First Mennonite Church
October 23, 2016
Followers of Jesus Have Dual Citizenship (Some have more but not less)
Texts: Luke 22: 24-27, Psalm 33
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
As you can see from my sermon title for today, my reflection will deal on a topic often times avoided in Christian churches or at times mishandled when boarded. I want to speak today of the national ritual of voting. Americans have the opportunity to vote every two years. And the preceding campaign leading to these events pollutes and poisons the airwaves and continuously divide and deepen the wounds of our society. The effects of this unhealthy cycle damage the very soul of our society. They make impossible to attain unity even on issues for the common good of the people and in worst cases make people see each other through ideological lenses instead of the image of God in the other person.
In that reality of events and conditions the church is called to be a healing community, a community in which worldly distinctions and stratification are overcome. As we will see, the church cannot fulfill its divine calling if it does not address the issues of its immediate surroundings. As for me, as under-shepherd of this flock, I believe it is imperative on my part to address this issue.
It could be that you cringed at my mention of my topic for today, thinking, “Oh no! Not here, please!” So, let me be clear. I do should not and cannot persuade you to embrace one ideological side or the other. My address here is to see what the Bible, and particularly, what Jesus has to say about the kingdom of this world in comparison to the kingdom of God and us being citizens of both kingdoms.
Another reason I want to speak on this subject today is because often times the church service seems to reinforce the mentality that this place is indeed our “sanctuary.” Sanctuaries are synonymous to places of protection from the troubles and dangers around them. Therefore, we believe the troubles and dangers out there in the street and the raw reality of the world around us have no place in the sanctuary, even when these are the realities we are confronted by and talk about once we step out of the sanctuary. It is no wonder why many people accuse God as being irrelevant to the realities of life and that the church service most often displays this irrelevancy through its avoidance or silence on the real issues that the people face.
Let us begin with two questions: What is the state? And why do Americans vote? The state is any organized body of people under a given form of government—democratic, monarchic, and dynastic, etc. Historically, Christians began to relate to the state in the fourth century when Caesar Constantine ended the imperial persecution of Christians. At that time, Christians began to enjoy wielding power and influence over the Roman Empire. This merge between the church and the government gave Christians the power to put forward laws that were favorable to them and in line with their beliefs. At times these laws were imposed even through the use violence. The great Christian theologians and historians such as Augustine and Eusebius, respectively, interpreted the empire’s success as God’s blessings and its decline as God’s punishment. In their view, the government through its laws became the means to bring about the will of God in the Empire. But this marriage between the church and the state gradually went from bad to worse, not only economically, but also morally and spiritually. That spiritual and moral decline gave rise to various attempts of renewal. When the Reformation movement swept across Europe it further weakened the control and influence of the Roman church/state, and also contributed to the consolidation of the provincial monarchies. Throughout Europe, the provincial kings followed the same pattern of government the Roman Empire had—a church/state government. Kings acquired more power once they abandoned the Roman church and state control.
Now let me speak briefly on why Americans vote.
Let us make a long jump to 1776. In the US declaration of independence is inscribed an outright rejection of the divine right of kings. The concept that the king acquires the right to rule directly from God that the king is answerable for his actions to God alone, was clearly rejected in the US Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This sentence has been praised as “one of the best-known sentences in the English language”.
Rejection of monarchic rule was based on the belief that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That meant that not only the king is bestowed with authority to rule, but all men, for they are equally created. The monarchic rule was rejected and the democratic system of government was embraced. In Abraham’s address in 1863, he gave the most eloquent definition of a democratic government when he said, “We here highly reserve . . . that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” For two centuries Americans have been told that their government is the people’s, by the people and for the people. And we have believed it. Therefore, the act of voting is the way Americans exercise this divine right to govern themselves. Voting is thus considered a “sacred duty” and privilege. Today, with all the lobbyists, interest groups, and money that influence in the chambers of government, we wonder if indeed the people actually govern. Do they?
So, what exactly is the purpose of voting? At the surface, the electoral process has the purpose of selecting the peoples’ representatives who should speak on behalf of their interest and to translate into public policy their ideals. Generally, the choice of the majority of voting participants wins. In essence, the purpose of voting is to restrain the policies and views of one side and to impose the choices and views of the other. Underlying the electoral process is human selfishness. Wants and preferences clash.
On a positive note, voting at least provides a time in which the people are consulted.
So today we should ask ourselves, does Jesus speak about this issue? What does he say about the state and those who govern?
First let us remember that Jesus was a citizen of a state dominated by the Romans. He lived in a real world with real problems of all kinds. And his words in Luke 22 give us a clear window on how he viewed the state and those who rule.
25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Jesus simply describes the role of those in power—they lord over their subjects. It is important to note that Jesus does not condemn the rulers, neither does he give them his blessing. Jesus does not say that rulers are established by God. He simply states what they do –they lord over the people. Along with lording over others, they call themselves benefactors. And this was true then as it is now. Everyone who vies for a seat in government claims have served and promises to continue serving. The kingdoms of the world have always justified their lording over others on moral grounds—they are the best, have experience, will stand against what brings fear to the people (defeat ISIS), and they will respond to the concerns of their constituencies, etc..
The act of ruling over others has always been and will always be through coercion. “We will make new laws,” they promise.
Democracies and in the case of the US, the separation of powers is a good safe guard that lessens the dangers of oppressiveness of power. At every election, the people are consulted and given the opportunity to make changes in a nonviolent manner. Christian participation should be done with a sense of gratitude that at least the people are consulted as to who governs and what changes they want to make. Yet, Christians should participate with low expectations to the extent of real changes.
Let me tell you two main reasons we should have low expectation of meaningful change. First and the main reason is because every kingdom of the world is simply under the influence of evil. No matter which party governs or what type of kingdom-of-the-world is established it is strongly under the influence of the fallen principalities and forces. The Christian should not give full allegiance nor should fully align his or her life with its ideology. In this case, our participation in the election process is one of the weaker forms in which Christians speak truth to power. Christians speak stronger by modeling a Christ-like service to those at the margin of society. Jesus did not spend his life and ministry fighting back the Romans or the Jewish authorities. He spent his life serving and doing good.
The second reason we should have a low expectation in the electoral process is because no version of the kingdom of this world will ever fulfill the expectations where Christians can find themselves completely at home. There is no one side, no political party, and no nation for that matter that is truly Christian. All will claim to have aspects of it but they are not and should not be taken as Christian entity. The church is the only human organization that make such claim as being Christian.
The Christian belongs the kingdom of God. To God and his kingdom belong our full allegiance and to it we cling our hope. Also, Jesus is our model for this type of kingdom and citizenship. His service to other even onto death defines the true qualities of a servant leader. But when Christians put a high level of expectation in a given ideology, process and result of any version of the kingdom of the world, most naturally, that Christian gets absorbed in a cycle characteristic of the world and fights with the weapons of the world. But what is most evident is that such a Christian denies his or her loyalty to Christ and his kingdom. Again, having a low expectation for real changes through voting gives evidence as to where and to whom we pledge our allegiance. To put is simple: low expectation on the kingdom of this world shows we are serious with our commitment to the kingdom of God, because our trust is in him alone.
Let me finish by reading Psalm 33. Let these words echo in our heart.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence, note 8 (Thursday, October 20, 2016)