For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16
We are embarking on a series that will explore Jesus’ approach to our nation’s challenges. When we read the news, we find conflicts in multiples areas: politics, violence, the environment, poverty, economics, intolerance, and death. As individuals we have great interest in solutions to these thorny problems. As a church we have taken the middle path not aligning ourselves with one particular party or another.
I would agree with that approach, for our ultimate faithfulness is to God in Jesus Christ. One of the things that the news and political parties try to do is to pit people of faith against each other, convincing like-minded people that the good Christians vote for this party and the bad Christians vote the other way. It is true that each of us might gravitate to one political party’s solution and in our hearts believe it is more aligned with the will of God. But The Brick Church has a diverse array of people and we have found a centeredness in not being tossed about by the latest political fads of our respective parties.
And yet, as a community of faith we have a responsibility to be engaged with these issues. Why? Because Jesus was… and He is our guide, our Lord. But He had a very particular approach. Rather than try to reform institutions from a structural point of view He sought to recreate individuals so that they would be empowered and empower others. He did not align Himself with a particular movement of day: the Zionists, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the priesthood, or the rabbinical culture. Rather than choosing a particular political solution He sought to reshape the way people related to each other, to themselves, and to God. With the proper values varied solutions could work.
Jesus assiduously avoided accruing political power…twice He refuses to become an earthly king. Once when Satan tested Him in the wilderness and another after the feeding of the 5,000.
After this miracle the crowd can tell He is a powerful prophet, so they seek to make Him king…Jesus’ reaction?
Get away. He literally makes for the hills. Now we know Jesus is smart, He ran from office as fast as He could.
It was because He sought to transform people’s hearts; it was there He believed there was the greatest leverage to grow the Kingdom of God; the land in which values of faith are woven into all aspects.
And yet, just because He avoided political power does not mean He avoided controversial topics. His love drove Him to confront religious authorities whose rules were making it hard on the hungry and the sick. He encountered a man with a withered hand in the synagogue and the authorities were waiting to see what He would do so they could accuse Him.
Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:4-6)
Jesus taught people to view the law not as ultimate principles but as a way to guide us into love. That is all the laws can be summed up thusly: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.
He challenged people to serve everyone. If a Roman soldier asks you for your coat, give him your cloak as well. The Romans were their enemies!
He drove into the religio-economic machinery and power when He turned over the temples; and He angered and threatened their livelihood when He told people forgiveness does not come through cultic practices but through a contrite heart.
So, He was anything but a tame spiritual leader; He inflamed wherever He went but gave special sympathy for those who found themselves on the margins whether it was because you were poor, sick, or simply hated for being a tax-collector!
His goal was not to establish an earthly rule but to establish a set of rules or guidelines for living as God would have us.
Jesus preached on a new kingdom; no longer the realm of the Caesar; nor of the religious elite of His time; rather than establish a new regime Jesus sought to elevate all humanity to become personal agents of this radical kingdom. Poverty would be cured through radical communal sharing; violence through people turning the other cheek; alienation through radical forgiveness; economic inequality through ensuring a base level of life.
Thus, the early Christians were called people of “The Way”. It was the way they operated, the way they occupied the world that set them apart. At the center of this way is a goal to reshape the world to reflect the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ aim is found in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This whole section of Matthew, known as the Sermon on the Mount, serves as Jesus’ prolegomena for a world that looks like God’s world. If you want a quick read, Matthew chapters five through seven serve as an outstanding encapsulation of Jesus’ aim to reshape the world after the Kingdom of God.
Listen to some of His Kingdom-shaped values found in this section of the Bible:
Store up treasures in heaven,
Turn the other cheek,
Forgive one another,
Go the extra mile,
Give to all that ask,
Love your enemies,
Do not be anxious,
Judge not lest you be judged,
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
As we look beyond the Sermon on the Mount, we find more principles:
Clothe the naked,
Feed the hungry,
and be servant of all.
Servanthood is a fundamental principle of The Way; the kingdom should be one in which all seek to be servants of others, especially those in positions of power and influence should seek this path. This was a radical departure from the culture of his day, in which it was presumed that people of higher social status were to be served by those lower.
The leveling of social strata was critical to this movement. Kings, priests, and the wealthy were presumed to have greater favor from God but Jesus made it clear that if you serve those who were so called “lower” in the social strata and those in need you were in fact serving God.
Jesus wanted all people in whatever place they found themselves laborer, sacred, government, land owner, all of them to follow his principles.
It is surprising that if we use our power and our gifts with love and passion that kingdom becomes clear.
If people live according to the WAY, the Kingdom of God…we will see glimpses of it! and we will find ourselves in the most wonderful of worlds. But it takes work! Louis Armstrong showed us how.
Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, into a poverty-ridden section of New Orleans nicknamed “the Battlefield.” His father abandoned the family when Armstrong was a child, and his teenaged mother was often forced to resort to prostitution to make ends meet. Young Louis spent much of his boyhood in the care of his grandmother, but he also found a second home among the Karnofskys, a local Lithuanian-Jewish family who hired him to do odd jobs for their peddling business. The jazzman would later write that the Karnofskys treated him as though he were their own child, often giving him food and even loaning him money to buy his first instrument, a $5 cornet (he wouldn’t begin playing the trumpet until 1926). As a sign of his gratitude to his Jewish benefactors, Armstrong later took to wearing a Star of David pendant around his neck. (History.com)
We all know he had this phenomenal musical gift but there was something more to him. It was reported that on a visit to the Congo, there was a internal war at the time, that “the two sides in a secession crisis called a one-day truce so they could watch him play.”
Armstrong mostly stayed away from the politics of his time which led to criticism from his fellow musicians. (History Channel) But at a critical time during the crisis of the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas he spoke out against segregation and the president.
“The comments caused a sensation in the media. …but the controversy soon blew over after Eisenhower sent soldiers to desegregate the schools in Little Rock.” who knows perhaps it was his words that spurred President Eisenhower to intervene.
Louis Armstrong did not always live in a wonderful world or have a wonderful life but when I listen to him sing that I song, I feel the truth of that wonderful world that God intends for us all. Amen.