Where is Your Help? A Sermon for a Shutdown America

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
 From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, 
who made heaven and earth.   (Psalm 121: 1-2)

Obama-Shutdown

Snark MeterrealMID.003

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

As a month-old baby I was on the floor of the 1964 Republican nominating convention. My father was campaigning for Barry Goldwater. Democrats were ruining America. So we were Republicans.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

In college I read that Winston Churchill said, “Any man who is under 30 and is not a liberal, has no heart…” The heartless were ruining America. So, in college, as a young man with a heart, I became a Democrat.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

Upon graduation I became a teacher in a Christian school. I was popular with students and parents, but not the administration. I was, you see, too liberal. I am not sure I really knew what a liberal was, but I did know they were what was wrong with America. Mr. Churchill said, “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.” Not wanting to be brainless, I became a conservative.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

I embraced conservative talk radio as I moved to Wickenburg, Arizona. Wickenburg is, after all, a very conservative town. I, however, worked for a liberal church. They were clear that what was wrong with America was conservatives. So I began listening to liberal talk radio.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

Eventually I realized that listening to angry people angrily telling me that the other guys are evil and that our only hope is in their political solutions was making me…angry.

im so angry i made a sign picketer

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

In Luke chapter 23 we read of Jesus’ trials. It is a vivid portrait of political chaos. In the first twenty-five verses, one can feel the tension as the Prince of Peace and Lover of our Souls, in the grip of angry religious people, is turned over to fearful political power. You can sense the confusion of the political leaders unable to figure out what to do with a hot potato Messiah.

Politics has always had a strange relationship with Jesus.  On this day they played ping-pong with him: Jesus is taken to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. Wanting to avoid the blood of an innocent, Pilate, sends him to Herod, the ruler of Jesus’ home region, Galilee. Herod, sensing the religious elite’s ire, sends Jesus back to Pilate – all in order to figure out how to kill the God-man voluntarily laying down his life.

And yet today we continue to naively wait for our salvation to come from political systems.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

Have we not made politics a Hunger Games for a dreadful America? We watch on tv and the internet as Americans point fingers and tear one-another down in a peculiar form of entertainment. The only winners are giant media conglomerates who have what they want: our eyeballs.

And we willingly play along, litmus testing one-another: Are you for or against immigration reform? Obamacare? Life? Marriage equality? After we litmus test each other, we try to convert one another to our position. Now I am not saying that political ideas are unimportant. I am asking why we are convinced they must divide Christians. After all: Politics do not and never did save. If it did the most political groups would be the most generous groups, the most open-hearted groups, the most joyful ones. Am I the only one who notices that the more politicized one becomes the angrier they appear? I don’t do many absolutes, but here is one: Political philosophies and agendas are NOT the Gospel.

We humans are conversion machines. We want to change people’s minds about everything: where to buy shoes on sale, what smartphone to use, who to vote for. So I ask, when you lift up your eyes, where is your hope set?

So be a good citizen: be informed and vote a Christ-surrendered conscience.

Be a good citizen: be charitable to those who do not share your convictions, assuming they too are people of good will.

But remember also that, If you claim the name of Jesus, you are a citizen of a King who said his Kingdom is NOT of this world.

And when you convert someone, make sure it is to the thing that matters most.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

Perhaps America and Christianity once shared values. But cultures bob like an unmanned boat on the ocean. America is changing. Some of these changes will make us more just. Some will surely make us less so. One evidence that America and Christianity are, in some ways at least, increasingly at odds is shown in the way people today become angry when the church attempts to discipline them. One hears, “What I am doing is not against the law. Who is the church to tell me what to do?” The implied message is that God is not our authority, America is. Perhaps this was always so. Perhaps cultural change is revealing something that was always there, that many of us confuse an idol wrapped in Stars and Stripes with the Living God.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

Have you noticed that valuing biblical principles is not the same as loving Jesus? I can want a biblical lifestyle without being captivated by the one that book came to reveal. I can live a “biblical” morality and remain my own functional deity.

Have you noticed that we often want moral absolutes for others, and moral flexibility for ourselves? Perhaps we don’t want grace, as much as we want permission?

Have you noticed that we can spend hours on media coverage and opinion shaping but very little time actually with God?

So I implore you – leave the politics, leave the anger, and leave the “principles.” Walk away from them to pursue Jesus’ presence and joyfully extend the Good News of God’s grace.

Consider what grace does: Grace forgives and welcomes…it cleans up our lives…it creates a community that embraces those at the fringes, and it causes us to love those whose lives aren’t yet in its grip. Grace is also supremely unfair and only made possible by the grossest of injustices.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

Grace has only one source. One deadly, costly source: a cross. At that cross, on that old hill, we are all on equally slippery footing. There is no need to argue about who lives closer to the sun: We are all so far away that it matters not. At the Cross, and the cross alone, the grisly price of God’s grace, was shed for you and for me. It bids us to look for our salvation from one place and one place alone.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    

            From where does my help come?

                         My help comes from the Lord. 

*This post was yesterday’s sermon on Article 37 in a series at St. Jude’s Church on the 39 Articles of Religion, the foundational theological statement of Anglicanism. The topics were set in March. It was an ironic accident that the Article on the Christians relationship to the state came up this week. Scripture: Psalm 121, Luke 23: 1-25. The text of the 37th Article in contemporary English is:

“The power of the Civil Magistrate extends to all men, Clergy and Laity, in all things temporal; but has no authority in things purely spiritual. And we hold it to be the duty of all men who are professors of the Gospel, to pay respectful obedience to the Civil authority, regularly and legitimately constituted.”

Article 37.003

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Politics: Hunger Games for a Dreadful America

                                     …and what we could do differently.

What is my issue with today’s political climate? The negative, fear-based motivation of it all. The “other side” is invariably characterized as demons conspiring to rob our children of their oxygen, education and leave us eating Soylent Green. In fear-based politics there is always a winner and a loser. We are given a choice to root for or against. We are held hostage by twisters of our emotions in a media driven, two-party Hunger Game. Is there not a better way?

What if instead we tried to “Find the Win”? This isn’t a new idea. Win-Win wasn’t new when Steven Covey made it one of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But it is an idea that would take us out of the polarization and demonization of the other half of America.

How could “Find the Win” could help a complex situation? Let’s take one hot button issue as an illustration: Illegal immigration:

We are told that we will either let ourselves be over-run by brown hordes stealing our jobs and ruining our hospitals and schools, or we are heartless hate-mongers causing those who are doing exactly what we did (come for a better life) die agonizing deaths in the desert after being raped and exploited by coyotes. These words have power because there is a kernel of truth to them…it has all happened and is all happening. But what if instead of looking at illegal immigration through the lenses of fear politics and winners and losers we looked at what everyone needs to gain through immigration? What if we found “wins” for everyone?

We know what some group’s wins are:

Mexican government: Needs to export an overabundance of underemployed males. Underemployed males create all sorts of trouble in a culture.

Mexican families: A chance to find a better life…and the ability to live free of fear as they do so.

But what about some of the other groups?

American business: Like it or not, American business needs immigrant labor. There are jobs that second generation people do not want. I have a college friend who packed fish 100 hours a week this summer in Alaska. The crew was ½ American, ½ from around the world. Why? Because not enough Americans applied so they had to pay to transport labor from other countries.

The U.S. Government: The U.S. Government spends scads of money patrolling the border, funding training and equipment for the Mexican Army and says that they are only spending a small percentage of what they need. The American government needs to keep Mexican criminals – who prey on Mexican nationals out. Why do Mexican criminals want to come to the U.S.? Because illegal immigrants will not call law enforcement when their homes are invaded for the money from their cash paying jobs. Our border policy has this un-anticipated, neighborhood devastating consequence.

The American John Q. Public: It is true that there are entire swaths of Phoenix where you could spend a month on the street and never hear English spoken. It is true that public school education is being watered down by overwhelming numbers of non-English speaking children whose parents do not understand the system and move when progress is being made. It is true that our medical system is being overwhelmed by non-paying patients, many of whom are immigrants. However, those of us who are John Q. Public also need the cheap products and cheap food that cheap labor provides. Like it or not, our economy runs on Walmart diminished labor costs. I bought a leather basketball last week. It cost half of what a leather ball cost when I was in college-with no accounting for inflation!

So how do we help everyone get their’ win?

Americans want people who speak English and understand American culture (the way they did when they came to the U.S). John Q. Public’s win is people who understand living in the U.S., like how the school system will bless their family with college education available to all, and that the quickest path to wealth is home ownership in an appreciating neighborhood.

Those things could be taught in English language/Life in America night schools all over Mexico. Three nights a week people could take English classes and one night a week “Life in America” class. When they demonstrate mastery of the language they have a graduation where students get a work permit, chance to apply for a drivers license, a job, a bus ticket and an apartment. When Mexican workers get to America they would understand the educational system’s value to their family, they would have access to the information to be invested in their children’s academic success. Immigrants would understand that growing a lawn and (this will sound offensive, but it bugs White America) trucks parked in the driveway rather than the front yard help their home values and make their neighborhood a safer place to live. (Broken Windows Theory)

Who would pay for this? The Mexican government would allow free use of elementary schools after hours (since they benefit from direct renumerations from workers Western Unioning money to Mexico). American businesses, with contribution from those desiring immigration, would pay to fund teachers and line-up apartments & bus tickets. Apartment deposits & tickets would be repaid from first month’s salaries. Workers would be free to bring families after four months and apply for dual citizenship after three years of a clean record.

The border would become a place where no law-abiding citizen ever needed to tread. Therefore enforcement would become much simpler: The only people out there would be criminals and cartel members.

Everyone would get what they need: the Mexican government, Mexican immigrants, American citizens, American business, and the American government. Both political parties would accomplish the values that they say they uphold.

Look for the win: Language & Culture School with a job and dual-citizenship onramp. It is simple, logical and meets everyone’s needs. Everyone wins. The solution seems so obvious when you start with the assumption of helping people get what they need rather than what will go wrong if someone else gets what they need. Why has no one suggested this? I think the answer is simple: There are no losers.