Today is election day in the U.S.
If you’re in the U.S., you and your parishioners will likely have strong feelings about the outcome of this election. Some will be thrilled with its outcome. Others devastated.
Parishioners in the States will likely hold their breath this Sunday, anxious that the sermon will poke at their politics.
This Sunday, congregations who follow the Revised Common Lectionary will recite Psalm 146, which includes this passage:
Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
[The God of Jacob] gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s midterm elections, if the stories I’ve heard from preachers in recent months are any indication, merely reading this psalm will be interpreted by listeners as “political.”
And they’re right. But not for the reasons they think.
“Politics” is not the Same as “Partisanship”
When listeners complain about “politics” in church, they’re probably complaining about “partisanship.” Most of us mix up the two.
According to Dictionary.com, a partisan is “an adherent or supporter of a person, group, party, or cause, especially a person who shows a biased, emotional allegiance.”
That a passage of Scripture might be interpreted as partisan is a problem for another blog. What you need to know is that when listeners interpret a Scripture passage as sounding more like the agenda of one political party than another, their primary concern is whether you’re preaching your party’s agenda or the Gospel’s agenda.
It’s a worthy question because if we preach “biased, emotional allegiance” on behalf of our party, that’s a big problem.
But “politics”? That’s something else all together.
And frankly, you’d be hard pressed to avoid it.
Every Sermon Is Political
The Latin origin of “politics” means “community” or “citizens.”
It means the people, the crowds, those gathered. From the beginning God has been concerned to create, sustain, and help God’s beloved community thrive.
Together. As One.
So if God is to be described as anything, it’s “political.”
When we preach, then, we are preaching the word of God who is political.
We preach a God who formed a covenant people. We preach Jesus, who demonstrated concern for ALL members of a community, from powerful religious leaders to impoverished widows. We preach a Spirit who counsels and forms a group of disciples, forming them to be “The Body Politic of Christ” in the world.
In truth, there is no such thing as a sermon that isn’t concerned with forming God’s people. That makes every sermon political.
Political Sermons Your People Will Be Glad to Hear
Sermons that name God’s politics—God’s concerns for God’s beloved community—are Good News indeed.
With so many in our civic society choosing sides, how refreshing to hear that God also chooses a side: ALL of us.
God chooses the side of covenant, inclusion, compassion, justice, mercy and love for everyone, that “we may be one” as Jesus is one with his Father (John 17.22).
How do we preach politically but without partisanship? Preach God’s love for ALL who make up the community of God’s beloved children.
Preachers often face congregations who face suffering in common but are divided in their beliefs about its cause. They grapple with how to preach God’s politics, which transcend our own.
Here are three types of “political” sermons that might be preached in the midst of local or national crises, and welcomed by all political affiliations. Consider what these might look like in light of recent events: the horrific murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the caravan of migrants making their way to our border, or even hurricanes that have ravaged coastal communities.
The Comforting Sermon
This sermon says, “We face the world together, as one.”
As a community of believers, we are one. We are concerned for the whole, for all of God’s children. When a community mourns, we feel their grief with them. When they fear for their safety, we share their fears with them. We are united in our shock at traumatic events and desire to help. We are one in our hope to prevent tragedies from happening again.
When we stand with a group who is suffering and refuse to set them aside, set them apart, or believe a message that they are somehow not part of “us,” we offer comfort.
“Comfort,” at its root, means “to strengthen the heart.” When we stand alongside the suffering, ask them for the help they need and help them receive it, we bear the burden of their pain, distribute its load among a larger body, and even alleviate it a bit.
Being with those who suffer embodies love in action, strengthening hearts for what lies ahead.
The “Jesus is Here, Too” Sermon
These next two suggestions are inspired by the Rev’d Dr. Leah Schade, Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary after Dr. Schade led a very practical two-week seminar at Backstory Preaching on “Preaching Across the Divide.”
The “Jesus is Here, Too” sermon name divisions Jesus sees in our parish community, the longing for our healing, and the ways Christ is at already at work to bring it about.
Jesus is concerned that parish communities are united—not they they agree or see the world the same way—but in treating all with respect and dignity. Our common cause is not to agree with each other, but to love and serve God.
Jesus is part of our community. Jesus made our community through our baptisms! Any community that is fractured, regardless of the cause, concerns Jesus, who desires to heal the body and make it whole again.
So in this sermon:
First name what you see in your community.
What has been divided?
What actions/behaviors led up to it?
What damage is it causing?
Second, describe our hearts’ desire:
to belong, to be included,
to be “seen”
to feel safe, so we can work together effectively for the mission of the Church and for the sake of others.
Third, rely on the text to suggest how God sees us.
This Sunday, the RCL Gospel is Mark 12:38-44. Jesus, sitting opposite the Temple treasury, watches the crowd. He watches the crowd. What did he see? Jesus is watching us, too. What do you suppose he sees? How, in your sanctified imagination, do you suppose he feels about our division? Ask what’s more important to the community: maintaining allegiance to party/ideology, or serving Christ?
Finally, identify where Jesus is already at work to heal us
What gestures, however small, indicate something stronger and more important is at work than what divides?
A meal brought to a grieving fellow parishioner by someone on “the other side?”
A planned, deliberate dialogue to find and support common ground?
And don’t forget the most fundamental act of all, worshiping God together Sunday by Sunday.
The Sermon to Bring Good News to the Polis
There are Gospel words a fractured citizenry is desperate to hear: words of hope, respect, and belonging. God will help us discern the way forward for all and provide the courage we need to take the next step.
The wider world is also fractured and we are called to bring Gospel words to our communities: at work, in our neighborhoods, around the dinner table, on social media.
Does our actual language reflect that? As followers of Jesus Christ, if we were to audit our language, what would we hear?
“Us vs. Them” or “All”?
“I can’t believe how rotten they are” or “I can’t believe how human they are”?
“I hate ____” or “I really disagree with them and make it a practice to see them as the beloved child of God that God sees them as.”
“Do unto others,” right?
How do you hope others refer to you behind your back—or to your face? With language reflected by the first or second set of choices?
What language do you suppose God uses for us? My read of Scripture says God offers words of forgiveness, second chances (or seventy times seven chances), and belonging—no matter what. As far as I can tell, that is the purpose for the cross.
A sermon that suggests our language reflect the language of God’s politics creates communities of shalom. Our words of Good News can feel like cool, refreshing waters in a world that sometimes feels like a dumpster fire.
So we may now understand the difference between “political” and “partisan,” but there’s much more to the story.
The way each of us chooses to vote in an election is based on our values. We vote for the party, candidates, and their policies that most closely align with our values. As Christians we hope our Christian values are represented by public policies and our representatives.
So what happens when a preacher’s Christian values differ from their listeners’ Christian values? What happens when preachers see and proclaim their values as mirrored in the Gospel, but listeners see an entirely different set—and want their values proclaimed?
Watch for next week’s blog post, “Whose Christian Values Do We Preach?”
You Don’t Have to Navigate these Times Alone
Looking for company to navigate these tricky preaching waters?
Join The Collective, a community of preachers dedicated to collaboration and growth.
You’ll find weekly insights related to the lectionary and current events, preaching inspiration, practical support, and real-time help when we need to throw out a preaching, “Hail, Mary!”