Week 3 of “Should Christians Be Good Citizens?” [sermon notes below]
NOTW : “Not Of This World”
You can also listen to the audio podcast here: https://vermonthillsumc.org/podcast/christians-are-not-citizens-of-this-world-week-3/
I want to suggest that the overlap in the Venn-diagram between you and the world might be closer to a circle than you would be comfortable admitting.
And it is not your fault. This thing we call ‘Christianity’ is so thoroughly compromised with the thirst for power and control that it can be tough to know which end is up.
Even going back to the 2nd century of the church’s history you find really odd developments in the church/state relationship. For instance, at the beginning of the 3rd century, a Roman soldier could not be baptized as a Christian. By the end of that century, just 100 years later, one could not be a Roman soldier unless one was baptized as a Christian. Thus some soldiers would enter the waters of baptism and would hold their right hand above the water so that their entire body was immersed – except their sword arm.
Church history is full of these oddities and examples of compromise and corruption. The church in every era has taken its eye off the ball and been seduced by power and control, trying to take over and use the mechanism of government to legislate morality and make converts by coercion.
But that is not the role that people of god are supposed to be playing. We are called out of the world and into a form of life that is not of this world. We are in the world but our perspective is not of this world.
Whenever we forget this and begin to play by the world’s rules, we lose our witness and our voice is drowned out in the cacophony of competing loyalties and agendas.
Thinkers in the ‘3rd way perspective’ like to remind us of the ancient notion that ‘you are what you love’. We are created by our loves and the reality is that for most of us these days our loves (or desires) have been crafted for us and conditioned in us by the patterns of consumerism (capitalism), love of country (nationalism), and Christendom (Constantinian) so that we are controlled by loves that leave us unsatisfied, disempowered, and too compromised to feel like we can do much of anything besides consuming which ultimately leaves us consumed by the very things that we thought we desired.
We are to be a people who, above all, love God by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves and to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
The reason that we are so divided in this country is because that is how the game is set-up. By prioritizing “our rights” as individuals we have centered self as the location of authority and the final abettor of truth. The pieces have been set on the game board in such a way that in order to win you have to conduct yourself by a set of ‘rules’ that guarantees , in the end, that system itself is reinforced and the house wins.
You see the game of right v wrong, us v them, is a rigged. Where the game is to win an election for this flawed party or that team.
We are not called to win – we are called to witness. To be witnesses to a different way of being in the world.
The church is best when she is a minority report. The church is never supposed to be in charge or to be in control – legislating morality and dictating how people should live.
The church is to witness to a different set of priorities and loyalties – to call people to a different configuration of loyalties and entanglements of self-sacrifice and service.
She is a mirror that holds up a different kind of kingdom through her actions and provides a chance for the world to see that it is the world – and in that recognition, to repent, to turn from its ways and means to an alternative set of loyalties and priorities.
We have confused the categories. We are so compromised that we have traded our witness to a greater love for arguments about individual rights.
Look, you want to fly an American flag on the 4th of July, fine. It is ok to like where you live. I have been to Bosnia and Thailand, and Canada and whole bunch of places where people fly their flag with pride because they like where they live. Just don’t be under the impression that ‘country’ or party is your primary loyalty.
Similarly you can vote in elections if you want to. It is part of civil existence and there are a whole bunch of things, like buying groceries, that you do as a member of a society.
We would do well to understand that identity politics might be great for politics – where every person can bring their whole self to the community – but identity politics is not the gospel any more than the democratic party is not the kingdom of God. The republican party is the not the kingdom of God. If your party wins, it is not ‘the kingdom come’. The kingdom stands outside of that corrupt system and calls into the arena, “can’t you see that the whole game is rigged? ” Winning at the partisan divide still leaves us deeply divided.
To quote a famous philosopher, the right and the left in this country are both wrong … but they a right about each other. They are great at pointing out the agendas, lies, logical inconstancies of ‘the other’ side … but can see their own flaws and hypocrisy. Party loyalty has blinded them to absurdity of their own talking points and positions.
Redistricting the gerrymandered lines so that more of our team wins than their team, suspending the filibuster so that we have pass legislation by the smallest margins, changing the number of justices on the supreme court … it is game of ‘three card monte’ moving this and changing that is constant rotation of who’s in control and who has the power is an illusion. It is the wrong game and the church’s call is not to win but to witness to a different way – a better way – of being in the world: of service and sacrifice and a loyalty beyond the systems and structures and institutions of this world to a reality that is beyond the confines and configurations that you can see in lieu of one that is hidden in our hearts and minds that doesn’t originate in this world but points to a reality above (or beyond). That isn’t bogged down in the muck and mire of this system but rises above to point the way to a higher calling of love and loyalty and service that transcends the partisan divides and escapes that back-and-forth, round and round arguments of ‘my way’ and ‘my rights’ to a way of being in the world that brings about shalom community and heavenly connection so that all earthly things can prosper in collaboration with Creator and creation.
So what do we do? Well if you want to pursue this kind of an approach, I think there are 3 first steps:
- Repent of playing the game the way it is currently configured. Opt out of the Us vs. Them enemy-making machine. Step away from simple partisan politics and leave behind the agendas that we have inherited from this corrupt and compromised system.
- Allow the love of Creator to inform, reform, and transform your body, mind, and spirit – that our loves and our loyalties would be reconfigured and aligned to a higher calling that winning and control. Embrace that truth that we will never win and we are not supposed to be in control.
- Begin to pray prayers like the one that we will see in a moment – the New Zealand variation of the classic prayer that Lord gave the disciples – and open your eyes to the wider world as a whole and collective cohesive whole that is connected in a web of divine goodness and purpose.
Lord’s Prayer (New Zealand)
Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.