A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Christian Nation?

Last Sunday I gave a sermon which made me a bit nervous.  The scripture for the day was Mark 10 where James and John ask Jesus to allow them to sit at his right hand and left hand.  This follows Jesus telling the disciples he is going to suffer and be killed.  Seems James and John didn't really get what Jesus was saying.  Jesus is talking about death and they are talking about glory.  Ever have one of those conversations where it seems like you are talking past each other?  

But I don't think much has changed.  I still think we don't get it.  I think we are still operating in the ways of the world not the ways of God.  As evidence of this I wrote the following: 

We still measure success and prestige within the church by the number of people in the pews.  Many Christian songs talk about victory and “Our God Reigns” and other images of power.  Somehow I doubt most of us immediately think of the cross when we hear these words or invision the foot washing.  Other signs of our misunderstanding are a little more complicated.  Consider the push in our country to insure we are a “Christian nation.”  Consider the repeated refrain that our country was founded on "Christian values."    Undoubtedly there are some good intentions behind such arguments but at the heart of it, I wonder if this is an illustration we still just don’t get it.  

Jesus did not come to take over Rome.  Jesus did not come to become just another Caesar.  Jesus proclaims that the ways of the world are not the ways of God.  Jesus came to heal, and to teach, showing God cares about the least of these.  In so doing Jesus suffered the wrath of a world which takes offense at those who do not work according to rules of military, monetary, and prestigious power.  Yet, in some ways, we are still trying to make the church, the body of Christ, just another Caesar.   

There are mitigating factors certainly.  We want our children to be raised in a place which upholds our values.  We are trying to do what is best for all people, perhaps. It is true, as Christians, Jesus is our Lord and not the rulers of the world.  But the reality is proclaiming our country as a Christian nation attempts to use the power of our history or use the power of our majority status to get our way, to gain more power, lording it over those who don't believe or believe differently.  Really no different from James and John.    

I don’t say this to push a political agenda but merely to point out how difficult it is to truly hear Jesus’ message when the messages of the world inundate our every moment.  And the messages of the world make so much sense.   We don’t want to be tyrants, after all.  We just want to be safe.  If we control things then surely we will be safe.  If we are a Christian nation then surely God will be on our side.  If we are strong and powerful then no one will mess with us and everything will be okay.  Yet history shows this not to be true.  Everyone wants to be safe and everyone wants power.  Gaining power means the constant battle to maintain that power.  Thus the fighting goes on and on.  

Jesus tells us there is another way.  Jesus tells us the way to be great is through great service.  After telling the disciples these things the next thing we read Jesus did was to heal a blind man.  Jesus continually tells us we are called to be about healing, feeding the hungry, and welcoming the outcast.  

Perhaps some of you can see why speaking these things might make me nervous.  I live in an area of the country where the U.S.A. as a Christian nation is generally considered as obvious and unassailable as the reality of gravity.  But, what is Jesus about if he is not, in part, about challenging our assumptions?  

However, I don't have all the answers either so I ended my sermon with a call to consider some questions.  I would love to hear what you all have to say to these (or any other comments you may have):  how can we serve?  how can we let go of our power for the sake of others?  how can we be about healing and lifting up the lowly in our world? 

by Sheri Ellwood


Charlene said...

I like that you've noted the drive to be a "Christian nation" may come from a need for safety. It's worth remembering that unbelievers, gays, and people who are unsuited to traditional gender roles also just want to be safe, and that's why the words "Christian nation" frighten us so much. Is there some way we can meet ALL of our needs for safety, at the same time?

Sheri Ellwood said...

So much we do is motivated by fear. The only way any of us can be safe is if we work to make sure we all are safe. Desmond Tutu talks a lot about this when he talks about ubuntu which means something like " I am because we are. ". If anyone is hungry we all are in danger of hunger and so on. If only we could all understand this interconnectedness and act accordingly.

Charlene said...

I need a "like" button for your comments, too.