Rev. Danielle K Bartz November 20, 2022
Matthew 27:11-14, 27-37 “A Call to Action”
I just want to say right up front that while I often use the Sunday before Thanksgiving as an opportunity to preach a Thanksgiving message, I am not doing that today. There will be Thanksgiving service on Tuesday at Central Lutheran Church, where I will be preaching a ‘nice’ Thanksgiving message. But not today. Because today is Christ the King Sunday, sometimes referred to as Reign of Christ Sunday. It is the culmination of the church year, we begin with a new year next Sunday with the beginning of Advent, and on this day the Church celebrates the presence and authority of Christ. While I have never been a fan of the language ‘Christ the King,’ I do believe it is important for us as Christians to reaffirm our commitment to following the teachings and example of Jesus. To once again claim that our loyalties rest with God and God’s hope for humanity found through the presence of Christ. So today is not only a day to rejoice in our revolutionary faith, but I believe it is also a day in which we must call out any and all who demean, or even desecrate, our faith by aligning it with power over others, greed, violence, and Christian nationalism.
On January 10th, 2021, the Sunday following the insurrection at the US Capitol, I stood in this pulpit and publicly repented of the sin of my silence on the increasingly dangerous and violent rhetoric spoken by elected officials and commentators. Though I now understand it to be misguided, my silence had been intentional. I have a very strict interpretation of one of the vows I took upon my ordination. That vow reads: “Will you seek to regard all people with equal love and concern and undertake to minister impartially to the needs of all?” I said yes to that vow, and I have long understood it to mean, amongst other things, the need to keep my political opinions to myself. My care and devotion to you as pastor is not contingent upon whether or not we agree politically, and therefore I believe it is vital that I keep my political opinions to myself in my role as your pastor so as not to create even an appearance of a barrier between us.
But I went too far. While I will never endorse a party or candidate or elected official from the pulpit, nor will I ever defame a party or candidate or elected official from the pulpit – that does not mean I do not have a responsibility to call out hate, to counter messages that seek to subvert the Gospel, or speak out against violence against any of our neighbors. I did not do an adequate job in speaking out against those things, and in that silence there was a betrayal of another of the vows I took, where I was asked: “Will you be zealous in both maintaining the truth of the Gospel and the peace of the church, speaking the truth in love?” I said yes to that vow as well, and I had failed in finding a balance between the two.
Let me be clear, in case you think I have an over-inflated ego – I do not believe that if I had done a better job in maintaining the truth of the Gospel the insurrection would not have happened. My voice is just one amongst millions – and of course my pulpit is quite small compared to others – but my silence added to the deafening silence of Christians in this country who either thought the threats of Christian nationalism were not serious, or who were apathetic to this threat because it felt like it was far away from their congregation. I am not sure which category I fell into, probably a bit of both, but I am determined not to fall silent again. Because the threat of Christian nationalism is not only still very real, but also increasing.
On October 27th of this year, the Pew Research Center, a highly respected organization that surveys U.S. adults in order to inform the public about trends and opinions shaping our country, released a study they had conducted about Americans’ attitudes on religion’s role in public life. This was one of their larger studies, and the results were troubling. The survey showed that 45% of U.S. adults believe that our country is or should be a Christian-only nation. Further, 31% of U.S. adults believe the government should stop enforcing the separation of church and state. 32% say that religious diversity in the United States weakens American society. Nearly half, 47% of U.S. adults, think the Bible should have either a great deal or some influence on U.S. laws. And 38% of people who identify as Christian believe that when the Bible and U.S. laws contradict, the Bible should take precedence. Finally, 18% of U.S. adults would fall into the category of Christian nationalist because they believe the U.S. should have Christian-based laws and governance.
Now it should be pointed out that the Pew Research Center made it quite clear that there is no consensus on what ‘Christian’ means. But what cannot be denied is that there is a significant proportion of adults in our country who believe their idea of Christianity – the morals and values they associate with Christian beliefs – should be imposed on everyone by law. And there are too many examples to cite of those who believe violence is an acceptable tool to imposing those beliefs.
Christian nationalism is a growing movement in our country – it is a threat to our democratic government, a threat to our neighbors of different religious beliefs, and a threat to Christians like you and mean who use our beliefs to guide our actions, but do not believe they should be forcefully imposed on anyone else. On this Thanksgiving week in which we remember, amongst other things, that people sought to live on this land in order to have the freedom to practice their religion freely without government control – we cannot allow the forces of Christian nationalism to go unchecked.
We must do so not only as citizens to protect our democracy, we must also do so as Christians who are committed to following the Gospel message – one in which love of God and neighbor rise above all other concerns. We must do so as Christians committed to following the teachings of a man who was executed by the state for speaking out against religious laws that excluded people. On Christ the King Sunday we remember that God’s Kingdom does not align with the power structures of human society – of hierarchy, control, and power that favors only a certain few. Christ stood opposed to any form of nationalism, and as his followers, we must do so as well.
How do we do this? I am drawing heavily from a phenomenal book by Christian writer and theologian Carter Heyward entitled “The 7 Deadly Sins of White Christian Nationalism: A Call to Action.” She suggests several actions that Christians must take and commit to in order to stem the tide of hateful rhetoric spoken in the name of Christ. The first is that we must empower one another, especially those whose voices are dismissed or diminished in this world. We must listen to the wisdom of children, the poor, the marginalized, and all those who are disenfranchised by the powers of this country. Jesus did not minister to the powerful and wealthy. Jesus ministered to the poor and outcast, and by doing so he empowered them to become full members of society. He healed them of afflictions so they could be a force for good in this world. They were not a threat to him, they were the center of his movement.
In order for us to empower one another we must, as Carter Heyward says, embody humility. Humility is the acknowledgment that we are not the solution to all the problems of this world. In fact, too often the privileged of this world are a deterrent to those solutions. So, we must embody this humility by stepping out of the center to make room for the other. Building on this, the next call to action is not only to empower but to celebrate the vast diversity of the people of this country, but also the vast diversity that is found in the face of God. God’s reflection cannot be found in one gender, one skin-tone, one moral statement. God created us in our diversity and therefore God can only be found in our diversity. By learning about and celebrating this diversity, we are learning about and celebrating God.
Standing opposed to Christian nationalism also means transforming the systems found within capitalism that keep the rich richer, and the poor poorer. We do this by being stewards of our resources, embracing the idea of abundance and not scarcity, by letting go of certain comforts in order to make sure everyone has enough, and ensuring that our planet is not denuded of everything God put there for our care.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, to stand opposed to Christian nationalism means we must break the spiral of violence. Matching violence with violence is not of God. Violence, whether it be physical, mental, or verbal cannot be stopped with more harm. And so we must break those cycles: by not countering hate speech with more hate, by not accepting the false claim that more guns in our society will stop gun violence, and by creating communities of support around those people who are the most vulnerable.
My Beloved Community, on this Christ the King Sunday we must embrace that we have been called to stand within God’s Kingdom – a kingdom of peace, truth, love, and hope. And by doing so we stand opposed to any notions of our faith that aligns itself with war, lies, hate, and despair. We must stand alongside our crucified Savior because we know crucifixion is not the end of the story. That is just the beginning, because we are Easter people. A people of life and light and love. A people who say the forces of death cannot overcome the power of God’ love. A people who cry alleluia into the whirlwinds of this world, not only to praise God, but to remind this world that we are meant for something so much better. We align ourselves with Christ and Christ’s teachings, even when, especially when, those teachings challenge us to do better for ourselves and for our neighbors. This is a gift and it is a burden, but it is blessed by God. Amen.
Good and great God, you are the source of all love and hope in this world. You created us in this love and with your hope that we may embody it for all we encounter. For our creation as your people, we give you great thanks. And it is in this spirit of thanksgiving that we turn to you now in prayer.
God, through the life and teachings of Jesus, you showed us what it can mean to live fully within your kingdom. You provided us with a guide and teacher who continues to call on us to embrace the poor and marginalized, to embody humility, and to enrich not strip our world. Today God we once again claim the authority rested in Christ and seek to continue all that he taught.
We know, Gracious God, that there are too many in this world who are the victims of people claiming to act in your name. We lift to you now our prayers for all and for ourselves, knowing that in our silence, you hear…
Loving God, help us to embrace the hope you have for us by continuing to follow the teachings of Jesus, our brother, friend, guide, and savior. We pray all of this and so much more in his name and in the way he taught by raising our voices together…Our Father…