Listening to the preaching from the conservative and fundamentalist churches, with their anti-government sermons in the pulpits and protests in the media, I am reminded of a powerful, powerful sermon once preached by a pastor I respect. Strangely enough, though, the right wing does not seem to appreciate this pastor’s preaching.
Maybe you can help me figure out why.
This pastor was a good pastor– he cared for his flock, and challenged them to live in the world Monday through Saturday by the values they celebrated on Sunday. His people, in turn, loved their pastor. This pastor was also respected in the urban community in which his congregation was located. Even folks who were not only not part of his church but also had no use for religion respected this pastor, because he loved his people and his community.
And this pastor was a preacher. No, he was a Preacher.
Once upon a time, this Preacher spoke about where we put our trust. He built his sermon around Luke 19:37-44, where the Pharisees complain about the cheers on Palm Sunday from the crowd acclaiming Jesus as king. “Tell them to be quiet” say the Pharisees, but Jesus — looking out over the capital city of Jerusalem — wept. He wept over the city, but even moreso over the Pharisees whose faith in God had been blinded.
The sermon started quietly, but it soon built in strength. The Preacher creatively used modern imagery and language to describe the ancient situation. Speaking of the crowds, he said
These people had, in Luke 19, an occupying army living in their country. Jesus in verse 43 calls them their enemies – say enemies; their enemies had all the political power. Remember, they had to send Jesus to a court presided over by the enemy; a provisional governor appointed by their enemies ran the civic and the political affairs of the capital. He had backing him up an occupying army with superior soldiers – they were commandos trained in urban combat and trained to kill on command. Remember, it was soldiers of the Third Marine regiment of Rome who had fun with Jesus, who was mistreated as a prisoner of war, an enemy of the occupying army stationed in Jerusalem to ensure the mopping up action of Operation It’s Really Freedom; these people were blinded by the culture of war. . . .
They wanted their King to get this military monkey off their back – they wanted a “regime change”, if you will. And look what they called Jesus, look at it in verse 38, they called Jesus the “King”. Look at it, look at it, look at verse 38. They call him the King. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” They wanted their King – see, their King – they saw God the Lord getting ready to do something about this situation. Blinded by the pain of their situation, they could not see the things that made for peace, y’all. So Jesus cried.
“Preach it,” said the congregation. “Make it plain. C’mon with it . . .”
And he did.
Let me help you with something. Let me help you, let me help you. The military does not make for peace. The military only keeps the lid on for a little while. The military doesn’t make for peace, and the absence of armed resistance doesn’t mean the presence of genuine peace. Somebody needs to hear me tonight, you’re not hearing me. War does not make for peace. We said at the eleven o’clock service “Fighting for peace is like raping for Virginity”. War does not make for peace, war only makes for escalating violence, and a mindset to pay the enemy back by any means necessary.
“Amen,” said the congregation.
But that’s only how the sermon opened. Our problem, said the Preacher in what followed, is that we are like those crowds of old and like the Pharisees. We put our trust and our hope in the wrong places. Note, please, the pronoun: that’s *our* problem, said the preacher. Not “his” problem or “her” problem or “their” problem, but our problem.
He laid out how we do this, in detail, with flair, with prophetic directness, and using the vernacular of the neighborhood:
Jesus said “how can you see the speck in your brother’s eye and can’t see the log in your own eye?” Well, I submit to you we can’t see it first of all ‘cause we don’t see nobody who don’t look like us, dress like us, talk like us, worship like us as brother – and Jesus calls them brother. We demonise them and that makes it all right to kill them because our God is against demons. Then we can’t see the speck most of all because we equate our Government with our God. We confuse Government and God.
And then the preacher really got rolling, and the last line above became a refrain to the sermon as he outlined how governments lie and how governments change, all to justify the killing and looting and subjugation of anyone they choose to demonize. Over and over and over again, with governments both ancient and modern, he spelled it out and made it plain.
Then came the turn, the transition that offered a way out for his hearers.
Where governments lie, God does not lie. Where governments change, God does not change. And I’m through now. But let me leave you with one more thing. Governments fail. The government in this text comprised of Caesar, Cornelius, Pontius Pilate – the Roman government failed. The British government used to rule from East to West. The British government had a Union Jack. She colonized Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Hong Kong. Her navies ruled the seven seas all the way down to the tip of Argentina in the Falklands, but the British government failed. The Russian government failed. The Japanese government failed. The German government failed. And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing God bless America? No, no, no. Not God bless America; God damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizen as less than human. God damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!
Let us pause here for a moment, because this Preacher’s preaching sounds very familiar. As I listen to the right wing rail against Obamacare and a dozen other things, I hear them preaching variations on that last line over and over and over again:
- God damn America as long as the government forces us to buy insurance.
- God damn America as long as the government forces us to pay for contraception that goes against our moral beliefs.
- God damn America as long as the government allows abortions.
- God damn America as long as the government tries to act like God.
Yes, says the right wing, beware the government that wants to take the place of God.
But let’s go back to that Preacher again. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Maybe you’ve even read the whole sermon, or listened to it yourself. [UPDATE: the link goes to the transcript, but the audio link from that site is now no longer active.] The Preacher was in the news four years ago thanks to the right wing, and seems to be getting a little publicity again from the right wing these days.
And not in a good way.
But given how well the Preacher’s message fits with what some of them preach, it has to make you wonder why the right wing holds him up as a demon. If he’s preaching against trust in government, if he’s preaching that government lies and changes, you’d think they’d be falling all over themselves to cheer him on.
But they’re not.
I guess their problem with the preacher isn’t really his message. I wonder what it could be . . .