Word for Wednesday…Tangent
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:9-11, NRSV
In a conversation with my son about last Sunday’s sermon, things got a little heated. I’m exaggerating a little. It would probably be more accurate to say it prompted healthy dialogue, which is becoming increasingly rare these days. It all started when he said that my little sidebar about politics and the January 6 protests at the Capitol building seemed forced, and not related to my larger point. While I thought there was some connection, I agreed that it was forced, and even said as much in the sermon. At the conclusion of my spiel I admitted I had gone off on a tangent, but felt it was necessary to address the situation from the pulpit. Regardless, I wasn’t bothered by his criticism, but rather by his interpretation of what I said, which was revealed as the conversation continued. It occurred to me that others may have also misunderstood.
To save you the trouble and/or pain of listening to the sermon again, I’ll try to summarize it. My focus was on the idea of Jesus’ secret identity, which was declared at his baptism. As Mark tells us, when Jesus rose up from the waters of the Jordan he saw the heavens torn apart, the Spirit descending on him like a dove, and heard a voice from heaven that declared, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This was a secret identity because it was not fully apparent to anyone, including his disciples, until his death and resurrection. Like Jesus, when we are baptized or confirmed, this identity, in some sense, becomes ours. The wall between us and God disappears, we receive his Holy Spirit, and we become his beloved sons and daughters. In contrast to Jesus, this identity is not to be kept secret, but shouted from the rooftops.
Now to the tangent. I argued that while this aspect of our identity should not be secret, other aspects of our identity, such as our political persuasion, should not be known to anyone except those closest to us. I suppose this has always been true, but given our current political climate, it is more true now than ever. I say this because declaring our political views outside the context of a relationship (such as making public statements of support, putting signs in our yards, posting on social media, or wearing a hat or t-shirt with our candidate’s name emblazoned on it) opens the door for people to make other assumptions about our beliefs and values. They are all essentially one-sided conversations where we don’t have the opportunity to qualify our statements. When those of us who claim to follow Jesus participate in these things…the name of Jesus becomes associated with policies, actions, beliefs and values that have nothing to do with him. His reputation, and the reputation of his followers, becomes tarnished. This was made painfully clear when an angry mob stormed the Capitol building last Wednesday.
Like many of you, I saw the disturbing footage of Wednesday’s protest over and over again. And nearly every time I saw signs littered throughout the crowd with Christian symbols, and sayings like, “Jesus Saves.” How the name of Jesus has become associated with something so antithetical to everything he taught and lived is no mystery. It’s because so many Christians, including influential Christian leaders, have made unqualified statements of support for the candidate these individuals represent. To be clear, what I mean by “unqualified statement of support,” is a statement that does not, in the same breath, acknowledge that many of the things this candidate does and says contradict the teachings of Jesus.
We did not arrive at this point overnight. It is the result of a decades-long, concerted and deliberate effort of some politicians to lead us to believe that being a Christian and being a Republican are one and the same. I believe the Christian leaders that have lent their support to this effort will be held accountable. I’m saddened that the events of last Wednesday have not compelled more of them to publically repent for their actions.
Please understand me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with identifying as both a follower of Jesus and a Republican, or as a follower of Jesus and a Democrat for that matter. I know sincere Christians on every point of the political spectrum. The call to follow Jesus is not a call to reject all things political. In fact, the earliest Christian confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” is an overtly political statement. It was their willingness to hold fast to this confession, a direct contradiction to the claim, “Caesar is Lord,” that led to the martyrdom of many early believers. The call to follow Jesus is a call to worship him and him alone, and make the identity established at our baptism paramount, more important than any other identity we embrace, especially our political affiliation. Let’s be followers of Jesus before we are anything else. Let’s make this identity the one that defines us the most, and let everything else be tangential to our life’s story.