The Seventh Sunday of Easter – 6-2–2019 – St. Paul’s
I know from conversations with many of you that you are suffering from political fatigue. You have had enough of the rhetoric, the divisiveness, the partisanship, and therefore the last thing you want is more talk about politics, particularly when you come to church.
And I can assure you that politics is the last thing I want to talk about on this summer morning. And yet, this is the Sunday after we celebrated theAscension, that day when crucified, resurrected Jesus ascended to his Father in heaven. There, as we say in the words of the Nicene Creed, he is seated at the right hand of the Father.
That is, Jesus reigns. And that’s why we have to talk politics. Because what is politics but a claim about power? Elections are when Americans decide to whom we will give power.
Which political party is in power? we ask. Some of us think one party would use power better than another party. If a politician abuses power, or more likely, uses power in a way we don’t want it used, we vote that politician out. – Democracy
Now from what I hear, a good number of you are unhappy about the way politics is going these days. Maybe you didn’t want those in power to be in power in the first place, so I’m not sure you gave those in power a fair chance. —whether talking about previous administration or the current one—-And yet even some of you who wanted the present politicians in power to have power, you may be frustrated that they are not being powerful enough. They are failing to work out those problems and challenges the way you expected. In other words, they are not proving to be as powerful as you expected. Sure, you may be saying, If they would just leave our powerful political people alone and stop criticizing them and working against them, they could get more done. But still, you are unhappy that those in power are not as powerful to make a difference as you had hoped.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the way most of us see it, it’s not that our democratically elected politicians have too much power but rather that they have too little. Even as I use the phrase democratically elected, you may be thinking, In America, the people are supposed to have power, power over their own lives and destiny, but we’re not feeling powerful right now.
We may blame it on gridlock, or corruption inside the beltway, or self-centered politicians, but any way you name it, it’s still a sense of powerlessness.
Come on now. If you voted in past elections (and only a small percentage of you did, suggesting that many Americans have just given up on voting), did you feel a rush of power run through you as you pulled that lever in the voting booth?
Well, all of this Sunday’s scriptures, in one way or another, make a political claim, an assertion about who has power, who is in charge, who rules. Let’s focus on the psalm, of all things. A psalm is a song, sung by ancient Israel, and music. A psalm might be the last place you would expect to find politics, assertions about power, but here it is:
(1a) The Lord rules! Let the earth rejoice! Not the king rules, or the people rule, but the Lord rules. Because the Lord is in power, you might expect the psalmist to say something like, Now everybody, sing together the next verse! Everybody!
No, the psalmist calls upon the world, creation, to rejoice. (1b) Let all the islands celebrate! (Not sure what an island looks like in the act of celebration, but that’s what the psalm says.) (2) Clouds and thick darkness surround God. The image is of power, mystery, and majesty.
(3-5)Fire proceeds before him, burning up his enemies on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees it and trembles! The mountains melt like wax before the Lord.
Not just Washington, Moscow, London or Beijing—the whole world is ruled over by God. Some of you are venturing into the wonders of nature this summer including Susan and me with trips to some of our national parks where you will get to see mountains. The psalmist says, in effect, You don’t believe God is a great, majestic, powerful God? Then just look at the Rockies or stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Just look in our own back yard—Big Bend
Few of us can see the majesty of nature and not feel that the creator of all this is great and powerful.
But please note this stanza of the song: (2b)God’s throne is built on righteousness and justice. God’s power, God’s majesty, isn’t just the power to impress; it’s power for righteousness and justice. I’ve seen our politicians promise to be effective, or promise to help the middle class, or give us more jobs, or defend our borders. When’s the last time you heard a politician say, My platform is righteousness and justice? Approach ideas ands policies from a basis of righteousness ands justice rather than popularity and re-election.
God’s politics are different from ours. We vote for security, or increased military spending, or lower taxes; God’s power is on the side of justice and righteousness. Majesty, worship his majesty, we sing in one of our hymns songs. But when the psalmist sings of the majesty of God, it’s not just that majesty that makes mountains; it’s Majesty, worship his majesty, who creates justice and righteousness.
This suggests to me that the majesty of beholding the Grand Tetons might pale into insignificance when compared to the majesty of seeing right triumph over wrong or justice finally be done to the victims of injustice.
Then the psalmist makes another astounding claim: (6-9) Heaven has proclaimed God’s righteousness. . . . All those who worship images, those who are proud of idols, are put to shame. All gods bow down to the Lord! Zion has heard and celebrates, the towns of Judah rejoice, because of your acts of justice, Lord, because you, Lord, are the Most High over all the earth, because you are so superior to all other gods.
Anytime we roam the poetry and faith of Israel, it isn’t long before our idolatry is put on the table. To say that God is powerful is to imply that all other god-claimants are not. I think a link is being made here between our politics (our use and abuse of power) and our worship.
Remember back at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry? In the wilderness, Jesus is confronted by Satan, who tempts him to walk in a different direction than God intends. One of Satan’s temptations is, I’ll give you all the kingdoms of this world if you will bow down to me. Satan says, I’ll give you total power to do good in the world, if you will just worship me, thus forging some sort of link between the assumption of political power and false worship.
This suggests to me that we ought to be careful, very careful, about giving too much sanctity and glory to politics and politicians. We bow before the cross, not the flag. Our most heartfelt songs are sung to God, not to the nation.
The psalm mocks the other gods that some of the nations worship. Today, the modern nation-state is our main source of security, protection, health, and wealth. Would we be one of the nations that the psalmist says are put to shame because of our worship and honor of false gods?
On a recent panel discussion concerning the opioid crisis, a panelist said….The government needs to do more to solve the opioid epidemic in America. And I certainly agree with that sentiment.
But then someone else on the panel said, I’m sorry, but I think the government is limited in its ability to keep people from committing slow suicide. What is the government to do when people find life in this world so painful, so meaningless, that they must harm themselves with opioids?
I believe the government, and our taxes that support the government, ought to be used to alleviate human misery where they can, but perhaps we are learning all that government alone can’t do. If people bow before the gods of security, painlessness, unconstrained freedom, easy pleasure—go ahead and make your own list—then there will be a price to pay. Perhaps the sad lives of many of us and our fellow citizens are testimony to the truth of this Sunday’s psalm.
And before the singing is ended, the psalm takes yet another turn. Moving from praise for the majesty and power of God to condemnation of our worship of false gods, the psalmist extols the joy of those who worship the true God: (10) God guards the lives of his faithful ones, delivering them from the power of the wicked.
Those who give their lives to false promises and false gods are trapped in false worship. But the Lord remains faithful to those who are faithful to the Lord.
(11-12) Light is planted like seed for the righteous person; joy too for those whose heart is right. Rejoice in the Lord, righteous ones! Give thanks to his holy name!
Light and joy are promised to those whose heart is right. I don’t think it’s if-you-do-this-for-God-then-God-will-do-this-for-you. I think it’s more that right worship leads to good lives. In the worship of God—in acknowledging the power of God and the limits of our power, the gap between our politics and God’s politics of righteousness and justice—we live lives that are with the grain of the universe, aligned with reality and the way things really are.
Years ago, when our nation drifted aimlessly into yet another war in the Near East, to end all wars in the Near East, I said some negative things about the war and the administration that was leading us into war. I wasn’t surprised when a number of members of the congregation let me know that they didn’t like what I said. One of them gave me the old, You should stick to religion and stay out of politics line (which, in my experience, usually means stick to my kind of politics, not yours).
The surprising thing was that I got a letter from one of my older members, a woman who was a retired school teacher. Her letter said, in part, I was so pleased to come to church and hear you try to help us think about this coming invasion like Christians. I have been surprised to hear so little criticism of the president’s actions. I’m not necessarily determined to criticize the president, but I do come to church hoping to think like a Christian. I come to church to worship God and to repent of all the ways that I unconsciously slip into the worship of false gods.
We may differ with each other on politicians and on political parties and strategies. Can we all vow to differ as Christians, as those who come to church to focus anew upon the God who, in Jesus Christ, has so lovingly, powerfully focused upon us.
When Christians differ about politics, let’s try to let our discussions be more than a matter of the political left or the political right. Let’s let our discussions be about how best to praise God here in church so that we may better praise God in the school, supermarket, or office, in the bank and voting booth.—-through our actions and our words.
Rejoice in the Lord, righteous ones! Give thanks to his holy name!
Let us pray:
Lord, be with us during our worship this day. Help us to lay aside any claim or affection that temps us to turn toward ways other than your way. Judge our false loves and loyalties so that we might be better able to praise you, to see you as you are, and to follow you as we ought. Especially we pray for those to whom we have given power over our land. Give them wisdom and prudence in their governing.
Most of all, inspire them with your own dedication to justice and righteousness so that this land in which we live may be truly yours, full of your people who know how to praise you not only in our songs but also in the lives that we live before you. Amen.+
You reveal yourself in Jesus, your Beloved Child
who gives us a glimpse your glory
and invites us to share in the unity of all that is Holy:
the holiness that is You, your creation, your people,
united in the Spirit that breaks through all boundaries
of fear and injustice.
Meet us here today, O Unity, and teach us to be one:
One in love for each other
One in love for Creation
One in understanding with all
who find in Jesus the Way to You
One in peace with all
who find other paths to your Truth.
We ask all this in the name of Jesus,
whose fervent prayer was ever:
“May they all be one.”
Jesus prays that we might all be one:
with him, with God, with each other.
One way to respond to this prayer
is to share our gifts for the common good,
to support the body of Christ, the Church,
in its local, regional and national settings.
My fellow servants, we are one.
The bread we share makes us one.
The cup we pour makes us one.
Even as our dearest sisters and brothers
come and go from us, we are one.
Even as we scatter from this place
to so many diverse pursuits
throughout the Big Bend Region,
we are one.
With gratitude we share the Table.
With gratitude we depart.
With gratitude we release one another,
trusting in the One
Who makes us one.
As we go forth this day with the
Blessing of God Almighty…..