Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church

Who am I as a Christian in a Politicized World? Sermon Transcript

April 14th, 2016 by Pastor David Echelbarger

Lent 2016: Who Am I as an ELCA Lutheran?

March 16, 2016   Texts: Deuteronomy 10: 14-22 Matthew 25:31- 40

The following is a transcript of a sermon preached March 16, 2016, by Pastor David Echelbarger.  The Lenten Theme: Who Am I as an ELCA Lutheran?  Who am I as a Christian in a Politicized World?

Who Am I As a Christian in a Politicized World?

Who Am I As a Christian in a Politicized World?  A variety of denominations and non-denominations reflect on that differently.

Pastor Ed Dobson who died recently, was a pastor who once did everything he could to get some people elected to government.  He was the pastor of a mega church in Grand Rapids Michigan and also a key aide to Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority in the 70’s and 80’s.  Later he spent a year trying to live like Jesus which radically changed his perspective, but previously he wanted to advocate for certain candidates and get them elected to further what we saw as biblical values and morality but he ended up realizing this was not the path.  He wrote:  “I believe that people, myself included, were well-intentioned and our goals were noble, but we got caught up in the illusion that politicians really cared for us, and that political change would bring moral change.”  For him this was a dead end. Imposing religious values does not work. Why?  The political process is ambiguous, often corrupt, deceptive, often brokered behind the scenes with lobbyists.  When a church becomes embroiled in that, they become tainted and can compromise their most cherished beliefs.   Pastor Dobson realized that while you can endorse candidates because of their supposed moral stands, the politician’s religious beliefs were sometimes radically opposed to the theology of the church endorsing them.  Then the church ends up supporting what they are categorically against.  A politician can take moral stands and not be moral.  Or more commonly they can borrow moral issues as a means to be elected.

It is important to understand that the bible is not primarily concerned about morality.  It is concerned about the welfare of people, the health and healing of people, that people get enough to eat, that we care for and protect the foreigner, the outcast.   We certainly heard this in our texts today.  These are huge biblical themes, powerful rivers, sometimes composing entire books that I we rarely hear the religious right lift up.  Rather they focus on perceived moral issues that may be mentioned in the bible infrequently while neglecting the major thrust of scripture.   Jesus did not focus on personal morality and conduct.  He wanted to have relationships with people and to allow love to grow them.  Consequently he associated with tax collectors and sinners and was hated for it by the pious moral religion of his day.  Jesus offered forgiveness to those who have moral failings – yet he is sharply critical of those who are judgmental of sinners, and sharply judgmental to those who victimize the weak and vulnerable.

Ultimately no legislation can bring about moral change because it is a matter of the heart, of personal transformation not the court room.  That is a spiritual task, not a legal one.  We as the church certainly should not coopt the state into doing our job.

In my judgement the ELCA follows the biblical prophetic model when it comes to relating to a politicized world. Our church cares for issues that impact people, economic fairness, equality and creation. Issues, not a specific candidate to endorse, but candidates who we can be critical of if need be.  The church is the conscience of the state.  It does not run the state.  The church informs our individual consciences through a process of discernment, and then we go out as individuals and participate and vote in a politicized world.

The prophets of the Bible critiqued and criticized the government of the day.  They never praised a king.  The kings, however, surrounded themselves with what the Bible called false prophets who endorsed the king.   The church must not be the cheerleader for the state.

What does it mean to be a Christian in a politicized world?  For us it means that our primary allegiance is to God, not a political party.  It means that our leaders need to be measured against how they reflect, or do not reflect not only the will of God but the compassion, love, and care of Jesus Christ.  We expect, as our biblical lessons teach, that our leaders treat others as we would have ourselves be treated.

Ours is a faith that makes “whole.”  This is what the word salvation means. We take seriously the biblical commission to reach out to the marginalized, those rejected by society in biblical times they were the children, the widows, the orphans and the stranger.  Faith is not about moral positions so much as it is the demonstration of compassion, love, justice.  God is always seeking to make and build a community, not fracture one.  We say all the time that faith is relationship.  A relationship with God shapes our lives.  If candidates encourage bad relationships or behave in offensive ways that injure social relationships then something is seriously wrong with the personality of that candidate and relationships are skewed potentially to the point of danger.

Throughout history there has always been the temptation to ride a wave of discontent and even to build it to get elected.  These times are shrill but they are nothing new.  Fear gave us Joe McCarthy, eventually disgraced as were his followers.

Such behavior fractures the community fabric that Holy Spirit seeks to gather. As Christians in a politicized world we should ask: Is the person asking for my vote?  Or are they asking for my personal allegiance regardless of what they say or do?  Our allegiance is to God alone.  Blindly following a leader is irresponsible and dangerous.   We need to make decisions based on reason not reaction, especially when some are trying get us to react.  It is easy to cultivate the base emotions of fear and anger. Churches sometimes do this too.  It is much harder to set forth a vision that inspires a country to come together to not only solve problems but to be something special, a light to the world.  We need dreams from our leaders.  Imagine, dreams from our leaders that would lift us up and seek a unity to accomplish those dreams!  Not division and divisiveness.  We need unity: people willing to work together to solve problems not serve ideologies that have become religions in themselves.   We need visionaries to bring together not divide.  When examining the personality of our leaders we should ask: Where is the kindness of Christ?  Where is the love of God? Where are those who would bring people together and not insult?  Where are those who put self-interest behind that of service?  Where are people who speak truth and do not bear false witness against others, or knowingly tell lies?   The truth is, if our children acted the way some candidates have and are on the national stage, we would seriously be worried about them and we would correct that behavior.  If we had confirmation students that treated each other as some are doing on the national stage, we would be talking with them and their parents.  Why?  Because this is no way to treat your neighbor and demonstrates flaws of character. Character matters.  Those who would lead us are human beings, just as you and I are.  Who they are as people matters.  It matters greatly.  We are electing a person not a mere platform.  Such behavior we are witnessing certainly does not follow the great commandment given by Jesus: to love on another as God has loved us.  And remember God also tells us to fear not – because fear creates terrible realities.  Certainly do not endorse those who feed it for their own purposes.

Being a Christian in a politicized world calls for careful discernment.  Reason not reaction and prayer.  These are dangerous times because there are those trying to divide what should be indivisible in all areas of our society.  Indivisible was the dream of our forefathers.  We must not follow those who would destroy this for their own purposes.  As a Christian in a politicized world look for a Christ-like perspective in all things, for then we will not go blindly into the night of fearful rage but will create a path that reflects the goodness and will of God for all.  Put away anger and fear.  Pray and vote with a God filled conscience.  Amen.

David Echelbarger


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