Red State or Blue State? – Part 4 of our Rise of the Nones sermon series

The Lady or the Tiger?  A no-win situation for Jesus?
The Lady or the Tiger? A no-win situation for Jesus?

Our sermon series, Rise of the Nones, is exploring outside objections to our faith.

As the church’s place in American social life continues to change, so are people’s perceptions of faith and I think we are finding out that we are far more fallible than we ever believed.  When the church was the social hub for virtually all of the community, people would come even if they objected to what was being taught.  They would put up with Mrs. Krumpkin’s racist attitudes or Mr. Wright’s sexist remarks because the church served a need they couldn’t find anywhere else.  Today, those needs are being met at Starbucks, in school, in community organizations, through the internet, and dozens of other places.  We don’t NEED the church to keep us connected anymore.  We can be connected virtually nearly 24/7.  And while we have continue to suffer the consequences of our fallibility and the new ways in which people connect with one another, this is an opportune time for us to reexamine the “church” and to find out where we have fallen short.  And that’s the purpose of our sermon series, to explore the objections to our faith and see what we can learn from God’s Word.  Because people are still out there, trying to understand the meaning of life, yet the number of “nones” continue to grow, more than they ever have before. And I don’t mean women who wear habits.  I mean the number of people who don’t belong to a church or identify with a faith tradition.  Many of them still believe in God.  So why aren’t they here, and what can we do about that?

We’re finding out that people have left because they don’t believe God is in these walls. 

They have huge objections about the ways we conduct ourselves.  In fact, 87% of young Americans age 16-29 (and we’re focused on young Americans as the future of the church and because they are the largest group of “nones”) think we’re too judgmental; 85% think we’re hypocritical; 75% believe we’re too involved in politics; and 72% think we’re too sheltered, too out of touch with reality.  87% judgmental; 85% hypocritical; 75% too political; and 72% too sheltered.[1]  And that’s not even all of the objections but just the ones we are focusing on in our time together.  Now, whether our particular churches or church people are this way or not doesn’t matter because as a whole we are viewed as one entity.  The church.  Fair or not, they lump us together as one unit.  And if we are to break down these barriers to faith, we have to combat these perceptions through our words and actions.  Because Christ created the church to be a place people come to learn about God and to be able to act out their faith in community, and if they’re standing outside the walls, how can they do that?  We are the place people come to learn about God and to be able to act out their faith in community.  It’s who we are.  It’s what God created us to be. So in the past two weeks, we’ve talked about being too sheltered and too judgmental, so today we’ll delve into being “too political.”

It’s commonly said that there are two things you should never discuss: religion and politics.

So of course we’re going to talk about both today, because in our society these two things seem to be more intertwined than ever before, and it’s a topic that we as God’s church need to address.  Religion seems to pervade our discussion of politics as does this notion that we are a “Christian nation.”  Long debates have been held on the topic, books have been written about it, and you can hear both sides of the argument regularly on TV.  But what does it all mean?  And what do we know about what God would say?  From what outsiders tell us, they feel like at times we are so focused on achieving political victory, that we end up acting contrary to our beliefs.  We often belittle opposing points of view and hint that they are somehow un-American if they don’t believe what we believe. One young man was quoted as saying, “…twenty years ago, when I was looking at evangelical Christianity from the inside, it seemed like a movement bursting with energy to spread good news to people.  Looking at it from the outside today, this message seems to have been lost in exchange for an aggressive political strategy that demonizes segments of society.”[2]  Can we honestly say that this young man is wrong?  And what would Christ have to say about it?  If you’ll open your Bibles to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12 beginning with verse 13, we’ll find out.  Mark 12:13. Interestingly, these events we’re going to be reading about take place on Holy Week.  It’s after Palm Sunday and the Pharisees and teachers of the law are becoming more and more anxious about Jesus.  It seems everything he does keeps amazing the people and they keep trying to find a way to justify killing him.  Jesus went into the temple and overturned the tables and the people were amazed.  He withered the fig tree and according to Matthew, the disciples were amazed.  The Pharisees were afraid to move against him because people believed he was a prophet and they knew Jesus had a lot of support so they kept trying to trap him into saying something they could hang him on.  We’ve already shared the last two weeks, two of these stories about Jesus eating with sinners and with the adulterous woman.  Today, we’ll share another story of how the Pharisees and others tried to trap Jesus.

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.

The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.”  Please be seated.

Dilemmas, dilemmas, dilemmas.

The classic “no-win” situation for Jesus.  Should he tell them to pay the tax, he is in effect telling them that Rome has a greater authority over them than God and the Pharisees could incite the crowds against him.  Should he tell them to ignore the tax, he would be setting himself up as a revolutionary and be called into account as an enemy of the state.[3]  Either way, Jesus seems to be caught in the classic “Lady or the Tiger?” scenario.[4]  No matter what choice he makes, he appears to lose.  But Jesus instead finds a different way.  What he does here reminds me of the movie WarGames where the computer called WOPR is set on a path to launch America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons at the Soviet Union, but after running through every possible situation it shuts itself down and it says, “A strange game; the only winning move is not to play.”[5]  That’s what Jesus does here.  He chooses not to play their game and he gives them an answer instead that satisfies both quandaries at the same time.  Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  And by making this point he is reminding them that while we live in the world, we are not of the world and we respond to a higher call.  That while we are obligated as citizens of our communities, we must always act first and foremost as children of God.  To be loving, kind, and filled with grace.

We say we believe, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

It’s the Third Commandment as given to Moses.  But when we claim to be a Christian Nation and refuse to act as one, isn’t that exactly what we are doing?  Taking the Lord’s name in vain?  The word “vain” in Hebrew is “shav,” which has many different interpretations including falsehood, emptiness of speech, nothingness and lying.  To say then that we should not take the Lord’s name in vain is to say that it is considered a sin to lift up God’s name and attach it to emptiness.[6]  We cannot then call ourselves Christian and still pray AGAINST our President.  We cannot call ourselves Christian and deny the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned assistance because we think they aren’t pulling their own weight.  We cannot call ourselves Christians if we’re not willing to act as one, because the whole world is our witness and they are taking us into account.  And if we don’t show grace, mercy, and love to those who don’t believe as we do, then how can we expect anyone to take us seriously when we say we believe in a God that is those things.  Instead of spending so much time trying to debate whether or not we should be CALLED a Christian nation, what if instead we spent our time ACTING as one? Instead of spending so much time trying to debate whether or not we should be CALLED a Christian nation, what if instead we spent our time ACTING as one?

There is nothing wrong with being a Christian and certainly nothing wrong with being American.

We can be honored and blessed to be both.  But we must always keep in mind that our behavior is ALWAYS a reflection of our faith. America doesn’t need to be called a “Christian nation” to BE a “Christian nation.”  When we behave with the grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ, people will see us as we were meant to be.  And I hope we never limit ourselves to just being a Christian nation, because if we truly obey Christ’s commandment to baptize all nations in the name of the Lord, we seek to make this a Christian world.  But we can’t do that through hate speech and rhetoric.  We have to do it with our actions.  There is great debate in political arenas about enforcing prayer in school and having the Ten Commandments posted in public places.  The truth is, these are petty matters.  Do we really need the Ten Commandments posted in a courtroom to know that these words should guide our lives.  We don’t need them written on a wall.  We need them written on our hearts.  And when we do, they will be evident for all to see.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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