Monday, March 21, 2011

All Power Is Tainted

A Sermon on Matthew, chapter 4, verses 1 through 11, preached on March 13, 2011.

Albert Camus states, “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”

In this text, we have what is commonly called the Temptation of Jesus. The temptation account appears in three of the four gospels. Matthew, like Luke, develops the story from the version in Mark, and adds a description of three temptations. The order of the temptations varies from Luke to Matthew. This would indicate that Matthew had a purpose for telling this story in this way to the people of his congregation.

What was that purpose? Schweizer, in his commentary on Matthew, proposes this possibility. The people of Matthew’s church had to be able to explain to themselves and to their Jewish counterparts why Jesus did not become the expected national messiah who achieved conquest over the Romans.
What we see, in Jesus in the story of the temptation, is a Jesus who is obedient to God and the reign of God’s kingdom over against the revolutionaries of the time who sought to accomplish their purposes through earthly power.

As Albert Camus, we will reflect on our own political situation, and ask three questions:
1. Does our political system have the capacity to bring about justice?
2. Is there another way to bring about a change in culture?
3. What does obedience to God look like?

Point One: Does our political system have the capacity to bring about justice?

In Aristotle’s work on political science, he gives us a framework for reviewing the decisions of our current political system.
1. Aristotle speaks of a highest good, called the “best good.”
2. To have knowledge of this “best good” has impact on our lives.
3. To get at the “best good”, we engage in a process of inquiry Aristotle calls, political science.
4. Political science has a supervisory role. Example of leather: We have leather. We make bridles out of all the leather without knowing how many horses need bridles or knowing what else we can make out of the leather. As a result, we ask, with a warehouse full of bridles, how many horses do we need to breed to use up all the bridles? This is called back to front thinking. The supervisory role of political science is to ensure good use of resources.
5. The process of determining good use of resources is called deliberation. Assumes an outcome and reasons about what needs to be done to achieve that outcome. Deliberation determines what we can do and how to do it. Applies in cases where questions of how to achieve an end or conflicting considerations exist on what to do.
6. Based on a conception of the “best good”, political science uses the process of deliberation to find means to promote that end. But not a means to an end, actions themselves must stand on their own merit.

How does our political system fall short of this deliberative process?
1. The deliberative process takes time. Certainly, as we have seen in Japan, there are times when the governmental system must act in crisis and rapidly. However, in our need to achieve solutions as soon as possible, we do not allow time for the process of deliberation.
2. We have confused sub-groups who do not have control of the political system and assume a posture of victimization with actual groups who are being oppressed.

Point Two: Is there another way to bring about a change in culture?

Charles Reich, The Greening of America, “…there is a revolution coming. It will not be life revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as its final act…It promises a higher reason, a more humane community, and a new and liberated individual. Its ultimate creation will be a new and enduring wholeness and beauty—a renewed relationship of man to himself, to other men, to society, to nature, and to the land.”

This challenges us to take a look at the grass roots, change in culture, in areas such as education, corrections, healthcare, business ethics.

Point Three: What does obedience to God look like?

So, how does a Christian engage in the world, in the light of our current political trends? An answer to that may be found in the story of the temptation of Jesus.

Now, there are two distractions that keep us from seeing what is happening in the temptation account. First, we have diminished temptation to those little urges that get the best of us at times. Second, we picture Jesus as boldly resisting Satan.

I want to propose a different image of Jesus and the temptation. I want to propose Jesus as Janelle Clouse, in Perry County Pennsylvania, standing with her 3 year daughter, watching her house burn down with her seven children locked inside. Would you not, if offered the opportunity, take whatever offer you were given to save your children? Would we not yearn for someone to speak the words, “Don’t you want me to take it all away?” I would immediately grasp for that chance.

We have a savior who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, who in every respect has been tested, as are we. We confess this in the Apostles’ Creed, in that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, buried, and descended into hell. We find the fullness of God in the midst of our suffering. We find restoration in God’s will being fulfilled in our lives.

1. God is Lord of All. My life. The Church. All institutions. We have obligations to ourselves, others, our churches, our government, but our ultimate loyalty is to God.
2. God is Lord of Reality. There is darkness in human life. God does not hide from our pain. This is where Jesus is. Perhaps, then, there is hope for a humane world.
3. God is Lord of the Oppressed. There are some in our country, and more personally, in our city that are thoroughly dehumanized, due to race, class, age. They are not ready for a vision of grandeur. They need the help of the institution. Any effort to balance state budgets on the backs of these oppressed is immoral, unjust, and unfaithful.

We asked the question, “Can I be able to love my country and still love justice?” To answer that question, we looked at the current limitation to our political system. We looked at a local/grass roots way of Christian living that can change culture. And, we looked at what obedience looks like in the kingdom of God. We put this in the context of our obedience to God over all other institutions in the world. So, can I love my country and still love justice? Yes, borrowing the words of Wallace Fisher, as long as I have a critical loyalty to my country, but an ultimate loyalty to God. Amen

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