“Jesus’ Politics,” November 24, 2019, the Rev. Louise Kalemkerian

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Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Last Sunday after Pentecost (track 2 readings)

In the name of our all-loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

I have always been a little put off by the title of this feast, Christ the King.  A more inclusive title is what’s on the bulletin, the Reign of Christ. Kingship is something we Americans gave up nearly 250 years ago, when we sent George III and his friends packing.  Yet Jesus was always talking about God’s reign or kingdom, on earth as in heaven. The Reign of God is about the way the world should be; it is always about love.

In our Gospel we see Jesus hanging on the Cross. A stripped and suffocating man, wracked with pain.  A crowd of mockers spewing hate.  A man hanging between thieves, derision in his ears, speaking blessing and promise to someone less fortunate than himself.  This is the king we worship.  One whose throne is a cross, not a regal chair in a palace.  A cross upon whom criminals were executed.  And this another paradox of our faith: an instrument of death becomes the way to forgiveness and new life.  That Jesus is both king and criminal.  That he came as a baby born in a stable without a fancy christening gown, and is king of all creation.

While this is a Good Friday text, today is not Good Friday, and this is not a Good Friday sermon. God in Christ set aside the trappings of majesty, and, while never ceasing to be a king, was voluntarily stripped of all the comforts and acclaim and protection we associate with the kingly picture of God. When he stood on trial before Pilate, when he hung naked on the cross, Christ had nothing left but his love of us.

Jesus’ crucifixion was a political act, carried out by Roman soldiers.  He was executed by the Roman Empire.  An inscription was nailed on the cross, as our Gospel says, “This is King of the Jews.”  As a king, he was a threat to the Roman authorities and the ruling class. Many today who call themselves after his name assert that there was nothing political about what he preached: loving others as ourselves, reaching out to the marginalized, looking after the sick, the imprisoned, the lonely.  I beg to differ.  All that Jesus lived and advocated was counter-cultural, political, outside the accepted norms.

And we deceive ourselves when we think that we can be apolitical. In the words of spiritual writer Richard Rohr, “The idea of “staying out of politics” doesn’t come from God. My sense is that it arises from our egoic, dualistic thinking that has a hard time hearing a different perspective or learning something new.”[1]

Please know there’s a difference between partisan and political.  The primary role of religion and spirituality is to bind, to reconnect, the very meaning of the Latin word religio. It’s the same root for the word ligament, that which connects our bones.  The Greek word polis—which led to the word politics—simply means city or public forum, where people come together.

The Hebrew prophets and Jesus clearly modeled engagement with both faith and the public forum. For example, these verses from the prophet Jeremiah, Go down to the palace of the king and declare, “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” —Jeremiah 22:1, 3[2]  And words from the prophet Micah, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good;     and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”6:8  And similar pronouncements from Hosea and Amos and Isaiah. Again and again (approximately 2,000 times!) Scripture calls for justice for the poor. We can’t read Scripture and stay out of politics.

Yet again, I affirm that being political is not about partisanship. Unfortunately those two words have become synonymous.  Our country is sadly and hugely divided along partisan lines, with each side blaming and defaming the other.  The politics we need to be concerned with is the politics of Jesus. And the politics of Jesus were formed by the words of the prophets; that’s where he learned it.

The politics of Jesus are relatively simple.  We see in the Gospel that those who were drawn to Jesus were women, the lame, the outcast, the sick, tax collectors, the blind, foreigners.  Jesus’ politics are to welcome the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee.  Jesus’ politics are to work so that every person has adequate housing and healthcare and food to eat and education.  Jesus politics are to stand with those who are marginalized, people of color, LGBTQ persons, incarcerated persons, victims of trafficking. Jesus’ politics are to share our resources generously and liberally.

Jesus’ politics are expressed in the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, the Parables of the Prodigal Son, Good Samaritan, Laborers in the Vineyard, the description of the Last Judgment, in almost all his teaching and healing.

The politics of Jesus may be simple, and at the same time difficult to live into.  The politics of Jesus runs counter to the message we receive every day in our culture, look out for yourself first and foremost. The politics of Jesus are those of the king we worship today.

Sr. Joan Chittister, in her latest book, The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage puts it this way:

“In every life there is a crossover moment, after which a person will never be the same again. Somewhere, somehow the challenge comes that sets us on a different path: the path of purpose, the path of integrity, the path of transcendence that lifts us… above the pitiable level of the comfortable and the mundane…

“As a culture, we may have come to that point. As a people, we are at a crossover moment. It is a call to all of us to be our best, our least superficial, our most serious about what it means to be a Christian as well as a citizen…

“In the end, politics is nothing more than an instrument of social good and human development. It is meant to be the right arm of those whose souls have melted into God. It is to be the living breath of those who say they are religious people and patriotic citizens—a link to personal faith.”[3]

In other words, for the Christian, politics entails an inevitable spiritual journey. Our faith is always personal and yet never individual. It is communal, connected to the society in which we live. It is a spiritual journey which connects us to the presence of God, who loves and wants to save the world, the whole world. “For God so loved the world…”

On this day of celebrating Christ as our King, we are called to recognize that what got him crucified was his love for all persons, another aspect of his politics. One of the primary characteristics of our king is a commitment to solidarity with all persons in their suffering. The salvation in which we believe because of the cross of Christ is not just about Jesus’ death. Even as Jesus hung on the cross, he spoke hope to a thief who needed solace.  He saw the man’s suffering and was willing to stand in that suffering with him.

Our king meets each of us in our vulnerability and weakness, willing to embrace all forgive all, redeem all, because that is his deepest and truest nature, because he loves each person totally and unequivocally.  Our king has come to usher us into his kingdom, even as he implores us to recognize and make more manifest that kingdom around us.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

[1] Daily Meditation, November 10, 2019.

[2] Daily Meditation, July 8, 2018.

[3] Quoted in Richard Rohr Daily Meditation, November 20, 2019.

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