Once upon a time a group of pastors got into a punching contest with the mayor of a global city. They took a few good shots, and so did the mayor. One day, the mayor used the court as a weapon and required the pastors to turn over sermon material they had preached. All of a sudden, the roof blew off! The pastors fumed, pounded pulpits, and cried aloud, “First amendment!” Social media blew up, and the whole world tuned in to see what would happen. Ironically, the more that people talked about what happened, the further away from the story of God the whole thing got. The more that the story circulated, the people became increasingly angry. The more angry the people became, the further away from redemption and renewed creation the story became. In the end, a church that could have seen this whole event as a moment to bear witness to the public about God’s grace and mercy, instead made the whole thing about losing rights. It was a shame. No one ever stopped to think for a moment that maybe, just maybe, God had given a window for the religious leaders of a city to dialogue about God. Instead, they made it about court, constitution, and the emotional control of people. Politics wins again and plays the church for the fool.
That just happened in my fair city.
And it will continue to happen today, tomorrow and probably right up through the November elections, because this is about politics and pulpit, sermons and (grand) standing. I am not saying that pastors should be intimidated from preaching any particular passage or topic that God has led them to for their congregations. I am just saying that no one should be surprised (or even offended) if someone dislikes what they have said and then reacts with aggression or even violence. Pastors are prophets. They are not political pundits that take up current events to shape the faith of their people. At least… that is the way it is supposed to be.
Let me lay a little verse on you.
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:5-21,36-42)
So if you are a pastor in Houston – rejoice! The mayor and her attorneys want to listen to your sermons. Don’t take it so personally. I hope and pray that the content of those sermons are full of the story of a redeeming Christ who has saved and is saving the world, rather than a diatribe on what the forefathers intended when they founded our beloved land, because only one of those positions is of eternal value. It is a gift of God and an answer to prayers that the sacred can now invade the secular in ways that just a week ago were clearly divided. Don’t act in fear or worry or a sense of invasion, and don’t alarm your people either. Don’t make this a first amendment attack. Make it an Acts 2 celebration where the word of God breaks into the ears of men/women in new and powerful ways. Or even better, a First John congregation who truly believes that God is light and in Him is no darkness.
Please, please, please leave the politics to the politicians and be the prophet that God called you to be. Don’t make this an issue about separation of church and state. Make it a celebration of the kingdom of God that has come, is coming, and will come again. That is, if you believe in that kind of thing. The whole world is watching. Will you scare the hell out of us that America is crumbling, or will you act full of faith, hope and love that God is doing something that no subpoena can ever suppress?
If you are worried about Houston and our congregations, don’t be. God is in control. He is sovereign even when pastors and mayors get sideways. Something amazing is likely just around the corner. Just open your ears and rediscover what it is like to listen deeply to the Holy Spirit’s affirmation and assurance. He is saying to the church that “The sky is not falling. The king is coming!”
We will gladly accept your prayers and be thankful for your support instead of your gossip and glaring. Pray that the church doesn’t lose credibility while trying to gain notoriety. Pray that our pastors don’t become consumed with power while trying to be catalysts of Christian witness. Pray that our government doesn’t act in paranoia while trying to protect and provide for all free people. Pray that Jesus isn’t given a back seat to Thomas Jefferson when it comes to speaking about freedom. Pray that fear of a changing world does not shape the faith of the Houston Christian community so that we become antagonists to the culture instead of the salt and light that we were created to be. Pray that the church does not value our American rights more than we do our righteousness in Christ.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life….This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, in him there is no darkness at all…If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. ( 1 John 1:1,5,7)