Staunton Mennonite Church
9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Well, if you were here last week, you would have heard that last decent sermon out of this guy for a while. For the next 3-4 months everything is going to go downhill. All at once my preaching has taken a major hit, my thoughts have become incoherent (as if they ever were coherent), my point…who has a point?
But you should have expected this by now. It has happened every year at this time for the last three years. When September rolls around, the quality of sermons at Staunton Mennonite go down. In previous years I have used the excuse that it is because I have gone back to school, but that can’t be an excuse this year. So why is it that the quality of my sermons goes down in the fall? That’s right, this is the time of year when a young man’s thoughts turn to a game played with an egg-shaped ball. A ball that is kicked less than it is thrown or handed off. It is college football season and my Ohio State Buckeyes are right in it again this year.
How can I be expected to concentrate at a time like this? Some polls have the Buckeyes at number 2 in the nation. That is good enough for another bid for the national championship (it all depends on Sept 13th).
There are certain things that you can expect from a college football fan each football season. When fall rolls around, their Saturdays will be spent in front of a television. They will begin to dress in school colors. And most of their conversations will revolve around the events that took place on a 100 yard strip of grass.
But while I could fill all of my allotted time this morning talking about football, I do realize that there is something else more pressing for us today. We are here today to fellowship with one another while we worship and learn about the Living God. We are Christians and we come here this morning to worship or Lord, Savior, and King, Jesus Christ.
Now I told you a few minutes ago that there are a few things that you can expect from a football fan each football season. And today I want to show you that there are a few things that we should expect from Christians as well. I want to look at the scripture above and remind us all that we are first of all Christians, citizens of the kingdom of God before we are Republicans or Democrats, or any other political affiliation you might have. And we cannot allow our political beliefs to divide the church.
My Bible gives this section of scripture the heading “Marks of the True Christian”. And while I don’t believe that this is an exhaustive list of how a true Christian is to live, I also don’t think it is a bad start. In the verses leading up to our scripture for today, Paul is telling his readers about the spiritual gifts that they have been given and how and why they are to use these gifts; they are to use these gifts for the glorification of God. So I think that it follows naturally that these marks of a true Christian should also be for the glorification of God.
Paul starts out with a list of things that a Christian person should and should not do. Many of these things have to do with the Christian’s attitude and interactions with other Christians. Paul writes that love must be genuine, don’t fake it, truly love one another. Hate what is evil and hold fast to the good. Love and honor one another. Be zealous, ardent in spirit, and serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, and extend hospitality to strangers.
These are marks of Christians interacting with other Christians, believers interacting with other believers…or at least they should be the marks of Christians interacting with other Christians. Hey, we are all human, aren’t we? Nobody is perfect, I don’t claim to be perfect and I hope neither do you. In verse 3 of this chapter Paul tells us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (No Ohio State jokes, please). He sure knows that nobody is perfect. But that doesn’t mean that we have a blank check and can continue to go on making these mistakes consistently. Paul is callings us as Christians to live at a higher level with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church, a mega-church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, tells the story about the rapid growth of his church in the 2005 book “Velvet Elvis”. Bell tells how the church grew at such an astonishing rate that they had to start turning people away at the door because the fire marshal gave them direct orders to not allow so many people inside the rented facilities. And if space inside was a problem, you can be sure that space outside was a problem as well.
People began losing their tempers in the parking lot after church because it was taking so long to get out on the road. Harsh words were exchanged, road rage, or parking lot rage was a problem, people were making obscene gestures…in the parking lot…of a church!
So Bell stood up one Sunday and he said, “If you are here and you aren’t a Christian, we are thrilled to have you in our midst. We want you to feel right at home. But if you are here and you’re a Christian and you can’t even be a Christian in the parking lot, please don’t go out into the world and screw it up for the rest of us.” (pg 101). People cheered.
The point is that we Christians are called to behave like Christians. And not only are we called to behave like Christians, we are called to keep one another accountable, to point out when others are not acting like Christians.
And this brings me to something that has been pretty well documented in all of our newspapers, television news programs, and radio programs. We are in an election year, the Democratic National Convention just finished up in Denver, Colorado, and next week it will be the Republicans’ turn in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Now I am not a real political person by many people’s standards, but one finds it difficult to not get drawn in by all of the attention and hype.
Perhaps the most “entertaining” aspect of an election year is what we often call mudslinging. One candidate calls another candidate a name, the second candidate returns the favor and ups the ante a little. And soon, an all out, no holds barred, name calling fight breaks out. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?!
And even more entertaining is the fact that it spills over into the rest of the world! Our places of work, our schools, even our places of worship! Mudslinging, name calling, dichotomization takes place. “Are you for the Republicans or the Democrats? Obama or McCain? Are you on our team or their’s?” The competition is comparable to that on any college football scene. Who needs football? We have politics!
I hope that you can sense my sarcasm coming out. Sure, I think a little mudslinging can be entertaining, but it is not very Christian. I find it interesting Obama, a member of Trinity United Church of Christ, and McCain, a Southern Baptist, who both made very clear confessions of faith in Jesus Christ recently in a forum held at Saddleback Church, would stoop to mudslinging. Paul must have been joking when he wrote in verse 10 “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
But like I said, the mudslinging doesn’t stop with the candidates. People tend to latch on to one candidate, venerating him/her while demoralizing the others. At a county fair where both Republicans and Democrats had set up booths encouraging others to vote for the candidate they were backing, a three dollar bill was being sold with Obama’s picture wearing a Muslim head covering, and the title “Da Man” inscribed under the picture. This was both a shot at Obama’s paternal religious roots and his race. Demonstrators clad in hippopotamus outfits protested outside of McCain’s office holding signs calling him a hippo-crite. Much has been said about his age. Oh, mudslinging can be creative and even funny. But it is not Christian.
And that is why I was so disappointed four years ago to find this political rivalry in the last place I ever expected it to be; the church. In the fall of 2004, I was gathered with a group of friends in the foyer of the church following a typical church service. Now one of my friends was a very outspoken Bush supporter and it was pretty well known that there was another gentleman in the congregation that was a staunch Kerry supporter. So as my friends and I were gathered after church, likely talking about something uber pious, like football, this other guy came up to us, stood in the middle of the group, and began a cheer for Kerry. I felt like I was at a ball game, not a worship service! It was clear that this election had caused a division within this congregation and the only thing these two people had to say to one another was deprecating toward the other’s candidate of choice.
After the 2004 elections, Goshen College professor John Roth encouraged Mennonite Church USA members to take a sabbatical for four years from bipartisan politics (http://www.catapultmagazine.com/election/feature/polls-apart). Roth wasn’t suggesting that we stop voting on local and national issues that are important to the lives of those in our communities and those around the world. But he was suggesting that the unity of the body of Christ, the church, was more important that having “your candidate” win the presidency. Now he didn’t say and I am not saying that if you vote this year you are a bad Christian. But I think we will all agree that our citizenship in the kingdom of God must come first. And it causes me great grief to see church pews colored red or blue.
Well if we look back at our scripture for this morning, we find that Paul changes from talking about how Christians are to interact with one another and moves to how Christians should interact with the rest of the world. Beginning in verse 14 he tells us to do things like bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those that rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with others, associate with the lowly, do not repay evil with evil, and to live peaceably with all. If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. Essentially, Paul is telling Christians to take the high road, to not be conformed to the ways of the world but to be transformed by Christ. And I think that helps us to remember that any voting we do should be informed by our religious convictions, not by what secular politics tells us.
Let’s say you are a Christian, and you want to have your faith inform who you vote for. In the years past, a group known as the Religious Right has influenced many Christians to vote Republican based on two issues: abortion and same-sex unions. The reasoning goes, Republicans vote against abortion and against same-sex unions. These are issues that are important to Christians, so if you are a Christian, you will vote Republican.
But more recently there has been another school of thought that says, “Hey, Christians need to be concerned about poverty, about healthcare, and about environmental issues.” And now we are beginning to see a religious left emerge in the wake of the Religious Right. Now we are being told that if we are Christians, we need to vote Democrat. And I have a problem with this. Because my faith does not let me fit neatly into either of these groups; I cannot support the right or the left on all issues because of my views are shaped by my understanding of who Jesus is.
I am against abortion. I believe in the sanctity of human life, that life begins at conception. That’s one for the Republicans. But I also think that if we are going to tell a poor, unemployed, single woman that she needs to have a child that she doesn’t want or can’t afford, then we need to make sure that she has the proper health care, a safe place to live, and good schools for that child. That’s one (or three) for the Democrats. I believe that war should be the last option for the state (and that a Christian should never be involved in war). I believe that homosexuality is outside the perfection of Christ and therefore I could not perform a same-sex union, but I also believe that homosexuals should be given equal rights as their heterosexual friends. I believe in a consistent ethic of human life, meaning I think that it is wrong to take another human life, whether that life is an unborn child, or a convicted felon on death row. I think it is wrong to take another’s life if they are standing on the other side of a war, and I believe it is wrong to allow someone to die from a preventable disease because they couldn’t afford the medication. And I believe that my opinions are not just my opinions because that is the way I want things to be. These are my opinions because I believe that is the way Jesus wants them to be.
I believe that Jesus does not fit into either box easily. Like the bumper sticker says, God is not a Republican or a Democrat. And neither am I. I am first and foremost a member of the kingdom of God. And as a member of God’s kingdom I do seek to change the world in which we live to look more like the kingdom of God. But I don’t always know that making laws to force people to be ethical is the best option. And I don’t believe that either candidate for president this year is perfect. We must remember that we are not electing a Messiah this year, we are electing a president.
Article 2 of the US Constitution states that a Presidential Candidate must be a natural born citizen, meaning that he or she must have been born on US soil. Unfortunately, this rules out my candidate of choice for this year. My candidate was born in Bethlehem. And until someone changes that rule, I will never endorse a candidate from the pulpit. I cannot make the decision for you as to who you should or should not vote for. But do not let who you vote for come between you and another Christian. The kingdom of God is more important than any kingdom of this world. And as Jesus told us, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.” Rather than endorsing any party, we must examine each candidate in light of the complete range of Christian ethics and values (SoJo.net). God is not a Republican or a Democrat, and a Republican or a Democrat will never be my God.