|Last Sunday after the Epiphany||February 26, 2017||Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 17:1-9|
|Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany||February 19, 2017||Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48|
|Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 12, 2017||Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 5, 2017||Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Reflections on Annual Convention, Susan Tilt||January 29, 2017||4th Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany||January 22, 2017||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Psalm 27:1, 5-13, Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany||January 15, 2017||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus||January 8, 2017||The Baptism of our Lord, Year A||The Book of Common Prayer|
|Epiphany||January 6, 2017||Epiphany 2017||Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Day, Year A||December 25, 2016||Christmas Day, 2016||Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14|
|The Eve of the Nativity||December 24, 2016||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 11, 2016||Third Sunday of Advent, Year A||Psalm 146:4-9, Matthew 11:2-11|
|Second Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 4, 2016||Second Sunday of Advent, Year A||Matthew 3:1-12|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A||November 27, 2016||First Sunday of Advent, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Christ the King Sunday, Year C||November 20, 2016||Christ the King Sunday, Year C||Jeremiah 23:1-6. Ps 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43|
Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
Sermon Date:November 13, 2016
Scripture: Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 28, Year C
This past week was certainly full of momentous events in our nation. On Tuesday, the country elected Donald Trump as our next president. And on Friday, we observed Veterans’ Day, a day of remembrance and thanksgiving for the men and women who have served, and preserved our country through their service in the armed forces.
Politics has taken up a great deal of time and emotional energy in the build-up to the election and will continue to dominate the news as the transition of power in our nation unfolds over the next few months.
And yet, politics is often considered as an off-limit topic in church, even though politics shapes the way that we live together in this nation.
Our nation was built from the beginning by people with diverse views and understandings of both religion and politics; people who ultimately came together through a political process to form The United States of America.
And despite all the focus on our divisions, even after the election, we are still The United States of America, united in more ways than we are divided.
In this election, some of us voted for Hillary Clinton. Others of us voted for Donald Trump. And at least one person in this room wrote in a candidate for president. We all know we were not of one mind about these political candidates and we are not of one mind regarding the political consequences of our votes.
And yet, we have gathered here today, despite our political differences, to join in worshipping God.
“Sing to the Lord a new song, for the Lord has done marvelous things,” cries today’s psalmist. And we can all sing out those words with joyful hearts, knowing that God is God not only of this fractious nation, but of all the world.
We can trust, along with the psalmist, that God does judge and will judge the world and all the peoples in the world, with equity.
This Sunday is an appropriate one, then, on which to talk about the interaction between faith and politics, and the church and government in our lives, and I’m going to call on Dietrich Bonhoeffer to help us today with this conversation.
I’ve talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer in earlier sermons.
Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian in Germany during World War II. Eventually, the Nazis imprisoned him and then put him to death right before his concentration camp was liberated by the Allied forces in April of 1945.
In 1940, Bonhoeffer was forced to give up his underground seminary where he was training clergy. He was forbidden to speak in public anywhere in the Reich. He was also forbidden to publish anything he wrote, because he had not been approved as a Nazi propagandist.
So Bonhoeffer began work on a manuscript, and worked on it until 1943, when he was arrested and put in prison. Sections of his manuscript were hastily hidden out in the garden so that his writing would not be seized by the police. After the war ended, the manuscript was retrieved, and eventually published with the title of Ethics.
In the book, Bonhoeffer explains, among other things, his views on the purpose of government.
Bonhoeffer, having grown up as a patriotic German as well as a committed Christian, believed that all governments are brought into being by God.
A government may not even be aware of having been brought into being by God, but may still be able to carry out its purpose, which Bonhoeffer says is “to maintain… an outward justice in which life is preserved and held open for Christ.”
In other words, when the government is working as it should, the government creates justice for all people and space for all people to grow into the people that God means for us to be.
When the government is working as it should, we Christians have the space to live out our baptismal vows fully.
A properly functioning government provides the freedom we enjoy to gather to study God’s word, to worship God and to pray to God, and we promise to gather together to study, to worship and to pray in our first baptismal vow.
A properly functioning government gives us the space and the support to resist evil, our second baptismal vow.
A properly functioning government ensures the freedom of speech that we need to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, our third baptismal vow.
A properly functioning government allows us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors, no matter who they are, as ourselves, our fourth baptismal vow.
And most importantly of all, when the government is functioning as it should, based on the fact that it has been brought into being by God, who created and loves all people, then we can, with the help of our government, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being– men and women, children, people of various nationalities, straight people, gay and transgender people, people of all skin colors, Native Americans, Christian people, Muslim people, Jewish people, rich people, poor people, or even Democratic or Republican people.
Article I of our Constitution provides for the freedom of religion, not only for Christians, but for all people who want to worship God—Muslims, Jews, Hari Krishnas, Hindus, and Baha’i’s, to name a few.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In Article I of our Constitution, you can see a reflection of what Bonhoeffer is saying about government in his book Ethics.
Bonhoeffer’s book also contains a section on the political responsibility of the church.
The church’s job is to call sin by its name, and to warn people against sin. Bonhoeffer writes and I quote “This warning against sin is delivered to the congregation openly and publicly and whoever will not hear it passes judgement on himself.”
Bonhoeffer explains that the church and its preachers are to focus on summoning the world to belief in Jesus, and to be a witness to the reconciliation which has been accomplished through Jesus and the reign of God. The church is to preach the grace of Jesus Christ.
Bonhoeffer also says that the church, “with all due deference shall address government directly in order to draw its attention to shortcomings and errors” which can, left unchecked, actually destroy the government itself.
Bonhoeffer says that if the word of the church is not received by the government, “then the only political responsibility which remains to the church is in establishing and maintaining, at least among the church’s members, the order of outward justice which is no longer to be found in the polis, for by doing so the church serves the government in her own way.”
Bonhoeffer says that the political responsibility on the part of individual Christians is to “be responsible for his or her own calling and for the sphere of his or her own personal life.”
In other words, we are to be responsible for living into our baptismal vows. When we live into these vows, then each one of us is helping the government do what it needs to do—and remember, that is to “to maintain… an outward justice in which life is preserved and held open for Christ.”
In almost closing, I have a few other things to say about our current political reality and how we can be in this reality together as Christians, even as we differ politically.
First of all, in keeping with our first baptismal vow, which is to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers, I would like to encourage all of us to try to draw conclusions about our current reality first of all through the lens of scripture, tradition, and reason. We Anglicans use scripture, tradition and reason to make sense of the world around us.
Today’s collect says that scripture is written for our learning. Knowing scripture and the trajectory of the story of God’s plan of salvation for us gives us a context for dealing with the disturbing aspects of our own times. And yet, the temptation is to put current media outlets ahead of scripture as we form opinions, draw conclusions, and determine our responses to what is going on in our country today.
I encourage you to turn to God’s word as we try to negotiate life together in this country right now. Put the lens of scripture, the traditions of the church and reason ahead of TV, social media and the editorial pages of the newspapers as you think through the events and ideas that continue to tear this country apart, and what your response, as a Christian, should be. Don’t simply react, but reason with yourself first. Then respect the dignity of every human being as you respond to others.
Christians do not all have the same understanding of what scripture has to say on the tough topics of our time, like sexuality. But because we do not agree, respectful conversation is of the utmost importance, not to change someone else’s viewpoint, but to make way for the Holy Spirit to enter in and to guide our conversations with one another. This is a unique gift that the church can give to the country right now—the example of people who have varying and sometimes conflicting beliefs, understandings and ways of acting coming together and talking, listening to one another, and even loving one another in our differences—so that the Holy Spirit can be at work in our midst.
We also promise to be faithful in prayer. Bishop Susan has asked us to start praying publicly at every service for Donald, our president-elect. We will begin that practice today.
And I would encourage you to spend part of your prayer time each day praying not only for our president-elect, but for this nation, for St Peter’s, for our friends, and for our families, especially for those from whom we feel estranged because of our differences, and as Jesus reminded us last week, to pray for our enemies.
We’ve just used tradition by turning to Bonhoeffer’s theology to learn more about the relationship between government and the church. Take the time to read up on what has gone on in our Christian tradition throughout the centuries regarding politics and culture. Some responses of the church turned out to be disastrous, others inspired. Winston Churchill once said that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It’s our responsibility as Christians to learn from our own history and traditions so that we don’t repeat the responses that turned out to be opposed to the gospel and to learn from the responses that brought God’s love to play in world affairs.
Jesus reminds those gathered around him today, those who are blinded by the magnificence of the temple—and it was magnificent, built from gleaming white limestone and much of it covered in gold leaf—that the temple, the center of Judaism, would be destroyed. His prophesy came true in 70AD when the Romans burned the temple, killed thousands of people, most of them unarmed citizens who tried to save it, and then carted off all the temple riches to be paraded through the streets of Rome.
On the pages of history, human institutions form and then disintegrate. But Jesus says that our role as Christians is not to withdraw in hopelessness, no matter how hopeless the times, but to proclaim the gospel by speaking out– even in the face of persecution.
“And I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict…..and even though you may die as a result of your testimony, by your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Paul offers his own words about how to proclaim the gospel in hard times through action. “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right,” helping one another along in this beloved community so that people out in the world can see how we love and care for one another, and will care for them too.
I’ve saved the most important thing for the last, the one thing that I hope you’ll take out with you today if you remember nothing else about what I’ve said.
This is the beginning of our lives, and the ending, and the wholeness and the richness and the power of our tiny lives in the short time we have on this earth.
When we start here, the lives we get to live, no matter how hard, will unfold as they should—so that we can be loving people who carry God’s healing out in the world.
“Revere my name,” says the Lord.
And for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.