The politics of the election are starting to really heat up. What this means in practice, is that the name of Jesus is getting tossed about by those claiming to have the “correct” defining statement of his identity. Some claim to have the special insight as to which political party Jesus is present and where he is absent. Political mudslinging tries to label the opposition as against God or hurting God. Yes, politics is heating up and Jesus is being dragged into the middle of it to serve our purposes.
So the reading from Matthew is fitting for these days. Jesus asked the disciples what others were saying about him. The response was John the Baptist or a prophet. Then Jesus personalized the question to what the disciples had to say. Peter announced, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus didn’t praise Peter for coming up with the answer but the Father for revealing this to Peter. The reading ends with Jesus giving strict orders for this revelation to be kept quiet which seems strange. Why? Peter had the correct title but there was much more for him and the other disciples to learn. You see, Jesus’ question wasn’t a test to get the answers right. This was about allegiance to Jesus.
Caesarea Philippi was a town that was near a cave which housed a spring feeding the Jordan River. The cave had also served as a place where the Greek god, Pan had been worshipped. Herod had built a temple to honor Caesar Augustus there. At the time Matthew was written, Roman soldiers had destroyed the great temple in Jerusalem. Caesarea Philippi was now the administrative center for Philip the tetrarch (Herod’s son). This was a reality not ignored by Matthew’s readers. So when Jesus asked about what was being said of him, he was really asking about allegiance…which God do you worship…what leaders do you revere…to what political power do you surrender your allegiance.
Peter had the right answer but not the understanding of what his response meant for life. If your allegiance is to Jesus, then you do the things he did. Jesus set people free as he announced the coming of the kingdom of heaven. He set people free from their illness. He celebrated with those despised “sinners.” He received the outcast and unwanted. He was and continues to be the way death’s power is destroyed.
Peter and the disciples had still much to learn about Jesus and following him. The church today still struggles in the same way. Jesus gave the amazing job description that is concerned with setting people free for the kingdom of heaven. What we do will either set people free or keep them in bondage. In following Jesus are we keeping people in bondage to ideology, race, division, fear, hatred, poverty, sickness? Or, are we working for people to be set free for the kingdom of heaven?
Another election is drawing near, meaning those seeking office are tripping over each other in the race to say who Jesus is to serve their purposes. Jesus is asking who we say he is to serve his purposes for the kingdom of heaven. Who do we worship…who will we give honor and praise…what power will we in the end serve? The difference is as big as freedom and bondage. How will we live out our answer to Jesus’ question?
Jesus’ early years up to now have been surrounded by political turmoil. Herod tries to eliminate him by having the children of Bethlehem slaughtered. His family flees to Egypt for refuge. Following his baptism, Jesus is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness to rely on his self-sufficiency…manipulate God to serve him by the use of Scripture…finally sell his soul for political power. John the Baptist has been imprisoned for challenging Herod Antipas’ immoral conduct. In response to this news, Jesus heads off to Galilee. What is Jesus going to do now?
The political turmoil Jesus faced in many ways is not all that much different from what we face today or that has been faced by countless others through the centuries. Politics is about power: obtaining and keeping it. The methods include lies, silencing the opposition’s voice, fear, manipulation, division, etc. So what does a person or the church do? Do we look out for ourselves and go with the flow? Do we alter the church’s message for influence or the power that comes with wealth? Do we simply sell out? These options aren’t all that promising or very hopeful. In fact, they seem rather dreary. Scripture calls these options darkness. The way we do politics does seem really dark at times.
The Gospel of Matthew (referring to Isaiah 9:1-4) tells that people living in darkness have seen a great light and that those living in the shadow of death a light has shined upon them. Jesus is that light. The message Jesus announced was enough for the brothers Simon (Peter) and Andrew along with the brothers James and John to leave everything behind and take a chance on something new. Jesus’ message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Repent often has the negative connection of judgment and punishment. Repent can also be positive. Repent really is turning around and taking life in a different direction. Matthew uses ‘kingdom of heaven’ instead of ‘kingdom of God.’ Using ‘kingdom of heaven’ gives the impression not so much of a place but a concept. So when Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” he was saying, “turn your life around and grab hold of a new idea which is different as light shining in darkness.”
Currently, the political battle rages on with Republican vs. Democrat and conservative vs. liberal. The resulting division in this land leaves us feeling as though we really are in darkness. When tempted by the Devil to opt into the world’s ways, Jesus chose to be the light that shines in the darkness: the kingdom of heaven. His life, death and resurrection has brought to us this light which will unfold in the following verses of Matthew. So how did Jesus start out being a light in the darkness? He brought healing to all who came to him.
I have heard it said that preaching should bring comfort to the burdened while at the same time make those living at ease uncomfortable. John the Baptist checked both off the list from the reading in Matthew. God is not impressed with human power by whatever means it is gained. God announces what is about to happen not through human power but in human weakness. The birth of Jesus was announced first to shepherds (the witness of a shepherd wasn’t accepted back then). The news of Jesus’ resurrection was first announced by women (their words were considered nonsense according to Luke). The great prophets of old weren’t the ones echoing the words of the king. They were the false prophets. The great prophets were apparent nobodies who called the king to accountability. John the Baptist was out in the wilderness and he spoke a word to be heard by the burdened and the ones at ease alike.
The people from the surrounding region came to hear John’s message to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Repentance means to turn around. The coming reign of God is to be embraced with lives that reject the current power structures in order to embrace God’s rule of justice and peace. The poor and enslaved gladly received the news of God’s judgment on their behalf. They were baptized as a way of preparing for the coming of God in their midst.
Religious leaders of the time, Pharisees and Sadducees, also came to hear John and to be baptized. He called them a bunch of snakes. They weren’t to put their confidence before God based on heritage, position or DNA. Instead, they were to show lives of repentance by seeking God’s justice and not power.
John was in the wilderness announcing the coming of one who will establish the rule of God. John baptized with water but this one of God will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. This one will bring judgment where what is done for the kingdom is kept; what is useless is discarded and burned. This one whom John the Baptist announced is Jesus.
John the Baptist’s words are still double edged for our day. Jesus establishing the coming rule of God is good news for those enslaved and under oppression. Jesus establishing the coming rule of God is judgment for those in power who show no compassion or justice for the enslaved and oppressed. As the days draw closer to Christmas and welcoming of the Christ child, let us heed the words of John and show lives of repentance. Let the news of Christmas be good news for all people.
I think that if we were to create a list of what made a great political leader it would be long and also varied. The list might include: powerful speaker and motivator, just, ethical, forceful, merciful, etc. Making our own personal list might be helpful as we look at the reading from Luke. What unfolds is the crucifixion of Jesus. What is contrasted are the opposing views of what makes a true king. God’s view, as usual, doesn’t always align with our view of political leadership and power.
The current impeachment proceedings are a sad commentary on political leadership. How the testimonies are received is filtered largely by party partisanship. The goal of finding the truth is sidelined by winning. When all has been said and done, the winning side will boast that justice has won out. Really? Will this justice mean that future generations will inherit a less polluted and resource diminished earth? Will this justice provide for the poor to receive a little more or is the one percent going to continue taking more and more? Will the justice won start healing the division or will the fracturing only get worse as we enter into next year’s election winning?
Jesus was crucified. Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. Crucifixion was a degrading way to die. The victim was naked and publicly hung for all to see the spectacle. In Jesus’ case, a sign was posted that he was the king of the Jews – a way to mock the Jewish people. Luke describes the crowd as watching in silence while the leaders and soldiers mocked Jesus. If he was a king then he should come down off the cross and save himself. All appearances would say that Rome was the winner. However great political leadership, kingship, isn’t deciding who wins and loses. A true sign of kingship is giving life.
Among the many taunts a criminal, also crucified, asked that Jesus remember him in his kingdom. Jesus stated that on that day, the criminal would be with him in Paradise. Paradise was where the righteous were in God’s eternal presence. Rome judged the criminal worthy of death; Jesus declared the criminal worthy of Paradise. Jesus’ kingship brings life and with his resurrection God proved this to be true.
So the impeachment process continues. Eventually, one side will claim victory with justice served. Yet, will new life come to this land as a result or will the old divisions continue in the pursuit of political power. Jesus has showed us true political leadership. He shows that laying aside personal power for another to have life, in his example giving up his own life, is how kingship is exercised. Political service that ignores personal gain for the life of the country? Should we want anything less?
We need a break. Not the moment to relax and get through the stresses of another busy day but a break from Revelation. The previous chapter is a difficult read. The Lamb opens the seven seals. We read of God’s wrath. The four horsemen riding horses colored white, red, black and pale bring war, famine, plague and death. A vision of the slaughtered martyrs. An earthquake and the sun turning black and the moon blood red. The people of earth from the greatest to the least call on the mountains to fall on them rather than face the wrath of the Lamb. Then there is a break.
The 144000 (representing the church on earth) is sealed. Then we have this reading from Revelation of a multitude from every tribe and nation shouting praise to God and to the Lamb. They have passed through the great tribulation.
Revelation is a calling for the followers of Christ to be faithful and this will not be easy. Jesus stood before Pilate and declared that his Kingdom was not from here. Pilate showed what the kingdoms from here do and that is crucify. Jesus showed what his kingdom does which is very different and still causes ugly debate today.
Jesus fed the hungry. In this country, we throw away nearly 40% of our food but can’t find ways to feed the hungry.
Jesus reached out to the outcast. Bring up gay, lesbian, immigrant, etc. and be prepared for a tough discussion.
Jesus healed the sick. Want to talk about healthcare? The debate will go on and on and on.
Jesus said that his kingdom is not from here. He is so true. To follow Christ, is to walk down the path of a different kingdom. The result can be persecution ranging from mild to martyrdom. This is the tribulation. We return to the multitude before God and the Lamb in Revelation.
The multitude will be before God and his protection will cover over them. Christ, the Lamb, will be a shepherd leading them to living water. There will be no more hunger or thirst or beating sun. The hand of God will wipe away the tears from our eyes.
So we take a break from the judgments of the Lamb against the world. The next chapter will have the judgments resume. For the moment, there is a much needed break. The faithful in heaven and earth will be protected from the judgments. They come to the reign of God where the tears of the struggle will be no more.
So what kind of music do you like? What is the song that your heart wants to sing? Singing reaches deep into our being. We sing when we are happy. We sing the anthem before a sporting event. We sing during a worship service. Songs of justice are sung by those enslaved to inspire hope. Singing does something to us. Singing enables us to express what comes from the heart. The Revelation reading is full of song. In particular, a new song.
John is still recording the revelation that is being given to him. The One who sits in glory on the throne has a scroll waiting to be opened and read. Who is worthy to do this? None in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll. Then came a Lamb looking like it had been slain appeared and took the scroll. All of heaven burst out in song.
The living creatures and the elders bowed down and began singing a new song. Angels numbering in the tens of thousands joined in the song. Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the the sea, and all that is in them – all of creation – joined in the song. It was a new song to worship the Lamb.
The book of Revelation helps to refocus our attention upon the One who is worthy of worship. It wasn’t Rome or Caesar, or any other power at the time. The Lamb who was slain alone is worthy.
We are constantly being divided by identity. Our allegiance is demanded as Democrat or Republican, as liberal or conservative, as evangelical or none. The demand for identity doesn’t permit critical thought over who is worthy of our support, or allegiance or worship.
All of heaven and creation is singing a new song. The Lamb who was slain has done what none other can do. Jesus Christ is the Lamb. He unites us from every tribe and language and nation. His blood has given us a new identity as children of our God. He is our salvation from the sinful division. He has given us a new purpose and that is to serve God. He is worthy of our worship.
So as we find ourselves ever more divided for the sake of power. Remember who is worthy. Sing a new song.
If you wanted to be a radical that really wanted to change things, whether it be in your church or community or even the world, what steps would you begin to take?
Would you start a blog to refute ‘fake news’ or what you consider to be ‘fake news?’
Would you grab a sign and join in with others to form a protest march?
Would you become politically active to support the candidates that share your views of how the world should function?
Jesus gave some radical ideas from this reading out of Luke. The type of ideas that are guaranteed to get push back. Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” But if we do this, who will we hate? Who will we demonize and use to scare others into following our political views?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a wimpy idea. How are we ever going to end up on top if we are looking out for the benefit of others?
Jesus said, “Do not judge.” This is ridiculous. How are we ever going to feel superior to others if we don’t judge them as lesser? How can we justify the lousy ways we treat others if we don’t first judge them worthy of such treatment? How can we be confident of our salvation if we don’t judge other certain for damnation?
Jesus’ words in Luke seem so ridiculous. They are too far out on the fringe. They are too radical to be taken seriously in the world and how it works. This is precisely the point. Jesus is speaking about the reign and the coming rule of the kingdom of God. The ways of God require the endless cycle of hate and abuse and manipulation, etc come to an end. Jesus didn’t come to bless what we bless but came to redeem and make all things new in the resurrection.
So Jesus is inviting us to be radicals for the kingdom of God. It sounds impossible but he isn’t let us off the hook. If we long and hunger for the reign of God to be over us, then we need to be Jesus kind of radicals. In the end we are promised that life will be known that is truly overflowing. The measure of life we grant to others is the measure of life we’ll receive in return.
When talking about being blessed, what comes to mind? Don’t we usually default to what is normally defined by blessing in the world? Normally, blessing involves having big numbers in the checking account at the bank. Blessing is being free from much of life’s trials and struggles – life goes easy. Blessings are what we call all of our friends and family. This is what we consider being blessed.
So we come to the words of Jesus and we are confused because he says just the opposite. He is teaching that blessed are the poor, those who mourn and weep as well as those persecuted because of him. Furthermore, Jesus announces ‘woes’ to those who are rich, happy and regarded with a good reputation by lots of people. Jesus is obviously out of sync with what the world values and we so often define as being the blessed by God.
This reading is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. What makes Luke’s version different is that Jesus comes down to the level plane. He isn’t sitting like a teacher on a hill as a teacher did instructing the students. He came down to the level plane to share with us in the flesh. He came down to stare directly face to face with our humanity and our reality. The good news of the incarnation is that God has not abandoned us in our sin and death but has come to us in Christ Jesus to bring us salvation and the resurrection.
What is important to notice is that Jesus didn’t speak these Beatitudes to the crowds amazed by the healing and casting out of their demons. Jesus was looking at the disciples. He was directing these words to the church. The people of the kingdom. Those who take to heart his ministry which he announced as good news to the poor and release to the captives and of the year of the Lord’s favor which emphasized forgiveness of debts and a rebooting of economic structures. Blessed are those concerned with the kingdom’s presence.
Blessed are the poor for they will know the fullness of the kingdom.
Blessed are those who mourn and weep over the lies and killing and race baiting and hate etc. because they long for the kingdom to be realized by all.
Blessed are those who speak like the prophet of old to the kings of old of the injustice and the trampling of the poor that defined their rule.
Blessed are those devoted to the kingdom. Blessed are those longing for the salvation that only Christ brings. Blessed are those seeking the new life of Christ’s resurrection to be known by all of creation.
Have a blessed day.
Jesus really seems to mess things up in the lesson from Luke. He had his chance to unify his political base but it was lost instead. Politics. We have likely played the game at one time or another. We have also likely been played. Politics goes like this:
The right phrases or code words are used to get your base’s attention. Emotions are tugged at, especially fear. Fear is a good one. Fear of change. Fear of our neighbor. Fear of those with different ideas. Yes, fear is a good one to rally the base behind you. You need to say what will bring the people together.
Jesus was getting a lot of good attention from those in the synagogue. They spoke highly of Jesus and how gracious his words were that he spoke. The people were amazed at how far Jesus had come from being a simple carpenter’s son. The people were ready to follow but then Jesus messed up.
He announced the beginning of his ministry by quoting from Scripture. Did he quote Scripture that reinforced the feelings of nationalism and rebirth of the nation of Israel? Nope. Did he quote Scripture that emphasized God’s preference of Israel over the other nations, namely Rome? Nope. Instead, Jesus quoted from the prophet Isaiah of good news brought to the poor, freedom to the prisoner, oppressed were released and of the year of the Lord’s favor when society was rebooted and all debts were cancelled. The result of the widening gap between the rich and poor was made more level.
The people still were interested until Jesus told of God sending Elijah to a widow in Zarephath during a famine and not to Israel. Also of Elisha cleansing Naaman’s leprosy and none other. These two were Gentiles. The people were furious and tried to throw Jesus off a cliff to kill him.
Just before this Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. One of the big temptations was to have all the nations of the world if Jesus would only worship the devil. He could have had the people if he only played the game of politics. They would have lifted him up high if Jesus only would go for the power of the world. In the end, the people lifted him high on a cross but he was raised on the third day. The power of God is greater than our sin. The power of God is what can raise up new life from our passion for death.
Jesus came to announce good news to the poor, the oppressed and the prisoner. He came to announce the year of the Lord’s favor. He came to save us and make this world new. Jesus was a lousy politician. This is good news.