Political Diversity & Jesus' Non-Negotiables
We live in such a polarized society. It has only gotten worse this election season. Or it has merely been highlighted more, I am not sure. But it seems things have gotten so bad that we’ve taken political persuasion and have given it essential, almost religious importance and meaning. In other words, it has gotten so bad that for many people, if someone holds to a different political philosophy, they are wrong in the eyes of God. For some Democrats, for example, it is a sin to be a Republican, it seems. And vice versa. For some Republicans, it is a sin to be a Democrat. In fact, we have proof of this. In a San Diego church, a church bulletin included a flyer that said, “It is a mortal sin to vote Democrat… Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell.” Now, if Democrats went to church, you might find a similar thing the other way.
As much as I am of a political persuasion, and I will not, I will never share with you which from this pulpit, I am not egotistical enough to believe my political philosophy equals essential truth and thus has all the answers. No, as much as the political animal in me would like to say otherwise, it is not a sin to be a Republican. Or a Democrat, or a Libertarian or a Green.
That said, as a Christian or a Unitarian-Universalist, there are I believe some non-negotiables when it comes to how we live our lives and construct society around us. There are certain things that Jesus demanded his followers pursue and seek to make real. Jesus had a vision of the way things ought to be. Certainly, we might disagree about how we get there, but Jesus made it clear that we must get there. He also made it clear what the there looks like. He called that “there,” that realm we are called to make real, the Commonwealth of God. (I should note that this term Commonwealth of God is a better translation, a closer translation, of the term we know as “the kingdom of God.” Theologian John Cobb points this out in his recent book.)
I wanted to discuss some of Jesus’ non-negotiables as we come to the end of this sinfully horrible political season. What kind of society should we all want? What does the Commonwealth of God look like? If you answer either one of these questions and you answer the other.
I begin my answer with a verse that I’ve been mentioning a lot of late. It’s a verse I’ve been thinking a lot about and meditating on. It comes from Micah 6:8. It is a verse Jesus knew, for sure. We see it lived-out in his life.
That verse goes like this:
“The LORD has made it clear to you, mortal, what is good and what is required of you— to act with justice, to love compassion, and to walk humbly with your God.”
I encourage you this week to use this verse as a daily meditation. It helps me to get through.
What is required of us as individuals is certainly true of a society. The goal of the Commonwealth of God is a society that is just, compassionate, and humble. These things – justice, compassion, and humility – these are the seeds of the Commonwealth of God.
Now, Jesus, as I mentioned, knew this verse. Jesus famously offered up another “what is required of you” statement. In fact, it neatly sings in harmony with Micah 6:8. I am referring to Jesus’ famous greatest commandments. They come to us in Matthew 22. Let me read from this passage:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The Pharisee, a religious lawyer, pretty much asks Jesus what is the basic requirement when trying to live a good life as a faithful Jew? Jesus offers the greatest commandments, the two that are vital for the good life, the two that all the world’s religious faith’s hang on.
This passage gives us an order of things. It gives us a 1 then a 2. Love God is number 1. Love Neighbors is number 2. Loving Neighbor naturally arises from Loving God. This nice little order of things helps us read Micah 6:8 and give an order of things, it helps us know what happens first, justice, compassion, or humility?
Using Jesus’ first commandment, to love God, as our guide, we see that walking humbly with God is number 1. First of all, God is the aim of both loving God and walking humbly with God. What's more, walking humbly and loving overlap. To love means to walk with or to move with, doesn’t it? And to love God means to walk in humility with God. To love mean to know humility, where I let go of selfishness and me-firstness for the sake of the other and for the sake of the relationship. Humility born from walking with God, born from walking with Love itself, this is the foundation upon which justice and compassion are constructed.
So Humility is the cornerstone of the Commonwealth of God. What does this mean? What does it look like?
Humility means emptying ourselves and avoiding the temptation of inflating our egos. Humility means seeing that no one is less or more human than you are and that others should all be treated as you'd like to be treated.
Humility starts with the acknowledgment I am not alone in this thing called life. As Don Henley and Stevie Wonder sing, “In case you haven't noticed there are lots of other people here, too.”
There are other people all around us. There is also the Holy Other often called God. There is as well the natural world around us needing care and compassion. Placing our finite selves within the infinite scheme of things, seeing ourselves as a small part of a vastly expansive whole, seeing ourselves as one creature in Creative-Spirit God’s universe of creatures, this is at the heart of humility.
We don’t often hear it said, but a just and compassionate society must be, first and foremost, humble. The commonwealth of God, a just and compassionate society, begins with humility, with seeing our singular selves as part of a common self, a community of selves. The word Common-wealth says it all. Individual autonomy and self-sufficiency are important, but the goal is common-wealth, shared-wealth, shared-prosperity. To get to that goal requires humility, a practice of putting others and the Holy Other first.
Jesus points to the Commonwealth of God being first and foremost humble when he points to children. For Jesus, children are the model not only of faith but children are a model of what it means to be a citizen in the Commonwealth of God. If you want to know what it means to be a citizen in God’s commonwealth, look at children. The gospel of Luke shows us this.
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
What do children teach us about humility? Children teach us that part of humility includes admitting I can't do it all, I need a nurturing, I need some help, I need to let others care for me and let myself receive this care. Emptying self sometimes means being selfish enough to know that I need a lot of help and care sometimes. This is the kind of humility children teach us. Receiving God's care, other's care and practicing self-care as much possible is what children do naturally.
Then in Luke 22, during the Last Supper which we will commemorate a little later, Jesus teaches us some more:
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Children are the perfect exemplars of humility, Jesus tells us in his teaching.
The children are not just our perfect model, they are, they must be, the perfect measure of a just and compassionate society. The commonwealth of God is marked first and foremost by children who are safe, secure, nourished and cared for. The Commonwealth of god places children at the center. If just one child is malnourished, neglected, poor, then the commonwealth of god remains simply a dream yet to be realized.
A just, compassionate, and humble society places children at the forefront and says if one child goes hungry while another goes overfed, when one child goes neglected while another is overprotected, when one child lives in an environment marked by poverty and emptiness and another marked by wealth and opportunity, then that society is missing the mark and sinning against God and humanity.
The non-negotiables in a politically diverse society, the sacred aim we should all have, are justice, compassion and humility, and the measure of these things is the welfare of our children. Children are the sacred measure of a nation’s status.
Let me clear as I can as I close: Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, Green, or independent, we should all want all of our children to be safe, secure, well-fed and hopeful. We should all want children living lives liberated from worry and strife, hunger and poverty, liberated to be happy. Making this a reality should be our guiding principle. With this as our only guiding principle, we are freed to try different things and see what works and doesn’t work. With this as our only guiding principle, we are free enough to be honest and say when something isn’t working. The welfare – the thriving of our children, the happiness our children – should be our guiding principle.
And a tenacious, radical pragmatism should be our practice in realizing a just, compassionate, and humble society. Whatever gets us there should be our motto.