Some people say that religion should stay out of politics. Such people clearly have never read much of the Bible, nor studied the life of Jesus Christ. Politics, at its core, is simply how we choose to organize ourselves and how we choose to treat one another in community. Therefore, a religion which tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves is profoundly political. And in a week where we observed the most remarkable political turmoil, and in a week where the readings were Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Luke 14:25-33, it was impossible for Rev Kate not to preach a sort-of political homily…
If I had one message for people in these turbulent times, it would be “How you live matters!” The world can be overwhelming at the moment: our country is engulfed in a political crisis, the Bahamas are devastated by a hurricane, the Amazon is on fire, a glacier in Greenland is about to melt, the refugee crisis continues… It is so tempting to hide under our duvets and try to block it all out. To say “My little life cannot change anything so it is okay if I just stick my fingers in my ears, sing lalalala and wait until it all goes away.” However, this is a temptation which we must resist. How we live, the choices we make, the things we say and the way we treat people matters.
Our reading from Jeremiah is clear. How things turn out depend both on God’s actions and ours. Projected disaster can be averted if people live virtuous lives; peaceful prosperity destroyed by poor choices. As our reading from Jeremiah concludes “do what is right”!
As for our gospel reading, this is traditionally one of the hardest readings to preach upon. What on earth is Jesus doing, this Jesus who is supposed to be all about love, telling people they must hate their families and even life itself? Thankfully, the political events of the past days are the perfect parable. I am sure I am not alone in watching the events in parliament in utter disbelief. Twenty four Conservative MPs have resigned or have been thrown out of their party since 3rd September, but there have also been changes in other directions too. Three previously Labour MPs joined the Lib Dems this week, and who knows what further changes lie ahead.
An MP’s political party is much like their family. Indeed, many of them will have had parents and grandparents who shared their political views. Sir Nicholas Soames, who voted against his party for the first time in his political career this week, is Winston Churchill’s grandson. Jo Johnson, who resigned as a Cabinet minister and Conservative MP, is our current Prime Minister’s own brother. Many will have grown up in the party as campaigners, researchers, local politicians and now national leaders. They will have built up years of party loyalty. What on earth is prompting these resignations and rebellions?
The thing is that any MP has three loyalties. They are – in this order – loyalty to their country, loyalty to their constituents and then loyalty to their party. Normally, this causes no conflict because they genuinely believe that their party’s policies will be what is best for the country and their constituents. However, at times of crisis, their first duty is to do what they think best for their country and the constituents they serve, and if that means voting against, or even leaving, their political party, that is what they have to do. It is a costly and painful decision. Many MPs’ careers, built up over decades, are over. Friendships are strained or broken. But they have to do what they believe to be right.
This is the point that Jesus is making to those who want to follow him. To be a disciple of Christ means that our first loyalty is always to Christ and the Kingdom of God. This is the Kingdom of God which says blessed are the poor, the meek, those who long for righteousness, those who mourn, those who work for peace (Matthew 5:1-10). This is the Kingdom of God which turns human priorities upside down (Luke 1:46-55). This is the Kingdom of God which preaches good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). This is the Kingdom of God which embraces the outsider (Luke 10:25-37), learns from those who are different (Mark 7:24-30), remembers that people matter more than money. This is the Kingdom of God which proclaims that hate and hurt and darkness will not win, but that the life and love and light of Christ will always have the final word.
Like our politicians, we have multiple loyalties: loyalties to our family, to our friends, to our work or voluntary commitments. There is nothing wrong with being loyal. There is nothing wrong with loving our families, our friends and what we do. In fact, God delights in the love we share with others and the gifts and work we offer. But when the chips are down, when our loyalties don’t all pull in the same direction, our first loyalty needs to be to the Kingdom of God. Sometimes that will be incredibly difficult and sometimes that will put relationships under strain. Jesus wants us to know this in advance – as a friend once said, this reading should be in the small print on our baptism certificates! Because, if we are clear about the cost, when the bill comes in, it may be a struggle but it won’t be a surprise.
As many of you will know, we are a bit Harry Potter daft in our household. At the end of the first book (spoiler alert – but really, you should have read them already!) the goofy, nerdy, never-wins-at-anything Neville Longbottom gets ten house points enabling his House to win the House Cup. Neville’s friends have been on wild adventures and battled all sorts of monsters – all he did was challenge his friends and try to do what he thought was right. In praising him, the headmaster, Dumbledore, says “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” Sometimes, in our loyalty to the Kingdom of God, in trying to do what we believe to be right, we may have to stand up to our friends.
This is a challenging message but there is always grace. As ever, know that you don’t face these challenges alone – God’s Holy Spirit is with us, guiding us when we are not sure what to do for the best, comforting us when we find ourselves in conflict. And lastly, returning to Jeremiah and where we began, know that your costly courage – however small it may look to you – is seen by God, matters to God and in God’s Kingdom always makes a difference. How you live matters. Live well. Live lovingly. Live as a child of the Kingdom of God. Amen.