Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sermon, All Saints' Sunday, Matthew 5:1-12

It's election season, and thank God we only have two more days of it.

I don't know about you, but I'm getting awfully tired of receiving e-mails about how Obama will require churches to fulfill the homosexual agenda by marrying gays and lesbians or else be subject to the loss of their tax exempt status. I'm tired of receiving hate-filled e-mails about how Obama is really a secret Muslim agent in league with al Qaeda, about how he will shut down the U.S. news media and replace it with Pravda, and of how we can't allow gays to receive the benefits of a state-sanctioned marriage or civilization as we know it will cease to exist. And I'm tired of receiving e-mail and real mail that screams, "The Truth About Marxist Obama and Mandatory Child Sacrifice."

These kinds of attacks -- attacks against a person based on lies and fears -- are nothing new. Thomas Jefferson was attacked not only as a slave owner, but because of his loose morals and the illegal behavior of having sex with a slave woman. He was both anti-God and anti-American because of it. It was said that murder, robbery and rape would be taught and practiced if he were elected president. And Andrew Jackson was accused of murder, gambling and treason, and that his wife was a prostitute. So no, the lies, slurs and innuendos that the various campaigns generate and participate in are nothing new.

Besides campaign-generated attacks, however, we are also being subjected to other independent groups getting involved in the mud slinging; most recently are various single-issue Christian groups. These are the groups whose only focus seems to be anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-equality, or anti-immigration. They prey on voters' fears that their opponent will forever turn America from its once great position in the world to a shell of itself ruled by heathens, murderers, and Satan-worshipers. And they hope and pray that enough of these fears and lies can be manufactured and repeated often enough so that voters truly are scared and their man ends up in the White House.

But remember this: the only single-issue agenda Jesus had was in getting people to reevaluate their relationship with God. If you look through the gospels, Jesus was focused on welcoming the outcast, forgiving the sinner, healing the sick, relieving the downtrodden and abused, and urging those with the ability to help those less fortunate.

In Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount serves as Jesus' opening address. Matthew uses it here to show Jesus as God's chosen, the Messiah. Matthew uses it to challenge his readers in a way that says, "If you believe in Jesus, then this is what is required." And it is the Beatitudes that kick off the whole sermon and are the major attention-getters.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Matthew doesn't say, like Luke does, blessed are the poor; instead, Matthew says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Matthew's version doesn't specifically talk about wealth, but rather our attitudes. Do we humbly remember our dependence on God? Are we humble, contrite, and poor in spirit? Or are we proud, arrogant and privileged?

Blessed are those who mourn. What does it mean to mourn? Certainly we mourn the death of family and friends, and we mourn our own sinfulness. But what of those people who mourn for justice delayed? What of those people who mourn the lack of equality simply because they are labeled as different? What of those who mourn over their inability to obtain health insurance? What of those who mourn due to financial obligations that have driven them into poverty? As Christians, we are called to help work on their behalf to remedy those injustices. As we work on their behalf, as we join their struggle, they will be blessed by our presence. And that struggle for justice and equality for all, seen through God's eyes, cannot be futile and will be blessed by God.

Blessed are the merciful. Are we merciful? When slighted, or the victim of a wrong, are we willing to forgive the other and show mercy? Or do we, like the unforgiving servant, toss our enemy in jail for a small amount, forgetting that God himself forgave us our large debt owed to him? Mercy comes in many forms, and sometimes we need to put mercy before pride.

Blessed are the peacemakers. There are certain groups who are convinced that we are called to utterly destroy our enemies; often before they can even think about attacking us. But this is not what Jesus is calling us to do. He is calling us to be peacemakers, to devote ourselves to the hard work of reconciliation between two sides, between two people, between ourselves and the enemy -- whoever the enemy might be.

South Africa, for instance, had to, and still has to, reconcile its citizens with each other after years of apartheid. The U.S. has internal work to do on making peace between all races and classes. And we need to be at the forefront of peace in the Middle East, rather than at the forefront of military aggression, war and death.

Tuesday is Election Day in our nation. Who you vote for is up to you. But I urge you to remember that the so-called "Christian agenda" is much more than who and what we are against. The Christian agenda should include serious thought and discussion about how we are treating the poor and what we are doing to eradicate poverty. The Christian agenda should compare the almost $560 BILLION spent on the war in Iraq versus how much (or how little) we are spending on issues that promote peace and health. The Christian agenda should be pro-life; and that not only includes the narrow focus of abortion, but should also include the wider focus of pre-natal care, post-natal care, health insurance for every person in this country, and abolishing the death penalty.

On Election Day, don't get caught up in the rhetoric of fear. We are called to make a stand for Christ by welcoming the outcast, caring for the downtrodden, protecting the helpless, feeding the hungry, and forgiving those who have sinned against us. We are called to Be ... Not ... Afraid.

On Tuesday, may I suggest you take a copy of the Beatitudes with you to the poll? Use it to see how your candidate stacks up against the requirements actually set forth by Jesus. Use it to remind yourself of the Real Christian Agenda.


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