Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Jesus Never Said Religion and Politics Don't Mix

SERMON 16 MARCH 9.30 12 – 14 minutes
Jesus never said Religion and Politics don’t mix

Heavenly Father please take these words of mine and these words of yours and breathe your holy spirit upon them. May they give light to our lives and honour to you. In Jesus name

[Slide 1 Title] Good morning.

This is the third sermon in a series of sermons titled Things Jesus Never Said. One saying that is often quoted is Religion and Politics don’t mix. And that’s the title of this sermon.

And this is the title of this sermon Jesus Never Said Religion and Politics don’t mix

Today is Palm Sunday when we remember and celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. All the crowds came out, they lined the streets. They shouted praise and welcome. The air was charged with excitement and expectation. Was this the messiah, the man to liberate Israel from Roman rule? “Hosanna to the son of David” they shouted. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” It must have felt like a political rally.

Jesus’ reputation had preceded him, “the prophet of Nazareth”, the teacher, the man that healed. The man that could bring the dead to life.

But as Jesus comes to Jerusalem he all too quickly collides with the religious, Jewish and Roman authorities. Suddenly within just a few days of Jesus’ arrival his teaching and healing ministry come to an abrupt and brutal end with his Crucifixion.

[Slide Burma 2 Monk]
In Burma in 2007 a small string of protests began against the sudden price rises of petrol and the decline in living standards of people who are among some of the poorest in the world. Surprisingly the protests were started by Buddhist monks. They usually live at a distance from the ordinary citizens of Burma. Thousands of them left their monasteries to march through the streets.[ Slide 3 Burma Monks on march]

As a result Burma’s military regime attacked the monks. Within days they were scattered. Monasteries were ransacked. And many protestors were killed or arrested as we all saw on our television screens.

Religion can be a dangerous business. Perhaps it would have been better if the monks just kept their heads down. Didn’t make too much fuss. Perhaps that’s what Jesus should have done too. Perhaps religion and politics just don’tmix.

End slide.

So what place does religion have in politics? What place should we as Christians have in the political situations around us? What do we do? It’s with questions like these you just know you’ve got to turn to the Bible.

The passage that thingy read is one of the most well known passages thought to show Jesus’ view on politics. Some people think that Jesus was saying that religion and politics don’t mix.

[Slide Reading 4]So one day The Pharisees and the Herodians try and trap Jesus.

But Jesus knows this is a set up. He is in a tight spot. Herodians stood to on one side of him and Pharisees on the other. These were two Jewish groups strongly against one another. The Herodians were supporters of Herod, Caesar’s puppet king of Israel. Although Herod and his supporters were Jewish, their allegiance was to Caesar, and the Roman Empire.

The Pharisees were the religious rulers of the Jews that adhered closely to the commandments in the law of Moses. They were a deeply nationalistic and religious group. They did not recognize the authority of Rome. They despised paying taxes to the self proclaimed ‘deified’ Caesar. They wanted the Romans out.

And so here are the two groups working together for one purpose to bring Jesus down. Because he was a threat to both their authorities.

First they flatter him and then they ask “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This is a trick question. If he answered pay the taxes he would have undermined the Jewish book of the Law in favour of Roman laws and Gods. And angered the Pharisees. If he answered don’t pay taxes to Caesar then he was liable to be arrested for subverting Roman rule. Jesus answers by calling for a coin. He asks whose head is inscribed on it and then proclaims. [Slide 5 Reading]"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

If he answered yes or no it would have revealed where he thought true sovereignty lay. Either it lay with Caesar or with God. Either answer would have got him arrested by one party or the other.

People think that Jesus was saying here that spiritual matters should be left to God and that earthly matters should be left to kings and emperors.

But I don’t think that is what Jesus was really saying.

Jesus says whatever bears the seal; the likeness of Caesar belongs to Caesar. So what is Caesar’s exactly? And what belongs to God exactly? Well apparently a small circular piece of metal about the size of a two pence coin belongs to Caesar. The Pharisees would have been really amazed at Jesus’ answer. For they knew, as Jesus knew that

[Slide 6 Reading]”God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness”.

Jesus is saying that we bear the stamp and seal of our Creator. Our God’s seal is upon us. Not Caesars.

And the Pharisees also knew as Jesus knew that

[Slide 7 Reading] “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;”

and that includes its money and politics.

For there are no no go areas of human life that are separate from God.

[Slide 8 Tutu Quote]The former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu said

“If we are to say that religion cannot be concerned with politics, then we are really saying that there is a substantial part of human life in which God’s will does not run. If it is not God’s, then whose is it?”

[Slide 9 Hitler, Stalin] According to some estimates these three men were responsible for the slaughter of 132 million people.

It is inconceivable that Jesus would see the two separated like this. Even the history of Israel is a history based on a ruler that combined both religious and political realms starting with Moses.

So what would it mean for us if Jesus had said that politics and religion don’t mix? Imagine for a moment that Christians like William Wilberforce [Slide 10 Martin Luther King and William Wilberforce] had not helped to abolish slavery. Or that The Rev Martin Luther King hadn’t actively campaigned against racial segregation in America.

Instead imagine if Christians looked on at these great injustices and did nothing while it was left to others to do the work of justice and mercy. Surely the best way to be a Christian in the world is to be active in changing the world for good.

As the Irish Political Philosopher and Politician Edmund Burke said

[Slide 11 Edmund Burke Quote] “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

So what about today? What about our own society? And the world around us? Imagine a Christian silence as the nation debates [Slide 12 Slogans] [Gay Rights, Abortion, poverty, crime, the environment, terrorism, the middle east, third world debt, the spread of HIV/AIDS.]

At its best a strong and prayerful Christian voice can change the world for good. But often public Christian voices are ridiculed in the press [Slide 13 Headlines] when they speak making them sound awkward and embarrassing. They are told to mind their own business and stop meddling. [Slide 14 Archbishop of Canterbury]

But the truth of what they say can frighten politicians, anger multinational corporations, and challenge governments and the law. A Christian voice can be a voice that no one with power really wants to hear.

Helder Camara used to be an Archbishop in Brazil. He put his finger on this when he said this.

[Slide 15 Quote] “When I feed the hungry they call me a saint. When I ask why the hungry have no food, they call me a communist.”

Helder Camara was criticised by a corrupt Brazilian government because he challenged their policies that reduced most of the population to extreme poverty while a small minority lived like kings.

Like Arch Bishop Helder Camara we should challenge causes of poverty and injustice.

Last year about 40 people in Christ Church did a course here. It was run by members of Tear Fund and they shared with us the Micah Challenge. The challenge is to put into action the famous verse in Micah where it says

[Slide 16 Reading] “And what does the LORD require of you? To do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

The course leaders helped us think of ways of putting that key verse into practical action. They showed us how we could help the poor here in New Malden. And discussed fair trade and third world debt. We talked about ways we could campaign to bring change about.

When I first got married I saw this in action in a very powerful way. I did a series of part time jobs. One of them was for a Christian charity. Every part of the charity was involved important current social and political issues. I didn’t always agree with their campaigns but what really impressed me was their commitment and determination to social and political change.

When I was working there the law on abortion was being amended. On one level they were lobbying members of parliament on the issue of abortion. But at the same time they were providing real, practical help and support for hundreds of young and vulnerable pregnant women.

[Slide 17 Iona Abbey] I was looking for retreat when I first visited the Iona Christian Community. It’s on the remote island of Iona, which is an hour on the ferry from mainland Scotland. I expected a place of quiet reflection and meditation away from all the stresses and tensions of London.

I remember visiting the Community bookshop in the ancient Abbey expecting books on prayer and Christian meditation.

Instead I found political books from a Christian perspective on subjects such as nuclear disarmament, the environment and the role of women in society.

There I was looking for spiritual retreat right on the edge of our British Isles. But out there I found a clear and confident Christian political voice. That was completely plugged into the contemporary issues of the day.

[Slide 18 Iona Cross] Let us…I must learn that lesson for myself. Politics whether it be party political, campaigning on domestic or international issues is a God given requirement. But it is difficult to think of politics as a valuable and God given pursuit today. Politics has a dirty reputation. The papers are full of political scandals and corruptions. But we must not let that put us off.

On the Micah course we learned that to do justice is to be political because justice arises out of the law. To love mercy is to show compassion for our neighbours. And to walk humbly with God is live lives filled with praise and worship. It shows that politics love and religion are inseparable. And the Lord requires that we do all three. So when Jesus says give to Caesar what is Caesars and give to God what is God’s he is showing that we have political responsibilities as well as spiritual responsibilities. Because everything is stamped with God’s image.[End Slide]

1 comment:

seeking echo said...

Hello David

I am waiting to be able to read your last sermon.

Love Pam