We don’t have ears to hear— that’s what Jesus didn’t account for.
Language presents us with challenges. For an obvious example, it’s difficult— perhaps impossible— to talk about politics. If your interlocutor doesn’t already agree with you, then all they’re likely to hear is partisanship.
If you suggest that Jesus has a politic— is a politics— like John Howard Yoder, in his book, The Politics of Jesus, and your listener will be quick to put you in a pre-conceived category rather than joining you in looking carefully, and with charity, at what Jesus said and did.
Searching for a way to illustrate how difficult Christian discipleship is in a day where partisanship is at a fever pitch is like Indiana Jones searching for the Ark of the Covenant or The Holy Grail. There are maps, clues, excavations, opponents, competitors and in the end even a whip won’t help.
Recently during a time of Scripture, I was reading a line from Psalm 12 and it struck me. Was it coincidental or Divine appointment? Always weary of using the Spirit of God as a means to gain an audience, as if to say, “God told me,” I am more inclined to admit that I really had not noticed this passage of Scripture before, or at least read it in our given circumstances while serving as a pastor.
Maybe it hit me because, while my mother taught me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it,” I grew up always hearing that as an American citizen I have a right to say anything I want to. My speech is protected by the First Amendment.
No matter what my mother taught me, my rights are, well, my rights. I can say what I want!
If my mother taught me to only speak when something nice came to mind, my church taught me that what we say may have a variety of relational consequences. Some of the things I learned:
A soft answer turns away wrath. You shall not bear false witness.
No one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those made in God’s image.
Whatever my mother taught me about what I may say, my church reinforced and extended the importance of how we say what we say.
No matter what my church taught me, my rights are, well, my rights. I can say what I want!
My parents discipled we boys to use our words to be nice. Our church discipled us to know the dangers of an unbridled tongue and the damage that may be done if we just say whatever we want.
Another force has been at work to disciple us. Our Bill of Rights entitles us, American citizens, to free speech. Since many believe the Constitution carries the authority of a citizen’s scriprture, it is exercised as a protected right. I can say what I want to say! Whether we want to use a bullhorn, a sandwich board, or print, paper or electronic, we may say what we want. We have the right to freedom of speech!
Parsing the difference between politics and partisanship has been nightmarish for many a pastor. Any reference to a way of life, politic, is filtered through the individual’s partisan, party, position. That means that when anyone, on the Left or Right, hears a preacher, pastor, talk about how Jesus calls us to live a particular way, it is often received as either support for one’s partisan, party’s, position or it is considered too political as it is taken as a criticism of his or her partisan, party’s, position. This has led people to choose churches not for being too political. Nope. Instead, it has led churchgoers to choose a church they perceive to be more in line with their partisanship, preferred party’s politics.
When that decision is made discipleship to Jesus is off the table.
How you ask?
Listen carefully as you read Psalm 12:
Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own – who is our master?”
No matter what anyone tells me, I can say what I want to say!
The lyrics of this song paints a picture of the person who believes they can say what they want. Even more the songwriter describes the thinking of those who can say what they want as those who use their words to win. Their words may be lies, flattery or double talk. They can say whatever they want to say because they are their own master.
In other words, when the person asserts they can say what they want, they have determined to be their own master. “Who is my master?” This is not a probing question. It is a rhetorical question representing the defiance of the ungodly, those who utter lies to each other, who flatter, who use double speak to win the day for themselves.
Christians may not say what they want to say.
Oh, don’t misunderstand me, Christians can say what they want to say. They do! We do! The ability to do so is clear from James’ letter. Remember, we are able to use our tongues to bless or set a forrest ablaze. We have the agency to do so.
However, when we do we provide evidence that a force different than the Spirit of God has discipled us. That is, we have chosen a different politic that what we find in Jesus. It is not that we have chosen a different party. We have self-selected a different politic. Rather than submit to Jesus is Lord, we have determined that we are our own lord. And, that is what we mean when we use the term politic to describe the church. The Church has its own politics and it is not Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian or otherwise.
Disciples to Jesus commit to Jesus’ way of life, Jesus’ politic. Jesus did not have a Party. It is clear when we realize that all the parties in Jesus’ day hated him. And, maybe that is the issue today. When a Pastor does not declare a Party but draws attention to Jesus’ politics, he or she may be received as party-less and therefore always critical. Jesus’ way will always call into question every other Party for He is Lord.
Here is the Good News. When the world is divided into Parties, God hears those who are ignored by the divisive speech of those who cannot hear the needs of others while they are shouting to win their own way.
“Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
I will now rise up,” says the LORD;
“I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times
You, O LORD, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind.