Jon Hevelone's blog
One of the things I really like about being a Baptist is that our churches are a jumbled mix of very different people. We usually have folks come together from lifestyles that would never cross paths with one another other than in church, have bank accounts that range from terrible to terrific, and hold theological ideas that go from carefully thought out orthodoxy to “Gee! I never thought about that!” The one common denominator is we are all drawn to Jesus because Baptists truly lift him up as the one to worship and follow. Simply, he is Lord.
Our curious mix of widely different people makes it rather hard when we find ourselves discussing politics. Some Christians take the safe road of believing that religion and politics don’t mix. Others jump on a particular band wagon and “baptize” a certain candidate or a particular talking point and indicate that if you are really a Christian you must support and vote a certain way or else.
As a pastor I try to remember that my calling is to follow Paul and “be all things to all people.” That’s a goal that would drastically fall on its face if I suddenly began beating the drum for one viewpoint or one candidate. People who saw their political salvation differently would stop listening to me, and my ability to be their pastor would be harmed. It’s hard enough for the good folks at First Baptist Arlington to accept the fact that my first love is really Kansas State Wildcat football rather than the Patriots!
The problem is that both Christian faith and politics ask basic questions about the nature of human beings and the world, what we see as ultimately important, and how we should act. Because faith and politics seek answers to these intertwined concerns, it is impossible for a follower of Jesus not to be politically involved. I frankly believe this is especially true today, where I see the current fray has moved from being mainly political to being primarily moral and ethical.
I am not going to tell you to vote Democratic or Republican or Rainbow Green or anything else that might pop up in the mess. I am going to tell you to be a Christian! Let your faith, your Christian values, and Jesus’ direction to seek first the kingdom of God guide you. If your faith doesn’t shape you, then it’s quite likely you will be guided by your discontent, anger, greed and fear, since these seem to be the human emotions being preyed upon to get votes. As a Christian, I believe the vision of the kingdom of God is a whole lot better than what we are being offered.
So let me tell you what I am going to do. I am going to remember first of all that I have a leader far better than all the current presidential candidates put together. I am going to join his campaign, and tell everyone who will listen that he is our hope and salvation. And I am going to try to evaluate everything I do, and everything I hear with the rule of thumb Jesus has taught me: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39)
Palm Sunday at First Baptist Arlington is a happy Sunday. We lose a little of our New England reserve and cautiously wave palm branches as we sing out “Hosanna!” Some of us even manage to shout out “Alleluia to Jesus!” Our children happily think of Jesus riding along on a donkey. The promise of spring is in the air, even if that air will soon be filled with falling snow from a last minute nor’easter. We anticipate the beauty of our lily and tulip filled sanctuary next Sunday as we celebrate the joy of Easter.
If you’re not in church again until next Sunday you are going to miss the heart of the drama. Next Sunday will be filled with the best our choir, organ pipes and grand piano can offer. We will add our joyful cries of “Alleluias!” But where will you be when the going gets rough?
Between the hosannas of Palm Sunday and the alleluias of Easter there is so much more. What we we do on Monday? On Tuesday, the day the vote is taken in Pilate’s judgement hall? When the roar of the crowd comes back, “Barabbas! Barabbas! Release Barabbas!” What about when Pilate, ever the politician asks: “And what of the one called the Christ?”
“Crucify him! Crucify him!” The shouts came from many of the same people who had been cheering in the Palm Sunday parade. What about us? Where will we be?
Church, let us decide to be with Jesus, no matter what. Let us decide to open our lives each day to the empowering, transforming, loving touch of Jesus. We will know the wholeness of life when we let the Savior be welcomed into our center, our core, our heart.
Then, if we are to really follow him, we will live like Jesus. That means connecting with people whose lives we do not necessarily understand, but joining and walking with them as together we follow our Savior. There is no other way to read the Book - Jesus calls his people to be on the side of the poor, the rejected, the broken and the marginalized. Jesus expects this of us. After all, he sees you and me as being so worth while that he gave everything for us.
Now he holds out a cross to us. We are to take it, and to live his way. We are to climb paths even when they are steep and hard. We are to make peace where there is conflict, whether it is in our world or in our homes. We are to feed the hungry. Give a cup of cold water in his name. We are to remember the sick and the lonely. We are to seek the ways that make for peace, justice and even reconciliation in a culture where these are not the primary values.
We then can come to church Easter Sunday truly rejoicing, knowing the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and the power of his resurrection. We will worship God with alleluias coming not only from our lips but also from our lives.
1 Corinthians 13 NIV
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,
but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor
and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy,
it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
Well, it’s that time of year again. New Year’s Resolutions. Earnest intentions to change the way we live. Honest pledges to begin to do things differently.
And there’s help! You can’t turn on TV or surf the net without seeing ads for gym memberships or the newest diet or a pill that will rejuvenate you. It’s time to get in shape.
If our great grandparents could only see us now. They might think our whole exercise fixation is just plain silly. Back then they had to work for a living. There wasn’t time or energy to do what it takes to get six pack abs. They didn’t go to Weight Watchers. They never had to lose ten or twenty pounds. They controlled their weight by hard work.
Still, we do want to get in shape so we will have a better life -- so we will be healthy and fit. Our work usually isn’t as demanding as it was in the old days. Instead, we place hope in the ads that make a lot of promises about the easy way to control our weight. Yea, right. There is no easy way.
I was reminded of this shortly after Christmas dinner. We did a pot-luck this year, with everybody bringing something good. After eating the turkey and ham, after the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, after the pasta salad and the cranberry salad, after the squash and the green bean casserole, after the gooseberry pie and the chocolate cheese cake, I knew I had made some wrong choices.
Often, it is the influence of the world and our secular culture that shape us into ways that are not in God’s plan for us. Often, it is the influence of our best friends and family that shape us into people that do not reflect God’s way. Often, it is the unexpected events in our lives that get the best of us, and shape us in a different direction. Often, it is our deliberate choices that shape us into a sinful path.
New Year’s isn’t just the time for making resolutions about getting physically in shape. There is our whole spiritual dimension that probably needs a tune-up even more than our bodies. Most of us do tend to get a little out of shape in our relationship to God. In the worst case we become real spiritual slackers. We no longer feel the hands of God shaping our lives. We no longer live so following Jesus has high priority in our lives. The result ain’t pretty!
But listen, church -- there is real hope. (And I didn’t get this from a junk mail flyer, but from the Bible!) God is always there, willing to reshape, remake, renew us. God is always there to help us become people who are whole, useful, and beautiful.