Kingdom First

Kingdom First

I’m going to teach you a little bit about psychology today. We have all been sucked into (especially in the season that our nation is in right now) a cognitive bias that causes us to attribute people’s behavior to their character.

(A cognitive bias is a flaw in our thinking that distorts the way we perceive and act. Meaning you make your judgement or decision based on what you see without including all the information or even wanting the information.)

Let me give you an example: The reason he acts that way is because that’s who he really is; the reason she believes that way is because that’s an indication of who she really is on the inside.

But we don’t do that when it comes to our own behavior. We attribute our behavior to circumstances and environmental factors around us, not just to our character. When that guy at work is late you might say, “You know why he’s late? Cause he’s lazy, irresponsible, and just disorganized.” But when you’re late you never look in the mirror and say, “I’m lazy, irresponsible, and just disorganized.” No just the opposite. You decide the reason you are late is because you were helping kids get ready for school, or you had to take a phone call, or you had to finish the laundry, or you had to load the dishwasher, or you had to clean up the mess, etc. “I’m actually very organized and responsible so much that that’s why I’m late.”

Cognitive bias happens when we assume a person’s actions reflect what kind of person they really are rather than the social and environmental factors that we talked about last week.

So when it comes to the political scene, what do we hear? Democrats are corrupt, every single one of them. That’s their character. The Republicans, they are heartless. That’s just the way they are. I’ve met every single one of them, done research, talked to them all and they are all heartless or corrupt. Clearly, something is wrong with those people. Democrats are socialists. Republicans are old school and won’t change.

When you believe that way, you have been sucked into a cognitive bias. The political world is very effective and persuasive, and feeds this. It grabs us by the ear and has us believing all kinds of silly things that just aren’t true.

You know what…you’re better than that. I’m better than that. So let’s not do that anymore. Let’s not think we know it all without considering all the factors.

In fact, you can call people out when they do that and you can say, “You are suffering from cognitive bias.” And they’ll look at you’re nuts. Then you can say, “I used to suffer from that too, but then I heard this fabulous sermon that helped me understand what was going on. Here’s the link.”

Last week, I mentioned Galatians 6:2 that tells us to carry each other’s burdens. When we choose to carry someone’s burden, you know what we do? We listen, we learn, and we love – lean in. When we choose to carry someone else’s burden, what divides us diminishes. What unites us surfaces. We fear less. We understand more. And what we’re going to discover today, is that this is how the church began, and this is how the world literally changed.

So if you haven’t been with us, we are in Part 3 of our series…Talking Points: The Perfect Blend of Politics & Religion. We said throughout this series, that the church should be the safest place in the world to talk about anything, including politics. We rarely talk about politics in church, but you are talking about them. I’m talking about them. They are shoved in our faces on a daily basis. So why not talk about politics right here and learn what Jesus has to say about them.

The issue that Christians need to wrestle with is not which party to be a part of, but instead, the question of if we are willing to put our faith filter ahead of our political filter? This is very difficult to do. Most of us think we already do it. Many just aren’t willing to evaluate it. But if you are a Jesus follower, you have to put your faith filter ahead of your political filter. Be a Christ follower first, and a Democrat or Republican or Independent second.

What I hope to convince you of today is that when we do, things change in culture and society. We do the world a huge disfavor when we wrap our political views with the teaching of Jesus. Everybody tries to do this. But Jesus did not come to support a political platform or world order. As I said last week, He didn’t come to take sides, He came to take over. He came to replace everything. Jesus is the King who came to reverse the order of all things.

And when we edit Jesus to fit a party platform, we rob the world of the message that changed the world. We cannot be party people first. And I’m not talking about your freshman year in college. We must be Kingdom people first who are willing to influence our parties.

Now let’s be very real here for moment. When forced to choose the lesser of two evils (you know what I’m talking about) you still have to call out the evil. When forced to choose between two imperfect candidates and two imperfect platforms, we have to call out those imperfections. Not for our sake, and not even for our party’s sake, but for the world’s sake.

Is this a big deal? Yes. This is a really big deal. Early Christians lost their lives over this. They began to reshape the world because of this. They refused unconditional loyalty to emperor, even the good ones. In doing so, they moved the moral and ethical line for the entire empire. You know how they did it? They did it through culturally disruptive unity.

In a world that was organized around power, wealth, and citizenship and where people purchased their way up the social ladder, the gathering of Jesus (the Church) stood in direct opposition to all of that. It was disturbing. It was unsettling and even dangerous to the empire. This is why the empire decided to strike back…just wanted to make sure you’re paying attention. This is why the empire decided to impose sanctions on Christians and to force Christians to declare that the emperor Cesar was lord. And there’s no way to exaggerate this or describe the emotions those first century Christians felt. The empire saw this as a threat, and here’s why.

Classes of people whose circles rarely overlapped (only did so only when it was totally unavoidable, even hated each other), came together voluntarily and regularly to worship the crucified God. This was baffling to people of the empire. The social structure was so separated, so why would people who never had anything to do with each other overcome social norms, prejudiced, racism, and class separations to worship together this crucified God? Because the message of Jesus was so clear. He said, I have come to establish a new kind of Kingdom. Everyone is invited to participate in it.

We can’t imagine how countercultural, how dangerous, how disturbing the apostle Paul’s words were to Roman Gentile Christians. We read them like they are not that big of an issue. But what is self-evident to us was not self-evident to the first century. It’s only now self-evident because of Christianity, but these words were show stoppers to these first century people.

Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Gentile…

Wait! That’s not how it works. We’re all sharing the same God?

Gentiles say, “I have to invite Jews over to my home – the Jews who have ignored us our whole lives? We have nothing in common, they won’t let us date their daughters.”

Jews say, “I have to do things with the Gentiles and get Gentile cuddies?”

Paul says, those days of not getting along are over. There’s a new king in town. There’s a new kingdom. What has been a source of conflict and tension is gone. All have sinned and fallen short. All find salvation the same way. What used to divide you now has the potential to unite you. There now is no Jew, no Gentile.

This was so disruptive to everything they knew!

The next one gets better…

Galatians 3:28
There is neither slave nor free…

There was neither salve nor free in this brand new upside down kingdom.

Wait, you’re telling me God views me with same regard and dignity that He views my master? God sees me the same way He sees my slaves?

It was seen as self-evident that some were born to rule and others to be ruled. This is just the way it was. People heard this their whole lives, and now Paul is saying there’s a new system in town where slaves, masters, poor, rich, citizens and non-citizen all come together in this thing called church and are equal.

This was so disruptive!

Then it got worse…

Galatians 3:28
Nor is there male and female…

Now here’s something we can’t even get our minds around. Slavery in the ancient world wasn’t like the slavery we think of in the United States of America. Slavery in the USA was driven by racism, by color of skin. In the ancient world, everybody was a potential slave to somebody. You miss your house payment, they come for your house and your daughter. You miss your horse payment, they come for your horse and your son. Just about everybody is somebody’s potential slave and in a culture like this.

The dignity of women drops off the table to a degree that we can’t even begin to imagine. Women had no standing, no dignity (except in very few instances where there was wealth and you were related to the right people).

Paul comes along and says, let me tell you something. In this new kingdom, with this new value system and this new king, men and women have the same standing, the same dignity, The men are going, “If the women find out about this…”

In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter is talking about husbands and wives and says to men, you need to be careful how you treat your wives. They are joint heirs with you in the kingdom, you have the same master and you are accountable to your Heavenly Father as to how you treat your wife. She is your wife, but she is His daughter.

As a woman I can say this. I don’t know why any woman wouldn’t consider following Jesus if for no other reason than what He did for the status of women, and the seeds He planted for the status of women. It’s extraordinary! It’s common sense to us, but it was far from common sense to the first century and beyond.

Galatians 3:28
…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I’m one with men, and men are one with slaves, and slaves are one with masters? Yeah, it’s a new way of thinking, a new world order. This means ONE as in no distinction made between people. This was so disruptive! If this caught on, the fabric of the empire would literally unravel. Guess what? It caught on just as Jesus predicted it would. Looking into the future, He makes this statement that is so powerful!

Luke 16:16
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.”

A new king stepped on earth and everything began to change. Their eyes are being open. They are beginning to see people and themselves in a whole new way. This is a new paradigm, the upside down kingdom of God. Jesus has introduced it, and we are invited to participate in it. More importantly, we are stewards of God’s kingdom in our community, our nation, and our world. This is why it would be so foolish for any local church or the Church in general to ever be divided over political issues or political parties because those parties will one day be over, and Jesus will still be the King.

Forty-five years after Paul was executed, Christianity was still spreading like wildfire. So the Roman Emperor Trajan put out a decree to stop the spread of Christianity because the gods (Roman’s gods) were angry. Basically, things aren’t going so hot in the region and it’s got to be because the gods aren’t being sacrificed the way they used to be. So who’s the culprit behind it? Must be those Christians since they are growing in numbers by leaps and bounds. Since they are changing people’s ways.

So because of that decree from the emperor, Pliny the Younger, who was a Roman governor at the time, now had the responsibility to slow down the growth of the church by rounding up the Christians and forcing them to sacrifice to the emperor. They don’t have to stop believing in what they believe, but they at least have to acknowledge that the emperor is Lord and that this is where their alliance needs to lie.

But Pliny hadn’t noticed a disturbance in his community over these Christians, so he does a little investigation to see what is so dangerous about these Christians that there has to be a decree to get rid of them all. So he sends out his spies, arrest a few, questions them and reports his finding in a letter to Emperor Trajan. Here’s what he discovered.

“…the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn…

So the weirdest thing we could find about these people is that they meet together one day a week, on Sunday, before dawn to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But Sunday was a workday. So they would meet before work and celebrate and worship. Now imagine that we moved our church service to Monday morning at 5:30am. How many of you would show up? These are our people. This is how committed they were. This is how moved and changed they were.

Pliny also wrote about how during their gathering before dawn, they sing…oh no, that’s going to break the empire. They sing responsively a hymn to Christ as if He’s some kind of a god.

The next time we sing, and you don’t like the song or don’t like to sing, I want you to think about this. 2,000 years ago, our people gathered singing before work. And the reason they sang was because most people couldn’t read, and not only could they not read but there was nothing to read. There was no bible. Some may have had a small fragment of a Gospel or of Paul’s letters, but that was it. There were no copies that everyone had one of their own. So they learned their theology through chants, poems and primarily through songs. This was their way of worshiping Christ as if He is a god.
And here’s the other thing Pliny found out. While they were together, they would bind themselves by an oath. What was this oath about? Something to undermined the empire? Start a revolt? No, it had nothing to do with some crime, but instead the oath was to not commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust or not follow through on a promise. (This sounds real dangerous, right?)

I think Pliny realizes, “no wonder I haven’t heard about any of this. These are some of the finest people in the community, and I am supposed to arrest them? Wouldn’t be great if everyone acted like this?”

Now let me tell you what’s so amazing about this. In the pagan religion, these values and ethics were unheard of. There was civil law to keep people in line, but when it came to the gods, the gods didn’t care how you treated other people. The gods just wanted their blood or grain offerings because you were really just bribing the gods when you sacrificed.

But suddenly, here’s this group of people who feel accountable to their god on how they treat people in the community. Imagine what would happen in our community, in our country, if every week, Christians gathered in circles and committed an oath out loud to each other…. ‘this week I will not defraud anyone or steel ideas or credit, this week I will be faithful once again to my wife or to my husband, this week I’m not going to let anyone down as I’m going to follow through on any promises I make.

“Nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.” —Pliny the Younger

Pliny is like this is it? This is the group that is angering the gods, threatening the empire, and must be eliminated?

See this made no sense. In a culture that worshipped strength, warfare, victory, and conquest, the ruling class found this pitiful and ridiculous actually. They are worshiping of a crucified rabbi. From their prospective this was just kind of weird and appalling.

But for many, the upside down kingdom introduced by Jesus was appealing. Christians refused to abandon the sick because they no long feared death. Christians took in abandoned children and extended dignity to women and slaves because they were made in the image of God. Who were these people? They were our people.

The kingdom of God, as described by Jesus, struck the ancients as appalling, then appealing, and eventually it became contagious and it swept the empire like a wildfire. And against all the odds, a group of people or as the book of Acts calls it, a Nazarene Sect, they are following a dead Nazarene who worshiped a crucified rabbi, with no territory, no military, no political power or standing, whose message was built around these two ideas that were considered pathetically weak ideas…Love your enemy and love one another.

Not only did it survive and multiply, but it shaped Western civilization. And we, every Jesus follower, is a part of that movement, and we dare not be divided over party lines knowing that one day those parties will be over.

If those who came before us, who were so different and divided in ways we can only imagine, found a way to come together, found common ground at the foot of the cross, we have no excuse. Their culturally disruptive unity shocked the world. And eventually, their message would change the world.

So come on, let’s do that. Because let’s be honest, we run the risk of being divided over issues that we are passionate about. And I get this. It may be impossible for you to understand how a Jesus follower could possibly have a different view on a specific issue than you have. You may never understand how they can be a Christian and be for that or this. You may never understand why other Christians don’t see political and social issues the way that you do. You man never understand how they are for what you are against, and how they are against what you are for.

So when you vote, you need to vote based on your Law-of-Christ-informed conscience, but in the meantime, let’s do what the early church did, and let’s carry each other’s burdens. Galatians 6:2

Because when you help me carry my burden, you gain understanding about who I am, where I sit and why I stand where I do on issues. And when you help me carry my burden, I get a better understanding of where you sit and stand. When we carry each other’s burdens, there is something that happens that can’t happen any other way, and we may never agree politically, but we can love unconditionally. And even if we never understand each other or never agree, if we carry one another’s burdens, do you know what we do? We do the most important thing. We fulfill the Law of Christ – Love one another as I have loved you – Jesus.

In other words, you don’t have to agree with or understand me to love me. I don’t have to agree with or understand the way you view things to love you. We can disagree politically and love unconditionally while we pray and work for unity. So let’s do this. Let’s not miss the invitation and opportunity of a lifetime. The invitation is to follow the King who turned everything upside down and reversed the order of things. Let’s…

Listen. Learn. Love.

And together we will make our towns better, our community better, we can make the nation better and even the world better. And that’s not naïve because once upon a time, a handful of Jesus followers multiplied to the point to where the empire finally through their hands up and embraced the crucified God. And if we get this right, perhaps we will leave our nation a little less divided. After all, one is the win.

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