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Posts Tagged ‘politic’

Each time I send in my quarterly taxes I can hear the Beatles singing in the background. “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat, If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet. Don’t ask me what I want it for, If you don’t want to pay some more. Cause I’m the taxman…” It makes me want to cast my line in the lake and hope to catch a fish with the coin I need in its mouth.

At the same time, I hear a question asked Jesus “Do we pay taxes or not?” This reminds us that politics were alive and well in first century Palestine. The fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this episode reminds us that the gospels have an interest in politics as well. And Jesus was right in on the political discussion. This is good for us to be reminded of. Especially those of us who want to believe religion is private and separate from politics and that Jesus only talks about spiritual things.

Considering the song his mother sings during her pregnancy, I suspect her lullabies may have been a little political as well. If that is the case then it is no surprise that when Jesus began ministry he began with a political announcement. A new kingdom is here!

The context we are given for Jesus birth is Caesar’s decree. At his death he is charged as a rival king. And then in between he is asked the question “Do we pay taxes or not?” There is simply no way to avoid the idea that to follow Jesus puts us in a political story.

Caesar has coins stamped in his image. Jesus asks for one of these and says something along the line of “Caesar can stamp his image on as many of these as he desires. But do not let Caesar stamp his image on you. You do not belong to Caesar.” Jesus wants to be sure we do not confuse God with Caesar. We are in a political story. And following Jesus complicates politics.

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I am struck by the amount of time the church spends talking about world leaders. Even more, I am struck by the division of Christians as they talk as if their allegiance is with one leader or another or one party over another. Still, after reading the New Testament, I cannot find the parts where the church becomes preoccupied with such conversation. If the first century Christians were debating who would succeed Tiberius as emperor, the New Testament does not show much interest. If the church divided its loyalties for and against the incoming Caligula, there is no mention of it.

Four years later, after Caligula was murdered, where is the talk about Claudius replacing him? And when Claudius banned Jews from Rome and made other important policy decisions, were there some Christians defending him and others asking for his removal? When Claudius was poisoned, did anyone in the church become obsessed with what Nero’s economic or foreign policy would be? Perhaps such conversations occurred, I cannot claim to know. But, if they did, the New Testament does not consider them worth mentioning.

Instead, the New Testament uses a lot of space to repeatedly focus on things like the death and resurrection of Jesus. While Rome appeared to rule and Caesars came and went, the New Testament remained interested in other news. I suppose conversations about emperors are not in the New Testament for a reason. It is possible the New Testament writers are only interested in the political changes that came with Jesus of Nazareth. It is possible the Christians in the first century were already aware that Caesar did not rule the world. It is possible they already realized that neither Julio-Claudians nor Flavians nor democrats nor republicans held the answers. It is possible that early Christians were convinced that if Jesus was risen the rest of this conversation was a sub point at best.

The first Christians knew their identity as Roman was not their primary identity. They knew that Rome was not the primary kingdom. They knew Caesar was not the true king. And they knew that Roman politics were not their politics. Instead, they were convinced that God had become flesh and sent the Spirit to make a new politic possible. A politic that, in our more faithful moments, we call church.

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I bet Isaiah 7.14 sounds like Christmas to you. At least it does to me. I can almost hear carols in the background while reading it. It makes me feel like I am opening a Christmas card. I feel a twinge of excitement. I think I can smell Christmas while listening to it. And then, after Isaiah sings it, Matthew sings it again – a remix.

But unlike Matthew, Isaiah was not thinking about Christmas. He was thinking about politics. He was thinking about a clash between prophet and king. He was thinking about how different the world of faith is from the world of fear.

During this time the world power was Assyria. They made the rules and made sure the rules were followed.  The neighbor kings are tired of this and try to get King Ahaz and Judah to join forces to overthrow Assyria. Isaiah goes to the king with a message and a sign. But the king knows how the world works. He knows where the power is. He ignores the request of the neighbors and tries to snuggle up with Assyria. His worst decision, he ignored the message of the prophet. He refused the sign.

The sign that Ahaz ignored becomes important. A woman will be with child. She will have a son. His name shall be Immanuel. Immanuel means literally “God is with us.” A significant part of the sign for Isaiah is timing. Before the child is old enough to know right from wrong the lands of the kings will be forsaken. It seems the child will be living without fear, enjoying meals of curds and honey. In other words, the original sign is to alert the king that God truly is with his people. When this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. Unfortunately, Ahaz refused “God with us.”

Centuries later Matthew repeats the sign of the prophet and paints for us a picture. There is a woman with child. She will have a son. He shall be called Immanuel. Immanuel literally means “God is with us.” We are more familiar with this story. We know something about this child. We might feel a twinge of excitement. The sign is of great importance. When this sign occurs, when this child is born, when this happens – be on the lookout! Salvation is near. This child is the visible physical evidence that God is with us.

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I get it. You were stressed about this election. You were passionate and full of feeling about who would take their place in the executive branch of our government. And now you are still stressed. You were up all night watching election returns and too tired (and depressed) to go to work. It is hard to believe that not everyone sees things as clearly as you do. It is hard to stop thinking that those who do not see things the way you do are simply stupid.

Or, you were stressed before the election. And now you are relieved. You are convinced the right candidate won. You were up all night watching election returns and running on adrenalin. You are trying to convince yourself that God wanted it to be like this. And of course, it is hard to stop thinking that those who do not see things the way you do are simply stupid.

You try to convince yourself that you are simply trying to be biblical in your response. That God called you to be a democrat, or a republican. The fact is, you are probably a democrat because your grandfather was. Or because your college professor strongly influenced you to become one. You are probably a republican because you were raised in the Midwest where everyone is republican. Or because you rebelled against your liberal parents and joined the young republicans at an early age. No matter how we got where we are, we are feeling a great deal of passion and emotion about our decision (and about those who make opposing decisions).

In the midst of all these feelings, there is something we must not forget. Our definition of sovereignty does not permit us to become too dependent on any candidate, not even a candidate for president. We can never put our trust in a political party or a candidate to solve issues like poverty, racism, or any list of “political issues.”  Before the first ballot was cast on Election Day, we already knew that Jesus was risen. We knew that Jesus was sovereign. We knew that Jesus ruled as King of the Kingdom. When we all woke the day following the election, we know that Jesus is risen. We know Jesus is sovereign. We know that Jesus rules in His Kingdom. No, our hope is not in an election. But in the Good News of another Kingdom.

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An entry from October 6, 1774 in The Journal of John Wesley

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

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There is a lot of energy spent trying to convince us that we are dependent on politicians. This is not a new phenomenon. Even Luke the historian from the first century knows this. I can’t help but notice how political Luke gets when writing his Gospel. Chapter three begins by making certain we know who the Caesar is (Tiberius), who the governor of Judea is (Pontius Pilate), who the tetrarch of Galilee is (Herod). We are also told that Philip is tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitus. That Lysanius is tetrarch of Abilene. That Annas and Caiaphas were high priests.

Yet, these are not the politics Luke is primarily interested in. What he really wants us to know is that during this time “The word of God came to John.” Luke is reminded of someone else who preached in politically charged times by the name of Isaiah. Isaiah preached to kings. Isaiah watched kings go to war. He watched kings rise and kings fall and new kings take their place. I think Luke is interested that in the day of Isaiah – God intervened.

This reminds us of another politically charged message, John’s. After he spoke the crowd asked “What are your politics John?” And John replied “share with one another. Be generous. Be aware of those in need.” The tax collectors asked “What are your politics?” And John replied “do not steal from others. Stop taking what does not belong to you.” The soldiers asked “John what are your politics?” And John replied “do not coerce others or use force to get them to do what you want. Do not accuse others falsely. Be content with your wages.” Some wanted him to run for office. He declined but did confront the tetrarch about his politics.

This is the way history goes according to the bible. Politicians appear to rule. They look so in charge. But repeatedly, God intervenes. It is of interest to us that in the days of politicians, God intervenes. In the seasons where kings and Caesar’s rule and governors govern, and tetrarchs do whatever tetrarchs do – God intervenes. Every time, anytime we look at history, politicians will seem to be in charge. Hopefully we will be reminded of John the Baptist and be reminded that our politics are different.

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We live in a democracy. Sometimes we act as if that means the church has fewer challenges than, if we lived in say, first century Rome. We may not have fewer challenges. However, our challenges are different. For example, we sometimes trick ourselves into thinking church and government work together as allies to make the world a better place. We may not know what it is like to be threatened by Rome’s lions or Babylon’s fiery furnace, still we are not without challenges.

We are hearing a lot of political noise on a daily basis. To listen may cause us to feel a great deal of emotion. To listen, one might think the best way to win an election is to shame the opponent. We do not participate in this. No matter how disagreeable a candidate may be, they were still created in the image of God. Here are some words we may wish to add to the political conversation;

  • The government does not mirror the will of God. Government is not given divine permission to do what it wants.
  • We are to be good citizens. This is not the same as total obedience to Caesar.
  • Government at its best is a temporary good. At its worst government will make demands of the church that are counter to church.
  • “What can the church do for the state?” is never the right question, never.

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