Politics in the Kingdom of God: Love and Freedom

September 13th, 2020

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr. | watch this sermon here

I hope you watched the video I put out earlier this week. It announced the sermon series that we are beginning today. I have titled it: Politics in the Kingdom of God.

Politics, in this country, right now, is a trigger word. It can provoke a gut twisting angst that, I fear, will only become worse as we count down to November 3rd.  And so, at Epiphany, we are going to do two things: We are going to double down on the Christian practices, and I am going to preach about a larger political frame, we call it the Kingdom of God, and it is a frame upon which all things can hang,  including how you vote.

Before we get into that, I want to call your attention to the Christian practices we are firing up around here this fall. Be on the lookout for a calendar in the mail with dates and times for daily prayer, Evensong, fasting, book studies, prayer and poetry, vigils and the like. Now is the time I want you to join me in doubling down on your Christianity, because Christianity has endured political unrest before; in fact, Christianity has endured political revolution before; in fact, Christianity has endured targeted persecution before…and never once lost sight of the fact that this is God’s world, that we are ALL children of God, and that the injunction to love our neighbor has never lessened because of the horrors of the world; in fact, the more horrible things become the more critical the imperative to love our neighbor becomes.

Brothers and sisters, we are the Christians, and we are not seeding ground to fear or division or anxiety. We are not giving way to other  claimed Christians who succumb to thin, divisive theology. We will not set our hope on the outcome of an election, rather, we will set our hope on God…We are the Christians, and “When God is for us, who can stand against us? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depths, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 8:31b & 38-39).

Know this to be true: Love wins. Love reigns. Love is the response to all things, all actions. It is fundamental, foundational. It is the bottom-line…it is the deep magic upon which all else rests or responds. 

I was reminded of this the other day at Bible study. (Oh, Bible study, you say?  When?  Friday morning 10:30 am, and we are studying Matthew 5:38-42…which is a section of the Beatitudes, that I am preaching on next week in part 2 of this sermon series: Politics in the Kingdom of God). Anyway, as we were pealing back the scripture Epiphany parishioner Al Einstein (I think) said: “Well, it all comes down to love.”  And, I scold, and put on my fake admonishing face, and said: “Of course, in Christianity, ultimately, when you scrap all else away, and get down the very nub of it, the answer is always love.”

And here is why, and this is the first point I want you to consider when considering politics in the Kingdom of God–it is why love is always the foundational answer to any question: our Trinitarian God is a relational God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. And that which allows the three to be one and the one to be three is the binding agent of love.

It is love that keeps the Trinity together, and from this love we came into being. We are God’s beloved children…every single one of us. All of us.  Everyone. Are you with me? Who does this exclude? No one! Which people are God’s children?  All of them!  How about Muslims?  Or Democrats? Or Republicans? Or Atheists? Or Q-anon adherents…yes, indeed, all of them.

Here is my analogy for the Trinity and the binding agent of love. You have heard it before. I draw it from my days working in a factory. The Trinity is like a factory that produces love. Every interaction from the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Spirit produces love; Every engagement from the Son, to the Holy Spirit, to the Father, produces love; Every act of service from the Holy Spirit, to the Father, to the Son produces love; and it goes around and around and around. No jealousy. No competition. No selfishness. 

The relationship of the Trinity rests on a simple question. It is the question each person of the Trinity is constantly asking the other; the question is this: What can I do for you? It is the question that love always asks: What can I do for you? We’ll talk more about that next Sunday in part 2 of the sermon series, but it is enough to know today that when this question is lived out, it generates more love within the giver and more love within the receiver. Love begets love begets love.

Which brings me back to the Trinity as a factory that produces love. So, what happened is that the Trinity became so good at producing love that they generated more love than even God could absorb, so, God needed a secondary market in which to dump the excess love…and so, God made us, you and me, and all of humanity, in the image and likeness of God, to be recipients of God’s love. 

And so, at the core of all things, all questions, all actions, all political decisions is the possibility of revealing God’s love. If a political decision does not seek love, when pushed to its furthest possible conclusion; if a political decision does not find itself seeking love as the ultimate answer to whatever question is being asked, then it is an action that should not be taken. If a political decision does not seek to include everyone, fully inclusive as equal, beloved children of God, made in the image and likeness of God; if a political decision is not based on the question: What can I do for you? then it is an action not ensconced in the politics of the Kingdom of God and not capable of hanging on the framework of the Kingdom of God, and so, we, as the Christians, must reject it.

Now to some that may sound weak or simplistic or impractical or naive.  But history tells us that it is just this kind of action that produces world changing results over time: Desmond Tutu, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Archbishop Romero, St. Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, St. Benedict, St. Catherine, Mother Teresa. For all of them the bottom line was the same: love. Because they knew when you strip everything else away, at the foundation is the Trinitarian God, the relationship God, the love generating God that made all things, all people, everyone, you and me, equal and free.

And that is the caveat; that is the catch word: free. What makes love love is freedom. Without freedom there is no real love. God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is a chosen relationship. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, and I don’t know where they met…but I know it is a freely chosen relationship, because it produces love.

And for us to know the love of God we must be free to reject the love of God; otherwise it isn’t really love. Freedom is the highest order idea, if you will, in the Kingdom of God. God’s commitment to freedom is even greater than some of the patterns woven into creation… like death. We know that death touches all parts of creation. We know everything dies. It is not bad news; it is just true.

But God so values freedom, as the highest order idea, that in one case God broke the rule of death, so, as not to deny human freedom, and God did this because God loves us. But so, we could understand what was happening God gave this action a name…the name of Jesus.

Jesus came to the world, as a person; to teach us about the Kingdom of God, that God is here, God is near, God is closer than we can imagine, and God loves us, and because God loves us we are free to receive that  love, or reject that love, or to deny God’s existence, or to even kill God on a cross.

Jesus had the power to avoid the cross, but that would have undermined the core reality of God, which is love… So, Jesus accepted humanity’s rejection, and died, and then rejected death by resurrection. Resurrection is God’s way of saying to us, to all of humanity,  you can hate God, you can deny God, you can reject God, and even kill God, but never will God leave.  Never will God deny us access to God’s love. Because God loves us, God remains to ask the question: What can I do for you?–And if we were to reciprocate and ask God: What can I do for you? God would say: “Choose love.”

The highest order action for humanity is to exercise our freedom toward the end of love. This is the principle operating procedure in the politics of the Kingdom of God actions chosen that arch toward love. Which is why democracy is so important. Which is why one person one vote is so important…it honors freedom; it honors fundamental human equality, it honors choice.

The reason I am such an advocate of democracy, is that it fits into the political form of the Kingdom of God. It is our Christian duty to encourage people to exercise our freedom. It is our duty to ensure that the mechanisms of Government work to enable all people to vote easily. That is not a Democratic or Republican principle, it is an operating principle within the politics of the Kingdom of God. It is to honor the principle of freedom with the hope that it arcs towards an outcome that fosters and foments love.

So, let me end here by repeating the core principle of the politics of the Kingdom of God…We have a Trinitarian God. We have a relational God. We have a God that produces love, and we are made to be recipients of this love. Love requires freedom. There is no love if there is no freedom. Freedom, is the highest order idea in the Kingdom of God. It is even more sacrosanct than the pattern of death. Resurrection made that point. And finally, the question love always asks is: What can I do for you? 

Now if there is a festering concern in your mind that when it comes to voting there will be some scamming and cheating and rigging going on. I understand. There are many politicians who do not seek love as the answer to the political questions they ask. But to those who might seek to restrict voting options out of fear of cheating, I would say trust God. This is God’s world. God is in charge. And if God can smash death through resurrection, God can certainly manage a ballot box.

Seek love. Honor freedom. Trust God. That is politics in the Kingdom of God.