FOR SUNDAY MAY 24th
6I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
So, let’s not beat around the bush: Are you in the world or of the world?
In the world or of the world?
Jesus declares in his prayer that just as he does not belong to this world, neither do we. We have been sent into the world with a purpose, with a mission, but the world has no claim on us. Our citizenship is in and of God’s Kingdom. We know this. Our faith comprehends this. We can nod our heads in agreement, but challenges are not far off. Trials and testing and choices on this very issue lurk very near to us.
Pick up the newspaper, troll the internet. Left and right the question of loyalty makes for some good reading. I read a quote from a politician who declared that his loyalty was to his political party (as compared to a colleague who had voted his conscience on a particular issue much to the chagrin of this particular legislator.) For him, it was party first and conscience second.
As Christians, the issue of loyalty is ever before us.
As we learn in today’s gospel our loyalty is conditioned by our citizenship – not whether or not we are US citizens or resident aliens or undocumented workers, but rather how well we understand our citizenship in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether or not we stand behind the truth that we are a Kingdom people.
Perhaps no one knows this better than Bob Riley whom Time Magazine anointed back in 2003 as either politically suicidal or the bravest chief executive in the country.
That year as Alabama’s Governor, Republican Bob Riley wanted to reform what some called "the most unfair tax system in the nation" with the biggest tax hike in Alabama's history. His plan: Raise taxes on the wealthy and cut taxes for the poor.
Journalist and commentator Bill Moyer described the tax system this way:
"When it comes to state income tax, the lowest-earners — two-thirds of Alabama's population — pay 11 percent of their income in taxes. In contrast, the wealthiest 1 percent pay less than 4 percent.
Alabama's been called an economic plantation: for example, trees cover more than 70 percent of the state, and forestry is Alabama's leading industry. Yet timber and paper companies contribute less than 2 percent of all property tax revenues in the state. Meanwhile, Alabama's families are taxed on earnings as low as $4,600 a year. Even by the standards of the poor Southern states, this is extreme. In Mississippi next door, you pay no income taxes until you earn $19,000."
The Governor, a devout Southern Baptist declared that "In my New Testament, it says that there's three things we should do, "Love God, love each other, and take care of the least among us." I think this [his tax plan] does that."
Once voted "the most conservative member of congress" where he refused to run for re-election after three terms because he believed in term limits, Governor Riley was assailed by his fellow Republicans, criticized by the Christian Coalition, and vehemently attacked by Big Business. With a huge TV ad blitz that convinced the poor that they would SUFFER more with this tax plan designed to give them TAX RELIEF, the opposition forces defeated the plan in a state-wide referendum. As a result more services had to be cut for those in need. Governor Riley’s ambitious plan to close the budget gap, provide additional funding for Alabama’s poorest schools and an extensive college scholarship program was scuttled
It is not only Christian governors or state legislators that face the challenge of loyalty – of discovering for themselves what "not belonging to this world" may mean. You and I face that challenge, too. We do because we have been sent into the world bearing the Word of God: God's truth, hope and promise. In entrusting his word to us Jesus tells us plainly that that Word, that holy and life-giving Word will produce sharp reactions in people – some will embrace it and through the transformative power of the Holy Spirit will be changed forever – and some will reject it and hate us for declaring it.
So, are we in the world or of it? What do our actions say about where our citizenship may be found? How do our actions declare that we are Kingdom people?
Well one thing that Kingdom people do is that they strive together for justice. A month ago over fifteen hundred people from 28 congregations and synagogues gathered together in an action for justice. This congregation was one of them. By ourselves, as individuals and individual congregations there was little that we could have done to marshal the forces necessary to achieve changes in a system for whom the voices of the poor could not shout loud enough. But as one we declared that we wanted changes, that we wanted Broward County’s Workforce Centers to be able to correct the flags in the records of the unemployed that prevented them from receiving their benefits. Without this change it might take hours, days or even weeks for these changes to be made. As a small team representatives of these congregations and synagogues went to the CEO of Workforce One and told him that no one spent time looking for a job when they were worried about their benefits, if they were worried about if they could put food on the table or keep the lights on or pay their rent. But we were few and we were ignored. But a week later fifteen hundred gathered and as one demanded justice and our collective voice was heard loud and clear. Fifteen hundred people gave up a Thursday night for justice. I mean, wasn’t Idol on that night? Grey’s Anatomy? Weren’t there clothes to wash, kid’s lunches to make, dishes to clean?
So, are we in the world or of it? What do our actions say about our citizenship? How do they declare that we are Kingdom people?
Last week I attended a meeting with Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggletion who sits on Workforce Development Board. There he informed us that the Workforce Board directed the CEO to make the changes that we had demanded be made. Our most recent communication indicates that this has in fact happened. That it is a reality. It is amazing what happens when together we declare by our actions where our true citizenship may be found.
Whether it is the temptation in our occupations to survive at any cost or to win a bitter divorce fight through lies and deceit or rip off the government figuring that it’s our money anyway or that they owe us, or deciding that “me first” is a pretty good mantra to live by, we will find declaring our citizenship through our actions an almost daily challenge, a constant tension.
Jesus understands that being in the world not of it will create tension in our lives. That’s why he doesn’t expect that we live in that tension on our own. In the gospel this morning, Jesus prays to the Father on our behalf:
“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Jesus knows that our life in the tension of living in the world and not of it will not be easy. He calls upon God to protect us; to sanctify us, that is to make us and our lives holy, in the truth. Not just any truth, but God’s just truth. Thus the impossible becomes possible. Fear can give way to hope. When the world comes calling, demanding our loyalty, we can find the strength to be bold, we can reach inside of ourselves and find the wisdom born of faith to remember that Christ himself has prayed for us, prayed to God to watch over us, to protect us, to give us the courage to be Kingdom people, now and always.