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God Politics

The Pathway to Salvation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Will you please turn in your bibles this morning to beginning in verse 9:
Will you please turn in your bibles this morning to beginning in verse 9:
Romans 12:9–21 NRSV
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The Word of God for the people of God; Thanks be to God!
Upsetting the Equilbrium
This morning, I’m going to do things a little different than usual. I’m going to preach politics. I’m sometimes asked to preach more politically or asked why I don’t include more politics in my sermons and I respond “I do preach politics every week you’re just not paying attention.”
Paul wants to think about politics for a bit. In fact, as we’ve looked at the book of Romans, His primary concern has been that there is a new creation. There is no longer Jew or Gentile. Last week, we saw that the mind of each was automatic: when the Jew looked at the Gentile it was, “ewww, those Gentiles.” The opposite was true of the Greeks against the Jews. But, Paul doesn’t want them to be conformed to the way the world wants them to look at each other, but to be transformed by the renewing their minds. To learn how to be a new creation together.
There’s really one story of the Bible that is repeated over and over: God is calling His people to be a unique people in the world: a people who practice a particular politic (a way of living and being together). Yet, they still exist in an empire. Whether it be Assyrian or Babylon, Egypt or Rome, Persia or America. They live in a particular place that wants to shape them, but God is calling them to be a unique people.
1.) Sincere Love (9-13) general statements on love
2.) Love under pressure (14-16) love within the Christian community
3.) Love Expressed in the World (17-21) love outside the Christian community
There’s really one story of Bible that is repeated over and over: God is calling His people to be a unique people in the world: a people who practice a particular politic (a way of living and being together). Yet, they still exist in an empire. Whether it be Assyrian or Babylon, Egypt or Rome, Persia or America. They live in a particular place that wants to shape them, but God is calling them to be a unique people.
How do we respond as a unique people to the particular politics and circumstances we live in? This is where we find a problem in the text today: the scribes in the early church who put breaks in Paul’s letter broke up the end of 12 and the first seven verses of chapter 13. What this break does, is that it causes many of us to read Chapter 13 verses 1-7 as though they are disconnected to that of Chapter 12. Chapter 13 get quoted frequently, especially during an election cycle, or in our current times, but it is quoted as being disconnected with everything we just read and all the things Paul wants to say in chapter 12.
Analyzing the Discrepancy
So we’re going to look at chapter 13:1-7 and work backward through the text. What does chapter 13 say to us and then how do we respond in light of what we just read? If you have your Bibles still open, turn to chapter 13. It says this:
Romans 13:1–7 NRSV
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
Amen! Let’s pray and be done. So, 13:1-7 Paul says you have got to respect authorities. Part of this reason is because Jesus, throughout the Gospels, uses such Kingdom language. Jesus is constantly inviting people into the Kingdom of God; into His reign. So, we’ve been invited to be part of a different Kingdom and Paul uses that same language to think about what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ. A unique people in the world. Some, the majority is growing, take that to mean, “well, I’m now a part of God’s Kingdom and I’m not part of that kingdom.” I don’t have to pay taxes anymore, I don’t have to listen to what you have to say, I don’t have to do any of that stuff anymore. My daughter is quickly realizing this in her life.
Well, Paul says whoa! Be careful here. God has ordained authority. They live in Rome, the center of the empire. They still have a Caesar, they still have senators, they have a system in place. Here is the radical thing Paul wants to say: God has ordained for there to be authority in systems. I want to say this very carefully. For Paul, it is a very good thing that there is authority in the world.
I want to say, with Paul, it is a good thing there is authority in a household. Parents: it is a good thing for you to have authority in your home. Most of you have met my child, it is a good thing my wife and I have been there. It is a good thing for children to have parents; for their protection, for their well-being, for good habits to be taught to them.
It is a good thing for churches to have leadership. It’s good when there is someone to pick the order of worship, to shepherd people, its good when there is organized structure. Its good in businesses, schools, and, for Paul, it was good that there are mayors and governors, and senators, and even presidents. The Christian tradition, along with Paul, has ordained structure, order, and authority to be a very good thing.
These authorities though should always work for justice. These authorities are best when they are not personally involved and can remain objective. Throughout Scripture, people are longing and praying time and time again for a ruler who will not be prone to bribes. Who will not make decisions because it’s going to benefit them economically. Who will not make decisions based upon a party or someone they like, but people long for authority who will judge by what their eyes see and what their ears hear; they will not show favoritism. These authorities should hear the cries of the oppressed, they will judge with charity for the poor of the Earth. This is what people cry out to God for time and again throughout the Bible.
When you go to a sporting event, you want a referee who doesn’t care who wins. You want an umpire who calls a ball a ball and a strike a strike, no matter what team they are judging. People want a judge who will treat everyone equally under the law. Paul says in 13:3-4
Romans 13:3–4 NRSV
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.
Romans 13:4 NRSV
4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.
The authorities have the sword, for which wrongdoers should be afraid, but they don’t abuse it. They use it when they need to curb the onslaught of violence and evil in the world, but they don’t misappropriate their use of force.
The authorities have the sword, for which wrongdoers should be afraid, but they don’t abuse it. They use it when they need to curb the onslaught of violence and evil in the world, but they don’t misappropriate their use of force.
The best authority works for freedom. They don’t work to oppress people, but to work for their blessing and benefit. This is a very important part of authority: it acts like a servant. They exist for the sake of the people. This is the way authority should act, which Christian tradition has seen as very good. The world is a better place when there are systems and orders in place. It’s okay, as a Christian, to want to be a part of that system. To believe that it is a calling to be a servant to the people and to operate as God would want an authority to act.
This is very important because here is how is misused: a church which is, like our nation, deeply divided politically, when your candidate wins the election, then you get to go on your Facebook page or blog and gloat that God picks the ruler. Oh, authorities are ordained by God. For 8 years, we may have one group of people who tell the other, “stop complaining God picks authorities.” Then the other side wins and its all okay now for them because God picks the leader. It is vitally important to distinguish between the picking of authority and authorities.
Think about this: most scholars think Paul is writing this as Nero is ascending to power. It is much easier to obey authority when the leader is not a crazy murderer who wants to kill all Christians. When people say that God picks the leaders, it’s funny! Paul spent half his letters in prison for disobeying the authorities. Or I hear the argument from the Old Testament where the prophets told the people that God raised up Nebuchadnezzer. God raised up Babylon to discipline God’s people. That God chooses the king. But, keep reading. The leader God raised up, Nebuchadnezzer, built an idol for himself and then God’s people started allowing themselves to be thrown into furnaces so they wouldn’t obey that authority. Seriously!
The church has always said authority is good when they act the way God wants authority to act. When you are in a position of authority, act the way God wants you to act: with justice, with limit, with humility, as though you are a servant of the people. That is the way authority is supposed to act. When they do, obey them. When they don’t, call them out. Stand against it. Refuse to participate in that, write letters and get thrown into prison.
Disclosing the Clue to Resolution
Romans 12:18 NRSV
18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Romans 12:18–21 NRSV
18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans
So, the second piece of this, when you back up, there are times when things do go the way that they aught. What do we do then? What do we do in our world now that constantly works in cycles of violence? When someone does something to you, you do that back. Or if someone is a threat to you, you up the size of your threat. Get a bigger stick. We have this constant eye for an eye tooth for a tooth way of life that we’ve all been conformed into. Ways of seeing an us vs. them mentality. We are used to seeing our nation vs. others, our people vs. others, our color vs. others.
That’s Chapter 13. Thats authority, but if you still have your Bibles, let’s back up to Chapter 12 verse 17 through 21:
Romans 12:17–21 NRSV
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So, the second piece of this, when you back up, there are times when things do not go the way that they aught. What do we do then? What do we do in our world now that constantly works in cycles of violence? When someone does something to you, you do that back. Or if someone is a threat to you, you up the size of your threat. Get a bigger stick. We have this constant eye for an eye tooth for a tooth way of life that we’ve all been conformed into. Ways of seeing an us vs. them mentality. We are used to seeing our nation vs. others, our people vs. others, our color vs. others.
Experiencing the Gospel
This is what Paul is saying in Chapter 12, here is a new theology that has changed everything for Christians: Christ died and He rose again. Christ exposed the brokenness of the authority. On one hand the brokenness of religious authority that conspired against Him and on the other the brokenness of political authority that agreed and crucified Him. At the cross, we got to see how corrupt all of the authority has become. Christ didn’t just give into authority, He exposed it and resisted it. Rather than respond to corruption with evil, He responded to it with grace and mercy and the beauty and goodness of the cross.
For Paul, we cannot just keep continuing these patterns of upscaling the violence to get out of conflicts. That’s not peace. That’s mutually assured destruction. Peace is when you decide to not overcome evil with evil, but overcoming evil with good. Not only is that hard, but it takes creativity, it may force you to think about people in a different way, it will force you to see the world in a different light, and will force you to become a very different political person than the world tends to be.
Experiencing the Gospel
Yet, this is the theology for Paul that shapes everything. Let’s back up even further to verse 9-16:
Romans 12:9–16 NRSV
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
Paul is telling them all the things they should do. Welcome strangers. Love each other like you love your own family. When people are crying, weep with them. When they are overjoyed, rejoice with them! Paul goes through this list of practices: practices of connection, practices of grace, practices of mercy. Because we will not become, and the church will not become, the political leaders God needs us to be in the world until we practice becoming these people.
Part of the reason the church is so divided is because we participate far more in the practices of the world’s politics than the politics of the church. The reason some of you will hate this sermon is because you are so deeply entrenched either left or right. That is the politics of your imagination, your news channel, your Facebook feed, the internet sites you read, your dinner conversation. It is the language and practice you have immersed yourself in, the way you communicate with others, the way you interpret your neighbor. It is the politic you practice.
Paul, though, wants a people who respect authority, but who live and practice something the world cannot understand and has not seen. A people who embody the way of the cross and do so because they love each other, care for one another, treat each other with respect, talk to one another with dignity, don’t think themselves higher than others, and who are constantly participating in the practices that are forming them to be people of the cross.
Anticipating the Consequences
That makes me ponder our current circumstances. Are we practicing the politics of the cross? In everything we say and do, are we genuine in love? Even those people who disagree with us or may have a different view of the world. The strangers, the sick, the democrats or republicans, the anxious, the worried.
Literary style called parenesis (pah-ren-i-sis). Lack of structure and strings together many sources of thought to form ethical content.
1.) Sincere Love (9-13) general statements on love
2.) Love under pressure (14-16) love within the Christian community
I know the uncertain times we are in has caused many people, including many Christians, to have real anxiety and worry about this virus. First, as people who practice the politics of the cross, we must understand that we will not be strangers to hardships. We will struggle, even to the point of death, in this world. We must always realize that Paul has instructed us to rejoice in hope. Rejoicing and hoping go together always. As a Christian community, we must be people who believe and hope God is doing good and will save us from this challenging season; either in this life or when Christ returns. We have assurance that Christ on the cross died so that we may have eternal life. Our hope rests on that eternal life giving grace of Jesus Christ.
3.) Love Expressed in the World (17-21) love outside the Christian community
Second, as far as our conscience and faith will allow, we must be subject to the authorities in this country. I know it is difficult when lies and misinformation and fear mongering abound. I also understand there are many out there who are blowing this off, while others are blowing it out of proportion. The correct response, I believe, is to follow the directives, at least the ones currently in place, for self-quarantining. You young people out there who say that it won’t impact your health may be right. You others who say that the government is striping your freedoms may be right. You Christians out there who say God will protect you wherever you go may be right.
The point isn’t about being right. It’s about loving all people, being servants of all people, while obeying the authority to the best of our Christian conscience. It may not take a toll on you young people, but it will on your grandparents you come in contact with, those in the store who are elderly. All politics aside, the government may be stripping certain freedoms, but are they doing it to protect certain members of our country; I deeply hope so. God will always be with us, but we are not assured safety and health in this world.
We must be examples of love and life for people. Yes, care for your neighbor, bring them groceries, check in on them, just be cautious how you interact with them during this season. Please be praying for others and praying for healing, but do it over video chat or over the phone. It isn’t showing a spirit of fear to be taking precautions. It is protecting our vulnerable citizens. It is protecting our families from sickness and possible death.
I get it, it’s tough to be stuck at home with your thoughts. I understand depression may come, anxiety may come, worry may come. We are alone with our thoughts and engaged in technology. Those two things are a horrible combination. I believe our response is to follow the law of the land as much as we can, show love and mercy by protecting those most vulnerable in our society, and be Jesus to those who are struggling in this season as much as we can.
Then, when we come out the other side of this challenging time, we will celebrate and rejoice that God has again worked good. His healing hand has been upon us. We will be able to say that hope in Jesus and our faith in God’s timing got us through the darkest night. We will come with a fire from the Holy Spirit and remind this world of God’s politics, that we can’t be shaken by the world or by viruses, and our life is guided and saved by the powerful name of Jesus.
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