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Here’s the audio:
And here’s the video:
Joseph has gotten short shrift in the Gospels, Church History, Christian Art and Preaching. If you’d like to read more beyond the sermon, I’d suggest Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed, or Ken Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels.
The sermon begins without explanation, with random volunteers from the audience performing updated parts of the ritual for the bitter waters:
First, barley is measured out of its package- 2 quarts worth- and poured into an offering plate.
Second, holy water is poured from the baptismal font into a large clay pitcher.
Next, the ‘indictment’ is written on a piece of parchment and then its burnt, its ashes put into the water and mixed together.
Then, the pen with which the indictment was written is unscrewed and the ink is poured into the pitcher of water.
Finally the floor of the altar is vacuumed and the suctioned dirt is removed from the bag and put into the pitcher. It’s all mixed together a last time and poured into a clear glass.
‘Does anyone want a drink?’
There’s something about this (the bitter waters) story, and there’s something about Joseph that always makes me think of my boys.
But it’s not for the reason you might guess.
Sure it’s true that Jesus isn’t Joseph’s biological son.
It’s true that, like me, Joseph is an adoptive father.
It’s true that in Jewish tradition as soon as Joseph names him and claims him as his own- adopts him- Jesus is as much Joseph’s child as he would be had Joseph been the biological father.
And it’s true that I know firsthand how true that is and feels.
But that’s not it.
That’s not the something about Joseph that always makes me think of my boys.
Matthew says that Joseph was a ‘righteous man.’
And that’s all Matthew has to say.
I know Matthew’s nativity sounds like a short, simple, straight-forward story, but that’s because we live on this side of Christmas. On the other side of Christmas it’s not a simple, straight-forward story at all.
And it all hinges on Matthew calling Joseph a ‘righteous man.’
By calling Joseph a righteous man, Matthew’s not simply saying that Joseph was a good man or a moral man or even a God-fearing man.
Tsadiq in Matthew’s day was a formal label. An official title.
Tsadiq was a term that applied to those rare people who studied and learned and practiced the Torah scrupulously.
Tsadiqs were those rare people who believed the Jewish law was the literal Word of God as dictated to Mose, and therefore, as the Word of God, tsadiqs believed the Torah should be applied to every nook and cranny of life.
When Matthew tells you that Joseph was one of those rare, elite tsadiqs- righteous men- Matthew tells you everything you need to know to unlock this story.
Because when Matthew tells you that Joseph was a tsadiq, he’s telling you, for example, that Joseph wore phylacteries, little boxes of scripture against his head and around his arm- as commanded in Deuteronomy 6.
When Matthew tells you that Joseph was a righteous man, he’s telling you that Joseph wore a prayer shawl at all times as commanded in the Book of Numbers 15. A shawl with tassels hanging from every corner, each tassel a tangible reminder of all the commands of God.
When Matthew tells you Joseph was a tsadiq, he’s telling you that Joseph had a long, never-trimmed beard, a beard that would fill me with envy, a beard that would set him apart as different and holy- just as Leviticus 19 commands.
Joseph was a ‘righteous man,’ says Matthew. A tsadiq.
Which means there were specific things Joseph did and did not do.
As a tsadiq, Joseph covered his right eye and prayed the shema twice a day: ‘Shema Yisrael, adonai eloheinu, adonai echad.’
‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’
And as a tsadiq, you can bet Joseph had a copy of this prayer rolled up and nailed to his doorpost.
If Joseph was a tsadiq, then he gave out of his poverty to the Temple treasury.
He traveled the 91 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem every Yom Kippur to have a scapegoat bear his sins away.
He practiced his piety before others to remind them that God had called them to be perfect, as God is perfect.
Joseph was a righteous man, Matthew says. A tsadiq.
Meaning, there were specific things he did and did not do.
He did not violate the Sabbath, no matter what, because God created man for the Sabbath, for the glory of God.
And as a tsadiq, Joseph did not eat unclean food.
For that matter, as a tsadiq, Joseph did not eat with unclean people: gentiles or outcasts or sinners.
When Matthew tells you that Joseph was a righteous man, he’s telling you that Joseph was one of the rare few who could be called ‘righteous’ because they lived the righteous law of God to the letter.
Every jot and tittle.
If the Torah commands that you care for the immigrant in your land then a tsadiq does just that without questioning.
And if Torah commands that you avoid and dare not touch a leper, then a tsadiq obeys God’s righteous law and keeps his distance.
In Israel, in Matthew’s day, after being a priest there was no greater honor than being given the title tsadiq- a righteous man who follows every letter of God’s righteous law.
And that’s the incredibly complicated dilemma that Matthew hides behind that word ‘tsadiq.’
Because this tsadiq is engaged to a woman named Mary.
And she’s pregnant.
And he’s not the father- of course he’s not. He’s a tsadiq.
You see, in Mary and Joseph’s day, betrothal was a binding, legal contract. Only the wedding ceremony itself remained.
Mary and Joseph weren’t simply fiancees.
For all intents and purposes, they were husband and wife.
They were already bound together and only death or divorce could tear them asunder.
For that reason, according to Torah, unfaithfulness during the engagement period was considered adultery. Actually, according to the Mishna- which is Jewish commentary on the Torah- infidelity during betrothal was thought to be a graver sin than infidelity during marriage.
Matthew tells you that Joseph is a tsadiq.
Betrothed to an adulteress.
As a tsadiq, Joseph knows what the Torah now requires of him.
Joseph can’t simply forgive Mary and forget. Only God can forgive sin.
No matter how much Joseph might love Mary, his love of God must trump his love of neighbor- they’re not equivalent. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, Joseph must take Mary to the door of her father’s house, accuse her publicly of adultery and say to her: ‘I condemn you.’ And if she does not protest or deny the accusation, the priests and elders of Nazareth will stone her to death. On her father’s front porch.
That’s what the Torah commands.
And Joseph, Matthew tells us, is a tsadiq. A righteous man.
Of course, if Mary does protest, if she denies that she’s sinned, if she’s foolish enough to tell people something as ridiculous as her child being conceived by the Holy Spirit then Joseph, as a tsadiq, certainly knows what course of action the Torah requires: the ritual of bitter waters.
According to the Book of Numbers, Joseph is commanded to take Mary before a priest, bringing an offering of barley with them. About 2 quarts’ worth.
After offering the barley upon the altar, the priest will compel Mary to stand before the Lord. The priest will pour holy water into a clay jar. Then the priest will sweep up the dirt from the synagogue floor and pour it into the jar of water. Then the priest will write and read out the accusation against her and Mary will be compelled to say: ‘Amen, amen.’ Finally the priest will take the accusation and the ink in which it was written and mix them into the water.
And then command Mary to drink it.
The bitter waters.
If it makes her sick, she’s guilty and she’ll be stoned to death.
If somehow it does not make her ill, then she’s innocent.
Her life will be spared though, in Mary’s case, her life still will be ruined because she’s pregnant and Joseph’s not the father.
She will be considered a sinner. Specifically, an am-ha-aretz, a term that was reserved for people like lepers and tax collectors and shepherds.
And as a tsadiq, someone who lives the Torah inside and out, Joseph certainly knows he’ll be considered an am-ha-aretz too if he marries Mary.
He’ll be a tsadiq no more.
On the other hand, if he does anything other than, anything less than, what the Torah commands he will be a tsadiq no more. He will lose his status as quickly as though it were emptied and poured out from him.
But that’s what Joseph chooses to do.
Matthew says in verse 19 that ‘Joseph resolved to…’ but Matthew leaves it to us to imagine just how long it must’ve taken Joseph to come to that decision.
And it’s not like Joseph’s happy about it.
That word in verse 20 that your bibles’ translate ‘considered,’ the root word in Greek is ‘thymos.’ It can mean ‘to ponder’ as in ‘to consider’ or it can mean ‘to become angry.’
It’s the same word Matthew uses in chapter 2 to describe King Herod’s anger at learning the magi have escaped him.
It’s the same word Luke uses to describe how the congregation in Nazareth responds to Jesus’ first sermon right before they try to kill him.
So it’s not like Joseph is happy about it.
But still, Joseph decides to violate the Torah by refusing to condemn Mary.
Joseph ignores his obligation as a tsadiq by refusing to have Mary’s guilt tested by the bitter waters.
Joseph forsakes his power and privilege as a tsadiq for Mary’s sake, for a sinner’s sake.
He decides to divorce her in secret.
He chooses love over the letter of the law.
He chooses compassion over condemnation.
He chooses sacrifice over safety and self-interest.
And here’s the giant thing Matthew hides in these few, little verses:
Flash forward 30 years or so.
And the boy that Joseph made his own is all grown up. And one day Joseph’s boy meets a woman at a well. Jacob’s well.
Even though it’s almost dark and Torah commands that they shouldn’t be talking with each other, especially at night, Joseph’s boy sits down next to her and does just that. The woman’s had 5 husbands and the man she’s with now, she’s not married to. Which, according to Torah, makes her guilty of adultery.
According to Torah, she’s exactly the type of person who deserves to be given the bitter waters.
But instead Joseph’s boy, who doesn’t even have a bucket, offers her something that sounds like the opposite of bitter waters: Living Water.
And one day, Joseph’s boy is at the Mt of Olives and a group of experts in the law- tsadiqs- come up to him, carrying stones and a woman they’ve caught in adultery.
And Joseph’s boy knows what the Torah commands. He can probably cite the chapter and verse: Deuteronomy 22.
It’s not an ambiguous case; it’s a dare.
And Joseph’s boy looks down at the ground and responds with a double-dare: ‘Whoever is without sin may cast the first stone.’
And when he looks up the tsadiqs have all left, leaving their stones on ground. Then Joseph’s boy kneels down and looks the woman in the eyes and says the opposite of what Torah commands: ‘I do NOT condemn you.’
Like father, like son.
And one day as Joseph’s boy is leaving synagogue a leper reaches out to him and says ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’
Because he’s not clean, Torah is clear about that. And Torah is clear about commanding that Joseph’s boy should put as much distance as possible between himself and this leper.
But instead Joseph’s boy reaches out to him and touches him and says to ‘I do choose.’ And Joseph’s boy reaches out to him and touches him and says that to him before he heals him.
And then Joseph’s boy flees to the wilderness.
He has to- because the leper’s uncleanness has become his own.
Like father, like son.
And when Joseph’s boy returns from the wilderness he invites himself to dinner.
At a tax collector’s house.
And it’s when Joseph’s boy is seated around a table, eating and drinking with sinners and tax collectors- people who were considered am-ha-aretz by good Jews- that’s when Joseph’s boy uses the word ‘disciple’ for the very first time.
But I can’t help but wonder if maybe Joseph’s boy was the first disciple.
I can’t help but wonder if maybe he was an apprentice in more than just carpentry.
When Joseph’s boy grows up, again and again, he chooses mercy over what the law mandates.
He reaches out to women Torah says he should reject.
He teaches ‘You’ve heard it said…I know Torah says this…but I say to you…’
He talks about the spirit of the law and not the letter.
He says the law was made for us to thrive; we weren’t made for the law to trip us up.
When he grows up, this son-of-a-former-tsadiq preaches ‘Blessed are those who…’ and in doing so he redefines ‘righteousness’ in a way that was all upside down from ‘right.’
In other words, when he grows up Jesus acts and sounds an awful lot like his father.
His earthly one.
I don’t know why that should surprise us.
After all, as Matthew points out, we call Jesus: ‘Emmanuel.’
God with us.
We believe that Jesus is fully God.
We believe that Jesus is God incarnate. God in the the flesh.
But paradoxically, we also believe Jesus was fully human.
As human as you or me.
Jesus stank and sweated. He spit up as a baby, and when he sneezed real boogers came out of his actual nose.
He was fully human.
And if you don’t believe that you’re committing the very first Christian heresy. Your thinking is what St John calls ‘anti-Christ.’
He was fully human.
He didn’t just seem human. He wasn’t God pretending to be human.
His humanity was not a disguise hiding divinity underneath.
His divinity did not steer his actions or control his thoughts anymore than you or me.
He was truly human. As human as you or me.
He got tired like we do. He got hungry like we do. He laughed and he wept like we do. He sometimes lost his temper and dropped a curse word like we do (Mark 7). He got constipated and everything else I can’t get away with mentioning in church.
Just. Like. We. Do.
He was fully, completely, 100%, no artificiality, nothing missing, no faking it, human.
And that means…
that Jesus needed to be taught.
Like we do.
Jesus needed to be taught how to pray.
Jesus needed to be formed by the practice of worship.
Jesus needed to be nurtured into his faith.
Jesus needed to be instructed in how to interpret scripture
Jesus needed to be trained to give and forgive.
Jesus needed to be discipled in what it means to follow God before he ever called his disciples to follow him.
We believe that Jesus was truly human, as the creed says.
You see, Jesus taught what he taught not because it was a satellite broadcast from our Father in heaven.
No, Jesus taught what he taught because that’s what his father and mother taught him.
And that’s the something about Joseph that always makes me think of my boys.
Because if Jesus couldn’t be Jesus without his father, then my boys can’t possibly ever be like Jesus without theirs.
Without me. Without you. Without their mother. Without a community like this one.
Jesus needed to be apprenticed into the faithful person he became.
And so do my kids.
And so do yours.
And so do I.
And so do you.
If Jesus wasn’t Jesus all by himself, then it’s ridiculous to think that we can be like Jesus all alone by ourselves.
That’s why we do what we do here.
Teaching the stories. Offering bread and wine. Baptizing with water. Serving the poor. Praying the prayer he taught us- which I’ll bet sounds just like the prayer his father taught him.
And that’s the reason we’re starting another faith community in Kingstowne.
Because if Jesus needed to be discipled before he could deliver the Sermon on the Mount, then we need to be discipled before we can live it.
And we can, you know.
then the life of Christ isn’t just an impossible ideal we admire once a week.
It’s a life we can make our own.
Because if its true that Jesus was fully human, as human as you or me, then the logic of the incarnation works the other way too.
It’s not just that Jesus got tired like we do, got hungry like we do, laughed and wept like we do.
No, if the incarnation is true, then we can forgive like he did.
We can serve and bless and welcome like he did.
We can receive those whom others would reject like he did.
Like him, we can turn the other cheek.
Like him, we can love our enemies.
Like him, we can give our selves to an upside Kingdom.
And like him, we can live such beautiful lives that God can’t help but to raise us from the dead.
But just like him we can’t do it by ourselves.
We continue our Romans sermon series, Justified, this weekend by taking a dip in Romans 3.21-31, the magna carta for the Protestant doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone: that because of Christ’s death in your place, you’re made right with God by nothing other than faith.
Indeed for many in Reformed and Evangelical circles, Justification is synonymous with the ‘Gospel.’
The problem with conflating Justification with the Gospel is that the Gospels themselves do not so identify Justification as the Gospel.
According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (in fact, Peter and Paul as well), the Gospel is the proclamation that Jesus the crucified Messiah has been raised and ascended to be Lord over creation.
Listen to Scot McKnight tackle this question, taking many a evangelical to task:
This week we continue our sermon series through Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It’s a tricky letter to expound because many assume that Paul’s primary message is justification by faith alone- how we’re made right in God’s eyes not by anything we do but only by faith.
As NT Wright says, thinking Paul’s main message is justification by faith alone is to confuse key for melody, for Paul’s main message isn’t how we’re justified but how God has raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord of all creation.
Scot McKnight cleverly calls these Christians ‘soterians’ after the theological jargon that emphasizes Jesus’ saving work.
Scot had this post recently, outlining how you know whether or not you have a soterian Gospel- vs Paul’s actual Gospel.
The soterian gospel is a rhetorical bundle of lines about the doctrine of salvation that came to the fore in the 20th Century. I had lunch recently with a missionary who told me he’s been struggling with the “soterian” gospel for years and is so glad I wrote The King Jesus Gospel because it put into words what he’s been thinking for more than three decades. He’s not the first to tell me this.
Critique of that rhetorical bundle can be found from a number of quarters, including the new Calvinists, theologians, pastors and leaders, and also from some evangelists I’ve met.
Perhaps the secret to the success of the soterian gospel is its teachability and its programmability. Whatever the reasons for its successes, we are not alone in being convinced it is not a fair representation of the NT gospel. I got a chuckle from this reflection by Lee Wyatt:
What would you add? What do you think is the fundamental Question the soterian gospel asks? What do you think is the fundamental Question the gospel of Jesus and the apostles asks?
You might have a Soterian Gospel if:
-you think of humans primarily as sinners in need of redemption (which we, of course, are) rather than divine image-bearers in primarily in need of restoration to their primal dignity and vocation of God’s royal representatives in the world and creation’s wise overseers;
-you think Christ became human only because humans sinned and needed redemption;
-you think that the forgiveness of sins is the end/goal of God’s redemptive work;
-you think human destiny will be in a not-earth place (heaven) and in a not-earth kind of existence (immaterial, so-called “spiritual”)
-you think the earth is not a part of God’s eternal plan.
Here’s a sermon of mine on the cross that Scot McKnight posted at the Jesus Creed blog.
Scot, who was our Scholar in Residence, a few years ago gave a nice note of praise for my sermon on Hell at his Jesus Creed blog: click here to check it out.
Scot McKnight’s been blogging about Hell at Jesus Creed. Here’s his post on Jesus’ teaching on Hell.
The traditional view of hell rests on four pillars: that the OT says nothing; that the Jewish view at the time of Jesus was one of eternal conscious punishment; that Jesus’ view was thoroughly Jewish; and that the NT authors follow Jesus. Edward Fudge, in Hell: A Final Word , subjects each of these to examination in a readable, accessible format. The first pillar is wobbly; the OT does speak about the “end” of the wicked and the idea is one of a “consuming” fire (not tormenting fire). The second? Wobblier. There were three views: a consuming fire, a purifying fire, and a tormenting fire. Third? Today we sketch Fudge’s short chps on what Jesus taught, and I shall sketch his sketch.
1. Gehenna, Jesus’ typical term, is a trope for the place of destruction/fire south of Jerusalem. It cannot be proven to have been the dump in the 1st Century.
2. What happens there? The wicked are destroyed, they perish there. Matt 10:28: “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell/Gehenna.” The issue is if “destroy” means “destroy” or “preserve forever in a destroying state.” Fudge thinks traditionalists ruin the meanings of words on this one: destroy means destroy, not preserve forever. Had he meant preserve forever he could have said it that way. He then lists eleven uses of “destroy” in the NT and shows that each means “destroy”: why not in Matt 10:28? [Matt 8:25; 12:14; 16:25; 21:41; 22:7; 26:52; 27:20; John 11:50; Acts 5:37; 1 Cor 10:9-10;Jude 5, 11.]
3. Gnashing of teeth means anger, not pain. Cf. Acts 7:52-54.
4. Eternal punishment fits with other uses of “Eternal” as an adjective: salvation (Heb 5:6), redemption (9:1), judgment (6:2), punishment (Matt 25:46), destruction (2 Thess 1:9). Big conclusions: the term refers to something in the Age to Come, it is endless and it refers to the result of an action. An action leads to something being permanent: one is not redeemed forever, one is redeemed and then lives forever; one is not judged forever, one is judged and then has consequences forever. [I sense a technicality here that is not as tight as Fudge says it, but there's a good observation here.] Eternal punishment refers to eternal capital punishment. The second death. 2 Thess 1:9 says it is “eternal destruction” so that eternal punishment is eternal destruction — and eternal fire refers to fire that destroys forever.
5. Rich man and Lazarus: it’s a parable; Fudge sees Jewish folklore at work here; it’s Hades not Gehenna; this parable says nothing about hell; it’s not literal; it aims to motivate Jesus’ contemporaries to care for the poor with the threat of irreversible consequences. [There are negations here that are not necessary, but in the main I agree with much of what Fudge says in this section.]
I’ve had James Atwood’s book, America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose, in queue for a few years, never getting around to it.
The Sandy Hook shooting and resultant debate has prompted me to read it. I can only image the sorts of response I’ll get for even posting anything about guns.Nonetheless, from a Christian perspective at least, guns are not just a legal, constitutional or political issue.
Any object designed to take human life is also inherently a theological issue too.
The line between patriotism and idolatry, Atwood warns, can be a fine one when it comes guns.
I’ve just started Atwood’s book. Here’s Scot McKnight‘s summary from a few years ago when the book came out:
James Atwood admits he has been waiting for 36 years, but that wait (for all of us who have been waiting) is now over: Atwood himself wrote the book. What’s he been waiting for? After he buried one Herb Hunter who was killed by a reckless use of an easily-purchased handgun, he’s been waiting for someone to write a book that theologically reflects on guns in America.
30,000 gun deaths per year in the USA. 30,000. More than the population of the village in which we live. Wiped off the map every year. 30,000.
Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. Guns are designed to kill.
In 2008, 17 in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9484 were killed by guns in the USA.
Atwood, who owns a gun and is a deer hunter, was asked about five years ago to speak to the Presbyterian Peacemaking Forum about guns and gospel values and idolatry, and that book is called America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé. Atwood is more than a concerned pastor; Atwood has been involved with The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence for 36 years. He’s read all the materials; knows the evidence; has been active in the discussion and social struggle; and he has given us a gift.
What we need is a balance between the right to bear arms and the right to live in safety.
For change to occur, Atwood observes, requires “the leadership of an educated, spiritually aware, and committed community” (xvi). The Gun Empire, he claims, has a stranglehold on America. He sees gun violence as the elephant in the room no one wants to look at or talk about. He thinks the stranglehold is about the “principalities and powers” and are nourished by death.
It is not God’s will that 82 to 84 people die every day as a result of gun violence.
The nonsense of the Gun Empire is that guns don’t kill people and that the answer to gun violence is more guns.
Atwood thinks his previous strategies — through the federal government and legal process to create better laws — didn’t work because he was too naive about the NRA’s use of funds to guide legislators. He thinks now that the way forward in gun violence and the way forward against the Gun Empire is to motivate and mobilize the church, the community of faith, to act on its faith.
Here is how he says it:
On the moral high ground, with confidence in the rightness of our cause, with indisputable facts at our disposal, and with strong biblical and spiritual resources, people of faith will be able to convince those in Congress and in statehouses to vote for fair and balanced laws that they know in their hearts is the right thing to do.
You can read more about the book at the Jesus Creed blog.
Here’s Jeff’s question: Why did Jesus come when he did? As opposed to some other point in history?
That’s a million dollar question. That’s also impossible to answer. I even asked Scot McKnight for a hint and he couldn’t do much better than I’ve got below.
At least from a God’s-eye perspective. Scripture says God sent Jesus ‘in the fullness of time’ which suggests there was something auspicious about when Jesus came.
We can’t really know why from God’s perspective.
What we can do is answer from a human perspective, from scripture’s point of view.
At least as far as the scripture writers’ understood it, God sends Jesus when he does because the oppression and idolatry of Rome had gotten to a point that necessitated or provoked the incarnation.
God heard his people’s cries, in other words.
That’s why Matthew tells his Gospel in a way that makes explicit that Caesar is a new Pharaoh and Rome is the New Egypt.
And Matthew’s Gospel begins with a ‘genesis’ just like the Hebrew story begins. That’s Matthew tells you that Herod kills all the new born sons just like Pharaoh did. That’s why Matthew has Jesus’ life beginning in Egypt just like Moses’ did.
How does Luke begin his Gospel? ‘In the days of ____________________’
All the language in Luke’s Christmas story, that we don’t even think about, is loaded with double-meanings meant to show how Christ is God’s alternative to Caesar.
In the ancient world, Caesar’s rise to the throne was referred to as the Advent of a Golden Age.
He was worshipped as a god.
And the proclamation that was made about Caesar throughout the Empire: ‘Caesar Augustus, son of god, our savior, has brought peace to those on whom he favors.’
What do the angels say to the shepherds when Christ is born? Yep, same thing but this time they’re referring to a baby in diapers and not a Caesar in, well, diapers.
From the Gospels’ perspective, then, Jesus is born to deliver Israel from Rome just as Moses did from Egypt. It’s how Jesus delivers that is unexpected.
And the same will be true at the swearing in.
And the same would be true had the results of the election gone the other way.
Christians who find themselves this morning either euphoric or despondent…shouldn’t be either one.
Scot McKnight does a good job at his Jesus Creed blog of framing how Christians distinguish politics from the Kingdom, and how, for Christians, the word ‘election’ refers to being chosen by God to serve as a witness to others; it doesn’t refer to the means by which we demonize others.
Here’s what he says:
Somewhere overnight or this morning the eschatology of American Christians may become clear. If a Republican wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian has an eschatology of politics. Or, alternatively, if a Democrat wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian too has an eschatology of politics. Or, we could turn each around, if a more Democrat oriented Christian becomes depressed and hopeless because a Repub wins, or if a Republican oriented Christian becomes depressed or hopeless because a Dem wins, those Christians are caught in an empire-shaped eschatology of politics.
I can’t imagine 1st Century Roman Christians caught up in some kind of hope whether it would be Nero or Britannicus who would succeed Claudius.
Where is our hope? To be sure, I hope our country solves its international conflicts and I hope we resolve poverty and dissolve our educational problems and racism. And I hope we can create a better economy. But where does my hope turn when I think of war or poverty or education or racism? Does it focus on my political party? Does it gain its energy from thinking that if we get the right candidate elected our problems will be dissolved? If so, I submit that our eschatology has become empire-shaped, Constantinian, and political. And it doesn’t matter to me if it is a right-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Republican wins, or a left-wing progressive wringing her fingers in hope that a Democrat wins. Each has a misguided eschatology.
Now before I take another step, it must be emphasized that I participate in the election; and I think it makes a difference which candidate wins; and I think from my own limited perspective one candidate is better than the other.
But before I take the next step I’ll say this: if our candidates lose won’t make one bit of a difference for our obligation to follow Jesus today. Not one bit.
Participation in our election dare not be seen as the lever that turns the eschatological designs God has for this world. Where is our hope? November 6 may tell us.
What I hope it reveals is that:
Our hope is in God. The great South African missiologist, David Bosch, in his bookTransforming Mission impressed upon many of us that the church’s mission is not in fact the church’s mission but God’s mission. Our calling is to participate in the missio Dei, the mission of God in this world. So, at election time we can use the season to re-align our mission with the mission of God. Therein lies our hope.
Our hope is in the gospel of God. God’s mission is gospel-shaped. Some today want to reduce gospel to personal salvation while others want to convert into public politics and secularize the kingdom of God. The gospel is about Jesus the King and the gospel is about kingdom citizens living under the king regardless of who is in “power.” Therein lies our hope.
Our hope is in the gospel of God that creates God’s people. God’s gospel-shaped mission creates a new people of God. In fact, the temptation of good Protestants to skip fromGenesis 3 (the Fall) to Romans 3 (salvation) must be resisted consciously. The gospel creates kingdom citizens who indwell the church and live that vision.
Here’s the rest of Scot’s post.