My father fought in Vietnam. He was drafted. I don’t recall him ever speaking about war growing up, except for the few stories of adventures he had in the jungle. He spoke about animals, insects, and bananas. But he saw and did things in the name of ‘democracy’ that cannot be forgotten. Recently I found a picture of my dad in Vietnam. I look at him and the men with him, and I wonder where they are today. I see sons, brothers, husbands, fathers. I wonder how war changed them. I wonder how coming home from war changed them.
(My dad is in the center kneeling, looking like a total badass with no shirt and a cigarette.)
He came home to a world that, because of government red tape didn’t allow him to actually go home for another six months. He came home to a country writhing under the pains of civil discoursed. He came home to a country that in one hand was embracing what it meant to be free and in another what it meant to be free. It was not restful; it was certainly not peaceful.
And I think about the countless men, women, families who have given everything to protect the freedom of this nation, and I look around and wonder what freedom we are protecting. Ultimately, I have decided it is the right to vote. It is the right to determine our own way as a nation. Everything else hinges on this one action. The things we uphold or change, the people in power who make the decisions, the ‘freedoms’ we maintain or loose, all of it comes down to our vote.
This past week was Super Tuesday. As a pastor, it is my calling to listen and then speak. I have been listening for some time. Listening to the rhetoric on both sides. Trying to discern the issues that have polarized this nation and why they are polarizing. These issues have caused division, rejoicing and even fear. There is genuine fear of what the next presidential election could mean for this country.
This conversation is particularly interesting during Lent. Just before Passover.
Lent is a journey of understanding our humanity, embracing our responsibility, and gratitude for God’s grace. It is a journey of recognizing the ‘state of things’ so that we can move forward, better.
I would offer that first and foremost, our “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
I would also offer, that we are called to “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations and exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)
So we are not to be afraid, we are to recognize that there is a Power beyond us, beyond this world and the principalities it contains. We are to approach this world with love and a sound mind. We are to rest in the knowledge that God is God.
With that said, everything about Jesus’ ministry was about disrupting ‘business as usual’ wherever it was a threat to God’s Kingdom. When Jesus began his ministry, in Mark 1, Jesus was baptized, tempted and then after John was taken into prison, Jesus made a declaration. “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe.”
And with this he began gathering his followers.
The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, from what I can gather from Jesus’ own teachings and ministry was about reconciliation. It was about reaching the marginalized and including them into community. It was about offering healing. It was about feeding the hungry. It was about relationship. It was about breaking down cultural and physical boundaries. It was about challenging the authority when it oppressed others.
There was no system sacred. No person off limits. No place he wouldn’t go to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
So when we consider the Kingdom of God and our world today, this is my starting point. I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t come to replace the government of his day. He could have, and certainly most expected, that the Messiah would come and sit on a literal throne, overthrowing the unjust leaders of their day. He didn’t lead a mass exodus, defecting to a neighboring country where they could start over.
But Jesus didn’t do that. In fact, he submitted to their authority, to the point of death. He stood up for what was right, but he didn’t overthrow anyone. Instead, he started a revolution in the hearts of his followers. He offered a soul freedom, an allegiance to something greater than any government this world could offer. He changed the way people interact with one another… offering a better way here and now.
So what does this mean for us today? It is a reminder that, if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we are called to higher allegiance. Our ‘soul freedom’ is bigger than an oppression this world could offer. I find real comfort in that, considering the leadership ‘choices’ being offered by our political system.
It is also a reminder that Jesus did not compromise his commitment to the Kingdom, ever. Jesus stood up against every and all oppressors of his time period. He challenged the wealthy to think deeper about their ‘treasures.’ He challenged the poor to see the humanity in their oppressors. He challenged the church to open its arms. And he challenged everyone to make every interaction count, offer love and grace to every person they met.
When I consider the circus that is our current political situation, I start with Jesus. I look to the Kingdom of God. And when it comes to my vote, I start with Jesus. I look to the Kingdom of God. Who matches most with what Jesus taught and did? Who is most in line with the Kingdom of God ethos?
And there is no ‘perfect’ choice. Here’s where I get political… I cannot accept the argument that a human document demands our allegiance over the Kingdom of God, not even the Constitution. (Before you gasp and write me an angry note, please hear that I love this country, I am grateful for it. Appreciating the Constitution is different than accepting how people interpret it. Appreciating the sacrifices made for it, call me to defend it when people to misuse it. -Including my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and my brother in law – of whom I am insanely proud.)
Therefore, I cannot accept any argument for a wall, deportation or discrimination. I cannot accept racism, gun violence or injustice by anyone. I cannot accept calling others out of their name, belittling language, sexism, or exploitation. I cannot accept denying people of their basic needs like food, health, and housing. I cannot accept greed, protecting self-interest, or ambition.
I do not and will not accept these things. And I certainly won’t affirm them in my leaders. And no matter what happens in November, I will continue to champion these things that Jesus championed. I will continue to ‘fight the good fight’ no matter the policy or opposition put in place by whatever government is ruling. Because my allegiance is to a bigger Kingdom. A better Kingdom.
Because the solution for a better Kingdom, for God’s Kingdom was never to flee, rather to engage. It was never to dominate, but to heal. And I pray for healing. I pray for other Christ-followers to accept this challenge to engage and heal, rather than dominate or withdraw.
I seek the Kingdom of God, not for this government, but for the people governed by it. I seek wholeness, and wellness, and reconciliation so that the sacrifices made for freedom where not made in vain. I look to the eyes of the men in that photograph with my dad, and I hope that in spite of whatever this government may bring, that they would know the love and grace offered by a Kingdom of Heaven, bigger and better than any kingdom on this earth could ever offer.
And that cannot come from any political leader, it can only come from Jesus people doing Jesus’ work, sharing Jesus’ words, living for a bigger Kingdom, a better Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.