March 14, 2016
Over the last 30 years, I have spent thousands of hours in front of crowds – on Sunday mornings, and other occasions – telling them what I really believe. Each of those settings was wrapped in a “nonprofit, Christian ministry” package. That isn’t a free-for-all territory; that ministry space has rules…
As a tax-exempt ministry, there are certain freedoms we agree to forestall. Commentaries or actions made to the direct benefit of any particular candidate or party are “over the line,” so far as the enforcers of the not-for-profit frontier are concerned…
That’s what it takes to be “legitimate” in the eyes of the United States government. But there’s an even more important question to explore: what does it take to be “legitimate” in the eyes of God? It’s one thing to have your offering plate approved by the mighty IRS; the bigger issue is whether or not your pulpit is approved by the almighty GOD.
Mud wrestling used to be an off-beat sideshow for beer-fests and backwater bar scenes. People willing to wallow were a curiosity that brought out the blue collar crowds, to give them some pressure relief. Today’s political campaigns have adopted the same ground rules; according to the WWE, “the objective of mud-wrestling is to throw your opponent into a large pool of mud…”
“War has rules; mud-wrestling has rules; politics has no rules.” (Ross Perot) If you’re running for president, it seems like the current strategy is to throw your opponent into the pool, without getting too much of the mud splash on yourself. The savvy alternative: have a surrogate do it for you, providing plausible deniability.
Of late, I haven’t been asked to endorse anyone in the races, but I have been told – strongly – that I have a responsibility to denounce at least one candidate (which I have no plans to do). So, what should those (we) pulpit pounders be saying this year? Where is the “safe zone” in the sermon space?
If political commentary was to be included in the preaching portfolio, surely Jesus would have been on-record with some doozies. Raised in in 1st Century Israel – with freedom curtailed by Roman occupation – he was surrounded by an ethnic/religious people group living under duress, awaiting a Messiah who would establish a governmental solution to their greatest felt needs. He was a public figure; if Jesus was going to connect with the crowd, what would he have to say about Rome?
Here it is, in a nutshell. In a direct conversation with the highest Roman government official in Israel (Pilate), here is what was said on that Good Friday morning: “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’… Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.’ ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ ” (John 16:33,36-37).
Jesus never avoided controversy, but his most divisive statements – the ones that created the emotionally-charged firestorms that put his life in jeopardy – were along this line, with the Pharisees: “ ‘Who do you think you are?’ Jesus replied, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word’ …At this, they picked up stones to stone him…” (John 8:53-39).
Candidates and campaigns come and go: the only issue on the table from God’s perspective – during an election year, during any year – is this: do you endorse the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and give your full allegiance to him?