Praising and Belonging
Praising and Belonging
November 7, 2020
Rev. Fritz Nelson
On Tuesday morning as I was walking the dog snippets of a tune started going through my mind. I didn’t recognize it at first. It was all jumbled and disorganized, like it had to work to break through all the fear and anxiety surrounding this election day. Even from the snippets, however, I could tell it was a song of celebration. And I was surprised. The time for celebration was hours, or maybe even days away – if it ever came.
For months politicians and pundits alike have been defining our just completed election as a battle for the soul of America. Both sides have predicted Armageddon if the other side wins. Our family, like many others, has been all in. Marches and truck parades. Campaign donations and exhaustive Facebook posts. Postcard writing and pilgrimages to rallies. Bumper stickers and yard signs and flags. And like many committed Christians caught up in this election, we were convinced our side was the righteous. We were the sheep. They were the goats. How could any self-respecting, Bible believing, Jesus following Christian not see the election like we did, not vote like we voted?
Tuesday morning, walking the dog, jumbled and disorganized snippets of some happy tune going through my head, I passed the library, the line of faithful citizens waiting to vote and realized none if it mattered. None of it mattered.
Let me interrupt myself here with a giant asterisk, a huge footnote. My realization was far from a descent into cynicism. Nor was it a denial of the obvious. Our votes do matter. Locally competent political leaders help keep our streets paved, our schools funded, our community safe, our businesses supported. Nationally competent political leaders make decisions affecting war and peace, the health of our children, the strength of our economy, how much we pay in taxes and how those funds are invested in the future of our nation.
So yes, politics matters. But at the end of the day, when all the votes are counted, when winners are declared and losers sent home, who actually wins or loses has no bearing on who we are as children of God. It has no bearing on our commitment to follow Jesus Christ.
As my walk continued, the complete hymn broke through.
Let all things now living, a song of thanksgiving
to God our creator triumphantly raise
And my mind wandered back to the Psalm I read in my morning devotionals.
Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
And from there my mind worked its way toward two fundamental truths held by the Presbyterian tradition:
“What is the chief end of humanity?” the ancient catechism asks.
“To glorify God and enjoy him forever,” my brain responded.
To whom do we belong?
“In life and in death we belong to God.”
Our chief end is to glorify God, not elect politicians of a particular party or persuasion to particular offices. And we don’t belong to those parties or politicians. They are mere footnotes, for our true identity, our enduring identity, comes from God through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Just as we face a deeply divided nation – a divided nation that risks dividing our churches – the Apostle Paul faced a deeply divided church. Christianity had started as a Jewish renewal movement, yet more and more non-Jews were experiencing the saving grace of Jesus Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit. But did these new Christians have to become Jewish? Could you be Christian and still work on the Sabbath? Or did you have to refuse to work on the Sabbath even if that meant losing your job? Could you be Christian and eat meat offered as sacrifices to Roman gods – as most meat sold in the marketplace had been? Or was it better to refrain from eating meat at all? I can hear it now:
Pastor, didn’t you just preach on how important it is to distance ourselves from the idolatry of Caesar? Yet Jimmy and Sally went to a party at the mayor’s house and they ate the meat – and I know it came from the sacrifices because the cook is my sister in law’s third cousin and she brought it. How can they call themselves Christian and go to a party at the Mayor’s house?
Not all that different from, Pastor so and so has a Biden sticker on their car, how can they call themselves a Christian and betray all the unborn babies? Or Pastor, so and so posted on Facebook they voted for Trump. How can they call themselves a Christian and betray the children separated from their parents?
Politics matter, just as what we eat, how we observe holy days, matters. But neither political party, nor individual politician, holds a monopoly on what is holy or right. As a committed Christian, I can faithfully vote one way because I believe that American, as a Christian nation, should increase taxes and use government power to carry out the biblical mandates of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and otherwise work to raise us as a society up to the level of sheep instead of goats. As a Christian I can faithfully vote another way because I believe we should not trust our secular government to do the Lord’s will, therefore we should lower taxes and leave it up to individual citizens whether to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, care for the sick, and otherwise determine their personal status of sheep or goats.
Some judge one way, Paul writes to a divided church. Some judge another. Let all who judge be fully convinced in their own minds. Some vote one way, some vote another. And our faith should impact how we vote. So we trust each voted convinced in their own minds and we remember we do not live for ourselves nor do we die for ourselves. Our vote does not define us. How our sister or brother in Christ voted does not define them. We live not for ourselves but for the Lord. We die not to ourselves, we die to the Lord.
When the Son of Man comes in all his glory, and the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
On that day, standing before the judgment seat of God, we’re not going to be asked if we’re Democrats or Republicans. We’re not going to be asked if we voted for Trump or Biden, Gambrel or Vito. We’re not going to asked if we’re liberal or conservative.
We’re going to be asked if we loved the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength.
We’re going to be asked if we loved our neighbor as ourselves.
We’re going to be asked if we faithfully followed Jesus.
We’re going to be asked if we sought reconciliation with God, if we worked to reconcile ourselves with each other.
There, before God’s judgment seat, everything else will fade away. Before our own Lord we will try to stand, but in the face of divine judgement we will fall. Our votes won’t save us. Our self righteous judgement of our sister or brother for their vote won’t save us. We will fall. But we will be upheld, for the Lord will make us stand.
The Lord will make us stand, for in life and in death we belong to God.
Make us stand tall so that we can, with all our being, glorify God and enjoy him forever.