A parishioner recently complained that he did not want any social agenda preached from the pulpit. That’s why he left his last church. That could make preaching very difficult because the gospel message is ripe with social teaching. With some small knowledge of his last church, I think that what he meant was that he did not want preaching that advocated a particular political party, legislative agenda, or that made social issues into an object of worship instead of God. There are churches that are quite free with the names of God and Jesus along with carefully selected citations from scripture to underwrite what is essentially a well defined political agenda that has little to do with God. There are also churches where you are unlikely to hear God’s name at all, but you will hear a constant harangue on popular social issues of the day flowing from the pulpit. Both fail to understand the nature of God’s revelation as received through Holy Scripture.
Where might one start to learn what that is? Consider all of the stories of miraculous healings in the gospels. They are not so much about the medical healing of an individual as they are about restoring that which had broken the wholeness of the community. They are about restoration and reconciliation. Healing at the hands of Jesus restored right relationships with God, with families and friends, and with community. The restoration of right relationships brought with it a reconciliation in which past wrongs were made right and new beginnings made possible. But if it was left there the question would remain: What do right relationships look like?
That question is answered by a theme that runs throughout the story of God’s engagement with humanity, and it is most brilliantly illuminated in the Ten Commandments, the words of the ethical prophets, and most importantly in the life and teaching of Jesus, whom we Christians recognize as the very Word of God made flesh. It is the theme of how God has revealed to us a pattern of life together in community through which humanity might live well, rich with God’s blessings, and in harmony with one another. Moreover, as even a superficial reading of the prophets will demonstrate, it is a pattern that has deep and serious political intent. God has made very clear that living in a right relationship with God and one another requires both individual and community policies of social justice that are well articulated through God’s own self revelation. They are not Republican or Democratic, they are not liberal or conservative, above all they are not American; they are the revelation of God’s earnest desire for humans to live well together in a rich and blessed life. It is a desire that transcends both history and nationhood. To be a faithful preacher of God’s Word requires preaching that faithfully and fearlessly proclaims what looks an awful lot like God’s “political” agenda. Where can you find a copy of this agenda? It takes some prayerful discernment, but I suggest beginning with a careful study of the depth of meaning found in the Ten Commandments and not just their words, in an equally careful study of my favorite prophet, Amos, and in long prayerful meditation over the words of Jesus as reported in Matthew 5 through 7. They are, I believe, the very core of God’s agenda, but I must warn you in advance. You will find nothing there about homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion or evolution. God seems to have other things on His mind, and we should probably pay some attention to that.