God, Jesus, Race, Politics, and You - Sermon #01
God, Jesus, Race, Politics, and You - Sermon #01
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Sept 11, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.
Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for you and for the gift of God that you bring with you into this space. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
Introduction - No Race, Religion, or Politics
We are launching a new sermon series today. We are calling this series: “God, Jesus, Race, Politics, and You.” Before I say another word, can you do something for me? I have a handout for you this morning. There’s a space for you fill-in a blank, what came to mind when you heard the title of the sermon series? And if you will, what feeling did you have after you had your first thought?
Maybe you were told to never discuss race, politics, or religion in polite conversation.
Why? Where did this mandate come from? Why are we cautioned about speaking about these topics with each other and in polite conversation to boot? Maybe this rule, this guidance, originated from the result of many a family meal ruined? Maybe it was offered to ensure that the family reunions could happen without any fights or insults. Maybe this rule was instituted to ensure a healthy and happy workplace? Whatever the origin of this mandate, I think the goal is laudable especially when the result could cause strife, disunity, and emotional pain among those you love.
But do you always follow the rule? Sure, you might be willing to keep a lid on it for the sake of the other. Especially, if you are meeting the family for the first time. STORY: For instance, I remember when Maria joined my family for Thanksgiving for the first time. In my family, we like to argue, we don’t observe the “no race, religion, or politics” rule. So, the TV was on the family room and most of us were in the kitchen when a Britney Spears video came on and this was during the period when she was shedding her “good girl” persona. My dad popped into the kitchen from his office, hanging in the doorframe and said, “And she claims to be a Christian.” To which I replied, “Judge much.” And that did it. For the next 30 or so minutes we had a full-throated argument on what it means to be a Christian in the present culture, whether modesty was required of everyone, or just women. Whether Britney was selling her talent or her sexuality. Whether it was okay to judge someone based on their fruit. The value and merits of secular music versus Christian music, etc. Since we are a loving, affectionate family, when we argue, we tend to do it up close and personal. We also talk over each other, and sometimes, in order to be fully heard, we may raise our voices. Poor Maria. I didn’t know what she was thinking while this was taking place, but I could imagine her concern, her fear even that maybe this argument would be mean that Thanksgiving was going to be cancelled, and we were staying the whole week, and it was just Monday. Then one of my sisters realized that that Maria wasn’t participating in the conversation, so she silenced everyone to ask Maria what she thought about the conversation, Maria said something along the lines of “I think I agree with Donnell.” To which, my other sister interrupting replied, “Of course, you do” and the argument continued. Thanksgiving wasn’t cancelled and now Maria joins in our family arguments.
However we inherited this rule, “no conversations about race, politics, or religion,” I think it’s unhelpful especially in the church. I think in our attempt to make peace at all costs, we have done ourselves a huge disservice. We are in one sense forfeiting our birthright as the people of God living as God’s image bearers within God’s good earth to hold those in power accountable. As a local church, one of the ways we do this with our weekly homeless ministry. A couple of congregants ten years ago decided that those on the margins should have clothing, food, and friendship. So they pack up some supplies and started to figure out where the homeless encampments were in Ann Arbor and started to deliver supplies, resources, and friendship. When we were threatened to be kicked out of Liberty Plaza, where we serve our friends in the community, the homeless community rallied to our aid and defense and helped change the law. Our service to those at the margins says to those in power and in the culture that everyone is someone and everyone deserves human dignity (food, shelter, and love). In two weeks, we will celebrate the 10th year anniversary of this ministry. The team requested a proclamation noting our consistent service and the mayor’s office agreed and the mayor himself will join us for our celebration on September 25th to present the proclamation.
God is political.
The incarnation (God becoming human) is the highest form of human affirmation possible. And at this point, let me say something else, we are active and political because God is political. The incarnation is the highest form of human affirmation possible. Now you may be struggling with that assertion because you might be trying to fit God within an American politics construct of left or right, wondering what which side of the aisle I think God is on, well let me put that to rest now, God is on his own side. It reminds of Joshua’s encounter with the “Captain of the Lord’s Host” a type and shadow of Jesus:
13Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” 14“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” 15The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15)
Surveying the harm that the first humans unleashed by taking what didn’t belong to them in the garden, God incarnated. This was an illegal act. Stay with me, God could have solved the problem of the rebellion in the garden in any way imaginable, but God chose to take human flesh and to work out the problem with us. John, the Gospel writer puts it this way:
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
Another way to understand John 1:1 is to say:
‘The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.’ The key is the tabernacling, it marries the Hebrew and the Greek into the idea that God pitches a tent among us. This is something we long for, something we delight in even, the living presence of God among us, but it’s also dangerous because God may make demands of us. God will call us to live and be in the world as if we live within and under the reign and rule of God. This is what it means to be kingdom people. Every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, we enact this vision of being in the world:
9“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)
The incarnation of God into human history is a political act. According to human law and imperial rules of empire, God is not allowed to become human. And no first-century, law observation Jew would have expected, let alone, had a framework for God becoming human. God was other than, God was higher than, God was supposed to stay God. God was supposed to remain in the image that we humans created God to be: whether it is a mean, violent, unjust, judgment, imperial, warlike God, or a meek, mild, uninterested, or aloft God. In either description, God starts to look just like us. And when God’s starts to think like you, speak like you, and look like you, that’s indication that you have may just created an idol, a false god. God being born to an unwed teenager in poverty, humility, and suffering was unimaginable. Being born this way was a judgement of the powerful and elite. You can consider God’s birth as an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. The birth of Jesus in a humble stable, into poverty, into a refugee family, into an oppressed region of a vicious empire was an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, it was illegal.
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea.” (Matthew 2:3-5)
Don’t believe me, what did the powers want to do when they discovered that a king was being born? They ordered all the males in the region be murdered because there was already a king in the region another one wasn’t needed. King Herod and all of Jerusalem understood the threat to their rule, reign, power, and wealth that God incarnating meant.
16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. (Matthew 2:16-17)
King Herod understood that God’s birth was a political act and acted with the power of empire to remove his revival.
Showing My Cards
Let me say something completely unremarkable, we are political, religious beings living in a racialized society. Over this sermon series I want to consider what it means for us to be people of faith living in an Empire [secular culture] and how our faith should shape, inform, and direct the way we see, serve, love, and interact with each other, and how we active engage in the culture we inhabit as faithful people.
We are engaging in this series because we are kingdom people, we are image bearers of the one true God and we have a mandate to be the people of God in every facet of our lives, whether at church, in the marketplace, on the job, on the street, or at home. I’m thinking about racism, prejudice, and the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m thinking about Syrian refugees, immigration, and radical Islam. I’m thinking about economic systems that create and promote income inequality. I’m thinking about strength and peace that are sought through superior fire power. I’m thinking about the tragedy of gun violence in America. I’m thinking about those who go to bed hungry and wake up wondering if and what they will eat that day. I’m thinking about violence and discrimination against woman and sexual minorities. Yes, I’m also thinking about our upcoming presidential election. I’m thinking about the struggles and challenges of being a multi-ethnic church, living together in this community, in our marriages and families, in our friendships and relationships.
Here’s the problem with saying we must never talk about politics at church: We immediately cede to politicians the right to define what is political and what is theological. And then the church weakens its voice on theology because important biblical concepts have been wrongly labeled “politics” and therefore off limits.
Care for the planet was a biblical issue before it was a political issue. Gender equality was a biblical issue before it was a political issue. The sanctity of life was a biblical issue before it was a political issue. Care for the poor was a biblical issue before it was a political issue. How to treat immigrants was a biblical issue before it was a political issue. Predatory lending was a biblical issue before it was a political issue. Love of neighbor was a biblical issue before it was a political issue. Being good stewards of financial resources was a biblical issue before it was a political issue. Telling the truth was a biblical issue before it was a political issue.
So let me be clear about where I’m headed. I don’t want to talk about your politics or my politics. I’m not interested in Democratic, Republican, or American politics. I want us to hear and focus on politics of the incarnation, on Jesus’ politics, on the politics of race. I want us to be open to letting the politics of Jesus challenge, critique, and even change our personal politics. Jesus’ politics has implications for our lives. The politics of Jesus is different from the kind of politics most of us see, experience, and probably even practice. His politics is driven, led, anointed, and filled by the Spirit, the life of God.
While the rule of talking about politics may not be an appropriate topic for polite conversation, I don’t think it can be avoided in a faithful conversation. Here’s why. Regardless of what politics might mean today and regardless of how it’s practiced today, it’s most basic concern is about the ordering of relationships. It’s about the way we live together and how we get along. It’s about people. Those concerns are central to the practice of Christianity. We believe that God has something to say about how we live and the way we relate to one another. We open ourselves to God’s ordering of our lives and relationships. The life of Jesus is a political statement, one that can reorder our relationships with God and each other. It teaches and shows a way of being.