Mar 27th, The Kindom of Love, with Rev. Morgan Schmidt
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Mar 27th: The Kindom of Love, with Rev. Morgan Schmidt.
My friends, today is the day. And this is the last sermon that I get to preach in the season of serving alongside you all as an associate pastor over the last seven years. Thank you so much for giving me the privilege of sharing life with you. And please know that I’m not dying, I’m not going anywhere, and that I fully expect that our engagement in the community will continue having our paths crossed, and our relationships will go on in different ways. But in light of that, I’m going to go rogue and totally ignore our Lenten series and preach about something I want to preach about, and we’ll go from there.
So most of you know that I’m running for County Commissioner. And the most common question that I get asked with varying levels of desperate curiosity is, Why, Morgan? Why are you doing this? Why am I doing this? And they especially ask, what does the pastor want to do?
Being a politician? How do those things even go together? Why would somebody like you want to run for office? And the first answer is that it makes me an incredible dinner guest. I am available to bring both religion and politics to the dinner table, so just let me know if you’re looking for more entertainment at your next party.
But what I know is that even as you’re not supposed to bring religion and politics to the dinner table, it’s sort of both a spoken and unspoken understanding that we’re not supposed to talk about politics in Church. I’m going to do it anyway. So I’m sorry ahead of time if this makes you feel uncomfortable. But I think we’re going to go on a journey together, and I’m curious to see where it takes us. And I know that word political has negative connotations.
There are so many reasons for that. And politics has done harm in many ways. When we think about that word, it can feel like we’re saying something dirty or it’s to be avoided. Getting political has a sense of ulterior motives or intentionally dividing people. And then often we see that as one or the other that we can have faith or politics, the gospel or politics.
We’ve created this dichotomy in the Church where it’s the spiritual or reality, spiritual versus the world. And of course, the separation of Church and state is incredibly important. Those freedoms and protections need to remain in place. But I think that we’ve given the word political a bad rap, and the way that we use it doesn’t serve us necessarily in the way that I think it could. And if you’re someone who’s sitting there saying, Well, I’m not political or Church shouldn’t be political, I invite you to think about the many, many, many hundreds, if not thousands of political decisions that you right where you’re at, right here in your life, either benefit from or maybe are harmed by.
None of us have the luxury of being immune or exempt from politics, because politics is the way we order our life together. And I know I’ve gotten emails in the past that my preaching is maybe too political, that liturgy and politics cannot go hand in hand. But when you get down to it, it’s really interesting, actually, that the Greek root for the word liturgy is the blending of the two words for people and work. Liturgia is Laos and Aragon, which means essentially that liturgy is work for the people. It is public work.
It is service on behalf of the community through that lens of faith. Since we use it so often in communities of faith, we talk about liturgy. Same thing, though, for the Greek root of the word politics, which is simply politicos, which at its root stands for citizen or maybe city. And this word at its core pertains to our public life, the life of citizens, how we arrange our common life together. So you didn’t hear me mention the name of a party.
You didn’t hear me mention the name of a politician. But simply that notion of politics is this concept of how we collectively arrange our life together, how we work for the common good, how we serve one another. And so those words have a lot in common. And for me, when I answer that question of why a pastor would ever run for political office, that’s the answer is that this is a way of entering into the work we do to arrange our common life together. And to me, that’s where it is the work of love.
My question at the core of my being is, what is the work of love that is mine to do today? And I have had the privilege of answering that as a pastor, and I very much hope to have the privilege of answering that as someone who represents and serves the people in office.
But I wonder what would happen if we reframed that word of politics in this way where instead of hearing a politician talk about a policy or a platform and thinking “ewww”, it’s this party or that party? What if we heard a policy or a platform and we asked ourselves, does this serve the cause of love? Does this serve the way we structure our life together so that everyone has a chance to flourish? Because I think that question brings us very, very close to the heart of God, and we don’t have to react with an “ewww”. Which party is it?
Because the real bad word to say, I think, in Church. And the word that does not serve us is this concept of partisan. Because partisan has this deep meaning. Literally, when you look it up, it’s someone who defends a party or someone who is devoted to or completely biased towards a particular group. It has this sort of extremist vibe to it as a word, and we can see the harm that it has done in our life.
Together when we identify ourselves or others as this or that and put ourselves into two particular camps, two particular parties.
Partisan has no place in the story of God, especially when we’re focused on arranging our thought process. When something political comes up, does this serve the cause of love, regardless of where it’s coming from? I want to be the kind of person that’s orienting myself to issues and projects and platforms where I can answer a resounding yes, because I think this brings me into line with God’s dream for humanity, with the Kingdom of God. Like we pray. And we have stories throughout Scripture that hold this tension between how the people of God are going to shape their common life together in the “here and now” realities of the world.
And at the same time, how the people of God have messed up that dream and have gone away from answering, does it serve the cause of love and have maybe chosen instead to serve their own interests or the interests of their group or their party or their affiliation? And that’s where we see things crumble throughout history and throughout Scripture, when the stories go sideways, because over and over we have stories of good news and we can even look at the whole arc of Scripture, the story and say that it bends toward justice, that God’s dream for humanity is present in all those pages, even though the way humanity enacts that dream can be so, so broken and so, so violent and miss the mark entirely.
But when we talk about the Kingdom of God, we’re talking about flourishing for everyone. We’re talking about a sense that everything is the way it’s meant to be, that things don’t have to be broken, that they can be repaired and mended and brought back to life, that light can come into the places where there are darkness. And to me, nothing could be more liturgical and nothing could be more political than trying to bring light where there is darkness and love, where there is fear and redemption, where there has been brokenness. God’s dream requires our participation. Our Jewish brothers and sisters have a phrase that is “Tikkun Olam”, which means in Hebrew, the repair of the world.
It suggests that we have this vision for what the world could be like and that we don’t just settle for whatever partisan politics are happening in our midst. We don’t just settle for rhetoric and headlines and division. Together we build the dream that’s possible, we say to ourselves, no matter how inconvenient it is, no matter how risky it seems, no matter how hard it might be that we believe everyone can flourish as God intends. It’s not just a faraway, one day idea. When we get to heaven, everything will be okay.
It can be a here and now reality where there is justice and equality and people have a chance to thrive. Jesus even opens his Ministry. And if you didn’t think Jesus was political. He is deeply political and never partisan. Deeply political and never partisan.
He opens his ministry with this moment in his hometown of Nazareth, where he’s quoting the Prophet Isaiah, and it’s sort of his very first sermon in the synagogue, reading from this passage, and he says, the spirit of the Lord has come upon me, that I would be good news to the oppressed, that I would have this message of freedom for those who are captive, and that I would comfort those who mourn.
He proceeds to live out that dream by feeding the hungry, by literally bringing life from death, by healing the sick, by bringing people who are on the fringes of society back into community, by insisting on justice and equity and love. We include this in our prayer every week when we say the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, when he says,
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, but may your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. And we skip over that sometimes because we know it by heart. I just got lost in it because I was thinking about it too hard. But what does it look like for God’s will?
God’s dream for humanity, God’s vision of justice and flourishing and equity, to be on Earth as it is in heaven, not to focus on getting away one day, but to really, truly live out that reality here and now?
It’s really hard to dream that dream in our present reality. I get that there’s so much that’s heartbreaking on any given week, but that’s why we can’t throw our hands up in the air and just expect that somehow everything will be okay. We can’t just sit back in despair and say, well, it is what it is and keep practicing our liturgies without maybe stepping into asking the question, what is the work of love that is ours to do? What is that work in public that we can do that, yes, is political in order to arrange our communal life together so that it aligns with our dream for humanity.
Jesus wasn’t partisan, despite the message that some groups in our communities might hold. He wouldn’t be a Republican, wouldn’t be a Democrat, certainly wouldn’t be an extremist for one faction or another. We have always been kind of partial to creating God in our own image, and of course, we’ve done that with our politics as well. And so it’s no wonder that word leaves a bad taste in our mouth. But I wonder if we every time we heard somebody talking about a policy, we said, not, is this a Democratic idea or a Republican idea?
But is this an idea that serves the cause of love? Is this an idea that helps me love my neighbor? Is this an idea that advocates for our most vulnerable? Is this an idea that will help people actually thrive and follow that, not follow the headlines, not follow the rhetoric, but follow where love is leading us. It turns out that I am almost laughably not great at being a candidate or campaigning.
I’m not resonating with what I understood to be anyway.
This paradigm of the politician is someone who’s kind of transactional and shmoozes and does the kissing of the babies. That just doesn’t resonate for me. I have a real hard time with that transactional idea of what this work can look like behind the scenes. I didn’t know this. Maybe some of you don’t know this, but to get endorsements, it doesn’t matter from who to get endorsements.
There’s usually a huge packet you have to fill out and then an interview of some kind to have an organization say, yes, we support this person. So when you do these endorsement interviews, I’m not sure I’m doing it right, because I start at the beginning looking at on Zoom, usually this group of people who are interviewing me, and I say, My hope for this, whether you endorse me or not, for better or worse, is that we can figure out how we do the work together moving forward.
Maybe that’s helpful, maybe it’s not. But I struggle to see how it helps to kind of collect people or collect organizations or say, we’re in this camp together, or they’re in that camp over there and pit us against each other. When the important thing, the thing at the core of who I am as a pastor, as someone who’s following in the way of Jesus as best I can, is to orient myself around love and the work that needs to be done to help people thrive.
I might not be a good candidate, but I’m trying to be a good leader, certainly not perfect. And I will probably fail sometimes, as I know I have in the past within our system, I have to run with a party, but I’m looking to serve the cause of love. I’m looking to figure out what is my role in helping to restore the world or repair the world. And that’s what we’re called to in this life of faith, not to just simply respond with it with a gut impulse of you that’s that party or you that’s this party. But how do we Orient ourselves around love?
And we have so much power, my friends, we have so much power to embody goodness in the world, to make decisions that are going to benefit not only ourselves, but especially our most vulnerable neighbors, to actually make decisions in the here and now that reflect this dream that God has. That it’s possible to serve the poor, that it’s possible to house the unhoused, that it is possible to feed those who are hungry and heal those who are sick, not just in this pretty language that we’re used to in our religious terms, but in reality, it’s possible. And that is the dream that keeps me awake at night and keeps me going during the day and has led me to step away from my pastoral role, not because I won’t be serving as a pastor anymore, but because I can serve even more. I hope help and serve the larger community.
This is how we love our neighbors, not just with our words, but with our actions, not just with our service projects, which are amazing, but with our votes, with our care about policy. Because those policies might be boring and no one wants to talk about them and they might cause a ruckus at the dinner table. But those policies have the potential to shape our life together in the way of love.
And I’m convinced that the partisan systems will fail us and have failed us. And though religious systems can fail us and have sometimes failed us, if we arrive our life together in the way of love that will never fail us.