Psalm 17:1-9, Luke 20:27-38, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Jim Benedict is the pastor at the Union Bridge Church of the Brethren, not too far from New Windsor. He also grew up in Iowa listening to Cubs games, rooting for the Cubs, and for their AAA farm team the Iowa Cubs. After the Cubs won the World Series, their first championship since 1908, he wrote the following.
“108 years is a long time. 108 years ago, the world was different – no TV, no radio. Airplanes and cars existed, but millions of Americans had never actually seen one. Women couldn’t vote, but the first Mother’s Day was celebrated. William Howard Taft was elected president, the FBI was formed and the first Model T rolled off the assembly line.
“108 years ago, baseball was different. Pitchers could pitch over 400 innings in a season, and win 40 games. The Major League home run leader that year hit a total of 7. The song, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” was copyrighted, and believe it or not, the team from Cleveland almost faced off against the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. They weren’t the Indians yet; they were the Cleveland Naps, short for Napoleons, and named after their star 2nd baseman and player-manager Nap Lajoie. Oddly enough, they came in 2nd in the American League to Detroit (90-63) because Cleveland (90-64) played (and lost) one more game than the Tigers during the regular season.
“108 years is a long time. The world was different. Baseball was different. Generations have come and gone, waiting for the Cubs to win the World Series again. But the wait is over. Congratulations, Cubbies.”
I liked that. When you are a sports fan who roots for a bad team, it can be very, very difficult. For Cubs fans, they wandered in the desert of defeat for a whole lot longer than Moses and the Israelites had to wander in their desert. Being a Cubs fan has taken patience and faith.
The same is true of being a fan of politics, particularly this election season. I’m not going to go into much detail about the election or the choices. Some of us have already voted, some of us will be voting, some of us may sit it out. Some of us will vote a straight ticket and some of us will split tickets, and some of us might leave one or more offices blank on our ballots. Being a fan of politics this election season, especially a fan of the kind of politics that wants to bring people together who will work together in good faith for the national interest, is taking a lot of patience and a lot of faith.
Usually I like to use the Psalm as our call to worship. I chose not to do that today, which you may have understood if you were paying attention to the Psalm as I read it. Here are selected portions of it again: “(O God, ) give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.” “(If You test me) You will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.” My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not transgressed.”
I didn’t have us read those aloud because I was afraid that our inner Politifact would give all of us a “Pants on Fire” rating. Those things aren’t true. They aren’t true of us. They may be true for a brief time after we confess our sins and seek God’s grace and forgiveness, but we don’t have to wait long until we will sin again.
The candidates are all kind of like us, to one degree or another. To listen to their supporters, a candidate has lips free of deceit, with no wickedness in them. Earlier this year Omarosa Manigault, Donald Trump’s director of African American outreach, said that eventually “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump.” I thought of that when I read the passage from 2 Thessalonians where Paul writes, “He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.”
I’m not picking on Trump, and I am not saying that he is the anti-Christ, and I am not saying that Omarosa meant this literally. While Donald Trump certainly has a healthy ego, as any successful politician must, I am not saying that he thinks of himself as higher than God. But that’s how we look at our political leaders sometimes. That’s how we look at our nation sometimes.
But we end up putting our faith in political leaders anyway, and we are overjoyed when our candidate wins. Some of them govern fairly well and some of them govern fairly poorly, and we can disagree on which politician goes on which list, but sooner or later they all let us down. Sooner or later our celebration is replaced with dismay to one degree or another. Sooner or later they all reveal their weaknesses in judgment or in character.
Cubs fans know what that is like. They’ve been putting their faith in different owners, different managers, and different players for over 100 years. That faith has been rewarded, for now. Next year, though? Let’s not think about that yet because if we do, we might have to face the reality that even if the Cubs win it all again next year, it will never be like it was this year. Everything from here on out is going to be a little bit of a letdown. And if things go really south next year, plenty of those people saying today that Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon is the greatest manager ever will be second-guessing every move he makes.
Our Gospel reading from Luke also kind of fits our political season. The Sadducees ask a “gotcha” question. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and they did not believe in the oral traditions of Jewish interpretation. They believed in the written law alone. So they take the written law and it’s teachings and ask Jesus how those teachings would apply if there were a resurrection. They are trying to construct a scenario where Jesus is not going to be able to give a good answer and is going to discredit himself with the people.
Jesus’s response, though, shows that God’s kingdom transcends our earthly kingdoms and conceptions of right and wrong. God is not concerned primarily with laws and regulations. God is not concerned primarily with rules and rituals. God is not concerned primarily with our nation or with any nation – with our team or with any team –even the Cubs.
“Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” In other words people whose primary allegiance to the kingdom of God are called to have a different orientation than people whose primary allegiance is to whatever their earthly kingdom is.
It’s not that marriage doesn’t matter. It’s not that our nation or any nation does not matter, and it’s especially not that the people of any nation do not matter. It’s that citizenship in God’s kingdom changes the way that we approach all of these things. Faith in Jesus, being a part of the Kingdom, has to change the way we approach relationships with people, relationships with the various governments we are subject to, and our attitudes towards other governments and the people subject to them.
Anya and Josh Ammons both shared an article on Facebook this week by Paul Buckley on why Quakers were instructed to stop voting back in 1762. Among other reasons, Buckley writes, “From its earliest days, the Society of Friends saw itself as called to an alternative way of living—to model what they called the kingdom of heaven on earth. The Quaker community testified that people should treat all others as vessels for that of God. It demonstrated that a society did not have to be founded on violence and coercion. When people follow the guidance of the Inward Light as best they are able, they become servants of the one God and together form the blessed community. Voting would subordinate them to the authority of the state—they would be serving two masters: God and the government.
“Withdrawing from government service, politicking, and voting did not require Friends to be indifferent to the outcomes of elections or the governments formed as a result. Nor did it disqualify them from petitioning lawmakers. In fact, modeling a different way to live uniquely empowered them to lobby the governments of their day. As William Penn said, ‘They were changed men themselves before they went about to change others.’ Having freed their slaves, they had the moral authority to advocate government action to abolish slavery. Having surrendered the shelter of armed force, they could urge the government to do likewise from a demonstrated position of experience.”
It used to be the same for Brethren. Like the Quakers, though, the Brethren have become more and more politically active over the years, and I suspect that among the Church of the Brethren voting rates will be higher than with the population at large, as is also true with the Quakers. The point isn’t about whether you should vote or should not vote. It isn’t about whether you should have a government job or not. It’s about where your ultimate loyalty is, and whether or not what you do reflects your ultimate citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
The truth is that the Cubs are likely to let their fans down this year. Don’t get me started on the Nationals. The truth is that while I believe voting is important, the government’s interest must always come behind the human interest, which is God’s interest. The truth is that just like the Cubs, political leaders will fall short sooner or later. The truth is that the only thing that you can really believe in is Jesus, and the only kingdom that counts is the Kingdom of God. Believe in the truth. Amen.