The following is an extended excerpt from my sermon last Sunday. As we conclude a long political season, I offer it humbly as a way forward.
Like a gas grill that goes boom, it seems to me that things in our country are pretty explosive and certainly intense. Politically, socially, environmentally, economically, and the state of things outside the US, so much seems so hot and dangerous to touch. Want a bomb to go off, go into any room full of people and start talking politics, regardless of your persuasion.
So many people are so mad, angry, opinionated, divided, sensitive and riled. Begin any conversation and it is easy to feel as if the person with whom you are speaking is assessing and testing to see if you are on his or her side of things.
I need daily to remind myself of something. There are so many voices vying for our attention every waking second, so many competing perspectives, I believe we need to be both careful and utterly intentional about whose voices we are going to listen to.
But of ultimate importance, I believe you and I need to fundamentally decide which voice of all of the options out there, will garner our greatest attention.
As Christians, I am convinced the one voice God wants us to listen to above all others is the voice of Jesus. Do you and I listen to Jesus most of all? If our blood boils, if we feel ourselves angry and ticked off a lot, if our days are spent getting riled up over this and that, or if we simply want to throw our hands up in the air, I believe such things may be a sign that God is trying to get our attention so we will get back to Jesus above it all.
I love America. It is the greatest nation on earth. We have extraordinary privileges and most of us have many opportunities. It is our obligation to vote and get involved in issues. You can be a Democrat, Republican or other and be a faithful follower of Jesus.
But when we are engaged with our culture in any way, I believe we are compelled to ask some hard questions. How are we engaged? For what purpose are we engaged? And for whose sake are we engaged? In other words, why am I doing, saying, or acting like I am and whose voice is motivating me?
Jesus was very clear. We are to be engaged with the world. We are to serve people and jump into messes and work to bring about healing, restoration, reconciliation, and growth. But while we were created to be in the world, we need to remember we are not of the world. We are visitors passing through. This in part is why this Chapel is involved in outreach all over the valley and in other countries and also why the Chapel is explicitly apolitical and will remain so.
Over and over, scripture is crystal clear. We are to live in the here and now in the world and be engaged in the world, but we are to do so as followers of Jesus, always keeping our eyes on Jesus, and listening to His voice far above all others.
Here is what Jesus’ voice sounds like taken from scripture. At least what it sounds like in terms of content.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Know that I am with you always. I am the way, the truth and the life. Let the one who is without sin, be the first to cast the stone.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Does the above content of the voice of Jesus sound like voices we hear on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, The Aspen Times, or any editorial board? Do the sayings I just shared represent where our primary focus is day in and day out as we live in the world and engage with it?
Again, I want to be clear. Vote, get involved, serve. Immerse yourself in culture in order to make a difference. But we all need to be very careful how we do so and whose voice we listen to the most or we will quickly fall into being of this world.
And when we are of this world, our faces turn red, our blood pressure rises, our words get mean, spiteful, hateful, and demeaning. We begin to treat others with whom we disagree as the enemy rather than as fellow children of God.
As long as I have been in ministry, across four churches, I can’t tell you how many people have wanted to draw me into divisive positions. How many have been angry with me because they believed I was conservative or liberal or a democrat or a republican.
What you need to know about me is that my life is not about a donkey or an elephant. It’s about the cross. And that is where the focus of this chapel shall remain. My prayer is that for all of us who follow Jesus, we will be known first and foremost as followers of Jesus, and those who dare to love God and love people above all else.
In this messy angry culture of ours, we don’t need more positions or vilification or conspiracy theories, or lambasting commercials. We need people who want to get more skin in the Jesus game who want to change lives for Jesus one by one by one. Not by being better than others, not by being condemning or criticizing or by being prejudicial, political, or exclusionary, or by holding this position or that, but by loving God and loving people through action above all else.
Said another way, I believe what our culture needs is a does of holiness and what God needs from you and from me is to be holy. An answer to the mess we are in is for each of us to individually and collectively renew a commitment to be holy.
I came across an article in the magazine Christianity Today, which is excellent on the topic of holiness. In slightly adapted excerpts it reads the following.
“The biblical idea of holiness, which includes private morality, is about so much more. Morality is not first and foremost what scripture is talking about in reference to holiness. Instead the most basic meaning of holiness is to be set apart for God or dedicated to God to belong to God.
Before we are ever called to be good, we are called to be holy. Unless we righty understand and affirm the primacy of our relationship with God, we fall into the inevitable trap of reducing holiness to mere morality.
As long as our notions of holiness are limited to doing certain things and not doing other things, we can go through our entire life trying to obey the rules without ever dealing with the far more fundamental questions: Whose are we? To whom do we give our first love and loyalty?
At bottom, God’s call to be holy is a radical, all encompassing claim on our lives, our loves, and our very identities. To be a disciple of Christ and holy requires nothing less than death to our fallen egocentric selves in order that we might live in and for Jesus. To be holy means that all that we are and all we have belongs to God, not ourselves, and that every aspect of our lives is to be shaped and directed by God.”
To be holy means that all that we are and all that we have belongs to God, not ourselves, and that every aspect of our lives is to be shaped and directed by God. This, my friends, I believe is God’s profound and immense call upon your life and mine.
Want an answer to what to do now in this incredibly difficult confusing and angry time we are living in? Want to have an impact? Want to make a difference? Want your life to be what God intended it to be? Seek to be holy. Seek the voice of Jesus. Seek to be shaped and conformed and directed by Jesus above all and everything else.