Sunday, July 17, 2016

Conventions & Kingdoms

It's that time again in the United States when political conventions are upon us. As we watch both candidates promoting their platforms and selling their idea of the direction the country needs to take. It will be a big dog and pony show with lots of spectacle. What Christians need to keep in mind with both are that neither will be the Sermon on the Mount. 

Last week I finished reading 2nd Kings. As I came to the end of the book, I couldn't help but wonder what sort of reception either candidate would get if they were like King Josiah and stood before their people, opened up a Bible and addressed everyone watching with, "I made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all of my heart and all of my soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book?" 

What reaction would the political pundits have?

What would be the response on social media?

How would even Christians respond to a platform that starts off with, "Blessed are the poor in spirit?"


We want greatness! We want a leader who promises wealth and success and security. Jesus offered none of those things. While many strive to be in the seats of power, Jesus sought to dine in the houses of the powerless and to be a servant. While people battle to rise up the ladder of privilege and authority, Jesus understand the true power of downward mobility. His kingdom was not what the world or the religious figures of his day wanted. It's not what many who claim to follow him now want. 

We want the white horse with the sword brandished high and gleaming. Not the entry on the back of an ass' foal. That's not humbling that's humiliating. 

Jesus was not a political figure but his actions had political ramifications and upended the structure of power that our world aspires to. He was a threat to their order. He still is.

You don't hear politicians stating, "Blessed are the merciful . . ." Isn't mercy weakness?  We must show authority and strength to our enemies. What? Pray for our enemies? Only a madman or a fool would say such things. In his book God's Politics: Why The Right Gets It Wrong And The Left Doesn't Get It, Jim Wallis writes, "Christ instructs us to love our enemies, which does not mean a submission to their hostile agendas or domination, but does mean treating them as human beings created in the image of God and respecting their human rights as adversaries and even as prisoners." 

Yet if we want real restoration in our country then we must have true humility. "If my people, who are called in my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2nd Chronicles 7:14). 

If only our public servants really did have a servant's heart then how much more would they accomplish in our capitals?

If only they saw their serving in the light of Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves." 

Jesus would not get the nomination of either party just as he angered the Essenes and Zealots of his day. He does not conform to our image of a leader or ruler is. That's why he never took on the politically charged titles of "Messiah" or "Son of God" because he understood how those were perceived and would not even allow them their false expectations. It's why he would not take the bait of any of Satan's temptations of wealth and power and earthly glory. It's why he told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." And it's not. It's also why Christ called for us to pray "on earth as it is in heaven." He is about redemption, not only of our souls but of our planet. He is for restoration of his people to God and of creation to its Creator. He came into this world to both heal and transcend it.

Jesus is not interested in creating borders or nations. He is not building walls but in tearing the existing walls down. Which is why he has called us to "love thy neighbor" (And who is our neighbor? Everyone!) and "to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us." Neither sentiment would poll well.

But Jesus doesn't care about polls, he cares about people. 

Jesus is not interested in what pleases man, but what pleases his Father.

He is not here to enact the "will of the people" but the "will of the Father."

Jesus is not interested in the establishment but in establishing his holy and righteous reign in the hearts and lives of godly men and women.

His platform is sacramental and sacrificial. Is it any wonder then that he was met with such fierce resistance? And still is?

Too often we view our faith not through the kingdom but through our country, the American dream, and our political beliefs. But we must remember that Jesus is not this:

Jesus is not American. He is not liberal or conservative; Republican or Democrat or Green or Independent. He does not toe a party line. None can hold claim to him, not even for their own political gain. 

Nor did Jesus run on the stance "Make Israel great again!" 

He was not concerned with the political status of any nation, but how that nation stood in relation to God. When he saw his land in those terms, he wept. He is not about creating an empire like Rome's. He did not want to be in a palace or, even in our White House. "Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head." And that's who we are supposed to follow? A homeless man? 

I love how Rich Mullins put it in one of his last songs, "Cause the world can't stand what it can't own / And it can't own You 'cause You did not have a home." That makes people mighty uncomfortable. That's not capitalism (although true freedom can't be bought and sold in the free market). That's not the American dream.

What most people don't understand, though, is as Dr. Cornel West wrote, "To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely - to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away." Christ is offering something greater than an empire or nation. In response to the Pharisees inquiring about when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus told them, "My kingdom is not of this world. For behold, the kingdom of God is within you." He is not promoting a Jewish nation, a Roman nation or an American nation. For him, deliverance comes with repentance, not through military liberation. Not something many today want to hear.

So as we approach these conventions, we need to stop focusing so much on candidates who will fail us, will not keep their promises and are motivated by self-interest. Our faith is not in earthly principalities, rulers and authorities. Instead we must focus on the One who, as Colossians 1:16 reminds us, "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earthy, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him."

Yet as we prayerfully consider those who are running in our elections, we need to look past the soundbites and the coverage. We must look through the lens of Christ. How do they line up? While none will completely, I also don't believe that we are called to vote for what we consider the lesser of two evils. We cannot simply vote for one candidate merely because we will not vote for the other.

Are we the wise man who's building his house on the rock or the sand when we cast our ballots?

If Jesus were to stand before either party at their convention and he had spoken those same words he spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, would they be like those who heard him? Would they, too, be "amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law"? Or would they scoff? Would they jeer? Would they boo?

How would we respond to his incendiary ideas?

How are we responding having read those very words?

Do we live them or dismiss them? Would we roll our eyes and say, "That's not practical." Jesus is not concerned with the practical but with the intentional with the transformational. Like Annie Dillard said, "The dedicated life is the life worth living. You must give with your whole heart." Christ did and, as his followers, so should we.

Only when we honestly try to live out the Sermon on the Mount and attempt to bring about "on earth as it is in heaven" will we slowly begin to see that its not just "One nation under God" but a whole world that we are working for. As Gandhi once said, "If Christians were like Christ, all of India would have believed." As followers of Christ, we are not called first and foremost to be Americans, Democrats or Republicans, Conservatives or Liberals. No, we are called to be a city on a hill and the light of the world. We are called to Christ-likeness. 

So instead of chanting political slogans during this highly charged season in our country, we should, instead, repeat with our words and our lives, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done."

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