – and sadly, the news is overflowing with far too many sickening examples to name here – well, I just don’t know how to process that.

I don’t want to be judgemental, but there’s no way to call things like white supremacy, or immigration hatred, or crass capitalism and greed, or denying the essentials of human care, anything but what they are: contrary and antithetical to the teaching of Jesus.
And no, it’s not just happening in our neighbours to the south – these sentiments and policies are all over the world, and they’re here in Canada too.

I don’t expect everyone to be a Christian.
But I do expect all Christians to love God, love their neighbour (whoever they are, whatever they look like, wherever they’re from), and to love one another instead of demonizing one another.
Of course, none of us are perfect, and we all stub our toes from time to time.

This is a great place to come and escape the world for a little while, to recharge your spiritual batteries, to replenish your reservoir of love.
I’m glad you’re here.
I hope you’re glad you’re here.
But you can’t stay here.
In a few minutes you have to turn around and walk through those doors. When you do, you have a very important choice to make.

Does what happens in here, and in here [your heart], make a difference out there?
Will you participate in the healing of the world – tikkun olam?
Will your polis – your neighbourhood, your community, the well-being of your society, your politics – be influenced by your transformed and transforming faith?
Will you be part of the movement that Jesus inaugurated?
Will you join him in saying, “I’ve come to start a fire on this earth – how I wish it were blazing right now!” [Luke 12:49]

My heart shall sing of the day you bring
Let the fires of your justice burn
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near
And the world is about to turn!           “My Soul Cries Out” More Voices #120