Strong and Tender

Luke 13:31-35

We live in a world obsessed with power. Just look around. One man, Vladimir Putin, decides he wants the land occupied by another sovereign country. What does he do? He attacks that country. Vladimir Putin is a bully obsessed with his own worth and his own power. One might go so far as to call him a mad man.

Ukraine, Putin says, was going to attack Russia. Putin claims that Russian culture was being wiped out in Ukraine and that the minority ethnic Russians living there needed his help. Putin calls this a peace-keeping mission, yet he is destroying cities, homes, shops, and most recently targeted a maternity hospital filled with expectant mothers, new mothers, and their babies. Peace-keeping missing my…

In the eyes of the world I am a rather insignificant minister but today I join my voice with Pope Francis and say “Vladimir Putin, in the name of God end this massacre.”

But we also must look right here at home. For the entire history of our nation, there has been a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. Historically, national politics has been nasty, yet when the campaign is over, and the votes are cast, power transfers from one person to the next until 2021.

For the first time in the history of the United States, one president refused, despite all evidence to the contrary that he had lost the election. There is mounting evidence that an attack was planned at the highest levels of the government to try and change with force what they could not change at the ballot box. On January 6, 2021, we witnessed not people exercising their right to free speech and protest but an attempted coup d’état that we only barely survived.

John Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, an English Catholic, historian, and writer writing in a letter address to an Anglican bishop had this to say about power and its effect on humanity.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

In today’s Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus confronts power directly and, in so doing, places the responsibility to confront power to the Church.

To put this passage in context, we need to back up a little and look at the entirety of the 13th Chapter of Luke. Jesus had been out and about preaching and healing. They had preached about repentance. He had the audacity to heal a woman on the Sabbath. He spoke of faith and the mustard seed and that the entrance to heaven was a narrow way. Jesus was becoming a burr under the saddle of his day’s religious and political leadership, and they were getting anxious.

There was a balance that existed between Rome and the Jewish authorities. If everything was quiet, they were left to their own devices and could do whatever they wanted. However, if an uprising started or things started to get out of hand, Rome would step in and put an end to it all.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day have people under their thumbs, and they liked it. Later in Lent, we will hear the story of the money changers and all the other ways the leadership had corrupted religion. Jesus comes to stand it all on its heads, they know it, and they do not like it.

Some Pharisees come and warn Jesus that Herod is unhappy. The Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him and that he should leave town. Then comes this great line from Jesus, “Go and tell that fox for me, ”Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” (v32)

What was Herod upset about? Jesus was doing what the Church should have been doing all this time. Jesus called out the religious and political leaders for not serving the people.

One of the greatest freedoms we have in America is the freedom of religion. Not originally in the Constitution but granted, along with some other essential freedoms in the Bill of Rights. However, the freedom to worship as people see fit is the first of those rights.

Those who first came to these shores came for many reasons, but chief among them was they wanted to worship their God in the way they felt called by that God to do. They did not like that the King was calling them to conform to worship in a certain way, so they left rather than keep bucking the system.

Of course, the first thing they did when they arrived in the new world was to persecute anyone who did not believe the same way they did, hence the formation of Providence, Rhode Island, and many other places. How much blood was spilled in places not far from here in the name of religion? How many people lost their lives just because they would not conform to religious practices they believed went against what God was calling them to? TheThe very thing those early settlers were running from in England they brought to the new world.

I am often accused of preaching liberal politics when I preach of such horrible things, equality, love for all, feeding people, clothing people, taking care of the sick and the elderly. I am told that I should stick to the Gospel and leave the politics to the politicians. It’s funny that politicians have no problem using my religion when it suits them. I am addressing this to politicians on all sides, but let me speak one word that smacks of politics, and suddenly the age-old “separation of church and state” gets dragged out.

And where do I get these wild, liberal ideas about how we should treat one another from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You see, people often accuse me and others of preaching politics when it turns out that what they want to do runs counter to the Gospel they claim to cling to. They sit in Church on Sunday morning, shouting Amen and Hallelujah. They take communion and confess their sins, yet almost immediately after leaving the Church, their persecutions of others begin. So there is a significant religious word for those folx, hypocrites.

The Church of Jesus Christ is political because Jesus Christ was political. What Jesus was not was partisan, and there is a difference.

Politics comes from the Greek word meaning “affairs of the cities.” In other words, what is good for the people. Politics is about caring for all the people, not just some of the people. Politics is about caring for the least of them, while partisan politics is about caring for some of them. Politics is very much part of the Gospel.

But in the last few years, we have seen the very dark side of what happens when religion and partisan politics get into bed together. When you combine religion and partisan politics, you end up with partisan politics, and religion all but disappeared. Oh sure, it looks like religion; there are holy writings and messiah-type figures. Religion is put on parade, the bible is used, even if it is held upside down. But, it is not religion because what partisan politics does is exclude and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about inclusion, not exclusion. It is about building tables, not walls. It is about breaking down barriers, not building them. It is about love and not persecuting people for who they love. The Gospel of Jesus Christ stands in the face of power and speaks the truth, and power never likes the truth.

Jesus Christ was killed for our sins. But Jesus Christ was murdered by the state and by religion after being tried in a kangaroo court because he called them out for how they were treating the people, and the power players of the day did not like it. So I would venture to say that if Jesus Christ were to walk this earth today, those in power would do the same thing.

Friends, as Christians, we are not called to power; we are called to hold power accountable for how they treat everyone and not just some. We are called to care for the least of these and those with no voice. We are called to stand up for those living in the subway when the bombs are falling. We are called to sacrifice for those who have nothing. We are called to be Jesus Christ in a world that so desperately needs to hear the message that God loves everyone and cares deeply for everyone.

Today we see the first warning given to Jesus that his life was in danger. The message was getting through, and the authorities were getting anxious. Our job is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Our job is to speak the truth in love to power at all times and in all seasons. We cannot back down; the price is too high.

What we see in Ukraine, what we saw and continue to see as a result of the events of January 6th, is evil, and it needs to be confronted. So let us pray, and then lets us act. Amen.

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