Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Series: "Questions all american Christians should be Asking." Sermon One: "Is there a future without institution?", Mark 12:14-17

We’re just now wrapping up the all-American month of July! More vacations take place in July than any other month of the year.  Of course July is the month we celebrate our independence and the rights and privileges we have as a result of independence. We celebrate America and the countless Americans who, through sweat, blood and tears, made it possible for us to enjoy these rights. Over the next several weeks we will be exploring some very important questions as it relates to our nation and our faith. As Christians who enjoy certain “inalienable rights” we need to be asking certain question about our faith and our nation and where the both are headed. This week we began by asking “what about separation of church and state?” This is a foundational value of our American democracy, but the word’s “separation of church and state” never actually appear in our constitution or bill of rights, though it is obviously implied in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  There you have it, Congress cannot impede our right to worship, however or whomever we choose. What an amazing idea, people being free to worship whatever god, wherever they want and the government cannot stop them.

What’s kind of ironic about this statement is the amazing amount of religion that exists in our nations politics.  No matter how much we try to remove God from our culture, society and political scene, we just can’t. So there’s no prayer in school, well Congress begins ever session with prayer, a prayer said by a Christian Chaplin who is paid for by taxpayer dollars. Several years ago Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Ray Moore, was removed from the bench because he refused to remove a one-ton statue of the Ten Commandments that sate in the hall of the justice building in Birmingham. And yet a 12ft statue of Moses holding those very same Ten Commandments is positioned right outside the US Supreme court building in Washington D.C and the Court! When President George Washington took the oath of President he said as an after thought, “So help me God.” And now every president since him as ended his oath with, “So help me God.”. The president is sworn in by placing his hand on a bible, there are prayers and prayer services at the presidential inauguration, there are scriptures inscribed everywhere in D.C and even our money refers to our “trust” in God. Whether we like it our not, we are a religious people in a religious nation. 90% of Americans believe in God, 85% are Christians, 65% say religion matters everyday, and 40% go to church every Sunday. Yet despite this “religiosity” we still fail to be a people with a dynamic and authentic faith that transforms the society and culture we live in. Instead we allow ourselves to be molded by the culture we live in. Unfortunately the majority of Christians in America practice a civil religion, one of formal state prayers, statues in public places, and the occasional reference to God when bad things happen to our nation. We practice a nominal religion of baptisms, weddings and funerals. All this while the world needs us to be a dynamic and prevailing force for righteousness and holiness in our quickly decaying society! It’s time for the church to move from the institutional to the prophetic!

25 years ago Marlene Wilson wrote a book called, “The Sleeping Giant.” In this book she referred to the church as a slumbering giant that if aroused could change life as we know it, the church has all this untapped potential that if engaged would do what Jesus did, change everything. In 1996 President Bill Clinton signed into law the Welfare Reform Act. Among other things this law made it possible for certain faith organization to receive Federal dollars to deliver social services in under served area’s, like our own Presque Isle County. In 2004 President George W. Bush signed into Law the Faith Based Initiative Act, which furthered the partnership between the Church and the state and perhaps helped blur the lines between separation of church in state even further. Of this act President Bush said that, “It’s time to help unleash the armies of compassion into Americans most needy areas.” Perhaps the partnership between the church and state isn’t so bad. Here are some ways that United Methodist ministries have benefited from both Acts. Networking, Organizing, Advocating for the Health of the Homeless (N.O.A.H.H) is a ministry in Metro Detroit funded in part by the Conference, the United Methodist Union and the Federal Government. This ministry exists to help provide health resources for Detroit’s most vulnerable adult population, the homeless. Cass Community Social Services is another partnership, which provides jobs, food, healthcare and transportation to one of the cities most impoverished populations in one of the cities most dangerous neighborhoods. On a more local level, the Onaway Food Pantry receives federal dollars to help provide food for over 1000 Presque Isle County Residents a month.  All this might sound like the responsibility of the state or a political issue, but it’s not, it’s a prophetic issue. It’s the responsibility of the church to help the most vulnerable in our society and it’s a shame that the church is more interested in spending it’s money on carpet, paint, playground equipment and interactive kiosks than the gospel, so much that we need to take money from the government. It’s time to stop with all the politics, church and else wise, and start praying!

It’s time to move from the political to the prayer. Every General Conference of our Church is packed full of political stuff. We argue about same sex marriages, gay clergy, and immigration and welfare policies.  Forgive me if I’m wrong, but is that really the work of the church? I mean shouldn’t we just follow scripture on these points and make General Conference more about celebrating ministry and facilitating ministry than protesting and politicking?  I want to take a small detour here and share my position on the homosexual issue, since within my denomination and the local church I serve it is a point of serious contention. I support what our Discipline teaches and what the Holy Scriptures teach, “That homosexuality is incompatible with Christian life and ministry.” I however do not accept the party line of either side. I am not willing to affirm all life styles, nor am I willing to exclude any styles. We are called to an uneasy discipleship. Christ included all peoples in the Kingdom of God, whatever life style they embraced, but this does not mean that he affirmed their life styles. If their life style was contrary to the will of God, than he told them to stop and expected them to do so if they were to continue existing in the Kingdom of God. Whatever their situation, their was a place of discipleship for them, and this is ought to be our response as the church and I believe as a denomination this path of uneasy discipleship is our official position.  Now, getting back to the issue at hand. I’ve often wondered what would happen if, as a denomination, we protested less and prayed more. Would we reach more lost people, would we be able to impact more young families with the gospel, would we actually fulfill the mission of the church, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”? There’s a story about a nightclub that sat right next to a United Methodist Church in Flint, MI. The pastor and the church were all very concerned about the nightclub and it’s cliental. So they decided to get together and have a prayer meeting as to what they ought to do about it. The night of the prayer meeting, long after the parishioners had all gone home, the nightclub caught fire and burned to the ground.  The owner of the nightclub decided to suit the church for damages. During the hearing the judge had to decide whether or not to suit would stand and in his decision he noted that, “even though the church did not believe in answered prayer the nightclub owner obviously did.” The suit was thrown out and the nightclub never rebuilt. I have nothing against dancing and having a good time and I certainly don’t believe God burned that nightclub down, but I do believe in answered prayers. If we prayer more, worked more and gave more in faith our nation would be a better place. God is calling the church to a vibrant, dynamic and authentic faith, not one of civility and nominalism. The question we need to answer is, are we going to be a living faith in America, or a civil faith?

In our passage this morning Jesus new the answer to this question when he said, "give to Caesar what is Cesar's and to God what is God's. This kind of statement implies the need to focus on what matters. Jesus lived in a time when the government controlled much of societies life. Jews were closely watched because they were a difficult group to control because of their religious devotion. The Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into saying something that could get him arrested. They asked him about something very political, about the role of institution and civil obedience and his response surprised everyone. Jesus said to pay Rome taxes because the money was there's. Why? Because it had their name on it ;). American Christians often put more clout in being American, than being Christian. Remember we are not of this world, we are resident aliens, our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, not the United States of America. Yes we are Americans and yes we are Christians, but first and foremost we are Christians. It's time we put our faith first. 

So if the money belongs to Caesar, than what belongs to God? Everything, We need to respond this morning by giving everything to God.

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