Politics and the Lens of the Gospel
Amos 8:407; Luke 16: 1-13
Rev. Peter Faass
I’d like to speak about two words that have entered the national lexicon in a big way this past week: deplorable (or as it was used, deplorables) and irredeemable. Both terms were used by one of the two major political party presidential candidates in a speech a week ago Friday in reference to supporters of the other major political party presidential candidate, who then demanded apologies. These two words became fodder for the media – and partisan ammunition to stir up our emotions, one way or another.
I know some of you are probably cringing that I am preaching on an issue that has consumed our national political life for the past week. “Please stay out of politics, Peter,” you may be thinking. “This is the church and we should not meddle in that world. We’re not supposed to be political. We are here to save peoples souls not offer commentary on the presidential campaign. Plus, think of the IRS! What if they see us as being partisan and take away our tax-exempt status?”
Well, some of that is correct and some, well, not so much. Yes, we don’t want to risk our tax-exempt status, and of course we are here to save people’s souls, our own included. We are here to bring about God’s reign, which is a place of all souls – without exception - living in harmony as we love one another as God loves us.
Understand this: Our mission to build up God’s reign is why it is imperative for the Church to always offer the Gospel perspective on what is happening in the world (all of it) – and that includes the political realm. Please don’t tell me that Jesus wasn’t political, because he most certainly was! Remember – he was arrested and put to death for sedition against the state. It doesn’t get more political than that.
Let’s start with the word deplorable. It was used to reference to a segment of people in our country whose political sentiments and social leanings are seen by that one presidential candidate as being deplorable. These deplorables include people who hold racist, Islamaphobic, xenophobic and misogynist views – to name a few deplorable beliefs- and want to support and vote for politicians who share these views.
As we have witnessed, it is not just these deplorable beliefs that these particular people want candidates to support, but legislation and enforceable actions as well; legislation and actions that by there very nature increase hatred in our culture and are of such an incendiary nature that they incite violence.
While the use of the term deplorable was awkward and ill advised, it was – the truth be told - accurate, especially when viewed through the lens of the Gospel. These are deplorable views and desires. We are Christians, and it the Gospel lens that Jesus calls us to look through as we steer the course of our life’s journey. Hatred and violence toward people who are different from us, regardless of what that difference is, is not a Christian value – ever. Jesus condemned all hateful beliefs that diminished any human being’s dignity.
With that understanding, this is the hard challenge before us: What’s going to determine how we respond to these deplorable beliefs and those who hold and engage in them? What will command our allegiance: our political affiliation or our Christian faith? As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, “No [one] can serve two masters; for [you] will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
Well, neither can you simultaneously serve God and whatever political ideology you hold. If you try to do so you will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. Who are you going to love?
If we are to truly follow Jesus, we must serve God and the values of His reign first and foremost. We must not serve our political affinities, especially when the values tolerated by our political affinity have become beliefs that unequivocally defy the values of God and His reign.
Now we come to the word “Irredeemable.” When calling out the beliefs and behaviors of those deplorables, the same major presidential candidate also stated that because of their beliefs, that they were irredeemable. In other words, so heinous are these deplorable beliefs and behaviors that these persons are beyond redemption, beyond salvation. Well, no, that is absolutely not true when we look through the lens of the Gospel. The Christian faith believes that there is no person or behavior that people engage in which is irredeemable.
In one of the Good Friday anthems, we profess that “O Savior of the world, who by your cross and precious blood has redeemed us.”
That means all of us, without exception.
In the Nicene Creed, we profess that “for us and our salvation [Jesus] came down from heaven.” Not some of us, all of us, and maybe even especially so for those folks who hold values antithetical to God’s reign.
The entire purpose of the Incarnation, of God becoming human, was to redeem and save all Creation... every last person, every last iota of it. Jesus’ life and ministry relentlessly worked proclaimed that goal. In the three parables (the lost coin, the lost sheep and the Prodigal Son) we discussed last week, God relentlessly works to redeem whom and what others believed were irredeemable.
Many of us believe that there are, in fact, people – lots of them - who are beyond redemption. We roll our eyes or shrug our shoulders with disbelief when Jesus forgives prostitutes, adulterers, extortionists and most poignantly, those who crucified him even as he hung upon the cross. We believe them to be irredeemable. By believing that, we also believe two things that defy the faith we profess to hold:
When we profess to see life through the lens of the Gospel, but still believe that there are irredeemable and deplorable people in the world, it certainly is dispiriting. Mercifully and thankfully, it is not irredeemable. Such is God’s grace.
As we encounter more bizarre speech and behavior in this election, never forget that the word of God we receive through Jesus Christ is not some archaic, meaningless text without practical application to our current times and in our lives. It is a living, vibrant word that can heal what drives this dysfunctional election and the brokenness so many people feel, which causes them to fear and hate and hold deplorable views of all kinds.
None of us need to hold fast to deplorable beliefs when we strive to follow Jesus. None of us, or the circumstances we find ourselves in, are irredeemable and beyond God’s passionate desire to heal and love us. Ever.
My sisters and brothers, we need to decide. We can’t serve two masters. We need to choose either God or deplorable beliefs. Who are we going to love?
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