Conversation #7,8,9,10: The Politics of Jesus

Looking back is always, in some ways, easy. Hindsight is 20/20, they say. But what happens when you find yourself seeing the same thing over and over again? What happens when the future becomes less than a mystery, even…predictable?

This describes my feelings as I watched the 2012 election season unfold. Same story, different characters. It doesn’t take a prophet anymore to see how people will act and react, especially those who carry the name “Christian.” Angry rhetoric, questionable Facebook posts, pleas for sanity, apocalyptic predictions, and, my favorite, a reassuring of one another that God is, in fact, in control.

Wait, was not God sovereign BEFORE the election season? One blogger said the Christian community has some soul searching to do when the Kingdom of God becomes a sort of consolation prize for us when our candidate (no matter who that might be) loses. I think that’s pretty close to the truth if not standing right on it.

So…in preparation of the election season, the GCSC spent the month of October talking about “The Politics of Jesus.” How does a Christian wade through the bog that is our current political climate? What questions must be asked?

The PowerPoint below is a collection of an entire month’s worth of conversation along those lines.

Download it here:The Politics of Jesus

In hindsight, here are some things we learned:

 

1. Jesus was political.

There’s no getting around it. Jesus’ world was just as broken, just as full of poverty and war, and just as divided as ours. One could even make the case that Jesus’ world was even more fractured than ours politically, considering all the different factions and stories at work (see the PowerPoint for more detail). Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans, and Essenes, oh my! However, the basic narrative of all human history was as true of Jesus’ day as it is of ours: US vs. THEM. The characters may change, but the story does not. So where did Jesus land? Interestingly, he chose NONE of the options presented to him. He spoke of something bigger: THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

 

2. Christians DESPERATELY need to re-imagine what Jesus meant when he said, “Repent, the Kingdom of God is Near!”

The word for “repent” in the ancient languages means several things: turn, turn from, rethink. All these are good. And helpful. Especially when you consider the political arena Jesus stepped into and what people would have heard when he said something about a Kingdom where God was going to rule. That meant the dirty Romans were going to get what was coming to them! That Israel would be restored! That the people of God would have power again! But then Jesus would go and eat with poor people and hang out with “sinners” and even welcome and heal Roman soldiers’ sons. What did that mean? That’s why I like the way Dallas Willard defines “repent,” He says it means to THINK ON YOUR THINKING. Repenting is not PRIMARILY about feeling bad. Though, as Dallas says, you may feel pretty bad when you realize how poorly you have been thinking about things. Eugene Peterson says it another way, “Repenting is admitting you’ve been lied to and turning away from the lie.” So when Jesus comes on the stage and says “Repent,” this is what he means.

Then, he goes on and on about this Kingdom of God. What’s that? Simply put, its the place where God reigns. And Jesus, continuing a thread found throughout Scripture (see the Powerpoint for specifics), comes to establish what it would look like when God reigns over a life or a community. Now, what’s important to realize is that this Kingdom is the one that will go on. THIS Kingdom is the one that will last. THIS Kingdom is the one that…WINS. And in doing so, all other Kingdoms fall away.

The prophet Daniel went as far as to say, “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Whoa.

So what does that mean for us? I think Jesus gives us a hint or two. In Mark 12:13-17, Jesus is trading verbal jabs with the Pharisees when they try to corner him by asking about paying taxes to Ceasar. Jesus takes the coin, and asks whose image in on it. “Ceasar’s,” they reply. And Jesus says something so profound we miss it more often than not. He says give to Ceasar’s what is his and to God’s what is God’s. Why is that so profound? Because money may belong to Ceasar’s and governments, but people belong to God because he has stamped his image on us. THAT changes everything. It changes WHERE we put our allegiances, our hope, and our heart. Jesus suggests we put it in God’s Kingdom.

3. Christians are from the future

One of the most profound things Paul says that Christians are a NEW HUMANITY. What does that mean? Simply put, Christians aren’t supposed to be like the OLD HUMANITY that is marked by strife, division, and death-dealing. Christians live out of a worldview that says we aren’t living for what’s temporary, but what’s eternal. That puts things in perspective. It changes our values. It changes the things we get upset about. We, at our best, are a sign that one day people will not be selfish and self absorbed, but loving and others focused. That’s why Jesus says we’re the salt of the earth (see the PowerPoint for more detail). The preserving agent in a world deteriorating day by day. But the church doesn’t do this through strength, but rather through weakness. One of my favorite stories of the early Christians was how they would take care of unwanted children in Rome. In those days, having a female child was a bit of an inconvenience, especially if what you were hoping for was a male heir. So most female babies were merely put out on the doorstep to die if the family had no need for them. But Christians, hearing of this, would come by and take the baby away, care for her, and raise her as their own. In doing so, the Christians of the first century made a powerful political statement. But not through strength and power, but through weakness and serving. This type of living pointed to a future where little girls were just as valued as little boys. In this way, Christians are, in fact, from the future.

 

4. If Christians cannot learn and model how to love our enemies, who will?

Martin Luther King Jr. puts it this way:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies– or else? The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

Do we believe that? Can we see it happening on the news? It is. Here’s the thing Jesus knew, anger from the lips starts in the heart. If Christians can’t learn to love and see those we disagree with as more than our enemies, who will? Who has a better example than Jesus? The God who tells people to turn the other cheek, give away their coats, and walk the extra mile (see the PowerPoint for some VERY interesting stuff on the historical background of this text) is the same one who was slapped, stripped, and forced to carry a burden that was not His own! That while we all were yet sinners and enemies of God, he died for us and even prayed for those who were killing him (Romans 5:8-10, Luke 23:24). The Bible even says that he did this to SET AN EXAMPLE FOR US (1 Peter 2:21-25)! So where are the people willing to lay down their lives for others? Even for those they may disagree with? If they don’t come from the Christian camp, then from where?

5. We (Humanity) Need More Imagination

Simply put, our culture suffers from loss of imagination. We pay people to imagine for us. In this climate, its so hard to see beyond the proposed alternatives You’re either Republican or Democrat, pro or anti war, for the rich or for the poor. Can we all agree that these polarities aren’t very helpful? I think Jesus is calling us to something better than choosing sides. I think he’s inviting us to love. He’s inviting us to love in a place where one U.S. soldier a day now commits suicide. Where thousands go hungry. Where sick people die. It’s so hard to forget that people, not issues are really what’s at stake here. Pick an issue. I can 100% guarantee there are people hurting on either side of that issue. So why so we need imagination? We need imagination to see beyond the stories we are handed. To see a way forward that HONORS EVERYONE (1 Peter 2:9-12). Have you ever considered what a RADICAL idea that is? To honor EVERYONE? If we’re going to try that, we’re going to need some imagination.

This is why the church long ago set up practices to ground identity. Things like baptism and communion are things that remind and spark imagination. They give meaning to words like “community” and “allegiance” in a world that is constantly redefining and moving the lines. In short, that’s what the church is called to be: a community of imagination. As one theologian put it:

“How can anyone anyone change the world and society at its roots without taking away freedom? Can it only be that God begins in a small way, at one single place in the world? For there MUST be a place, visible, tangible, where the salvation of the world can begin: that is, where the world becomes what it is supposed to be according to God’s plan. Beginning at that place, the new thing can spread abroad, but not through persuasion, not through indoctrination, not through violence. Everyone must have the opportunity to come and see. This place is church.”

Amen. And may it be so. Especially four years from now when hindsight, as it is apt to do, becomes blurry yet again.

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Adam Daniels

Campus Minister

Georgia Christian Student Center

 

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