Kingdom Come: Politicked Off by John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, we started a new series called Kingdom Come.

As followers of Jesus, we are living in two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of humanity. Reality dictates that we must live and participate in both, but which governs which? We will explore what it means to walk with God during this very heated election season. Join us as we learn how to have our political leanings come second to the truth we find in the kingdom of God.

Next Steps:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

“Kingdom Come: Politicked Off” Next Steps

Message Video:

Message Notes:

We love competition, and a good fight, whether it’s NFL, College Football, soccer, basketball—or even politics.  And I have a feeling some of the hits that are gonna be traded on the political field are going to make NFL hits feel like a soft caress on the back.  This is the most polarized, partisan, divided competition for President I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime.  And I want to talk about what’s happening, and why people are so Politicked Off at each other—but more importantly, if we are serious about Following Christ, what does that mean in this season when it comes to politics, and partisan ideologies, and how we relate to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ (who by the way, are not just diverse ethnically, racially, and socio-economically—in some of our surveys we found we are diverse in how we vote too).

Now, I think that’s a beautiful thing in this regard: The Grace of God is available to all “Come as you are.”  And as a church, we help people Explore God and find faith from every imaginable background—which is all fine and good and wonderful…UNTIL…you’re in a community group with people you’ve come to know and love, and then political season arrives and you find out “WHAT?  They’re the competition? The other?  The Enemy? 

How do we navigate this divisive political season?

There are principles from Scripture that can guide us in God’s ways.

It’s critical for our church that you engage this with an open heart toward God. Not toward me, or Carlos, or what we’re saying—try to go to the Bible and see what God seems to say.

Now, we’ve never shied away from tough subjects. We talk about all of it, but I’ll be honest, talking about how to view partisan politics in light of the Kingdom of God, in this season, feels riddled with landmines.  I feel like I’m walking through a field of IEDs, trying to help us see God’s Perspective on what’s going on—but I could easily say something that triggers an explosion of emotion or hurt or misunderstanding because of several trends. 

I want to address 2 possible landmines right up front so we can diffuse some emotional bombs that could sabotage the intent of this message.

First, understand why partisan politics are getting more and more divisive. 

In an article entitled “In America, Politics is the New Religion” Asheley Landrum, a scholar of science communication at Texas Tech University points out that in 1960, only 5% of Americans, said they would be displeased if their son or daughter married someone of a different political stripe. In 2010, around 40% of Americans said they would be upset if their child married someone belonging to another political party. She argues that we used to prioritize religious values over political values, but now increasingly partisan political values win out over religious values—which is why she says politics is the religion of Americans.  She notes, “It is often the case that when people are caught between their church and their political party, they’ll end up defaulting to what the party line is.”  Which is really bad news for me and this message—it means if I say something that doesn’t line up with what you already believe politically—rather than considering if this is really God’s perspective from Scripture—you’re more likely to just write me off.  I’m hoping that will not be the case.  I believe we can do better than the cultural/partisan divides we’re seeing, and as a church, show a way forward to the greater culture. So I’m asking you to keep an open mind, not toward me—toward what I want to show you in God’s word.

Second Landmine that could blow things up today is if you think I’m talking about race or racial injustice in what is said, or not said today. 

This series is not about racism or political solutions to systemic problems we face as a country.  We absolutely oppose racism and systemic injustices as evil that should be opposed by the church of Jesus Christ.  And we have been committed to fighting against it for 22 years—imperfectly, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but still pressing forward.  I want to give you a quick overview of some of the things we’ve done as a church knowing there is much more we hope to be able to do. We believe in taking action to see the Kingdom of God, as it is in Heaven, look the same on earth— there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Revelation 7:9

I first spoke against racism and did a panel in 2003 in the Synagogue–trying to find a way forward. We’ve done this many times through the years, trying to expose it as evil, and find ways forward together.  We brought together police and people of color in our church for a panel to discuss what can be done (this was 4-5 years ago). We’ve held multiple services of lament–apologizing to one another for the wrongs done, praying for God’s forgiveness and healing and reconciliation, while exploring what we can do to see change. 10 years ago we asked the City for systemic issues the church could help with—they told us “If a 3rd grader doesn’t learn to read by grade 5, it predicts high school drop-out rates, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, gang involvement and predicts incarceration rates–chances for all that skyrocket.  So we have been committed to a long-haul fight against at least one systemic injustice (that affects many people of color and white people in title 1 schools). We are reading to over 2500 children weekly. I was meeting monthly with a diverse group of leaders the year of the last election as our church was growing more diverse, and it was great—but it also showed me how easy it is to divide rather than working to find a unity greater than our perceived differences. We have been offering a class Beyond Colorblind (since I spoke against racism and heard a panel talking about their experiences several years ago). I taught about Dr. King and how Jesus changes the world through us (last Christmas), we have tried to be more intentional about including people of color in opportunities for leadership, we have had a Justice and Reconciliation Network to empower the body to find solutions. Recently we had a praytest—praying with 30+ other churches after the tragedy of George Floyd’s death. We’ve also been taking our entire staff through the book Beyond Colorblind, so that our staff continue to grow and unite even as we grow more diverse its led and facilitated by two of our staff and a new friend whose ethnic heritage includes African American , Asian American, and Indian American and Carlos, Eric, and I pitch in). There’s more to be done to fight against racism and systemic injustice. We believe as a church, that God’s Kingdom will and ways is to stand up against the evil that uses people and systems as pawns to do harm.  And we want to be a healing community, where racial wounds can be healed, where ungodly racial biases or attitudes can be changed, and where we can show God’s Kingdom coming through us.  I believe that is what our country needs—for the church to be the church of God, made up of every tribe, tongue, nation, ethnic group.

But that’s not what we’re talking about in these two weeks.  And that might feel offensive to you if you equate partisan political ideologies with either being racist or against racism.  So I would ask you to give the benefit of the doubt, and consider that we can be against racism and hold different political views.  If that feels wrong, try to stay open-minded while we look at a bigger perspective on politics.

So here are some thoughts Carlos and I came up with to guide us in what we think is God’s Perspective—I’ll walk through the first 3 today, Carlos will walk through the last 3 next week—and hopefully, we will become a light that can show a Unity across Diversity that brings God’s Kingdom to earth, even in a season like this.

Thoughts on Moving Forward

  • Thought #1:  God is Bigger than Politics (and Uses All People for His Purposes)
  • Thought #2:  We are First Citizens of God’s Kingdom (Second America’s Kingdom)
  • Thought #3:  Give Yourself to God not Politics (No party is God’s party)
  • Thought #4:  No Causing Divisions (negative talk/gossip)
  • Thought #5:  Vote Your Conscience (without Quarreling)
  • Thought #6:  Don’t become a Stumbling Block (Online)

Thought 1: 
God is Bigger than Politics (and Uses All People for His Purposes)

One of the things that makes partisan politics and faith so heated is that everyone thinks Jesus is on their side—politically. Jesus did address political/governmental matters that should direct our attitudes and behavior during this season. Let’s look at a few examples.

Jesus got caught in the political crossfire of his day— how did he handle it. In Jesus’s day, there were three political parties who all hated each other. The Jewish people had a theocracy. The Sanhedrin had religious rule also held political power (which corrupted them to the point of wanting to kill Jesus because he threatened their political power. Which should give pause before thinking God’s a Republican or Democrat or Libertarian). The Jewish government was subjected under Roman Rule. Pilate was the Roman governor trying to govern the Jews. Then there’s King Herod–a Jewish ruler appointed by Rome to govern the area of Galilee under Pilate. The Jewish San Hedrin ruled according to Mosaic law, they hated the Romans who were there oppressors. They also hated Herod because he sold out to Rome, and Herod hated Pilate and Pilate hated Herod, and both hated the Sanhedrin. So attack ads are not new! Jesus ends up in this political crossfire. 

Which also gives us insight into God and politics—God is bigger than the worst or best of politics.  Do you know that God foretold all of this political hatred and fear mongering and used it all for his purposes? In about 2000 B.C. God creates Jewish people from Abraham, Isaac his son has Jacob—Jacob blesses his son Judah with this prophetic word:

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor. Genesis 49:10

So until Roman rule the Jews could exercise full authority, even under Babylonian rule. But the Jewish religious government had their right to capital punishment taken away by Rome in 7AD. In fact, the Sanhedrin wrote:

“Woe unto us, for the scepter has been taken from Judah, and the Messiah has not appeared!” Talmud, Sanhedrin, 7 A.D

But he had, and 25 years later, The Sanhedrin arrested Jesus for claiming to be Messiah—But they could not kill Jesus, so had to persuade Pilate to do it. 

What I want you to see is partisan politics are not new. And all these political means God foretold and used for a bigger good:

The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed [Messiah]…The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them…saying, “I have installed my king…You are my son; today I have become your father… Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession…Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.11 Serve the Lord with fear [awe] and celebrate his rule….  Psalm 2:1-11.

This is what happened—The Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod came together to crucify Jesus—mostly motivated by partisan power grabs—and YET, God knew it and was at work even through the evil that used these politicians and kings as puppets to do evil.

Thought 1: God is bigger than all politics. This is the first thing Christ Followers must understand. God’s not worried about this election. He can use the worst Kings and power mongers to accomplish the best for all humanity. Which here’s what this means if you follow Christ as King. NO FEAR MONGERING. We need to help Christians not be spreading fear because fear is not a tool of God, it’s a tool of evil. God says, you want something to fear, fear me—stop worrying and fearing what might happen if others rule you, and start thinking and acting like God rules you. So you have nothing to fear. So No spreading fear if you truly believe Jesus is Lord, ruler of all. That doesn’t mean do nothing.

Thoughts 2:
We are First Citizens of God’s Kingdom (Second America’s Kingdom)

Jesus is my King, but that does not mean politics are not important.  We should participate in political solutions. We should vote in a democracy where we have that privilege.  Politics are not ungodly, some partisan political means are, but politics are necessary. They just aren’t ultimate. Why?  Well, because politics, like law, restrains evil. Law is given by God to keep evil from turning earth into hell. Hell is where God’s Spirit and God’s law does not hold back evil any more, but on earth, law is good when it’s justly applied. Political rulers ultimately will answer to God if they justly carried out his laws to curb evil. But we are called to participate in politics, but not prioritize political leaders or solutions over God and God’s Kingdom ways. That’s critical. Are you first a Citizen of God’s Kingdom or another kingdom?

So Jesus is arrested by the Jewish Political Chiefs, sent to Pilate with slanderous attack ads saying “Pilate, Jesus claims he’s a king—if you let him get away with that, you’re in treason against Rome which says no king but Caesar.” Pilate interrogates Jesus.

“Are you the king of the Jews? “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

This is very important. Jesus is the King of Kings. Ruler over all kingdoms, but his kingdom rule and ways do not operate by the world’s rules of power, politics, fear, and greed. We must see this—If Jesus wanted us living first by the ways of politics, he would have fought against the Jewish and Roman governments—but he didn’t! He didn’t rule by the ways of power or politics, and in fact, he allowed all their political fears, powermongering, and partisan maneuvering to kill him.  Now think hard about that—Jesus loved people beyond all their worst political beliefs, ideologies, and power-mongering. He showed how Love is Greater than Partisan Politics, and that God is greater than politics. And if we’re going to follow Christ, we must value people more than politics too!

We have many groups where the diversity includes politics and they love each other and do life together.

Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” John 19:10-11

And here’s the “so what” for us.  IF you claim to follow Christ—you’re first a citizen of God’s Kingdom, second a US citizen.  And if the One you follow did not fight with force or military power to protect himself or his Kingdom, you don’t have to either.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote—vote! Or protest, or work for change.  But don’t think a political party or candidate is going to Save you or Destroy you—God’s the only Savior, and he can use the worst governments to do what’s best for us.

Some Christians act like they are saved or doomed based on an election. Too often we put our faith in people and politicians rather than in the One who is trustworthy – the King of Kings.

That’s why we are told:

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. Romans 13:1 

Remember this isn’t referring to Democrat or Republican but Roman authority—they worshipped idols and even persecuted Christians.  So what does this say to us?  It says choose who you follow first: God’s Kingdom or a Political Kingdom (whichever party).

Interesting Report – Christians from 60’s to today, way more open to marrying people of different faiths, but way more upset if children marry different parties. 5% in 1960 would be upset if child married different political ideology, today 40% upset by it.  The article said “In America, Politics is the new Religion.”

God’s Kingdom, his will and ways, supersede all other parties, rule, and ways. So vote, and vote prayerfully, first as a Citizen of God’s Kingdom, in line with what you believe He would want. And second, know that no political system is fully aligned with God, so don’t treat it like your savior or destroyer.

So what’s God’s Kingdom trying to do on earth as in heaven? When you really look at God’s will and ways, you’ll find Christians don’t fit perfectly in either of our 2 parties. Which means instead of buying into partisan politics, we should hold each up to God’s Kingdom ways—knowing each party has political ideals that align with God’s Kingdom, and both get corrupted by sin and evil and partisan power-mongering—just like happened in Jesus’ day. 

Thought 3:
Give Yourself to God (not Partisan Politics)

Matt 22:17-21. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius,  and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”  “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 

Jesus didn’t let himself fall into the political trap. He honored the state where the state did not force him to dishonor God, but He didn’t give himself to partisan ways, but to God. We must give ourselves to God first. If politics are more important than God’s Kingdom ways, you’ll let it divide you from others with different political persuasions.  But if you follow God’s kingdom ways, there’s a better way to navigate political differences.

I watch the news, but I had to start flipping between several channels because it’s not even pretending to be anything but a one sided political war on each channel. They’re trying to get you angry at the other. And it really does rile you up. Listen to anything long enough, you get influenced.  So here’s my challenge to you—One way to do that is don’t just be a CNN or FOX disciple—listen to opinions you don’t agree with.  But even more will you listen to the YouVersion Bible read to you—listen to Jesus Words for the same amount of time you listen to Political Opinion? If not, what does that mean? Really? Give to God what is Gods         

I heard another pastor say “We can disagree about which Party’s ways are best for humanity, but we can’t disagree that God always wants what’s best for humanity.” We don’t know what’s best for humanity—and there are no perfect people, not sinless politicians who selflessly only think of others. Can we admit, we don’t know what’s best for humanity fully because we’re all finite, flawed, humans.  And that’s true of all our political systems as well. That attitude of humility—whatever I vote, my political ideologies are not perfect, so I’m not going act like they are with you.  How might that help us as we disagree in this season?

So I want to Challenge you to do something different.  To approach this topic the way Jesus did. Jesus was not primarily Democrat or Republican any more than he was pro-Jewish or pro-Roman. He was pro-humanity. Can we seek to put God-first, be pro-humanity, and humble with our political opinions so we can stay united in Love for God, Love for People, trusting God is bigger and in control than what happens this year or the next 4 years?

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:14

His plan to change the world is not for His Kingdom to come through politics, force, or power, but as His followers daily say “Not my Kingdom come or my party’s will done, but Your Kingdom come, as your will is done, on earth (through me) as it is in Heaven.” 

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