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Monday, September 26, 2016
The Ideal Candidate
A Sermon on Psalm 146
For the Community of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
On the Nineteenth Sunday following Pentecost
September 26, 2016
We don’t need a politician, we need a people.
Racism, classism, sexism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, transphobia, bigotry, misogyny…. Access to clean drinking water, access to quality education for all children, access to health care, access to housing…. Gun violence, police brutality and brutality against police… Rape, domestic abuse, and so many girls and boys sold into trafficking each and every year…. Immigration, deportation, refugees… bombs going off in New York City, Terrence Cruntcher and Keith Scott murdered this very week…. A politics that is as far to the right as it’s ever been and a politics that is as far to the left as it’s ever been….
Can you breath?
What a list of symptoms…. All adding up to this: we are sick and our system is broken.
And yet in the last two weeks you know what has been one of the top news stories over and over again? Our presidential candidates health. Is Donald Trump as a 70 year old weighing 236 pounds and loving fast food, healthy enough to be President? Is Hillary at 68 years old with a grueling schedule and having fought a recent bout with pneumonia healthy enough to be President? And we’ve been talking about their health because sometimes it’s easier when you are sick to talk about someone else’s illness rather than your own.
As a country we have cancer but instead we are talking about Clinton’s and Trump’s colds.
And we don’t need a politician, we need a people.
And we need a people who will not fall for the oldest trick in the book…. Seduction of putting your faith behind the power of another.
You see one of my fears is that the reason why every 4 years we get so worked up over the presidential election just might be because we expect our presidential candidates to be doing all the things we are supposed to be doing. So we put our faith in them and their actions to accomplish our work. And then when things don’t turn out the way we want them, we have someone to blame. And we have not done anything but put a bumper sticker on our car and a Facebook status update.
We avoid responsibility by trusting the wrong powers, which is exactly what God spends so much of the Old Testament warning us about…. The seduction of power.
Psalm 146:3 reminds us “do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help….” Or for today maybe we rewrite it, “Do not put your trust in presidential candidates, in mortals, in whom there is no help” or “Do not put your trust in political parties, which are also mortal and in whom there is no help.”
And maybe we need to remind ourselves again that God is neither Republican or Democrat. And that reminder needs to be followed up by the wise words of Anne Lamott, “If your God hates and disagrees with everyone you hate and disagree with, then chances are pretty good you have the wrong God.”
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals in whom there is no help….
And then the Psalm continues and tells us where we should be placing our hope. Don’t put your hope in princes and presidential candidates and political parties, however you should be putting your hope in the Lord God.
And then the Psalms describes the Lord: the one who brings justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for those in captivity, sight for those who can’t see, lifts up those who have hit rock bottom, protects the strangers, care for the widows and orphans and loves those who do right.
And that right there is a political platform we can all get behind… the politics of God. Or at least we can get behind in theory.
However since this Psalm came into being and was written, we have learned even more about God’s politics. Because as John 1 tells us the Word of God became flesh, God took on skin, God’s politics took on skin. The Lord God who brings justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for those in captivity, sight for those who can’t see, lifts up those who have hit rock bottom, protects the strangers, care for the widows and orphans and loves those who do right… That politics took on skin and walked among us.
And then before he departed, Jesus told us this: “I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and will do even greater things.” And that political platform, Jesus leaves it to us to finish… hence we don’t need a politician, we need a people.
Take the issue of race for example,… which fits right into the Psalms talk of freeing those who are in captivity. It’s going to be more than just a Sunday morning pulpit swap with a black church, it’s going to take some very difficult conversations that we have long avoided. It’s going to be conversations that are honest about our history and deal with the fact as I heard one of our black brothers say last week, “the American dream meant owning folks with bodies like mine… the American dream is built on our bodies.” And it’s going to take conversations about privilege. And it’s going to take us all working together for a world that is bigger than all of us, where we learn from one another and appreciate one another.
Or what about protecting the stranger? What about those who risk everything to cross borders and those who are willing to put their entire families in unstable boats in order to cross a treacherous sea? Think about that, what would it take in your life for you to load up your children on a boat that had a good chance of sinking and in your mind say, “the possibility of reaching freedom is worth the risk of drowning”? And then when you finally make it across and to a place of freedom, to find yourself in a system in which you can’t make it. Is that protecting the stranger?
Or what about sight to blind? Can we even begin to create a true and prophetic vision today? Can we say to those on the left “Okay you’ve gone far enough, can you come to the middle and join us?” Can we say to those on the right, “Okay you’ve gone far enough, come to the middle and join us” Can we call out our blindness in these extreme times and come back to the sacred middle ground to listen to one another, to share stories with one another, to simply be together?
Or what about food for the hungry? Lifting up those on the bottom rung? Caring for widows and orphans? Justice to the oppressed?
It is a lot of work and it is a lot of hard work. It makes you understand how we have said, “enough, Jesus… I’ve gone far enough for you.”
Last week at New Baptist Covenant, Tony Campolo spoke about one of his students’ families. On occasion one of his students will not only fully understand his words, but will actually try to live them out…. they go from seminary and they live in houses that are communal houses where rooms are given to the vulnerable in society, they don’t worry about paychecks because they commit to giving everything away, they take the red letters of Jesus seriously and make the Sermon on the Mount their guide and their core ethics. It looks radically different than most of our lives.
One of these student’s parents came in to Tony’s office. He began to talk about his son and how he was living in a shared space with a few others students and then a homeless woman and a mentally ill man (neither of whom were paying their share of rent). He was not happy about this. And he was not happy that his son was giving so much away…. And he began to rant about Tony’s Christianity and it came to a head when he brought his hands down on the desk and said, “I am all for living a Christian life… up to a point and then it’s enough.”
And the truth is what he confessed is what is probably the prayer of our hearts, “Jesus we are all for following your way of life…. Up to a point and then it’s enough.”
And that little story has haunted me…. bc I am coming to see my “up to a point” moments. I’ve struggled with tithing throughout my life and this has been a discipline that I have gradually worked my way into being faithful in and now I am giving 10% of my income back to the Kingdom of God in particular this church and her ministries, however instead of being able to pat myself on the back about that, I am now struggling because Jesus did not say “Give me 10%... Jesus said give me everything.”…. Or the house that Abby and I have recently bought. We love it and it’s perfect for us, however it has a bedroom that we are not sure what to do with. It was what held us back on buying the house bc now that we live in town with our families we don’t need a guest room, but we have one and we said oh we will make that available to others- maybe a college student who can’t pay rent or a seminary student or a young adult and for 2 months now we have gotten really comfortable and that room sits open and I think about it each and every time I drive under the I-35 overpass…. Or to think about the amount of clothing we packed and unloaded, we had a wardrobe box just for coats (and we lived in the south) and to think how many don’t have coats…. Or my concept of table which has been challenged recently bc a guest here at this church approached me about our position on being welcoming and affirming and I suddenly found myself being a bit judgmental if I am honest. I got a bit worked up and almost fired back a hot little email and then I reminded myself of the core value of an open table, that the table is open to all even to those who don’t agree with us. That we are called to sit and share that table in love and care for one another and not in unity of thought and the way I wanted to react was so far from love and care.
Jesus, I will follow you… but up to a point and then it’s enough.
When it comes to the politic of our Jesus, we all have our up to a point moment and here’s the struggle, when you reach your up to a point pinnacle you look up and there is Jesus just a few steps ahead of you, beyond your point, and he’s calling you forward, “just a few steps more.” …. “Griff, give 12% this year…. Griff, get rid of some coats…. Griff, try to meet someone who could work their way into your family’s guest room…. Griff, sit with someone you disagree with and find love and care.”
Because those small steps forward are how the Kingdom of God is born and fully breaks into this world.
And Jesus does not need a politician, Jesus needs a people.
A people who will join God in bringing justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, freedom to those in chains, sight for those who can’t see, lifting up those on the bottom rung, protecting the stranger, caring for the widows and orphans and loving those who do right.
A people whose deepest hope is in Jesus Christ.
A people whose goal is to bring about the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.
You know originally this Psalm was a praise song and maybe it’s time to relearn it and to reclaim it… and to sing it aloud each and everyday as a community until we live our way into it. It’s our campaign theme song.
Because we don’t need a politician, we need a people. And by that I mean we don’t need a hero, we need to rise up together. We don’t need someone to save us, instead we need to do the very work of salvation Jesus left us to finish. Because we don’t need a politician, we need a people.
And with God’s help, may we as First Baptist Church of Austin become that people.