SERMON; RELIGION AND POLITICS?
iT'S ALWAYS GOOD TO START WITH A QUOTATION FROM A FAMOUS AMERICAN!
It was George Washington who said
- Do not let anyone claim to be a true American if they ever attempt to remove religion from politics.
Some people love it. Some people hate it.
But the truth seems to be
You can’t keep politics out of religion
And you can’t keep religion out of politics.
I was up the High Street on Saturday.
And there were the representatives of all the Political parties
doing some hustling…
And among the groups – supporting and promoting every party -
there were people from the churches…
Clearly you can’t keep religious people out of politics either!!
Serious political allegiances are made by men and women of faith…
The two greatest influences on the course of human activity –
RELIGION AND POLITICS…
Seem unable to be kept apart.
Certainly, Zechariah didn’t want them kept apart.
Certainly, the Bible doesn’t want them kept apart.
Zechariah calls for justice…
For the people to show kindness and mercy…
For oppression to end, and the weak
Widows, orphans, vulnerable foreigners who live among the people
To be cared for…
Anyone in need
They are to be the focus of our religious endeavour.
If our religion leaves them untouched in their plight and fragility
then it’ s a religion that has lost direction
Missed the point.
A religion that forgets about the people we are called to care for and serve
is not a Biblical religion.
If it’s only about sound theology, and good liturgy,
and correct church government -
And not about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry,
housing the homeless
Defending the weak
Then it’s just talk.
And the only way we make a difference in these areas,
The only way we shake up the systems that oppress:
The only way we change the kind of world in which these things are acceptable
Into a different world, where these things are unacceptable
Is through political engagement.
The thread that reminds us
That our religion has to be more than theoretical
Runs right through the Bible.
The Old Testament Prophets are particularly vehement
That this should be how our faith is expressed…
The Lord says..
I hate your religious fedtivals. Let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness that never goes dry.
But you have not taken care of the weak ones, healed those that are sick, bandaged those that wondered off...instead, you treated them cruelly…”
Just as a hunter fills his cage with birds, they have filled their houses with loot…that is why they are powerful and rich, why they are fat and well fed…they do not give orphans their rights, or show justice to the oppressed..
Mary in her song of revolution makes it clear that the Messiah is coming to make a difference….the kind of difference that affects out there…not just makes us feel good in here…
He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their pans
He has brought down might kings from their thrones
And lifted up the lowly
He has filled the hungry with good things…
Jesus assures his first listeners that he has come
to bring good news to the poor…
not just so that they will cope with their poverty
in the fine spirit of resignation…
but that things will be changed in the world that is
so loaded against them…
and justice will be done on their behalf…
James in his letter warns against the sheer hypocrisy of recognising need
and then thinking a kind word and a pat on the back
is going to be any good to anyone…
“Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat…what good is there in your saying to them…keep warm and eat well, if you don’t give them the necessities of life!”
Tonight, this Christmas Eve Candlelight service… let’s think about all the people who are cold and hungry this Christmas…
No, let’s not…let’s do something about it.
Zechariah is concerned that
although the Lord has made it clear what his desire is for his children,
the people who should know best
are taking refuge is some kind of pietistic escapism…
allowing themselves to think that
if they are doing the right religious rituals…
then they are doing all they need to do.
Meanwhile, the poor and the cold and the hungry are without comfort…
trapped in a hopelessly unfair world
that will not be made better by lots of nice prayers…
but will be made better by people who care
getting involved with the issues that create the problems…
And getting involved with the issues,
means political engagement.
It means also that the church can’t just talk about “spiritual things”
and leave changing the world to other people.
If the Bible calls us in the name of our Christian faith to see that justice is done…we have to ask…
what does that actually look like…
once you get beyond and behind the words…
what.. in fact.. will a just society involve…
Amnesty International working on behalf of political prisoners…
If we are challenged to demonstrate,
as Zechariah would have us understand,
kindness and mercy….
how will these ideals be expressed…
how do we make actual these abstract ideals…
out there in the world we live in …
where I reckon there is more suffering and sorrow
than I have ever been aware of in the whole of my life…
How do we put flesh on those bare bones of idealism…??
Not through talking about it in vague terms -
but through action and initiatives and sleeves rolled up,
and money given and joining in solidarity with others
who feel with the same passion that concern.
Given that there is probably as much oppression of the vulnerable in our time as there has been since the Second World War –
there is clearly work to be done
to defend the weakest,
support the fallen…
lift the burdens from the exhausted…
the Church can neither keep silent about these things,
nor stand helpless at the side-lines
kidding ourselves on that talking about it will be enough to change it.
If we want a just, compassionate, welcoming, free society…
then the amphitheatre in which that struggle takes place is the Coliseum of politics..
And when our sleeves are rolled up and we are getting our hands dirty ,
and when differences are being made
and the kind of country we are going to live in is being decided,
then religion and politics are unavoidably and inextricably connected.
So, when there is a hustings, we should look to see many church people listening, asking tough questions, finding out what the values of the politicians and those who would be politicians are…and whether they understand our commitment to the most vulnerable
and our desire to see justice written in to the very heart our culture.
And all this is long before we recognise that there are particular areas of overlap between the worlds of religion and politics…
Not a day goes by but that can be evidenced,
positively and negatively
but certainly to such a degree and with such frequency
only someone really closing their mind could miss it.
· The Catholic Church has strong issues over abortion law…
· France is abuzz with issues of what Muslim women can or cannot wear
· The dangerous surge in Anti – Semitism across Europe and the concerns that the Labour party is confusing criticism of the state of ~Israel with anti-semitism
· Issues of freedom of speech and how much someone can express their own faith stance before it becomes offensive to someone of a different faith stance…
· Whether you can refuse to bake a cake promoting gay issues or not…
· The rise of extremism and the religious ideologies that lie behind that extremism
· Female Genital Mutilation
· Forced marriages,
· Honour killings…
All of these so called religious issues, spill over into political decision-making and the edges become blurred…
So Tony Blair might not do God
George Bush might think of his Gulf War as a crusade,
Christianity may be under the hammer in Modi’s India
And Pakistan may be crushing the indigenous church:
Bibles may be illegal in the Middle East
Indonesia may ban Christmas…
But religion and politics are intertwined
Because they are both about people and how you treat them
They are both about the kind of world we want to live in
And neither of them
Can hide from their responsibilities…
Let’s finish as we began…with a quotation from a famous American…Benjamin Franklin
He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity… will revolutionise the world.