September 18, 2011
Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)
I am always amazed when I hear someone say that because the Bible is an old book it doesn’t merit our attention. I was listening to a morning show on the radio a couple of years ago and one of the hosts started into some Bible-bashing by asking what relevance would such an old book have on today’s world. Amazing. The Bible is certainly an old book, but it remains as contemporary as this morning’s newspaper. In fact, the Bible has much to say about what we read in today’s newspaper. The Bible has much to say about today’s world because, in many ways, the world hasn’t changed all that much. From the earliest pages of Genesis to the final pages or Revelation we see themes that are still playing out every day in world. We have made tremendous strides in technology – we have cars, computers, amazing medical technology – but the basics themes of humanity – love, hate, conflict, redemption, temptation, forgiveness, jealousy – all those types of themes – are the same today as they have been since the beginning of time.
As we return to the Lord’s Prayer this morning, we come to the phrase, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That short phrase encompasses so much as we consider the two kingdoms in which we live – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. There is a lot of tension between those two kingdoms, and this morning, we will consider Bringing Heaven to Earth – the establishment of the kingdom of God in this life.
Jesus spent a lot of time teaching about the kingdom of God, and in short, what Jesus was trying to get us to picture when he talks about the kingdom of God is this – to whom does the world belong, depending on the answer, how should it be run?
(God & Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now, John Dominic Crossan, page 117).
I think it’s safe to say much of the way our world is run is not the design that God had in mind. The level of conflict between nations and individuals; the destruction of the physical world; the millions in desperate need of even the most basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing are surely evidence of the need for the kingdom of God to come in its fullness to our world.
The prayer of Jesus reflects God’s desire for a different kind of world. It reflects God’s desire for peace among people and nations; it reflects God’s desire that we care for creation; it reflects his desire that people not suffer from want, and they do not suffer from want because there is justice and not just charity. Charity is a wonderful thing, but it would be wonderful if people had enough that it were not needed.
I believe that in the Lord’s Prayer, and particularly in this phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus calls us to the politics of the kingdom of God. The politics of the kingdom of God are very different from what comes to mind when we use the word politics. Most of us become weary of the political battles we see waged in our society and the gridlock and all that comes with the politics of the earthly kingdom. But the politics of the kingdom of God are very different from earthly politics, as Jesus demonstrated.
Jesus was extremely political. His message and his ministry had tremendously important implications. The religious and political leadership of Jesus’ day opposed him because they understood that much of what Jesus said was directed at them and the way they were running the world. The multitudes loved to listen to Jesus, in part, because he spoke against those who were leading the earthly kingdom that was making their lives so difficult.
The example of Jesus, I believe, teaches us –
We are called to move our faith beyond being purely personal.
In our nation we have the separation of church and state, and I believe that is an important concept. We don’t need a state church, we don’t need the state interfering with church, and we don’t need the church seeking to govern.
But separation of faith and politics is something entirely different. Separation of church and state does not mean that faith should not have something to say about the policies of government and the effect of those policies upon the lives of people. Jesus taught by word and deed that we are called to make our faith public in the sense of challenging the world when the world oppresses people and treats people unfairly. Jesus dared to challenge the way things were. He dared to speak against the oppression of people. He dared to challenge both the religious and spiritual authorities because of what they were doing to people.
It is absolutely necessary, I believe, that from a perspective of faith we remind our elected officials they should never forget the least of these as they fashion political policies. We live in a time when the poor are getting poorer, and it’s not as simple as saying it’s because people are lazy and don’t try. The structures of society – the kingdom of the world – are often designed in a way that makes it difficult for some people to get ahead in life. The Old Testament prophets make it very clear that God’s desire is that the poor are never forgotten. The prophets never hesitated to challenge the rulers of Israel when it came to treating people fairly and justly.
When Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple, he was making a very pointed accusation – the system that was oppressing so many people – the political system of the day – was finding support of the religious system. Instead of seeking justice for people, the religious leaders and the religious system of the day was complicit in oppressing people. There was a religious sanctioning of oppression. Instead of standing up for the least of these, the religious leaders were a part of the oppression of the least of these. It was a huge indictment against the religious leaders of the day.
We often see our faith as a very personal matter, and it is, but it is not just personal. Our faith has a public component because we are called to speak to the injustice and unfairness of the world that so greatly affects the lives of millions of people.
Faith is deeply political, but it is not partisan.
I was talking with someone about Billy Graham one day, and we talked about how he remained very nonpartisan despite being close to so many political figures. The other person said they had often wondered how Billy Graham was registered, but assumed he was a Republican. I replied that I had watched an interview when Graham had revealed he was a life-long Democrat. The other person seemed very disappointed when I told him of Graham’s political affiliation. I reminded him it would be expected that someone of Graham’s generation who grew up in his part of the country would be registered as a Democrat. It bothered the other person a great deal that Billy Graham was a Democrat. Their parting words, as we ended the conversation, were he may be a Democrat, but I’m certain he votes Republican!
I have heard people say it is impossible to be a Democrat and a Christian, or a Republican and a Christian, or a member of the Green Party and a Christian, or an Independent and a Christian, or Libertarian and a Christian. The truth is, Christianity is not exclusive to any political party. As the bumper sticker says, Jesus is not a Republican, or a Democrat.
I find political movements that try to co-opt Jesus to be rather puzzling. What would Jesus drive? Where would Jesus shop? I think those kinds of movements mean well, but I don’t know what Jesus would drive. I don’t know where he would shop. But I think he would have something to say about a lifestyle that is in constant motion and fails to park the car and sit and be quiet. I think he would have something to say about compulsive shopping to try and fill some kind of need within us. Jesus said quite a bit about material possessions but he never told anyone where to shop.
If we align our faith with a partisan point of view we are doing exactly what Jesus condemns in the gospels, which is to give a religious sanctioning to an earthly political system. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a political point of view; it does mean that it is a point of view reflecting a heavenly rather than earthly kingdom.
But faith has political implications. Faith ought to have something to say about a system that would put you or me in jail if we rob a bank but when those at the highest echelon of the banking industry bring our nation’s economy to the edge of collapse they are rewarded with millions of dollars.
Being God’s kingdom.
Political success and spiritual success are not the same things. Some believe the advancement of the kingdom of God is best done through the political process. But the early church didn’t organize voter drives, organize protests, or lobby in Rome. They just did their work, living out the love of Christ.
What would God’s kingdom look like? Perhaps the best way to visualize God’s kingdom on earth is found in Acts 2:42-47 –
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.