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21 Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 – Is. 22:19-23, Mt. 16:13-20

1. Germans have a very complicated relationship with America.

a. We are seen by some as a liberator from the Nazis,

b. by others as an oppressor during the Cold War.

c. And so, when you are an American in Germany

i. as I often am,

d. sooner or later people will want to talk to you about America.

2. This year I was not in Germany.

3. But that did not stop German friends from writing me

4. concerning a recent article in the New York Times about the politics of Evangelical Christians.

5. It horrified them, and they asked me a question that I have often heard from foreign friends.

6. What is happening to America?

a. What they mean is our fascination

i. with a certain type of politics

ii. which uses religion as its justification

iii. sees its success as God’s blessing,

iv. and the failure of others as God’s judgment.

7. But what is confusing to Germans is clear to us:

a. Despite our famed separation of Church and state,

b. America has a long history of mixing politics and religion.

c. And many Americans – not just evangelicals! - want God’s choice for president!

Because they think that if our leader is God’s leader

i. We will always be right – hence the blessing.

ii. and of course, our opponents will always be wrong and that is their judgment.

8. Of course, many are horrified by this - and not just Germans! -

a. Perhaps we are too, but we should not be surprised.

b. For the Evangelicals are right – God and politics ARE intertwined and in fact, God has certainly messed around in politics before.

9. In today’s first reading for example,

a. we hear Isaiah proclaim to Shebna,

i. The master of the King’s palace and his trusted advisor,

b. That God would summarily remove him from his post

i. and replace him with Eliakim,

ii. a man more to God’s liking.

10. But perhaps God’s most personal foray into politics was Jesus himself.

a. We tend to forget that from the very beginning of his ministry,

b. Jesus was perceived to be political –

c. by his enemies as well as by his friends.

d. He traveled, just like our politicians do.

e. He taught and lectured,

f. criticized his opponents, the Pharisees and Sadducees.

g. He even had a platform he was promoting;

h. a radical vision called Kingdom or Reign of God,

i. Where those who were powerful

1. would lose their special positions and be the last.

ii. While the people, the poor, the weak,

1. the last under the current administration,

2. would be the first.

11. His vision of a new world makes today’s pundits and politicians look like amateurs;

12. For when we look squarely at what he was preaching, he wasn’t promoting reorganization but reformation;

i. for some even revolution.

13. Little wonder so many followed him

14. Little wonder his chosen 12 clung to him

15. For when Jesus won, they knew they would be winners too.

16. But then one day Jesus arrived at Caesarea Philippi.

a. The city which was the center of Roman power in the Jewish province of Galilee.

b. For Jesus to go there was like Biden going to rural Texas,

c. or our current President coming back to NYC.

17. But that was just the point; at the heart of Roman power,

a. Jesus was going to reveal his running mate;

b. who would lead his team,

c. to prepare for God’s kingdom and it was PETER!

18. . . . but wait a minute.

a. Those who were members of Jesus’ inner circle

b. should have certainly raised red flags;

c. wasn’t he the rough and impetuous fisherman from the backcountry of Galilee?

19. And anyone else who knew the rest of Peter’s story,

a. from Jesus’ day to our own should certainly join in;

i. Wasn’t he the one who abandoned Jesus?

ii. Wasn’t he the one who denied him?

iii. Wasn’t he the one whom Jesus would call,

1. only a few verses after today’s gospel reading,

2. SATAN because he refused to accept Jesus’ vision?

b. This is the one whom Jesus chooses? This loser is our winner?

20. Exactly. Because despite what we want to believe,

a. When God chooses good leaders,

b. God chooses good followers –

i. Like Eliakim, whom he calls his servant

c. When God chooses winners

d. God chooses losers like Peter,

i. Whom he calls the rock on which he will build his church,

ii. but also the Satan who will be its adversary.

e. When God chooses, God chooses Jesus,

i. Whose popularity faded

ii. and who was crucified in the polls a few days

iii. before being crucified for real.

21. When God chooses, God chooses weakness.

22. This was brought home powerfully to me in my last year of seminary, shortly before my ordination,

23. When I confessed to my spiritual director

a. that I was too weak to be a priest,

b. and he said, “Of course you are Donald.

c. That is why God called you.

d. God doesn’t need your strengths.

e. God is plenty strong.

f. WhatGod needs is your weaknesses.

g. So that in whatever you do, the people you serve will see God shining through your human faults.”

24. Jesus’ choice of Peter should give us all pause;

25. For if we are truly sincere in our search for “God’s choice” of a leader,

a. someone who is faithful to Jesus’ vision

i. of a world of justice and peace,

b. where the first are last and the last first,

c. perhaps we should look

d. Not for the one who is a winner at all the polls

i. but the one who struggles to get his or her message heard

e. Not for the one who is the best and the brightest

i. but the one who is the most honest and true.

f. Such candidates, you might respond, do not exist;

i. and you are probably right;

ii. for we usually crucify them in the polls, if not for real.

26. We sit right now between the two political conventions of the two parties which have controlled out country since Reconstruction in the 19th century. Both parties are rolling out their visions for America; and they are starkly different.

27. There has been and will continue to be much talk of God, from both parties, in this most unusual of election years.

28. God will be called upon, blessed, invoked

a. and frankly used, to convince us who to vote for.

29. But as long as we are Americans we must remember.

30. While God might choose kings:

a. God does not choose presidents: we do.

b. and while God guides our consciences

c. God does NOT determine our choice.

d. And thank God for that; for when we look at God’s choice, Peter

e. When we think of all the other weak broken sinful leaders of our church who were chosen as his successors

f. It is a miracle that the Church has survived for two thousand years, and it is a miracle that it is surviving now.

g. To which Jesus, The Father and the Spirit could only say, AMEN.

i. That is precisely the point.

ii. God chooses the weak.

iii. God chooses the sinners.

iv. God chooses us

1. and gives us the awesome responsibility as Americans to choose.

31. And thus, we must choose well;

a. Allowing Jesus and HIS vision of a world of justice and peace to guide that choice.

b. for as many Germans would remind you;

c. and they often remind me;

d. so much - not just in America but in the world - rides on our choice.

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