It’s Pastoral Ministry Tuesday, so that means it’s time for another post about my life as a pastor and this story I find myself in.
It’s been a while.
To be honest, I’ve been living somewhere between exhausted and disoriented which has opened the door to some depression over the last little while.
I’m settling into some healthy rhythms now. Getting started back with a spiritual director. I’m finding my tribe. Making space to just be again.
But still, the situations around me, the stuff going on in the world and in the lives of my friends, family and church family, it still has me disoriented. It’s like I have been bombarded with stuff and now, in the stillness, what I find myself focusing on is listening for the next bomb that will go off, the next disaster that will land, the next tornado that will touch down in my neighborhood (literally AND metaphorically).
Tonight, because the Presidential debate is on, I’m thinking about all the political turmoil that is on the go and how thoroughly disappointed I am in how the Church (big C) has responded in this season.
As in, “what have I been doing with my life for the last 35 years” kind of disappointed.
And I feel like I can’t even express my feelings without being offensive to people and sharing your feelings shouldn’t be something that offends people. It’s hard to have relationship when you can’t talk about your feelings.
There’s a moment where Pilate points to Jesus during his deliberations about what to do with him and says (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Look! Here’s your king!” and the Jewish leaders reply, “We have no king but Caesar!”
If ever there was a blasphemous statement, that one qualifies. The intent of that line in the Gospels is to take our breath away. To elicit a collective gasp from the people of faith.
The answer for people of faith is that we have no king but YHWH, we have no king but God, no king but Jesus.
One allegiance. Just the one. Everything else has to line up way behind that one. Even our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters don’t share the same loyalty as the one we give to God. Our allegiance to God is supposed to be so intense, so determined, so focused that it makes our love for our family look like hate.
There’s this funny word in the Old Testament, ‘shibboleth.’ It became a word that divided the in people from the out people by the way they pronounced the word. You recognized your tribe by their “sh” or their “s” sound. They might be jerks or scoundrels or reprobates or bullies but as long as they hit the right note (right being the one that corresponded to your group) they were in and I’d stand with them in a fight with someone from the other group even if they were kind, gentle and patient people.
Today if feels like we’ve come up with our own shibboleth in the 21st century United States. And we’ve made a particular political affiliation equivalent with being authentic followers of Jesus. This is how hell works. This is the work that the anti-christs are up to.
When Paul described the fight we find ourselves in he told us that it wasn’t about the person you could see but about the powers and principalities, authorities, that operated on people. Paul was explicitly talking about things like government and economics and politics when he talked about these powers. No doubt there is demonic influence in these areas but he wasn’t talking about devils and demons.
We are the kingdom of God, set up and in conflict with EVERY political power and solution that mankind will come up with. There is NO political party, by the nature of political parties, that is a friend to the Church and the people of faith.
But don’t take my word for it.
Daniel drops an interpretation of his pagan king’s dream in Daniel 2. Here’s how he broke it down.
31 “In your vision, Your Majesty, you saw standing before you a huge, shining statue of a man. It was a frightening sight. 32 The head of the statue was made of fine gold. Its chest and arms were silver, its belly and thighs were bronze, 33 its legs were iron, and its feet were a combination of iron and baked clay. 34 As you watched, a rock was cut from a mountain, but not by human hands. It struck the feet of iron and clay, smashing them to bits. 35 The whole statue was crushed into small pieces of iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold. Then the wind blew them away without a trace, like chaff on a threshing floor. But the rock that knocked the statue down became a great mountain that covered the whole earth.”
The statue is the government, political powers of humankind. The stone, not made nor cut by human hands, not looking like a man at all, is the kingdom of God. The kingdom doesn’t come to support or empower or advise or guide human government.
Because they are incompatible.
The kingdom comes and crushes all the human systems, replaces them and covers the whole earth. The powers are turned to dust in the wind.
The great temptation of the last 1500 years has been for the Church to allow (or even pursue) the powers and principalities to coop the kingdom for their own ends so that we might have influence and a sense of legitimacy.
That’s why, when Jesus describes the people who are the people of God, he uses descriptors that will be despised and rejected by the governments of mankind.
The poor, those who mourn, the humble, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, those who desire only one thing, those who work for peace and do right, even when they get bullied for doing it.
Can you see how incompatible those people are with the powers and principalities of human government and power?
You can easily argue that one form of government or system of government is better than another for the people who are under that system. But the story we are in leaves no room for us to argue that any of these systems are blessed by God. Daniel makes it clear, God has cursed them all. Their end is dust. All of them.
So as the people of God, it’s very important that we not lose sight of where we have pledged our one and only allegiance. It’s vital that we keep in front of ourselves the truth that every single system of man is opposed to the kingdom of God and what we must not find ourselves fighting against, hating with words or actions, demeaning, doing violence to or living with disregard towards is our neighbor – you know, our neighbor in the biblical sense.
Tomorrow, if you haven’t unfriended me, my facebook feed will be full of ugly things people are saying that, like the ‘shibboleth,’ will draw lines that the blood of Jesus was shed to erase. Tomorrow, my facebook feed will be filled with Christians crowing that their candidate won the debate and the other candidate sucked ass. Tomorrrow, my facebook feed will demonstrate that many of my Christian friends still think that other people are our enemy, despite what the Gospel says. Many of my Jesus following friends who have sworn their allegiance to him as their king will still imply their trust for a better tomorrow is in a person, a party and a power that God has already told us through Daniel is just dust in the wind.
And tomorrow, when I scroll through my newsfeed, I will face some big questions about how effective I have been as a pastor and how effective I have been in helping people enter into the story of Jesus and how effective I have been in guiding people to invest their one allegiance into Jesus and the kingdom of God.