Friday, September 22, 2017

Let Your Light Shine (Matt 5:14-16; Mark 12:13-17) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Let me ask you this question, is our nation engulfed in political turmoil?  Is the Pope Catholic?     Here’s a test for you.  Just say to a group of people, friends or strangers: “I love Donald Trump” or “I hate Donald Trump” and see what happens.

Our turbulent times revolve around political and social issues and political personalities.  People it seems for the most part, argue, rant and rave about, rather than rationally discuss issues today.  The tone of political discourse is bad.  Some people including Christian leaders, have said on Facebook, “If you voted for the person I didn’t vote for, I will unfriend you.”   We daily see examples of finger pointing, blaming, fraud, divisiveness, name calling, character assassination, cover-ups, politicizing, investigations on questionable grounds, fear, distrust in our elected leaders, party loyalty over national loyalty, baseless accusations, and incidents of some of the media reporting stories based on rumor or hearsay.  What fun.  What a great time to be alive.  

The question is: How do we as Christians and as a church follow Jesus in such a politically charged and polarized climate?

We know that politics is a broad concept and has multiple meanings, positive and negative.  Governing, running the government, getting things done in cities, counties, states and at the Federal level is politics.  Another meaning relates to power, using power to further one’s personal or political agenda, using power to defeat or demonize your opponent whether a person or a political party, using power for personal and political gain, rather than the common good.  From any office in the land to the office of the White House politics has been around since the first society was established.

The complex and controversial issues today are seemingly endless:  healthcare, homelessness, racism, religious liberty, LGBT issues, elections, the role of the media, immigration, gun ownership and control, energy policies, tax reform, military spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the infrastructure, sanctuary cities, federal versus state authority, employment, climate change, free speech, hate speech and incidents of violence associated with it,  and being true to the constitutional balance of powers between the three branches of government to name a few.

Politics existed in Jesus’ day.  In our lesson from the Gospel of Mark, the religious leaders try to trap Jesus with a political question.  No, they didn’t ask it because they were simply interested in Jesus’ thinking about taxes.   They knew taxation was a hot button issue.  They decide to politicize the subject of taxes by asking Jesus a question designed to get him in trouble no matter what his answer.  Jesus was growing in popularity.  Crowds were getting larger. Jesus was a threat. The religious leaders wanted to get rid of him once and for all.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor or not?”  If Jesus said “no, it’s not lawful,” he and his fellow Jews would incur the wrath of the Roman government for advocating breaking the law and inciting a tax revolt among the Jews.   If he said “yes, it’s lawful,” he would incur the anger of Jews who hated the Romans and were already overtaxed.   Jesus’ answer – “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperors and to God the things that are God’s,” amazed the religious leaders.  Their strategy failed, at least this time.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to his followers: “You are the light of the world, let your light shine before others.”  The question is how do we as a church do that?  It’s easier said than done in today’s climate.  The thing is that Christians, churches, have different answers; we don’t agree on the answer to this question about how we shine the light of God to the world.

One answer is chill out, forget about it, the political atmosphere today is no different than any other time in our history.  It’s politics as usual.  Get over it.  It’s the same old thing. It’s nothing to be concerned about.  Every president, every administration, has had its problems.

Another answer is stay out, stay out of politics.  That is not the church’s business.  The church must keep out of the political and social issues of today.  Never bring issues up in worship, that is, in sermons or prayers or even in adult classes.  Stay on the sidelines.  Let people vote on politics as American citizens, but stay out as a church.  Some churches do.

A further answer is get involved, but don’t take sides, try to stay neutral, non-partisan, and fair.  Realize that people in the church have different viewpoints.  We don’t all agree.  Some people are liberal and some conservative, some Republican and some Democrat, and others are Libertarian or unaffiliated.  The idea here is let’s work together in the world for the Lord.  Don’t condemn this political figure or that political party.   Pray for God to guide the church on what issue or issues it should become involved in.  God loves the world and wants his followers to engage in His work in the world.

Another answer is take sides; the church should be in the forefront of political involvement. We saw it in the American Revolution.  We saw it in the Civil Rights Movement.  Be honest and say - our church is liberal or our church is conservative.  Promote, be an advocate for the issues which support your perspective.   For example, the worship committee and I could bring in political speakers and analysts from time to time.  Worship could on occasion become like watching CNN or Fox news.  Some churches do.

I have had people, not church members, but people outside the church ask me, “Where does your church stand on immigration?  You are close to the border.  Do you believe in building a wall?”  If I say yes, I’m a racist and bigot and so is our church to some, and if I say no, I am anti-American and a law breaker to others, since I’m not endorsing America’s history of orderly legal immigration.  I answer by saying I am not speaking for the church, but here is my opinion.  I speak for myself.  How do we follow Jesus in such politically turbulent times?  I offer these guidelines.

As followers of Jesus, who sent his disciples into the world, to engage in their mission, we need to engage in issues and problems of the world, but give our ultimate allegiance to no one party or leader.  We certainly give our allegiance to our government, we are Americans, but our ultimate allegiance, our ultimate loyalty, belongs to God alone.  We follow Jesus’ principle about rendering unto Caesar and rendering unto God.   We place our deepest trust in Jesus alone.

Second, as Jesus’ followers we proclaim the worth of every human being, no matter their birth, gender, ethnicity, culture, or creed, because they bear the image of God and are the object of his costly love in Jesus’ death on the cross.   We proclaim that God is a God who created and loves every human being and therefore is deeply concerned about justice and compassion and the welfare of the poor.

Third, as Jesus’ followers we need to train ourselves to listen to others even when we disagree.  Communicate reasonably.  Listen respectfully and patiently.  No personal ad-hominem attacks.  Be bridge-builders.  Be a Christ-like example.  As one pastor said: “Jesus started a revolution that still changes the world. But it is not rooted in coercive human power; it is rooted in God’s love.”  People do get rather emotional and unreasonable discussing politics.  It becomes extremely important, as a follower of Jesus, to control your emotions to an extent so we can communicate with those with whom we disagree.  We should try to speak with facts as well as opinions.  Is this easy? No, but this is what Jesus wants of his followers as a way of obeying his command to love our neighbor.

Fourth, as Jesus’ followers we should be informed.  Study the issues.  Read about them. Think about them.  Talk about them with both people you agree and disagree with.  Connect your thinking to scripture and to your faith.  Try to speak from your understanding of God and your faith in Christ.

Fifth, as Jesus’ followers we must remember our central mission.  We are a church which operates in a broken world.  Our mission according to Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28 is to go out and make disciples, to witness to the gospel of God’s saving love in Jesus by word and deed.  We are not in the policy-making business; we are in the disciple-making business.

Sixth, as Jesus’ followers we should continually engage in prayer.  Prayer changes things. God responds to prayer.  Jesus called us to pray: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  I Timothy says: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

A Christian said: “I realized there have been presidents where I spent more time complaining about them than praying for them.”   A pastor wrote: “It’s interesting that the Bible never commands us to complain about our leaders or to defend them.  But it says a lot about praying for them.” Pray for our nation. I am committed to praying for our President and our government and our country daily.  How about you?  Pray for the media. Pray for people who feel vulnerable.  Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44-45)

Seventh, as Jesus’ followers we must act wisely.  “Be as gentle as doves and wise as serpents” Jesus teaches.  We must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We are tax exempt as a church.  Churches and religious organizations have a tax exempt status under the Internal Revenue Service.  There are certain rules which must be followed.  There is a line that one needs to be careful not to cross.  By breaking this rule, the IRS may deny or revoke the tax-exempt status of the church.

Jesus never called his followers to be passive, to run, to hide, to become hermits.  Jesus said go into all the world.  God so loved the world.  Jesus calls his followers to act, to teach, to serve, to witness, to care for the least of these, to love their neighbor, to give sacrificially, to share joyfully and to make disciples.

Yes, it’s a great challenge for Christians and the church today.  Maybe it has been for every generation through the centuries.  Let’s trust in God, for Christ is coming and will establish a new earth.  Trust in God, in God’s power and grace.  Let us be a light to the world and let our light shine before others.    Amen!

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