Sermon, July 3, 2016

The Spirit of Freedom  
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 3, 2016   Seventh Sunday after Pentecost,
Independence Day Sunday
Psalm 1; Galatians 5-6; Luke 10:1-11

Politics have no place in church.

Polls show that many people no longer consider themselves Christian because they are repulsed by the politics of the religious right, while some here have been uncomfortable with left leaning politics preached in the past. I have heard appreciation that I refrain from talking politics.

Politics have no place in church.

I agree with that when we think of the politics in today’s political landscape. There is no place in church for uncivil, polarized, partisan, suspicious, dehumanizing, closed-minded, hard-hearted political wars between enemy camps. There is no place for the politics of hate in a church that follows Christ who commanded us to love God and love our neighbor and love our enemy and love the least of these. There is no place for the politics of fear in a church where Christ said over and over, “Do not be afraid.” There is no place for judging others because of their political views in a church where Christ tells us, “Do not judge.”

Politics have no place in church when they go against the Spirit of freedom that Paul talks about in Galatians, or the love that Christ commands us to have for those who seem most different from us.

And yet, much as we might wish it otherwise, politics are inescapable in a church.

Every United Church of Christ candidate for ordination is required to take a course called “Polity.” Polity is the study of church politics—the democratic political beliefs, in our case, and how they govern our life together.

Also, how can we say that politics have no place in church when we find them in the scriptures at every turn? Think of God helping Joseph interpret dreams in order to become a leading Egyptian politician. Think of God giving Moses the law on Mount Sinai, to govern the nation of Israel. Think of the Hebrew prophets reminding the people forcefully of God’s political ideals. Think of Jesus overturning the tables in the temple to change an oppressive political system. Think of Paul’s impassioned polemic to Galatia—church politics were a matter of spiritual life or death to Paul.

The scriptures are far more about political systems than individual salvation. The Bible is primarily concerned with how we live in community and how nations would operate ideally within the realm of God on earth. Jesus talked more about money than any other single topic, and much of that was seeking political and economic justice for the poor.

Politics are everyplace we look in church.

Supporting refugees involves us in a controversial political issue. Our Christ-like compassion often moves us to get involved.

Now another controversial political issue has arisen—the matter of where this church stands in relation to people of all sexual orientations and identities. The Pastoral Search Committee asked on their survey, “Would you be in favor of our congregation participating in an Open and Affirming study/discernment process? (Open and Affirming is a program of the United Church of Christ for churches that declare themselves officially open to and affirming of people of all sexual orientations.)”

Seventy-five percent of us said yes. The Search Committee asked our Diaconate to consider a study and discernment process, and the Deacons unanimously agreed to propose it to the congregation. We will be hearing their proposal soon.

Prospective pastors will want to know where the congregation stands on this issue. Some will be eager to serve an Open and Affirming church, others will prefer not to do so.

Pastoral candidates are not the only ones who want to know where we stand. After the Orlando shooting former UCC pastor Elizabeth Upton spoke here during Joys and Concerns about how important it is for people to know whether they are safe in a church. She was talking not only about gay, lesbian and transgender people feeling safe, but also their families, friends and supporters. People who do not want to be part of a church that might become Open and Affirming also need to know where the church stands.

The responsible and safe path for a congregation today is to be intentional, studying the issue and discerning whether we feel called to be Open and Affirming or not, so that all those within and outside the congregation can know what kind of congregation we are.

We have no choice but to be political in church. We have to govern ourselves, and at times we feel moved to respond to controversial political issues around us. Politics is a universal condition of every human community, we have no choice in that, but we do have a choice in what kind of politics we practice. Today’s scriptures give us a clear idea of how Christ calls us to be political.

Here are some of the qualities:

Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free,” and, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” Followers of Christ pledge allegiance to the laws of the Spirit and the realm of God. Paul knows how hard it is to withstand church tradition and social convention, so he is vehement that we remain free to let God, the Holy Spirit and the way of Jesus Christ guide our political life.

Paul says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” We need to be free to practice the politics of love. There are so many reasons to fear or hate, so many reasons to look at politics through the eyes of self-interest or personal comfort. Christ has come to show us the way to be free of them all so that we can love instead.

Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.…. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”

Imagine a political way of being that is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and generosity—can you imagine a Presidential race where the candidates consistently reflect those qualities? Maybe that is too hard, but I know you can imagine a church that discusses controversial issues in a way that maintains healthy communication and strengthens beloved community, because this church has begun to do so.

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus sent his followers out with the message that the realm of God is here now. The disciples entered those communities bearing a way of ordering and governing life that was a politics of peace. If people responded positively, the disciples would stay and teach them how to follow Christ’s way.

Christ calls churches to shine like lighted windows, to be a training ground for citizens of God’s realm who can teach others the politics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and generosity. Our nation desperately needs such churches.

As President John Adams said, “We have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

So let us be grateful for every opportunity we have in this church to practice politics. The Holy Spirit wants to train us, and Christ wants to send us to show the world how to govern itself by the Spirit of freedom, peace and love.

Let us pray in silence…