Today we begin a three-part series that may make us a bit uncomfortable. In fact, if it does, great! Then it’s working. It’s titled Talking Points: The Perfect Blend of Politics and Religion.
We’re going to talk about it
I know your probably thinking… Oh, Pastor Trish, you don’t do that in church. You don’t mix politics and religion. Ever since the separation of state and religion, you just don’t do that. We don’t even mix those two topics with our friends or family.
In church, it’s real easy to talk about religion, but not so easy to talk about politics. But whenever something Jesus says specifically intersects with something that we are wrestling with in our culture, especially at a time like this in our nation, I have to talk about it. Or I should say, I get to talk about it. I look forward to talking about it. The words of Jesus are so relevant with everything that is happening in our nation right now.
The division created by our politics alone is affecting our friendships, our families, our communities, our country, and even the Church. (Notice the capital C. That means the Church as a whole, not just our local church in York Springs.) This division intersects directly with something Jesus taught so… we’re going to talk about it.
There is a lot that’s been dividing us in the last 6 months
How serious is it? What’s factual about the virus? What’s not? Who did it? Who’s fault is it?
Who needs them? What kind should we wear? Do they really work? Do we need them or not?
- Medications for the cure of COVID-19
Is it a safe drug? Does it work? Doctors can prescribe it! No, let’s make it so they can’t!
- Social Strife over things like racism
Whose racist? Who’s not? Is there even a racial issue?
- Protest turned riots
For what purpose? People are dying!
- Remove confederate monuments and statues or not
Is it racist or is it history?
- Kneeling or standing during the National Anthem
We haven’t even even got started with the all-so-famous election Tuesday coming up in November!
Let’s just be honest. Every single one of these issues have some kind of political agenda. Whether politics have made the issue or politics are using the issue, it is involved in every one of them.
Nothing divides like fear
What exactly do we fear? I know the answer to this because the answer is the same for all of us. It’s loss! We fear something is going to be taken away. We fear loss of control, loss of opportunity, loss of our freedom, loss of the future for our children, loss of our progress because we’ve made progress in some areas.
There’s fear for all of us. We’re in this time in our culture when everyone is peddling fear. And if we’re not careful, we’ll fall victim to it. If we’re not careful, we’ll become divided. And in many ways, that is exactly what is happening.
We as the church have an opportunity to do something different
We can disagree politically with anyone and still love unconditionally. That includes both people inside and outside our church. But the hardest part for many of us is loving other Christians; How could they think that way? How could they believe that?
What we are going to talk about today… I understand. I’m in the audience with you. You think you’ve got it. I know you do. That’s why we are going to spend three weekends talking about it. You think you’re fine, like I think I’m fine. But I want us to really dig down and face some things maybe we’ve never faced before. It may be a little scary and uneasy. Now, I’m not going to ask anyone to change political parties. I just want us to think a little bit differently as a Christian. Do you want to do that? Can you do that?
Are you willing to evaluate your politics through the filter of our faith rather than create a version of faith that supports your politics?
Are we willing to put our political filter behind instead of in front of our faith filter?
Are we willing to evaluate and reevaluate our politics in light of what Jesus has taught?
Are you willing to follow Jesus even when doing so creates space between you and your party’s platform and candidate?
I’m just telling you, most Christians are not able to do that, especially in the climate we are in now and in the months we have ahead. It is so easy to be divided. It is so easy to rush to the corners. It is so easy to just assume God and Jesus are in lockstep with us. Most Christians tend to create a version of faith that supports their politics. Everyone wants a part of Jesus. Everyone wants to believe Jesus is in lockstep with their point of view. You can go anywhere in the Bible to find something to support your political view. Many times scriptures are twisted or bent.
Jesus saw this division coming!
That is the reason why I have to talk about it
After Jesus had his final Passover meal with the disciples, He prayed a prayer that John records for us. (He’s near the end. After this everything moves really quick up to the cross.) He asks something of His Heavenly Father. What He asks for has everything to do with everyone of us who consider ourselves Jesus followers.
In this prayer are two interesting things:
- He prays for us!
- Jesus has a prayer request
Jesus’ Prayer for Unity
John 17:1, 11, 20–21
1 “Father, the hour has come. (After spending 3 years with these guys trying to tell them who you are, here we are at the end) Glorify your Son (in other words light me up in such a way that people know who I am), that your Son may glorify you.” (so that you light up and people will know we are connected)
In the hour in which God was most glorified, on the cross, we would have been most horrified. We would have looked away. And God never looked better because He sent His son to redeem mankind.
But Jesus said, before all those events kick off, there’s something I have to ask of you. Here’s what He says:
11 “I will remain in the world no longer, but they (the disciples) are still in the world, and I am coming to you.
Jesus had been telling them, “I’m going. I’m going.” Peter says, “Where you going? I’m going with you.” Jesus says, “no you’re not.”
But what’s next is amazing. Most Christians don’t know this.
The request Jesus makes…
11 Holy Father, protect them (the disciples) by the power of your name, the name you gave me…
He had already told the disciples they would be arrested and beaten, and many would be killed. Bet they wished He would have said all that before the signed up for this job. But they’re in now and this is their future.
So here Jesus is praying that God will protect them, but not for their physical protection. He’s praying for something He thinks is so much more important. This is His one prayer request for His first-century followers. Here is what He wanted protected more than anything else.
11 …so that, they may be one as we are one.”
At the very end, the thing that Jesus was most concerned about was their unity/oneness.
He knew that as long as they were in lockstep together and with His Heavenly Father, the world would change. But if they ever got divided and splintered, things would stall out.
Jesus prays for us!
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
In other words, Jesus was praying for that next generation of Christians, and the next, and the next, leading all the way up to us.
What do you think He prays for us?
The answer is not what we pray for us. I’m convicted of this too. My hunch is that none of us, who consider ourselves Jesus followers, has ever asked God for what Jesus asks God for…which may explain the problem. Even though He modeled it and it was so close to His heart and so important to Him in those final hours. Maybe if the church, people (like us/like me) had been begging and pleading to God for this, the world would be a different and better place.
20 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them…
In the first-century, “those who believe” referred to believing Jews, Gentiles, Romans, Samaritans, women, slaves, freedmen, soldiers, tax collectors, educated, wealthy, the poor, etc. In the twenty-first century that means believers who are brown, black, white, rich, middle class, single, married, privileged, the not so privileged, Republican, Democrat, Independent, indecisive, etc.
It was Jesus prayer that all the people who call Him Lord, no matter where they’re from or what they’ve experienced…
21 may be one…
He’s not praying that that we just tolerate each other, but that we would be one.
In a world like today, that seems impossible. But Jesus was convinced that no matter how impossible that sounds, for His church, it was mission critical. This was not an add on… Not a… “Wouldn’t it be nice if they all just got along.” We should intentionally seek unity in the Church because THIS is what Jesus prayed for.
It doesn’t come naturally does it. The reason it doesn’t come naturally is because, well, we only know what we know. We were raised by who we were raised by, and experienced what we’ve experienced. We tend to run to our little corners politically, relationally, and in every kind of way.
Jesus was like, my Church is going to be so diverse, so international, so many different languages, so many different colors and cultures. If there is any way they could continue as one…then He continues His prayer…
21 Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
Do you know why he asked for oneness?
This is the shocker. The reason He prayed for oneness doesn’t really have anything to do with us. He prayed for oneness because of what He wanted to do through us. If there is a lack of unity in the local church, it can survive, but the will of God will never be accomplished without it.
The reason that He wants them to be one….
May they also be in us so that 21 the world…
The world…not the people in the church. He’s talking about the people outside of the faith – the ones with different worldviews that roll their eyes and drive on by.
That the world…
21 may believe (may be convinced) that you have sent me.
So that when they see the unity in spite of the diversity within the church and between churches, they may actually believe, they may be convinced that you have sent me. This is mission critical.
The way the world is going to take notice of this beautiful thing we call the diverse church is when the church works together and is unified even though we disagree, even though we have been raised so differently that we will never politically agree, and at the same time there’s this beautiful and unusual unity in the Church. Jesus says this is what will eventually get the attention of the empire and the pagan world. There’s never been anything like it. And you can’t sacrifice your unity for anything.
You know what He was doing?
He was actually asking His Heavenly Father to come along later in time (for the disciples it’s just weeks later, for us it’s 2,000 years later) and to nudge us toward what He commanded us to do a few minutes earlier when He was having Passover with His disciples. In that conversation, He said, I’m going to leave…and no Peter you can’t come along…and here’s the one thing I don’t want you to forget. I’m going to establish a new covenant. I’m going to give you a new command, and the new command is going to cover all the others. It’s so simple that nobody even needs to write this down…
34 As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
This was a new command, not a new suggestion. This is our marching orders. This is what He modeled for us. And again, it’s not about us.
The reason He wants us to love each other isn’t just so we get along. It’s about His mission through us:
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (as I have loved you).
Now after He gives this command, He’s like Father, please help them to get this right. As this thing grows and expands from Judea to Samaria, and to the outer most parts of the world, please help them to love each other as different as they are going to be in so many ways.
Back to John 17:22–23 in His prayer:
22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Not political unity. Unity of purpose. That they would see each other the way I see each of them. That they would see me the way I’m to be seen. That suddenly this worldview that includes a God that loves them enough to send a Savior to rescue them, that it would be so captivating that it would redefine everything for them.
And here it is again. It’s not about us.
23 Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
He was saying, Heavenly Father, you and I know that everything rides on their unity. Not around their politics, not around their culture, not around their language, not around how they do baptism, communion or around how they sing or not sing. We know that there is a core that if they are around it, the world is going to change. And here’s the cool thing, after the resurrection, it happened. The disciples went into the streets of Jerusalem and clearly with…
One Purpose: To make disciples of all nations
One Message: Jesus is the Messiah/King who came to reverse the order of things. He laid down His life unlike any other king. He died for his subjects in order to create an onramp to the Father. And they went into the streets with this…
One Command: To love each other the way they had seen Jesus love them.
So here’s the thing, you’re all smart and intelligent people, so let me say this anyways…Your political candidate for president or for anything else will win or lose based on how America votes on a Tuesday in November. BUT the church will win or lose based on our behavior every single day between now and then.
(the church wins or loses, the community wins or loses, and in some ways our nation wins or losses based on how we treat and love each other every single day)
That’s why we MUST not allow ANYTHING to divide us, and we MUST not allow ANYONE to divide us.
Remember this. We’re going to talk more about this in the third week, but remember this. It’s so important.
It was Christianity—not a political party—that shaped Western civilization. Almost no one disagrees with that. Even firm atheist will agree that it was Christianity that shaped Western civilization. It wasn’t American politics, Republican or Democrat. It was Christianity. It was the teaching of Jesus—not our political parties—that laid the groundwork for our modern sense of Justice, and Fairness, and Dignity of every single individual.
And we’ve not gotten that right all the time and we continue to get it wrong in some corners, but the hope is not the perfect political party. The hope is the teaching of Jesus because it was Jesus and the Church that introduced these values in the beginning.
So why in the world would we opt for something less than that. And why in the world would we allow ourselves to be divided over that. Throughout our very short history as a nation, both of our current parties have gotten it wrong.
During our short history, political leaders from both parties fell short morally and fell short in their leadership.
During our short history, several parties turned out the lights because their party was over. Wicks, Federalist. There were political parties who were so adamant about somethings and they just kind of went away.
So why would we, as followers of the eternal King, allow ourselves to be divided by temporary political systems and temporary political leaders. Why would we allow ourselves to be divided over lesser kings? And here’s the most embarrassing thing to me. Why would be allow ourselves to be divided by fear?
Jesus’ most often repeated command was “FEAR NOT, FEAR NOT, FEAR NOT!” So many of us are afraid of a potential something out there, let’s just think about the context in which Jesus said, “FEAR NOT.”
You got the temple on one side that can’t wait to have you arrested, and you have the empire on the other side that’s going to perform the execution. And in the middle of those forces, Jesus says to His apostles, with a smile, guys ignore them. Fear not! A King has come. And when the King’s people rally around the message of the King, we know extraordinary things can happen because something extraordinary did happen.
Why would we allow any political view, a view that you might outgrow or abandon? Don’t some of your views change over the years. Why would we run the risk?
Jesus’ single command is: Vote for who you want to vote for, but don’t you dare mistreat someone who was made in my image. Why would we let a political view divide us from a living, breathing people that Jesus died for? The one beside you. The one next door to you. The one you’re related to. Why would we not fight for, struggle for, and sacrifice for the unity our King prayed for?
It was the unity of the church that got the attention of a pagan world, and eventually the empire responsible for crucifying Jesus. And they embraced it.
So don’t answer out loud, just in your heart. Do you want to do this? I can say this with confidence, this is God’s will for you! For us and for every church because this is what Jesus prayed for. So, I want to make two suggestions as we start this journey together.
Would you pray for what Jesus prayed for? Oneness. Because most of us have not prayed for what Jesus prayed for…or at least not with the intention that Jesus had.
Heavenly Father, make us one so we can influence many.
This isn’t about getting more in the church building. This is about the universal Church. And we should be praying this for our church right here in York Springs too. He said, if they stay one, the world will pay attention. This was the prayer of our Savior who hours later died. This is what He wanted protected even more than the lives of His closest, first century followers.
Look for an opportunity to love unconditionally someone with whom you disagree politically.
That shouldn’t be too hard as we are more divided than we’ve ever been. And when you find someone you can serve and love unconditionally, your light will shine brighter than it normally does.
Now I know some of you are thinking, “Cool sermon, great, appreciate your efforts. But come on. You have to say things like this, you’re the preacher. This is your job. You preach what Jesus said and you wrap it in a political wrapper, and that’s ok, but….aren’t you being a little naïve?”
To which, I would say no. Let me tell you what’s naïve. A first-century rabbi from nowhere standing out in the hot Syrian sun with twelve young men, making this audacious promise:
“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Now that is naïve. They looked around like, “what us?” Jesus says, “I’m going to start a movement and you are going to be a part of it and no empire or culture will ever stop it.” That’s naïve. But He did it. And Hell has not overcome it. And we are part of it. And our unique, sacrificial oneness is the key to fueling it in our generation.
So, disagree politically. Love unconditionally. Pray for oneness. And most importantly, don’t miss Part 2 of Talking Points.