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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Church and State: Principles and Imagination

The first conviction is the Lordship of Christ. All humans have a truncated view of the intent and extent of the reign of Jesus in the world. Make it your intent in the sermon to inspire the listener with a glimpse of how much of the world Jesus intends to reign. He will rule all of it. The realms of agriculture, health and medicine, marriage and family, transportation, communication and media, the arts, international relations, leisure and recreation, books, friendships, construction and architecture, the judiciary and religion will someday all in their own way declare the beauty and glory of God. There is no realm in creation that is not presently destined for the worship and service of Jesus Christ.

Imagine the kingdom of God as a tectonic plate slowly inching into the world. It is invincible but its advance is undetectable to the common eye. The kingdom of this world is a tectonic plate too and does not budge easily. But it will and it is.

Where the two kingdoms meet there is fierce pressure as the world resists and kicks back against the good king coming. This is why there is evil and suffering. According to scripture these are but birth pangs of the Messiah being birthed into the world. (Jesus does not cause the evil, but the suffering happens as the dark kingdom revolts against his invincible arrival.) The church is called to live in the fault line between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of this passing world. It is called to stand in this place of pressure and live in ways that announce the inevitable coming of Jesus into the world.

To preach the Anabaptist conviction about the church and state, this clash between the two kingdoms must be vividly imagined. Without it Anabaptist suspicions of political power look like mere isolationism. We are not suspicious of human power because we think the world does not belong to Christ but precisely because we think it does.

However, this suspicion does not mean that the church is necessarily against everything the state is and does. It is possible for the state at times to lead in the direction the kingdom of God is headed. To the extent that government leads society into justice, order, respect for dignity, food for the poor, and education for all it is working with rather than against the kingdom of God. However, the Lordship belongs utterly to Christ. Wherever there is a clash the Christian will instinctively follow Christ against the world. If listeners can see how the claims of the state are completely judged by the inevitable arrival of the kingdom of God they will have one cornerstone in place for thinking about the state and the church.

The second basic conviction is the self-abandoning love with which God has loved his creation and all who live in it. God has given himself completely for the well-being of the world and this is important to imagine as we ask how and why Christians should be involved in politics.

There are several things about the love of God which will lead us to a full Anabaptist view of the church and state. First, this love is for persons as they live in their concrete individual lives and existences. God does not love us as an abstraction, as we necessarily do when we say we love the world. God loves each person like we love our best friend. Where the work of the state brings about prosperity and well-being for real people, it is working the love of God. Where the state tramples some persons as abstractions (the un-born, the 'enemy') for the well-being of itself, it is fighting against the love of Christ for the world and is thereby judged and marked as passing away with the kingdom of this world.

Secondly, the love of God for the world is a suffering, non-resistant love. God loves by taking evil and suffering onto himself rather than passing it off to another. His love is shaped by the cross rather than the sword. Where the state enables this kind of love, (and sometimes it does) it operates in keeping with the love of Christ. The question to be explored here is: Is it possible for a Christian, whose entire existence is determined by this kind of evil-absorbin love, use the violent means sometimes expected of government officials?

Having vividly imagined the complete lordship of Christ and the utter love of God for humans in their individual lives, you have given your listener a framework for discerning why and how to become involved in the state. You have shown them why it is important to obey the government whenever possible, and why it is foolish to obey a government when it throws itself against the inevitable direction the world is headed. Close the sermon by telling stories of people who have been involved in politics in ways that you think reflect the lordship and love of Christ. (If you don't know specific stories, make up some using your imagination.) Did some farmland in your area get better drainage? Did someone change the way healthcare was delivered? Did someone change the way a bill was worded for the better? Has a voiceless people-group found empowerment? Was relief delivered to the site of a disaster? These are all forms of political involvement and could be celebrated by an Anabaptist preacher. It may also be helpful to tell stories of people who decided to disobey their government and accept the consequences.

To see the lordship of Christ and the love of God as two guideposts to understanding how we relate to powers around us is vital to maintaining the Anabaptist view of the state.