Wednesday, July 09, 2008

politics and religion

I'm finally getting around to posting about Sunday's Sermon. Yes, I realize it's Wednesday. As they used to say in my youth: "the hurrier I go, the behinder I get." That's not about to change any time soon. Life in the geriatric zoo muddles on and we muddle (and meddle) right along too.

But back to Sunday... we had no priest to celebrate over the holiday weekend. In fact we have a dearth of Sunday priests this month. Many are on vacation, and those who are not, are substituting for those who are. So at least two of us got Get-out-of-jail-passes last Sunday to visit an outside parish church. Of course I went to my home-away-from-home... the church I work for two days a week. In the summer the music ramps up as they continue to promote their "Summer Festival of Sacred Music". This past Sunday was Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, as well as an incredible piece from The Peaceable Kingdom by Randall Thompson. Harp and timpani added extra depth, as did the sweet clear voice of the treble soloist. Just the music alone is reason enough to attend St. Bartholomew's on Park and 50th Street, but the sermon was excellent too.

The preacher noted that any sermon preached on a national holiday has its special pitfalls. Any fool knows that mixing religion and politics could get you killed, (Jesus, the first example that comes to mind) but he launched right in anyway... with the observation that Jesus was not an early American patriot, he was a Palestinian Jew. He went on to suggest that if we are not aware of how our faith informs (or more likely does not inform) our politics, we will fall prey to the arrogant assumption that "God is on our side."

He also laid out a few major differences between the expectations of national patriotism and the expectations of Christianity, differences we are quite likely to forget when we pledge allegiance to the flag. (Or does anybody still do that?)
  • Patriotism calls us to protect ourselves; Christ calls us to lose ourselves.
  • Patriotism calls us to provide for our own... (our own families, cities, states, nation); Christ calls us to provide for the least of these... the poor, the marginalized, the immigrants.
  • Patriotism calls us to amass wealth, Christ calls us to give it away... all of it.
  • Patriotism calls us to retaliate when attacked; Christ calls us to turn the other cheek, to forgive our enemies.
In closing, he said, "Christ calls us to be more than good Americans." Reflecting on his list of differences, I wonder how we can be good Americans with the prevailing sense of what a good American is... I thought to myself, any people setting themselves up as a light to the nations are damned to failure.

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