God is King: A Sermon for the American Election

throne-of-jesus

Preached at First Baptist Church of Sudbury on the week before the American election, 2016.

“You see, having pledged all my allegiance to the Lamb I have none left for elephants or donkeys.” – Brian Zahnd

Isaiah 6:1-8: In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

1. Our time like Isaiah’s is a time of political uncertainty

This awesome vision of God on his throne is at a precarious time in the nation’s history. The beginning of the passage tells: “it was the year king Uzziah died.” It was a time of political instability, the death of the king, the prospect of a new king, the vulnerability of the change of power.

We are seeing some political instability of our own today, are we not? It is mostly our brothers and sisters to the South of us, but people like myself, who had an American Father (dual-citizen), a brother who has made America his home, congregants the are snow birds, American friends, etc. It feels like we are apart of this election too.

American politics effect us all, and so, we the world watch, almost powerless at this political spectacle.

We have watched perhaps one of the most divisive elections in recent memory. The division is perhaps most bitter because Christians have had the most inner conflict over who to support. Both candidates just don’t shine all that brightly.

I won’t get into it too far, but let me spell it out. For those of you who may be locked into one side or another, allow me, as your pastor, to take you down a notch. I am going to be as honest as I can and impartial as I can, because as I will say, that is apart of our calling as Christians. Honesty first.

First, Trump. Trump has shown himself to be a bash and vulgar candidate. His statements about ethnic minorities and women – joking about he can sexually assault women at will, getting away with it because of his wealth – is disgusting. His business dealings seem deeply questionable. Recent news leaked about his tax returns shows that the only reason he is a wealthy businessman is because his business dealings are so shady.

His faith is vague and self-serving at best. He seems functionally biblically illiterate. His God is the god that has made him rich.

Yet, many conservative Christians seek to support him because of the policies he has agreed to abide by. He has agreed to robust republican principles. He has chosen Mike Pence, a respected devout evangelical governor as his running mate.

And when it comes down to it, many evangelicals just can’t get to the point of trusting Hilary Clinton either.

Hilary Clinton is an accomplished politician, but that is probably the biggest problem. She is a politician through and through. An establishment thinker, a person that totes political ideals only when expedient, often compromising. She is what everyone hates about politicians.

Her email scandals, as Wikileaks has shown, reveals she has flip-flopped on numerous issues, backstabbed her colleagues to get ahead, colluded with the press to propagate misinformation; she has accepted corporate bribes and installed puppet positions for corporations, and she has many financial ties to questionable people.

Her support of near-term abortion is hard for even non-evangelicals to stomach. She holds to America’s right to pre-emptive war.

Now, having said all that, interestingly enough, as I read this week, Hilary Clinton has an oddly devoutly liberal Christian faith. I was surprised at this, since I assumed she was non-practicing. Actually, she is a life-long active member of the United Methodist church. She even has taught Sunday school for many years in Arkansas, when her husband was governor.

When Bill Clinton cheated on her, she took counsel from leading evangelical pastors like Rick Warren and Tony Campolo, both attest that she read her bible constantly during this time, and under great pressure from feminists who wanted her to leave her husband, she refused, citing her faith.

Evangelicals have a tendency to dismiss liberal Christians as illegitimate Christians, but if that is the case, we give credit where it is due. However, you wonder: does this really mean she has a personal relationship with Jesus, or is her faith more like a general sense of belief in God? I am not sure. Hilary keeps her religious commitments very private.

All of this is a bit of a head scratcher isn’t it? When it comes to who is the Christian, the choice is a Christian whose faith is completely self-serving and a Christian whose faith is completely private.

Christians are locked into an ideological battle: unclear questions over how to run the economy, how to support liberty, how to keep the world safe.

We are facing a time of deep political instability. There are rightwing militia groups that are threatening violence if Hilary is elected. People are googling how to move to Canada…which is flattering, but as I preached last year at our election, we’re not perfect, either.

I’ll be the first to say that a parliamentary system is more representative than an electoral college, but still…

The worst act I can see in this election is what has happened on Nov. 3. Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, church in a predominantly Black area of Mississippi, stated their objections to supporting Trump based on his racist remarks and the church was burned to the ground then tagged with the line, “Vote Trump.”

Republicans have denounced the act, but the fact remains. It was probably done by punk kids, but now a church, our brothers and sisters, have been attacked because of their convictions. Things are out of control.

Where do we look in the midst of this instability?

Do we look to ourselves? Do we look to particular candidate? Do we look to a particular party? What do we put our hope in?

In an election of trying to choose between the lesser of two evils, should there really be a Christian way of voting?

In all of this, Christians must look first and foremost to the king, not a president not a prime minister.

In the year that King Uzziah died, [in the time of deep uncertainty] I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne [I saw the true king]; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim [the majestic worldy powers], each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with [the] smoke [of worship].

2. We do not look to earthly politics, we look to the King

In times of political uncertainty, we look to the Lord, ruler of the universe.

This world cannot contain him.

This world’s politics cannot define him.

This world’s corruption cannot restrict him.

He is a God unmatched, unblemished, unlimited in power, holiness, glory and grace.

So many people obsess about who will occupy the throne of the American empire, Christians, however, have seen the Lord of hosts, seated on his throne, ready to render judgment, the world quaking from a simple glimpse of his splendor.

When we know this, we don’t put our trust in another god. Every political party wants to hail their leaders as messiahs. No. Christians have already seen the messiah.

Every political party wants to say that if their candidate doesn’t get in, it will be the end of the world. No. This world of corruption already has been overturned. It happened the moment the true messiah said, “It is accomplished.”

Every political party wants to say this is the path to progress and salvation. No. The path of progress is in trusting the Lord of history. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

When we realize this, our cry is Isaiah’s cry:

“Woe to me!” […] “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

When we see the King, we set our eyes on his kingdom, his way.

His way is honesty, purity, integrity, justice and peace.

The world says exalt yourself above and against your political opponents. They are wrong, you are right, and it is us versus them.

But Jesus says the first command is to love your neighbor as yourself. In his kingdom the first will be last and the last will be first.

In doing so, we have to repent of how we have invested our faith in a way that goes against the way of the cross.

3. If Jesus is our King, we have not been loyal to him

This election has shown us the importance of social media: petty twitter wars, the vast amount of online articles by self-proclaimed experts all obsessed with the next click-bait. Social media has fundamentally changed the way we relate to one another at every level, for good and bad.

Good in that we see real time fact-checking, but their findings are not comforting. Trump, while he has a kind of shoot from the hip feel of unfiltered honestly, his delusions of grandeur makes him almost completely incapable of giving an accurate assertion. On the other hand, Clinton, while clearly a more studied individual, has a kind of methodical intellect that lies very strategically, making both untrustworthy.

This election has been about the question of character, the lack of character each has. But we are just as bad. As we did in our own election last year, we sat in front of our TV’s watching political sparing for entertainment.

We mock and decry the ignorance of our political discourse, but very few of us have even bothered to read the party platform they voted for. Most voting in the US and Canada is done as a kind of knee jerk reaction to whoever feels right.

Trudeau proposes bill on assisted suicide. MP’s on both sides report their alarm at how little public reaction occurs. Trudeau bumps an MP with his elbow. It is a media frenzy. They called it Elbow gate. See what I mean?

When we buy into the political powers of this world, conservative or liberal, we have bought into a system where honesty is exchanged for popularity, integrity for expedience, reason for rhetoric, substance is exchanged for spectacle.

We sneer at the vices of the candidates in Canada and the US, but we are the ones with unclean lips among a people of unclean lips.

Sorry Lord. Sorry Jesus. We have allowed our fears and fantasies to blind us to your Spirit. Forgive us.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

4. Jesus commissions us for his way

When we realize our sinfulness, our unclean lip, we also realize that Jesus is always there ready to forgive. And more than that. He forgives, then he commissions.

The saddest thing for me to see is fellow Baptist Christians on both sides overlooking character flaws of candidates to give their endorsements, all to make sure their faith privileges and power are maintained, their convictions validated.

As Baptists we believe in a little thing called separation of church and state. As the former president of the Baptist Union of the UK, Nigel Wright said, the separation of church and state is fundamentally the separation of faith from power.

That means I think it is unethical for a pastor to ever use their popularity to endorse a candidate, much less invoke God’s approval of one or another, and even worse threaten God’s judgment on those that disagree. It’s not just unethical. I think it is blasphemous. It is the way of Caesar, not Christ.

I fundamentally disagree with attempts to legislate Christian convictions in laws. I don’t want the government to do the church’s job. I don’t want laws to do the Holy Spirit’s job. I could delude myself into thinking that would help the church stay powerful and privileged, but history shows the opposite. Every time we have gone back on our principles and tried to use political power to maintain the faith, hypocrisy and scandal usually followed. Christ’s name has not been hallowed.

I am fundamentally skeptical about political powers being able to help the church build the kingdom of God. “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” Zechariah 4:6.

Democracy was inspired by Christian principles of the liberty of the soul. Liberalism, in one version, despite its secular form now, was founded on the notion that all people have rights because they are all God’s creation, in his image. Conservatism, in one version, sought to conserve traditional Christian institutions, values and wisdom to confront modern problems.

But Christians need to be separate from all earthly powers, and that means realizing the democracy, our democracies, are flawed. That is what Christians need to be doing. Instead of bickering about who do vote for, let’s talk about how our voting system is flawed.

For the most part, the full extend of our interaction with our candidates is checking an X on a little flimsy piece of paper.

You cannot state that you support some of the candidate on that paper.

You cannot just say you support just some of one candidate’s policies.

You cannot just say that you support the party but not the candidate.

You cannot say anything.

All you do is make an X.

And when I put that X, I don’t have to research a candidate in order to vote. I can be completely ignorant.

I don’t have to have good motivations to vote for any candidate. For fiscal conservatives it is voting for the person that will give them more tax breaks and protect my cultural privileges. For liberals, it is the person that will give me more in social spending and legitimate my lifestyle. We who live in Ontario, will vote for what benefits us more at the cost of those who life in BC or the Maritimes.

Even worse, I can be completely thoughtless in my choice. But in a culture that valorizes choice above all else, even irrational, immoral, self-destructive thoughtless choice, that is still acceptable. “This person looks better and talks smoother; I’ll vote for them!”

Then we demonize who oppose us. Let’s be realistic. The figures show that some in this room are more right leaning, and others more left leaning. Our political discourses want to portray our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as stupid, evil, our enemies in advancing what is good.

When we want to talk about a Christian way of voting, let’s start with that.

In a moment of true prophetic brilliance, Pastor Brian Zahnd, has promised his vote to someone else. This is by no means a recommendation for us all, but he thought to himself, “I am a middle class white person. I will always have a voice. I need to be a voice to the voiceless.” So, he approached a man in his community that he had supported for years. A man that legally came to US, has a job, kids born here, but because of the terrible immigration laws and backlog, he has lived in poverty, afraid of being deported at any moment. Pastor Zahnd has promised his vote to him. On election day, he will take a sealed envelope and X off the choice this person decided.

Like I said, that might not be normative for us all, but that does show a politic where the first will be last and the last will be made first.

This election reminds us that we have a different king. Our allegiance is to King Jesus. “You see, having pledged all my allegiance to the Lamb I have none left for elephants or donkeys.” – Brian Zahnd

This election reminds us that we have a different kingdom

We have a different ethnicity: the people of God, where all people are heard, given dignity, shown forgiveness and grace.

We have a different constitution: Where the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the prophets, are the blessed citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

We have a different way of life: the cross, where the first are last and the last are first.

This election reminds us that we have a different hope: Hope in God’s Spirit, that Jesus’ kingdom is beyond any earthly power, but is imminent to those who trust in him.

Whom shall the Lord, Our King, send?

Here we are, Lord, send us.

 

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