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Power: Saints and the Kingdoms (message, 2016-1106)

. 6 min read

11/06/2016
Christ Mountain Top, All Saints
Call to worship, Psalm 149
Children, Luke 6.20-31 – beatitudes
Message, Daniel 7.1-18
Today
we are confronted with confusion and anxiety, and with our uncertain
relationship with power. Perhaps we feel the same way about Election Day?
      Today we face one of the strangest
passages offered for All Saints, this section from Daniel that usually has the
middle – the four beasts – removed from the reading because it is simply weird.
Now you know where the Revelation gets its imagery! It is harvested from some
of the least understood and most figurative texts in the rest of Scripture. Who
or what are these beasts? Traditionally, they are understood as four great
ancient kingdoms or empires, from Babylon to Medo-Persia to Greece to Rome. And
what does this passage have to do with saints? It is the last line of the text:
“But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the
kingdom forever – forever and ever” (Daniel 7.18). “Holy ones” is another
translation for the Hebrew and Greek word for “saints.”
            Today is All Saints Sunday. There are various meanings of “saint” – someone whose
life is an example for me, someone from New Orleans, unique persons in the
history of the church, those who are exemplary in holiness, those whom God uses
to perform miracles. One of the best and simplest definitions, one that fits
today’s passage, is that saints are God’s people, warts and all, holy because
God has claimed them. It fits with a wonderful phrase from Lutheran theology,
that we are simultaneously saint and sinner.
Story:
Compared to his brother, he was a saint.
One of the dangers in the political process, for God’s people, is that we
overlay our favorite candidate with the mythic potential and character of a
“saint”, however we understand sainthood (see Hunter, 186). Once we do that, we
lose our ability to think critically about our decision, and we lose the
ability to interact positively with those who disagree with us. This week, I
asked one of our groups if I should talk about politics today. “No … You’ll
have to provide separate exits for those for Hillary and those for Trump.” Of
course, the Scripture is not always cooperative. We’re stuck with a passage all
about kingdoms – politics, power, and public life – and where God’s saints fit
into the picture.

There are major ethical issues raised in this year’s
campaign: value of human life, from womb to tomb; value of women and how we
talk about women; racism and fear of the other.
There are significant honesty and trust issues before the
major candidates: emails, tax returns, oil money, Russian ties.
Some persons who have never voted third party before plan
to do so this year. Others are making their decision based on their preferred
vice president. Many, unfortunately, feel like their choice will be among the
lesser of several evils. Most of us are ready for it all to be over, and hope
that it will actually be over on Wednesday. Peggy Noonan, in WSJ, reminds us
that the sun will come out on Wednesday morning, though that has a 3% margin of
error.
Personally, in my cynical moments, I have decided that
one appropriate image for this particular campaign is the limbo: “How low can
you go?”
We are confronted with confusion, anxiety, and our
ambiguous feelings about power, in this season in our nation.
My
purpose in this message is not to tell you how to vote. I do encourage you to
vote, to vote prayerfully and conscientiously, to vote in consideration of the
values of the gospel as you understand and prioritize them. And, I am confident
that we’ll find folks in this congregation voting for all the candidates
available, and even some that aren’t on the ballot.
      I want to address how we live once
Wednesday comes. We will have, unless we have recounts or some other contested
point – oh, joy! – we will have a result. Depending on our perspective, we may
have elected the lesser or greater of several evils. We could easily be living
in a more divided nation. Or, we’ll all take a deep breath and go back to life as
usual, constitutional crises averted, as it always has been in the history of
our republic.
      Biblical apocalyptic is written with a
major purpose: To address the anxiety experienced by the people of God when all
the powers of the world stand against the gospel, against Jesus, and against
the people of God. That is not the context in which we find ourselves. That is,
the powers of this nation are not arrayed against the institution of the
church, though there are powerful forces arrayed against the values of the
gospel and even the interpretation of what the gospel demands of us is a matter
of significant debate. Perhaps the greatest indicator of these powers at work
is the assumption that the divisions in our nation are appropriately reflected
in the divisions in the people of God. In the nation, they are on party lines.
In the church, they are on holiness lines. Because of this, we conclude that
others are not simply wrong but may even be enemies, just because they vote
differently on the issues. My candidate is a saint, yours is an “ain’t”.
So,
let us not forget the call of Jesus to “love your enemies” (Luke 6.27). He
invites us to receive the violence of the powerful, to give up conventional
forms of power, to find the blessing in poverty, hunger, tears, and rejection. It
is action that is fitting to the kingdom of God, even if it makes no sense in
the politics of the kingdoms of this world.
      No wonder the politics of our world can
never achieve the kingdom of God. Yes, “kingdom of God” is a political phrase.
However, human politics cannot bring it about. James Hunter suggests that we,
as believers in Jesus, often put on politics “unrealistic expectations” to make
real the ideals that inspire us (To
Change the World,
186). None of the rulers in Daniel’s vision, none of the
great ancient empires, brought about the kingdom that the saints inherit. Not
particularly because they were all evil, but because they were all human. So,
let’s not confuse our chosen candidate with a saint and our chosen party with
the kingdom of God. Candidates come and kingdoms go, but the kingdom of God is
what lasts forever (Daniel 7.18), and that’s what we as God’s “holy ones”
inherit.
      I am not suggesting that we do not act in
the world, that we withdraw into a protective cocoon of Christian faith. No.
Vote. And act. Remember, though, that some of the most powerful ways we impact
the world happen entirely outside of the political process. We feed the hungry
here on Mountain Top. There are ways that our government makes that easier, but
it doesn’t happen without our generosity. We house the homeless, not just
putting a roof over their heads but providing them the skills to keep the roof
over their own heads. We surround at-risk children with a community of love and
forgiveness. Regardless of the results of any election, these opportunities are
available to us to act, to act in public, to act for the public good, to act in
the name of Jesus.
      And I am not suggesting that we have no
power. Because, to act in such ways, to act in line with the kingdom of God, is
to act in line with the power of God. We heard Jesus describe the power of God
in non-violent and non-coercive terms. In terms of politics, it doesn’t make
much sense. But this is the same power that makes the lame walk or walks with
them. This is the same power that cleanses lepers and that puts the HIV
positive in family circles. This is the same power that forgives sinners and
makes them a new community. This is the same power that raises our Lord Jesus
from the dead and makes possible a revolutionary new kingdom that turns all the
kingdoms of the world on end.
I
caught a glimpse of this revolution this week, of the weak becoming strong, of
the last going first, of the poor and hungry and crying and rejected finding
the place where they can stand up straight and tall and look both God and
mortal in the eye. In visits with two of our saints, both dealing with
confusion and anxiety, both lacking in conventional power, both significantly
weak, I found them with a firm hold on the kingdom that lasts, and the values
that give them true power.
Gerry, of his dad, father of 4 boys and 7 girls
Only third grade education
No two nickels to rub together
Greatest man in the world.
Richest man in the world
Judy,
singing along to the hymns

They
remind me of the hope of the gospel, of the promise of kingdom come.