Long ago I gave these commands to my people: ‘You must see that justice is done, and must show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners who live among you, or anyone else in need. And do not plan ways of harming one another. But my people stubbornly refused to listen. They closed their minds and made their hearts as hard as rock. Because they would not listen to the teaching, which I sent through the prophets who lived long ago, I became very angry. Because they did not listen when I spoke, I did not answer when they prayed.’
Today around the country, many churches are celebrating All Soul’s Day by remembering those who have passed away. Today, I’d like to remember my dear friends Sally Chadwick and Bud Flashaar.
All Soul’s Day always awakens in me that eternal question: What Happens To The Soul After Death? Many of want to know the answer, but I doubt any of us are in a hurry to find out.
We have more pressing issues. We have an election coming up. And some might say that the soul of our country is at stake.
Today we’re going to glean from the prophetic words of Zechariah who, in speaking for God, offers us a little voting advice that may help us better understand the fate of our life, our country, and our souls.
His words echo what Jesus once said, “You cannot serve two masters.” In serving one, you have to abandon your relationship with the other. This can be tricky to do – especially during an election – because it stabs at our patriotic spirit, the very soul of our country that can still can unite us as her citizens.
But to quote Tony Campolo, “Mixing the church and state is like mixing ice cream with cow manure. It may not do much to the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream.”
All this reminds me of a sermon I gave eight years ago, right before a midterm election. The fear back then was socialized medicine and those death panels that will kill your grandma. That time I read from the prophet Isaiah who said God rejects our worship and refuses to hear our prayers when we reject and refuse to care for those who need the most help – the one’s Jesus called “the least of these.” Afterward, someone told me – rather mater of factly – that ministers don’t talk politics in this church.
Sometime last year, I seemed to have offended someone again by reading from another prophet and asking the religious leaders on the President’s Evangelical Advisory Board to show me where Christ was in their Christianity.
In that message I stated, “Our greatest challenge as Christians is to worship a God who abhors injustice, bigotry, and hatred. And to do so by speaking the words of Christ; words of love, words of healing, and words of forgiveness.”
You don’t have to take my word on this matter. But you can’t ignore the very Word of God, Jesus Christ, who said, “What good is it to gain the whole world if we lose our soul?”
Joseph Kopser is a Texas congressional candidate and an Army vet. Like me, he’s a patriotic American and a Jesus loving Christian who speaks freely about faith and the role of government. In an interview he said, “You measure success of any group by how well it takes care of the least among us. The United States, the greatest nation in the world, should be doing a better job.”
I think Jesus would agree. We can do better as a country. And Christians can do better at being Christ in the world.
I think Jesus would agree that it’s okay to love gay people and the American flag at the same time.
I think Jesus would agree that it’s okay to support someone kneeling in a non-violent protest against injustice without giving up your support for our military who fight to protect our freedoms to protest.
I don’t think Jesus is down with us using the most vulnerable, the weak and the poor, to get ahead in life or drive a wedge between us. Jesus, who dealt with his own harsh critics, made it very clear, “Every kingdom divided against itself will crumble.”
During our last election, churches began to feel the fissures in our faith foundation. These cracks have only gotten bigger as an alarming rate of Christians continue to support injustices and immediate gain over the greater good and the teachings of Christ.
What happened? Did Jesus retire from being the head of this holy and sacred body? Do his words cease to be relevant?
I recently saw a cartoon about a retail store called Commandments-R-Us. The sign on the wall read “Pick and choose the ones you want.” Is this what Jesus intended when he said, “Come, follow me” – that we can pick and choose how we do that?
A Christ filled life isn’t like ordering off a menu or filling your plate at a salad bar. It’s all or nothing. Jesus did not die so that we would only get some of God. He sacrificed his wants and desires so we could have all of God’s love. All of God’s mercy. All of God’s grace. And all of the hope and promise of resurrection glory.
Here’s the thing. God wants all of us too. We don’t get to choose who to love or who to forgive anymore than Jesus did.
We don’t get to choose to protect the unborn child and ignore the lives of those suffering from extreme poverty, gun violence, and environmental pollution.
Nor can we honor the life of one person because of where they were born, and reject another for the same reason.
We cannot turn our backs on one of God’s beloved children, nor deny their rights to experience a full and thriving life. Not if we are to call ourselves Christians.
To quote Shane Claiborne again, “Welcoming immigrants is not a burden, it’s a sacrament!” It’s a holy sacrament that remembers and honors the work of the One who gave himself for ALL.
Anyone who wants to harm or hold back another person will have trouble with the God of Zechariah who said, “You must see that justice is done, show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, or anyone else in need. If you do not listen to my words,” says God, “then I won’t listen to your prayers.’ Let that news settle on your heart for a while.
Our challenge today, just as it will be everyday, is to find a way to live (and govern) in accordance to God’s will and not just our own. I believe Jesus shows us a clear and straightforward path through loving our neighbors; serving God and others instead of money and ourselves; using what God has blessed you with to care for the least of these your brothers and sisters.
This is important to remember. God made it very clear when he sent his only begotten Son. Jesus is proof to me that every soul has infinite worth – worth more than any system, any institution, or any cause.
Thus, St. Francis taught it’s more important to be Jesus than to worship him. For it’s in our living as Jesus we are able to love and welcome others with impartiality.
In our living as Jesus we can care enough to heal our brokenness and feed our hunger for justice.
We can cover the naked and vulnerable in kindness. We can transform hearts of stone into hands of hope.
To be Jesus means we can do God’s will and thrive as a nation of diverse people – despite our many differences.
By accepting and being a living example of God’s divine love right now, we can actually gain the world without sacrificing our souls.