(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Politics & Religion: “E Pluribus Unum”
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Matthew 17:24-27, 22:15-22
Citizens of Israel in Jesus’ day reacted in two ways to Roman rule. Some (e.g. tax collectors) went along with it to gain wealth, or at least to avoid trouble. Others hated and resisted it as an insult to them and their God. Seeing only those two options, Jesus’ enemies thought they had him trapped. But he taught a profoundly different way: dual citizenship, honoring legitimate duties to the state, but giving ultimate loyalty to God as king..
John 18:10-11, 33-40
John 6:15 showed that, after feeding 5,000 people (and no doubt at other times, too) Jesus could probably have taken political power if he’d wanted to. But he hadn’t come to create that kind of kingdom. Jesus baffled Pontius Pilate, a typical Roman political climber, who asked him, “So you are a king?” Calmly contained, Jesus asserted his kingship—but said it came from, and ruled over, a totally different realm.
Matthew 5:21-24, 43-48
Using today’s political language, we’d say the Sermon on the Mount was Jesus’ “platform.” In it, he defined his kingdom’s principles. A striking part of that platform, especially when we are being barraged by campaign ads, was the unusual way Jesus taught his followers to relate to enemies. Avoid contemptuous, angry words or attitudes, he said. Instead offer God’s love to everyone.
John told us Jesus prayed this prayer the night before he went to the cross. As the Jewish leaders, afraid of losing their human power, plotted his death, Jesus prayed that his followers would have a divine unity not even politics could disrupt. His disciples included a Zealot (a radical Hebrew nationalist) and a tax collector (a Roman agent—cf. Luke 5:27, 6:15). But, in his kingdom, those different backgrounds no longer needed to define or divide them.
First-century Rome was a lot like Washington, D.C.—a city obsessed with politics. So it was especially striking that, in his letter to Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul called them to live as Jesus, their true king, did. They were to seek peace, and overcome evil with good. Like Jesus, Paul virtually ignored human power struggles (Nero was probably emperor when Paul wrote this letter), and focused on living as citizens of God’s invisible yet supreme kingdom.
Ephesians 4:15 called on readers to grow in Christ by “speaking the truth in love.” That set the stage for today’s passage, which outlined Jesus’ values. God’s people, it said, can live in unity without anger or insults, being kind, compassionate and forgiving toward each other. That principle wasn’t limited to realm of political disagreements—but it certainly didn’t exempt them, either.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide
Jesus, you have showed us in your life, and taught us with your words, the kind of people you call us to be. We sense your Spirit within us, and yet we struggle against the brokenness that often afflicts us. Strengthen us and help us to find our way back to your path, Lord. Help us to find your love within us and to make it our own. Help us to reflect that love in our daily lives. Amen.
How would America react in the voting booth if a presidential candidate approached campaigning in an entirely new way: one that was considerate of the feelings and beliefs of the opposition, avoided exaggeration, lies and negative advertising, and ignored any negative campaigning by the opposition? (This is hypothetical—do not use current campaigns as good examples of this!)
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
- Read Matthew 17:24-27, 22:15-22. In these verses, Jesus avoided the trap by referring to a dual citizenship, honoring legitimate duties to the state, but giving ultimate loyalty to God as king. What do you suppose the Pharisees thought as they hurried away? Do we all tend to have some degree of divided loyalties? When should our ultimate loyalty to God supersede other loyalties? Have you ever made a list of your loyalties, starting with the most important? Where do family and country rank? Where do you rank? Recognizing how important your loyalty to God is, how important is loyalty to yourself? When might loyalty to country or family have to take a back seat to self, or vice versa?
- Read John 18:10-11, 33-40. The Jewish hierarchy could not contend with the truth of Jesus’ teaching, so they turned him over to the state. At that point, “religion” and politics were at loggerheads. In both readings, Jesus denied his willingness to assume any form of political power even though he could have easily done so. What would have made Jesus a great political leader? Would you have supported him in that role? What qualities do you look for in choosing the people you have and will vote for? How important is character? God choose King David because of his “heart.” Is that the same as character? Would you be willing to reexamine your political choices in light of the standard of leadership God chose, or is that standard too high to be applied to politics today?
- Read Matthew 5:21-24, 43-48. These verses contain Jesus’ commands about how we should treat one another and, especially, our enemies. How do these words apply to the feelings political campaigns tend to generate? Do we ever feel contempt toward people with political views different than our own? Why do you think this often is true? How would Jesus instruct us in these circumstances? How would you describe Jesus’ ‘platform”? Are you willing to pray for religious and political people with whom you disagree? Why or why not?
- Read John 17:20-23. In this prayer, Jesus was praying for all believers then and yet to come. He was praying for believers regardless of their background. He was praying for you and for me. He was praying for a holy unity in faith. How do you feel knowing that Jesus was praying for you? How do you feel knowing that Jesus was praying for all of us? Do you feel that all Christians are united by our faith? Is this unity more important than all the issues that might tend to divide us? What can we do to confirm and solidify our Christian unity?
- Read Romans 12:9-13:1. From this week’s GPS, these verses “…focused on living as citizens of God’s invisible yet supreme kingdom,” a kingdom above all earthly (or unearthly) kingdoms. Paul spoke words for us to live by. Do you think these timeless words speak to today’s intense political wrangling? Within Christianity, how are we doing at “liv(ing) at peace with all people”? How are we doing with, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”? How much focus to Christians put on these words? Does reading these words cause you to want to live a little differently?
- Read Ephesians 4:29-5:2. Wow! What a timely message to guide us in dealing with the rampant emotions that seem to flow, almost unbidden, during political campaigns. Do these words also apply to a broader spectrum of our lives? Do these words only apply to how we act outwardly? In what ways can we, especially during the next three weeks, open ourselves to God so that we might behave and feel the way God calls us to?
From last week: Did you consider the richness and diversity of American cultures? Did you focus on the wonderful country that diversity makes us? Did you make it a week of prayer, thanking God for a richness that makes America so special in the world? Describe to the group whatever you experienced in doing this.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, October 14, 2012:
Unfortunately people who call themselves Christians have sometimes been a part of the acrimony and divisiveness in politics. Some of the least Christian things I’ve heard about this or that candidate have been from the lips of people who claimed to be followers of Jesus.
Several weeks ago I invited you to read the Gospel of Matthew. If you’ve been doing that you’ve already heard much about what it means to follow Jesus. He tells us in the same section where he speaks about being a city on a hill, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, that we are not to call others “fool” or we’ll be in danger of judgment. We’re to tell the truth. We’re to turn the other cheek. We’re to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We’re to not judge others, but instead to take the log out of our own eye before we take the splinter out of their eyes. If this does not have to do with how we conduct ourselves in the political season then when does it relate?!
Our scripture from Paul is a powerful one for the season of politics. One of the themes Paul takes up in Ephesians is the theme of unity, for the Christians he was writing to were divided. Paul was trying to bring together Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, men and women, upper classes and lower classes, into one body, the church. The church was doing, in its day, what America sought to do in its founding–captured by a phrase that graces the back of our national seal, E Pluribus Unum–“out of many, one.”
To deal with the various factions that arose in the churches, and that were present in the society Paul gave some basic guidelines. Listen: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” This is one of those verses that stand out to me. As I’ve taught you before, the word for “evil” here is SAPROS and it means putrid or rotten. It is the word that describes what you find in a Tupperware of leftovers that were in the back of the refrigerator for six months–you open it and the smell is so horrible you decide it’s better to throw the Tupperware away than to try to clean it out. Paul says, Don’t let that stuff come out of your mouth.
He goes on to say: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Their disunity was grieving the Holy Spirit. God was pained by the way they spoke to and about one another.
He continues: Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
In Ephesians 4, Paul described how the Ephesians acted towards others before they came to faith, but he says, “No more!” In Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, and I believe he would say today, “Republican nor Democrat, for all are one in him”….
Let’s recognize that there is truth and goodness and beauty, as well as ignorance and error, on both sides of the political divide. Let’s pray for our leaders. Let’s avoid putrid talk coming out of our mouths but only what is useful for building up. And let’s pull together, Republicans and Democrats, to work and pray, that America might look more like a “city upon a hill.”
Old Testament “Politics” – Why did God choose David to be king?
(1 Samuel 16:1-13; 2 Samuel 5:1-5)
Saul, Israel’s first king, got off to an appalling start. He had scarcely served 5% of his tenure when he was rejected by God. Saul didn’t keep the commandment of God, so “the Lord…sought Him a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Saul had turned back from following God, becoming rebellious and stubborn. Saul was suffering from a common human affliction–he ceased to be little in his own sight. So God took the kingdom of Israel from him.
And God chose David, whose heart was set after God’s. God chose one of the least, knowing full well that he would always remain that way at heart. God chose an obscure server with a shepherd’s heart. God chose a follower with a rock-solid faith and a delicate conscience.
Samuel suffered from another common human affliction–dazzled by the obvious. We get the impression Samuel was almost overcome by Eliab’s manifest eligibility. Samuel was impressed by his physique, but likely more than that, by his bearing and demeanor. Eliab was the firstborn, accustomed to leadership, responsibility, and decision-making. This guy had KING! written all over him. But he didn’t have it written in him, so God refused him.
The peril of the obvious. God doesn’t look for the eloquent, or the personable, or the convincing or the learned or the impressive or the forceful or the theological. Even a person with leadership ability, magnetism, and experience is not necessarily God’s choice for church leadership. We need to humble ourselves and surrender our preferences as did Samuel. We ought to follow the Lord’s leading in the selection of leadership because we will naturally be dazzled by the obvious. Only God knows the heart of a man. Only God knows the end of a man. Let us subject our choices to the careful scrutiny of the Omniscient. We don’t need to know just our surface reasons for choosing someone; we need to know the hidden motives of our hearts. Only God can show us those.
God chose David and allowed ample time to prepare him. Saul still had over 30 years of his reign left at this point. God taught David many lessons as He patiently guided him from being a harp-picking shepherd to being king of the mightiest kingdom in the known world of his day. Patience may well have been the major lesson. Patience is a supreme manifestation of faith. Patience says, “I know God will work; I’ll wait His timing and His way.” Impatience sees only self and passing time. That became David’s major downfall, leading him to presumption (numbering Israel) and immorality and murder (the Bathsheba incident). However, even in these failures, God’s analysis of David proved true. Here was truly a man after God’s own heart. He did not try to justify himself as Saul did. David repented in true contrition.
David’s choices and decisions in his youth determined his usability in later years. And so it is for you, too. One of David’s relatives verbalized this principle many centuries later. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10). Perhaps carnality, worldliness, materialism, selfishness, and wild oats don’t seem of much consequence right now. Perhaps visitation, serving, studying, devotions, a job well done, and faithful church attendance don’t seem so critical right now. Do not err. Your life now shapes your usefulness later!
Supplemental study guide discussion question, if time permits: Should this story affect the process we use in deciding our vote?
This week, prayerfully make an honest list of your priorities, listing them from the most important at the top. Limit the list to 4-6 items. These might include family, country, God, self, close friends, etc. Next week, share with the group how and why your chose as you did and how this affected your thinking and attitudes. Were there any surprises?