You may be surprised to find out that I am a political junkie. I am passionate about politics and staying involved in politics. I enjoy watching the debates. I read up on each candidate’s political views. I write my representatives. For the first time since being ordained, I hope this year to go to “Lutheran Day on the Hill” organized by Lutheran Social Services. It’s a day for those who are concerned about the less of those around us to advocate on their behalf to those in service in Des Moines. And yes, I am just about out of my skin excited to go and caucus tomorrow. No, I will not tell you who you should or should not caucus for. But, I will encourage you to go and caucus. My biggest hope is that after tomorrow, my phone will ring a little less, my mailbox will be filled with less junk, and commercials will go back to normal commercials. However, I will also be the first to admit that I struggle to reconcile my love for politics with my love for Jesus.
More than once this election cycle I’ve heard more than one candidate touting themselves to be the “Christian” candidate. In fact, the rumor is that Mr. Trump even attended a Presbyterian church last week in Muscatine. But as I read and study and pray about all that Jesus stood for and I look at our candidates, I am torn. And I guess the biggest epiphany I’ve had lately is that we’re not electing a savior, we already have one of those. We’re electing a leader. We’re going to be electing someone who is just as flawed as you and I. They just happen to have one of the most stressful and important jobs in the world. This is why, no matter my political affiliation, and no matter the president’s political affiliation, I will always pray for him or her.
Politicians, as you may have noticed, work really hard to be liked. I mean, that’s how you get elected. It is, after all, called the “popular vote.” The key being, I suppose, is to be liked more than the other people. Or, as some people have said, being the lesser of 2 evils. I’m sure you’ve heard people say “if it comes down to candidate A versus candidate B, I’m going to vote for A. I don’t like either, but A is better than B.” And maybe that’s where politics and religion differ. Jesus didn’t care about being popular. It was the fact that he wasn’t trying to be popular that got him an execution on the cross.
This reading from Luke today is one of the first sermons that Jesus gives. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a “traditional” sermon, but it is. And it’s interesting because both the crowd seem to go from 0-60 very quickly. The crowd starts by being astounded and maybe a little proud of this hometown boy done good. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22b) And then they throw him out of town and prepare to hurl him off a cliff a few verses later. Jesus himself goes from reading from the scroll to preaching about social justice, preaching about caring for the outcast, and caring about the widows. This was less than popular in the crowd that surrounded him. What they wanted was for Jesus to cater to their desires and needs. They wanted Jesus to side with them. He was, after all, “one of them”; or so they thought. Politics at the time of Jesus were about as slippery as they are now. Those that were around Jesus when he gave this particular sermon wanted to hear about themselves. They wanted to hear about how God favored them. They wanted to hear about how God loved them and only them. That’s not what they heard.
Instead, they heard Jesus retell stories from the Hebrew scriptures (or Old Testament) about how God favors those that society has forgotten about. He told about a widow in Zarephath, lepers in Israel, especially Naaman the Syrian. What made the crowd mad was not that he was preaching, not that he was someone among them who had started to make a name for himself, but that he was telling stories of those whom God favored and it wasn’t them. There’s a popular preacher in this country whose name I won’t use, but it sounds a lot like “Bowl Mosteen.” His premise is to preach that God wants you to be happy. God wants you to be successful. God wants you to be rich (oh, and give some of those riches to the church while you’re at it). He’s a really popular preacher because he tells people what they want to hear. Jesus, on the other hand, told people the Gospel, and it made them angry.
The trouble with following Jesus, brothers and sisters, is that it should drive us to anger. Not the kind of anger where you want to throw things and punch people, but the kind of anger that doesn’t allow you to sit on the sidelines and just watch. It should anger you that women get paid less than men in this country. It should anger you that the government of a city knew its citizens were drinking lead tainted water and did nothing about it. It should anger you that thousands of Syrian refugees are dying trying to escape a war torn country. It should anger you that someone who works a minimum wage job for 40 hours a week still needs assistance because yearly they’ll make less than $16,000. And we as a society shame these people for being on welfare, using food stamps, and getting government assistance.
The trouble with following Jesus is that you start looking at the world through crucifixion shaped glasses. And when you do that, you run the risk of being angry and frustrated, and yes, ashamed. When I look at the world the way I want to look at the world, I see the injustices only I want to see. I see the injustices for only the causes I’m passionate about. But, when you look at the world through crucifixion shaped glasses, you start to realize that you may be part of the problem. Men, when was the last time you spoke up on behalf of women? When was the last time any of us used our white privilege to proclaim justice for people of color? When was the last time any of us used our citizenship, something we just got for being born in the right place, to fight for those who want to enter this country legally to make a better lives for themselves? All of those things are things Jesus would have done.
When you come to church, it’s great if you leave feeling good. But, if you leave feeling motivated, charged up, and maybe even a little ticked off (especially at me) then that’s the Gospel working in you! Jesus didn’t come to be popular. Jesus isn’t trying to win an election. Jesus won’t be running any commercials or calling your house trying to convince you to vote for him. Jesus, instead, empowers us to look at the world as he would and then angers us into action. The cross wasn’t just for you, brothers and sisters. The cross was for everyone; even those who we call “the other.” So here’s a challenge for you. If you’re going to caucus tomorrow, look around at the other party. Then, think to yourself “Jesus died for them and their candidate.” If that ticks you off, then you’ll know you’re wearing your crucifix lenses. Our faith is nothing if it only makes us feel good. Our faith requires a response. Allow your faith to make you angry. And allow that anger to stir you into action.