The Politics of God - Rev. Louis Timberlake

The Politics of God
1 Timothy 6:11-15
Louis Timberlake
November 20, 2016

1 Timothy 6:11-15 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

This week, of course, is Thanksgiving week. Many of us will be traveling to see family or hosting family at our own homes. I’m not sure which is more exhausting. Packing up all your stuff and traveling somewhere to live out of a suitcase for a couple of nights. Or frantically cleaning your house, getting everything just right, so that your relatives can trash it and you can spend another two days cleaning again. Of course, even if you aren’t hosting, if you’re like us, the process of packing and getting ready to travel leaves the house messy enough that you have to do your own cleaning when you get home.

I have probably mentioned this to you before, but Thanksgiving is by far the most important holiday in the Timberlake family. Christmas is great, but, if you make it to one family gathering all year, it’s Thanksgiving. The entire extended family gathers together to catch up and to eat amazing food. And, truly, the food at Timberlake Thanksgiving is the best. Now, I know that everyone says this, but they’re wrong. Now, I have to admit, it’s not a vegetarian-friendly meal. I have a number of friends that abstain from eating meat and I have great respect for that decision. But, Timberlake Thanksgiving is slim pickings for vegetarians.

You see, in my family, cooking meat is a serious matter. My dad now has two big green eggs (a type of smoker/grill, for the uninitiated), sitting side by side, because one just didn’t hold enough for big family meals. As a kid, I remember standing with him at his old Weber kettle grill, learning how to light the charcoal, use the vents to control the temperature, and cook different types of meat. And he never used a thermometer. Growing up, I just assumed that meat thermometers were for people too lazy to pay attention to the grill. You tell whether the meat is done by sight and touch. And, the golden rule is, you can always put it back on the grill.

Now, I have a friend named Ellen who is a food scientist, and she has assured me that meat thermometers have value. They tell you when the meat is safe to eat. And I understand that, even if the USDA doesn’t seem to take into account those of us that prefer things on the rarer side. You’re not allowed to tell my dad this, but I actually use a meat thermometer from time to time. Because, while I appreciate family tradition, I also don’t want E. coli. Thermometers are useful. They tell the temperature of things, whether it’s the venison tenderloin on your grill or the air outside as you’re deciding whether to wear a jacket. There is value in knowing the temperature.

Now, a thermometer is different than a thermostat. Thermostats set the temperature. We recently painted a hallway in our house--and when I say, “we,” I mean, “Kate.” I was moral support. Now, we have one of those Nest thermostats, which we made sure to pull off of the wall while Kate was painting, because we didn’t want to get paint on it. And, they make it easy. You just pull, and it comes off of the dock that is affixed to the wall and contains all of the wiring. Which is great, unless you forget to put it back on after you finish, because, without that thermostat, the HVAC system has no idea what to do. I came back in the house after Kate had been painting and noticed that it was a little cold. Sure enough, the Nest was still off of the wall, meaning that the heat was off and our house was at about 60 degrees. Thermostats are important.

I know it’s a little odd, but I’ve been thinking about thermometers and thermostats over the past couple of weeks.

The past couple of weeks have been challenging, to say the least. Now, I’m not talking about the results of the election. I have friends and family members that voted for Donald Trump and I have friends and family members that voted for Hillary Clinton. And, none of them are bigots, none of them are ignorant, none of them are full of ill intent towards others. They are good, loving people. Faithful followers of Christ. None would claim to be perfect, but they are seeking after God. I expect that this congregation is much the same. Some of us voted one way, some another, others may have abstained. But we are ALL a part of the family of God. Our identity as brothers and sisters in Christ transcends any political identity. Period.

The past couple of weeks have been challenging because of the aftermath, the response. Many of us were hoping that November 8th would bring an end to the election coverage. That hasn’t been the case. Now, instead of debates, we hear about protests, assault, intimidation, shaming of people who voted for one candidate or another. But, I wonder if we really believed that all of the tension and vitriol that built up over the course of the election would just dissipate overnight? And, I wonder whether we can pin all of the ugliness on the two candidates? Are they responsible for it, or did the election just fan into flame those coals that were steadily burning in the pit of our society?

In fact, I wonder if Hillary and Donald are a bit like Jesus? Now, track with me here. Let me finish the thought before you tune out or walk out. In the crucifixion of Christ, the violent execution of not just an innocent person, but the almighty, loving God, we are forced to look upon the reality of our sin. In the cross, we see the result of greed, lust for power, selfishness, apathy, envy, and pride. The cross raises up a mirror to us as individuals and to our world, so that we see our sin and realize our utter need for God to help us rise out of the muck. And, I wonder if this election has done a bit of the same thing.

So, regardless of how you voted, the question is, how do we respond? We’ve seen some of the ways others have responded. I’ve read about Latino-Americans being intimidated and told to leave the country. I’ve seen people who voted for Trump being vilified on social media. I’ve read about Muslim women being threatened to be burned if they don’t remove items of clothing that are important to their faith tradition. I’ve read of Trump supporters being assaulted on the street and in the subway.

Witnessing this response to the election, I begin to wonder whether we are thermostats or thermometers? Is our response to set the temperature or to reflect the temperature?

There’s a major difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. A thermometer is a passive device, it reacts to other stimuli. A thermostat is an active device, it changes the environment. 

Paul, as he is writing this letter to Timothy, is telling him to be a thermostat. To shape the environment, not react to it. “But you, man of God, flee from all this.” If you read just before this, Paul is telling Timothy to flee from two things that have infected the church of his day. False teachings about Christ and an unhealthy focus on possessions. Paul tells Timothy to flee the mess and to pursue what is good. “And pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.” He’s telling him, in the midst of the problems in your society and in your church, set an example. Pursue what is holy, don’t get sucked into that other stuff. Don’t stand there bad-mouthing the false teachers, show them what a good teacher looks like. Don’t criticize those who have their priorities out of whack, show them what it looks like to live with godly priorities.

Paul writes, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” He’s telling Timothy, “Remember who God has called you to be and become that person. In that way, you will shape the church and the world around you. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer.”

You know, today is a special Sunday in the Christian tradition. It’s Christ the King Sunday, which is actually like our New Year’s Eve. Next Sunday, which is the beginning of Advent, is the beginning of the liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar is unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is what we commonly use to mark time. The Gregorian calendar is based upon the movements of the Sun. The liturgical calendar is based upon the life of Christ.

And, on Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate the culmination of the life of Christ. That everything we know of Jesus, from his time in Mary’s womb, to his unlikely birth, to his public ministry, to his transfiguration, to his trial and execution, to his resurrection, to his ascension, points to the reality that Christ is King, the Lord of Creation. It doesn’t matter who is elected president, because the president is just a person who serves for a term and moves on. But Christ is the eternal Lord of the cosmos. Through him all things have come into being and through him all things are being renewed. “In him we live and move and have our being.”

Augustine wrote a book titled The City of God. One of the most influential works in Western thought. He wrote it in the midst of the decline of the Roman Empire, right after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths. Rome was arguably the greatest city in the world at the time, at the heart of one of the greatest empires in history. In the book, Augustine talked about two cities, the “City of man” and the “City of God.”

You know, in the church, we’re supposed to avoid politics. I mean, politics and religion are the two things you don’t discuss in polite conversation and you certainly don’t intermingle the two, right? But, Augustine’s argument was not that we shouldn’t be political, because the church is innately political. But, the politics that ought concern us most are the politics of God, not the politics of man. Our citizenship is first and foremost in the City of God, the true eternal city. Our vision is set upon something greater than the transient powers of this world. We are defined, first and foremost, by our allegiance to a humble carpenter who also happens to be the Lord of Creation.

That’s what Paul is saying in this passage. You live in the City of Man, but don’t forget that your citizenship is in the City of God. You are not a thermometer, mirroring the temperature of your environment. You are a thermostat, setting the temperature, through the power of God in you.

As we look at this world around us. As we see the division, the violence, the angst, the injustice, the fear. What will it take for us to claim our responsibility to be thermostats? To sense the current temperature and respond by saying, “No, this is not what is supposed to be. Not what God hopes to be the reality.” Being a thermometer is easy, because it is a passive role. Being a thermostat means taking an active role in shaping the environment around us.

You know, something happened when Christ ascended into heaven following his resurrection. He looked at his disciples and all those that would come after them and he said, “it is your turn now. As I leave this world for now, you are my body, my ambassadors in this world.” Teresa of Avila put it this way, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

May we set the temperature for this world, in the name of Christ the King.