kingdom

A Little Bit About Faith and Politics

It’s election season.

This past week I saw on Facebook an image of a roasted turkey with the words “Thanksgiving: A Time to Convince Your Family Not to Vote for the Political Party They Are Voting For.” Elections are important. They speak to some of our deepest concerns, dreams, and values. They can be occasions of tremendous hope and change. But they can also be divisive, emotional, and even nasty as we have already seen on the campaign trail. This thanksgiving I jokingly told one person that perhaps we should just stick to discussing sex and religion at the dinner table for the time being just to avoid family conflict!

You may have also noticed that I generally steer clear of specific politics as your Pastor. There are a lot of reasons for this. Divisiveness is one of them, certainly. But it goes deeper than that. I believe that it’s far too easy to equate one’s personal political opinions and partisan preferences with God’s opinions. As someone who has been untrusted with a position of leadership in this faith community, I believe that passing off my own partisan political opinions would be an abuse of that relationship and a breach of the mutual trust that we share in our life together. I am entrusted with the Good News of Jesus Christ first and foremost. And it is not affiliated with any political party.

Having said that, this does not mean the Good News is only “spiritual” or a-political. It’s not that we believe as the church that “faith and politics don’t mix,” or that spirituality is private and politics are public. If “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” that all of life belongs to God, as the Psalmist says, surely God is as concerned with what governments do God as what individual people do. And if we proclaim Jesus as “Lord” in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, and “our judge and our hope” in the words of a New Creed, surely we follow Jesus not only into our houses and workplaces, but into the election booth as well. Being a disciple involves just as much concern with the common good for all people and all creation as it does the individual good life.

With all of this in mind, I invite us to consider two things before and after this election:

First, as a community of faith our identity as children of God and Disciples of Christ is more important than our party affiliation. Our baptismal certificates matter more than our party memberships. While the name of the game in politics is to divide, we are a community that prizes unity, compassion, love, and mutual respect. This means that we are committed to love one another and to be in relationship with each other through our deepest disagreements. This is what living in covenantal community means.

The second is connected to the first: we do not wipe off our baptisms when we enter polling stations or the public square. Our political lives belong to God as well. As in all areas of our lives, we are invited to look at the world as it is, and ask the question, “is this what and how God wants our world to be?” From the care of those who Jesus calls "the least of these" and reconciliation with our First Peoples, to generous hospitality towards refugees and immigrants, to the integrity of God’s good creation. Regardless of the political party or candidate we vote for or the outcome on October 19th, we all pray together the same prayer that says “thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In all of these things we must ask not what decisions might only be best for us as individuals and families, but what decisions our leaders make best reflect God’s will and dream for the earth as a whole.

So my friends, whether you are heading to the polls on Monday, or have already done it; if you are involved in the political process in any way helping candidates or knocking doors; or if you are on the ground working for the common good in other less formal ways; no matter what you’re up to this election season, simply remember who you are: disciples of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace who came to bring life, and life abundant for us and all creation. May we be Christ's instruments of peace in all that we do and say.

Sermon: "Earth Invaded by Heaven," June 21, 2015 Lord's Prayer Series Part 2

This sermon was given as part 2 of our 4 part sermon series and adult study on "Living the Lord's Prayer." You can find out more about the series here.

June 21, 2015
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:1-4

"Earth Invaded by Heaven"
Rev. Ryan Slifka

"Psalm 85" by John August Swanson

"Psalm 85" by John August Swanson

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We started our sermon series last week with “Our Father, in heaven,” and talked a bit about God coming close, yet being beyond our imaginations. Something of a mystery we can’t see. Yet one that is close as our own breath.

God is an intangible mystery, as close as God may be. God is not concrete in the sense that we can grasp and touch God directly. And so one of the famous criticisms about Christianity, and religion in general, even, is that they are all about “pie in the sky when you die.” Not concerned with the material world. The stuff of everyday life. Or human suffering.

But then we have this next line: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “Kingdom” is a bit of an old timey-word that we in the democratic nations of the West don’t use much anymore. It conjures up images of Kings and Queens, Knights and maybe even the occasional dragon (if you watch Game of Thrones). Sometimes in the Bible it’s called God’s kingdom, sometimes the kingdom of heaven, but the meaning is the same. In the Bible it’s often imaged as what’s called the “peaceable kingdom.” Human beings put aside their warring and study peace on God’s Holy mountain. Lion’s and lambs lay down together. Human hunger and poverty are wiped out. In favor of abundance.

One of the most powerful images happens shows up in the final book. The heavenly city of Jerusalem comes down from the clouds to earth. A tree of life grows up in the midst of it. All tears are wiped away. Suffering is no more. Death no longer holds power over the inhabitants of the earth. Occasionally, we have thought of God’s kingdom (or the kingdom of heaven) as some otherworldly place off in the clouds where God lives. And we go. If we are lucky. But it’s the reality of God coming to us here. It’s God’s royal rule. God’s reign, God’s realm, God’s commonwealth. What it’s like when God is in charge of things. The material world. When we pray this way we are praying for God’s invisible reality to become the visible reality of life on earth. Your kingdom come. The earth finally set right.

Which is kind of a strange thing to pray for, if you think of it. Because by praying this way, we imply that the way the world is arranged. The world as it is. Is not how things are supposed to be. That the world as we know it is not the way it is supposed to be. Or God wants it to be. When we look out on the world, look out on our country, and look in to human history we see all sorts of struggle, suffering and trouble that make us think: “that should not be.” War. Violence—both religious and secular. Inequality. Poverty. Hunger. Disease. Ecological destruction. Or when we look into our own communities. Our own backyards and in our own lives we see lives touched by brokenness and pain. Trauma. Intergenerational abuse and violence. Addiction. Cruelty. Greed. And the sometimes untimely deaths of those who we love and care for. When we encounter these things, we realize that there is something that isn’t quite right about them. There’s something deep inside us, some deep intuition that says, “this is not the way it should be.” It ought not to be that way.

“Thy kingdom come” touches that deep intuition that many of us—if not all of us hold—is true. At least according to the story of the scriptures. And according to this prayer. That the running assumption in the Bible is that the world as it is, as we see it, is not the world as it is meant to be. That things as they stand in human life are not the way that God created the world to be, nor the way God intends the world to be. It ought not to be that way. And it should be different. To pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven is to pray for a different world. A whole new one.

Now, I am well aware that talk like this can sound sentimental. Some kind of flowery, hippy-dippy talk. To say that a better world is possible. We have this temptation in the church and in society to simply think that if only people were nicer to each other. Or more educated. Or would vote for the right political party. Or recycled. Or, on the opposite side of the political spectrum—if we just threw all the bad guys in jail or killed all the terrorists. If we all just would do the right things. Then God’s kingdom would come. If only it were that easy. Because we probably would have got it done it by now.

But we have this conviction as part of our faith tradition not just that a better world is possible. If we do x, y, or z. But rather that God is already at work creating that kingdom. And it’s not just a fanciful dream. But we have received a vision of that kingdom here on earth. We have caught a glimpse of it. In the flesh. In fact, one of the first things Jesus says, in the good news according to Mark—the earliest of the accounts of Jesus—is “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God has come near. Has been inaugurated. Has become present in the here and now. In Christ we have seen that future that our hearts long for already among us. In Jesus, we see the kingdom breaking in. Heaven, the unseen beauty and reality of God, invading earth. And turning it all upside-down.

We followed the whole of the good news according to Mark from January until Easter this year. We saw Jesus ministry in full. In Christ, people experience healing. In Christ, demons—all the things that hold us captive and hold us back from life as God has always intended it—are cast out. In Christ, the hungry are fed. And those who cry out for mercy receive it. Those who are poor and those who are oppressed are given justice. And receive fullness of life. And even in his own death, the powers of the world, the power of death no longer hold their sway. Because in Christ we’ve seen the dawning of a whole new world. We have received an answer to that prayer “your kingdom come” and “your will be done.” Because heaven has touched down on earth for all the world to see.

The thing is… the good news for us, is that it means that not only the world might be different. It also means that our lives might be different, too. We pray that God’s kingdom might come. And God’s will be done. That heaven might invade our own lives, too. Here and now. It means that we can experience healing an wholeness for ourselves and in our relationships. Forgiveness is possible. For us and others. It means that we can be set free from our own demons that hold us back from fullness of life. Addictions, histories of violence, and family abuse. It means that the alleviation of poverty, hunger, homelessness and disease, are not just idealistic pipe-dreams. But God’s will and God’s way, God’s dream for the earth. Because for those of us who have seen that glimpse of God’s kingdom. Have seen a better way. Won’t settle for anything less any more.

Brothers and sisters: we pray “your kingdom come” and “your will be done” with a sense of incredible hope. And expectation. That the world, and our lives, not only ought not to be that way. But that they don’t have to be that way, either. And are, in fact, not gonna be that way in the end. We can start again. Because we have seen the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible.[1] Walking the earth. In the flesh. Feeding, healing, and raising the dead. In Christ there is resurrection. In Christ there is new life. God’s future kingdom can be known. Can be experienced. In the here and the now. And always.

And so we pray “thy kingdom come” and “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Because our eyes have already seen the glory of the coming of the LORD.

Amen.

[1] I owe the phrase “that better world our hearts know is possible” to my friend Trevor, who got it from Charles Eisenstein. See Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, North Atlantic Books, 2013.

Following the sermon, the congregation was invited to sing "O Day of God, Draw Nigh," a hymn that, in similar fashion to the prayer, calls for God's kingdom to come. The tune is the well-known St. Michael, from the 16th century Geneva Psalter. The words, however, were written by R.B.Y. Scott, a United Church Minister and world-renowned scholar on biblical wisdom literature. Written in 1937, at the height of the Great Depression, the hymn reflects the deep social concern of the Biblical story:

O day of God, draw nigh
in beauty and in power;
come with your timeless judgment now
to match our present hour.

Bring to our troubled minds,
uncertain and afraid,
the quiet of a steadfast faith,
calm of a call obeyed.

Bring justice to our land,
that all may dwell secure,
and finely build for days to come
foundations that endure.

Bring to our world of strife
thy sovereign word of peace,
that war may haunt the earth no more,
and desolation cease.

O day of God, draw nigh
as at creation's birth;
let there be light again,
and set your judgments on the earth.