Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 29, 2014 By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour (Preaching on Politics) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Matthew 10:34-42
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! The world will deny God's truth; it will mock and deride that truth, but that changes nothing. God's Son has died and risen so all who believe on Him as Savior might be granted life eternal. God grant such faith to us all. Amen.
AFV. The initials stand for America's Funniest Home Videos. Most people have seen that program and they have laughed at its segments. If you happen to be among the half-dozen or so folks who haven't managed to catch an episode, I can describe the show's concept.
Nowadays most people have a video camera or are able to use their cell phones to capture movie clips of things which they think are important. With the amount of video being shot every day it is not surprising that, every once in a while, somebody manages to capture something which is amusing or embarrassingly unexpected.
That's the premise of the program. It is a premise which has resulted in AFV's audience seeing talking cats and dogs, groomsmen who faint at a wedding, a bride's veil which catches fire, people dancing on collapsing tables; ice skaters, skateboarders, and sled riders crashing into immovable objects; tired children falling asleep with their face in supper's spaghetti, and athletes who forego the thrill of victory so they might show the world the agony of their defeat. AFV is an interesting program and I enjoy watching the new episodes when I get the chance. Apparently you do, too. I say that because the show has been on for a quarter of a century.
You know, I've often wondered how our all-knowing, all-seeing Creator sees us when He looks down from heaven. Although there is absolutely no Biblical support for the idea, I've been amused by the thought that He sees individuals and nations as a long-running television program. For example, there would be a program entitled Ken Klaus' Funniest Home Videos. There would be the segment when I said a prayer of thanksgiving at church for a lady and her newborn. How was I to know the lady was 81-years-old and she had been put in the maternity ward because there was no other bed in the hospital? Then there was the episode when I typed in the Sunday bulletin: "Now the congregation will boldly sing." The only problem was, I forgot to put the "g" on the word sing and Spellcheck didn't catch my mistake. The congregation caught it and had a good laugh at their pastor who had told them to 'boldly sin.' I have had many other such segments which probably have given the Lord a good laugh.
I think He would laugh at you, too. I think He would laugh at the man who gets angry at his wife for her cooking and then goes on a fishing trip where he swallows half-fried potatoes, burned fish, and gritty creek-water coffee from a rusty gallon bucket and then muse, "It doesn't get any better than this." He would be amused at the fellow who knows the line-up of every team in the American League but can't remember his anniversary; who knows the win-loss record of every NFL team but can't recall the words of our nation's anthem.
There would be other channels, national channels, which also would appear on the Lord's viewing list. Looking at the U.S., whose birth we celebrate this week, don't you think God would be fascinated by our great silliness? Wouldn't He smile at the car dealer who advertises, "BE AMERICAN, BUY AMERICAN," and then promises if you purchase a vehicle from him, you will be registered for a chance to win a Japanese motorcycle. Wouldn't He chuckle at a nation who has weight-loss diet programs sponsoring TV shows where people are being taught how to cook? What would He think about movie stars who speak strongly against cruelty to animals but speak in favor of abortion? Well, He wouldn't smile at that one, would He? That would bring sadness, not a smile.
There are other things which would sadden God as He watches us live out our short, sin-saddened lives. He made the world perfect and told us to use it wisely. That man-made pollution forces children in some countries to wear masks when they go to school is a disgrace and the great dead zones of our world's oceans is a tragedy. The earth God gave us was one of peace and harmony where the lamb had no fear of the lion. How the Lord must despair to see so many species in His creation being driven to extinction. The pain of that loss would be only slightly less than seeing how the fundamental fabric of the family is being endlessly reformed and revised; of seeing how selfishness and self-centeredness is shattering the vows made by husbands and wives. What could grieve God more than to see nations tear and rend each other through hatred, hostility, and war or to watch how each passing year adds more rows of graves to military cemeteries around the world.
I can tell you what would grieve Him more. The Lord's greatest heartache is the disregard, disdain, and disrespect humankind directs toward Him. Our disobedience began simply enough in the Garden of Eden. There God had given our first ancestors only one law: don't eat from the forbidden tree. It didn't take too long before Adam and Eve concluded that the Lord's command was too restrictive and entirely inaccurate. They allowed themselves to be seduced by Satan's sly suggestions and decided they, not their Creator, knew what was best. They disobeyed, they ate, and introduced sin, damnation, and death into a no-longer perfect world.
In spite of what they had done, the Lord promised forgiveness and salvation would be coming in the Person of His Son. It was a promise which was well-received... at least for a while. In less time than it takes to tell, brother was killing brother and families forced into slavery those who were weaker. Evil became so widespread, so all-encompassing, so infectious that the Lord decided to give humanity a second chance and begin over. The beginning over process began with a flood which was God's response to our sins. It was a flood which was well-deserved and overwhelming.
But that flood was not powerful enough to stop us from trying to show God that we, not He, ought to be in control of our lives. With a snub in their hearts and a sneer on their faces those in the new world began construction of a tower and city which they felt would be able to defy any disaster or catastrophe which God might send upon those who had rebelled and rejected Him.
By confusing the languages of humankind God put an end to the tower and to our unified rejection of His authority. Repeated humblings should have given us a lasting and profound respect for God and His authority. It should have, but it didn't. Instead each family, each group, each tribe, each nation invented gods which were to their personal tastes and preferences. During the days of creation the Lord had said, "Come, let us make man in our own image;" now our rebellious hearts changed that to "Come, let us make God in our image." The terrible consequences of that decision are unimaginable as God's perfection and attributes were replaced by our own degenerate qualities.
Take a tour of the world, visit the cultures and the peoples. Look at their religions, their beliefs, their gods and you will find little resemblance between the god which sprang from their minds and the goodly and gracious God of the Bible. God is merciful but the Aztecs took their thirst for blood and claimed god demanded human sacrifice. God is holy, but the ancient Greeks took their propensity for licentiousness and created an Olympus populated by deities who were immoral, jealous, erotic, and erratic. The Triune God is One but the people of India created a million gods to give order to every aspect of their lives. In spite of how we had perverted the Lord and His plan of salvation, God was not deterred, discouraged, or dissuaded from His promise to send a Savior who would be sacrificed to save sinners. Both promise and prophecy come to fulfillment with the birth of Jesus. Isaiah had described the Redeemer as being the "Prince of Peace." When the angels announced Jesus' coming to the shepherds of Bethlehem, they agreed. Before they returned to heaven they signed off with the words, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14 (KJV). What a wonderful thought that was.
A Baby who brings peace on earth and gives good will to men, that's the kind of Savior the world can applaud and appreciate. A cute, cuddly little, non-threatening Baby is the kind of deity which makes all of humanity feel good. After all, a Baby has no doctrines to divide or defend; a Baby gets in no philosophical or theological arguments; a Baby has no moral demands or ethical stipulations; a Baby calls for no crusades. A Baby expects nothing other than to be kept full and fed, warm and dry. If these basic needs are supplied, we can be pretty sure Baby Jesus would be content to lie comfortably in His manger, looking perfectly precious in His swaddling clothes.
Many think that is a grand idea. Such a Divinity would allow merchants to use His birthday to sell their wares and balance their books. Such a Deity would allow governments to decorate courthouses and main streets with stars and angels and Santas because such things are part of our historical heritage and devoid of any religious significance. Such a Deity will be glad to lend His name to educators who put on a December children's program wherein songs about Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, and the Christ Child are all interchangeable. Such a Newborn would allow wise men and TV producers to tell us that family, or love, or giving, or togetherness, or a break in military hostilities are the true meaning of Christmas and the real purpose the Baby Jesus was born. Such a Newborn would let us create Him any way we would like and then recreate Him as situation and circumstance demand. That is what happens when God is created in humanity's image.
But, Jesus is not ready to be made in man's image. Now you don't have to take my word; Jesus can speak and show that for Himself. Look in the Gospels and you will see when Satan promised Jesus all the wealth and power of the world, Christ rejected the offer. When the multitudes wanted to make Him their King and free-meal ticket, He declined. When Herod wanted Him to do a bit of magic or a small miracle, Jesus refused to comply. Again and again Jesus would not let Himself be remade or His mission shaped into what humankind wished. Again and again He told people He had come to seek and save the lost; to heal the sin-sick soul, to bring light to those who were in darkness; to be the Good Shepherd who would give His life for the sheep, to offer His life as a ransom for many. Jesus refused to be deterred: He was about the Father's business and that business was to fulfill the law for sinners; to resist temptation for sinners; to die for the lost and to rise from the dead so all who believe on Him might be saved. It was a job which began with an initial promise to the lost of Eden and it is a job which continues on today. It continues as the Holy Spirit works blood-bought, saving-faith in the hearts of those who once were lost.
I can tell you that our world likes what Jesus said and did no more than did that of 2,000 years ago. In Jesus' time His remarks, His call to repentance and salvation were so frightening the world's leaders considered Him too dangerous to let live. That's why He was crucified. Today, without the Lord physically present, the world hates Him by persecuting the people whom the Holy Spirit has called to salvation. That's why Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." It was a promise and prophecy which has been fulfilled in every generation and in every corner of the world.
Go to North Korea and see how the government there has fulfilled those words by doing its best to stamp out the Savior and the salvation He has won on Calvary's cross. Visit China or Viet Nam and watch how they struggle to make the Savior and those who would share His story of life comply with the party platform. Go to the churches of the Mid-East where the homes of Christians are burned, churches are bombed, and fanatical Islamists consider it a good work when they persecute, murder, and martyr those who cling to the Savior who has forgiven and opened heaven's doors for those who believe.
Twenty years ago (Reader's Digest, April 1994) former Secretary of Education William Bennett wrote, "Today, much of society ridicules and mocks those who are serious about their faith. America's only respectable form of bigotry is bigotry against religious people. And the only reason for hatred of religion is that it forces us to confront matters many would prefer to ignore." Bennett then shared the results of what happens when a nation tries to minimize and muzzle those who follow their faith. He said, "Since 1960, while the gross domestic product has nearly tripled, violent crime has increased nearly 560 percent. Divorces have more than doubled. The percentage of children in single-parent homes has tripled." (Excerpts from What Really Ails America, condensed from a speech by William J. Bennett, delivered December 7, 1993 at the Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., reprinted in Reader's Digest, April, 1994) Does this sound too complicated or deep? Then allow Mr. Bennett to say it In terms everybody can understand. He said, "In 1940, teachers identified the top problems in America's schools are: talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise and running in the hall. In 1990, teachers listed drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, rape, and assault." Today, 20 years after Mr. Bennett drafted those words, we could add to that list, "the fear of mass murders by classmates or total strangers."
Recreate God in our image. Dear Lord, may it not be so. Far better to share the Savior as He comes to us. Far better to tell the lost that the Lord loves them and wants nothing more from them than to save their souls. Far better for us to join with St. Paul and say, "it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jew and Greek, Christ (is) the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:21-25).
Yes, we join with Paul in saying, 'we preach a changeless Christ to a changing world; a Savior for sinners; a Lord whose love does not change; whose story cannot be improved upon, a Lord who alone can give us life.' If this is the Jesus for whom your heart longs, then we want nothing more than to help point you to the crucified and risen Lord. To that end we extend this offer, "Please, call us at The Lutheran Hour." Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for June 29, 2014 Topic: Preaching on Politics
ANNOUNCER: Now, Questions and Answers once again with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hello, Mark. This week, the U.S.A. is celebrating its Independence Day. Did we manage to come up with a question which might touch upon that fact?
ANNOUNCER: Good question. I think so. Probably. Yes.
KLAUS: So it sort of does and it sort of doesn't.
ANNOUNCER: That's maybe the best way to describe the question. A faithful church-goer writes, "My pastor preaches politics from the pulpit. Not only do I not like it, I think it's against the law."
KLAUS: Does he give any indication about what kind of politics the pastor is presenting from the Lord's pulpit?
ANNOUNCER: No, nothing like that. To our listener, it just sounds like politics. Would it make any difference?
KLAUS: Yeah, it kind of does... but before I get into that, let's answer some of the easier questions the man asked.
ANNOUNCER: Sounds fair. I imagine you will answer that part about whether it's against the law. That would be pretty straight forward.
KLAUS: And so it is. The answer is... for the vast majority of U.S. history there was no law governing what a pastor said from his pulpit. Pastors preached about slavery, and alcohol, and political candidates, work hours, welfare, and just about anything else you could imagine. Anyone reading some of the strongest of those messages might readily wonder if the preacher even knew Jesus or the story of salvation. There was a whole lot of political rhetoric, but not too much theology.
ANNOUNCER: And when did that all begin to change?
KLAUS: I would say the pulpits began to be muzzled right around 1954. Senator Lyndon Johnson was running for office and he thought some of the more prominent clergy back home were undermining his re-election efforts. So, Johnson introduced some legislation that became known as the "Johnson Amendment." That's an Internal Revenue Service regulation which limits pastors from participating in the political process. It prohibits churches from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. If they do, they run the risk of losing their congregation's tax-exempt status.
ANNOUNCER: All right. Now that may be the law, but it seems to me whenever election time rolls around we still hear this sort of thing going on, at least in some parts of the political spectrum. Has it ever happened that the IRS took away a church's tax exemption because of a sermon the pastor preached?
KLAUS: It's possible, but to the best of my knowledge that has not happened. Yes, churches have lost their exemption, but not for a sermon.
ANNOUNCER: Still, it is technically against the law. I would think that that fact, in and of itself, would militate against a pastor using the pulpit for political purposes.
KLAUS: It does. The vast majority of preachers I know have never espoused a specific political candidate or a non-Scriptural program from the pulpit. They believe that when they speak to the congregation, they wish, as much as is possible, to speak for the Lord.
ANNOUNCER: Are there other reasons why a pastor shouldn't preach politics?
KLAUS: At least one other reason. Our listener is not alone. Most people, and by that I mean about 2/3 of people in the U.S. don't like their pulpits being used that way.
ANNOUNCER: I suppose that gets into the separation of church and state.
KLAUS: Yeah, and I imagine, most of the time that is the case. We should also point out that the law deals with specific candidates running for office and not moral issues, per se. Last time I checked, we still have freedom of speech.
ANNOUNCER: You also added a few qualifiers. You said, "Most of the time." Or you talked about "non-scriptural programs." You seem to be implying something else here.
KLAUS: Yeah, I am. As a preacher, I recognize that all governments have been placed in their position by God. That does not mean, however, that all governments are Godly. There comes that point in time when the government begins to meddle around in areas that are just as much theological as they are political. When that time comes, a pastor may not only speak to that issue, he may feel obligated to speak to that issue using directives taken directly from God's Word, not just opinion. In short, there are times when it becomes a matter of obeying God rather than man.
KLAUS: In the 1800s, the big issue was slavery. Today we see assaults being made upon marriage and the family. Speaking to such issues, it is right for a pastor to say: "The Lord tells us in the Bible...." and then he takes it from there.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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