Our Pledge of Allegiance is to Jesus Christ

A Sermon preached by the Rev. Nils Chittenden

Sunday, January 22ND, 2017

I have a serious concern to bring up with you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.

Some of you might be thinking, ‘Well, why don’t you say what you really think?’ And some of you might be thinking, ‘What right does he have to say that?’. Others of you might be thinking, ‘Yeah, right on, brother, you preach it!’ Or, if you’re British, you might be thinking, ‘I say, steady on, old chap!’

But they’re not my words. All I’ve done is quote from the opening words of our second reading this morning. The words are St. Paul’s, not mine. They just sound like mine, because I used a different translation of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. A translation called ‘The Message’, which is in contemporary English.

We heard the reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians earlier in this service in the translation of the Bible we use every week, the translation that the Episcopal Church uses for everything, the translation used in the Bibles at the ends of your pews. It’s called the New Revised Standard Version. There are countless translations of the Bible but, for my money, the one that really transmits the words in a way that makes us sit up and take notice is the one called ‘The Message’.

Suddenly, it takes us from the rather comforting white noise that Bible readings so often are in church, to something that transmits the rather more cutting, direct, perhaps disturbing message that we ought to be hearing.

So, I invite you to turn to the second reading. And I would ask you to follow along with the reading as I read it in the contemporary English of ‘The Message’ translation:

I have a serious concern to bring up with you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.
I bring this up because some from Chloe’s family brought a most disturbing report to my attention—that you’re fighting among yourselves! I’ll tell you exactly what I was told: You’re all picking sides, going around saying, “I’m on Paul’s side,” or “I’m for Apollos,” or “Peter is my man,” or “I’m in the Messiah group.”
I ask you, “Has the Messiah been chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own? Was Paul crucified for you? Was a single one of you baptized in Paul’s name?” I was not involved with any of your baptisms—except for Crispus and Gaius—and on getting this report, I’m sure glad I wasn’t. At least no one can go around saying he was baptized in my name. (Come to think of it, I also baptized Stephanas’s family, but as far as I can recall, that’s it.)
God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center—Christ on the Cross—be trivialized into mere words.
The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hell-bent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.
So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!— to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation. 

But this sermon isn’t just an interesting diversion into different translations of the Bible.


You may not necessarily realize this, but I consciously try to maintain neutrality in matters of party politics. I am the pastor of everyone in this community and I don’t believe that it is helpful for me to publicly ally myself with one side or another side, because we are a community made up of all shades of opinion about how best this country is governed, and I respect the fact that you have made informed decisions about that, and that you have made judgments on the basis of those considered views. Way back in prehistory, well, October last year, I preached a sermon, which I hope was very balanced and fair-minded, about the very different ways in which different political camps feel is the best way in which every person in this country is able to enjoy life in all the fullness that God intends for us. For some people, their view is that this aim is best achieved by small government, lower taxes and a change in intervention on the world stage. For others, their view is that this aim is best achieved by more government intervention, higher taxation and a change in intervention on the world stage. Clearly this is a gross oversimplification of the policy arena, but the point I am making is this: that in order for all of God’s people to be able to live life in all the fullness that God intends for us, there is a variety of ways that we can arrive at that destination. And this is precisely what St. Paul is trying so hard to communicate to the Christians in Corinth: please, please, PLEASE, don’t become, he says, so slavishly allied to the seductive appeal of one clique or of its rivals that you fail to see that you are all working toward the same end.

Now, I certainly don’t think that I am perjuring my political neutrality by saying that our current political climate is a deeply divided one. I can’t even begin to pretend that things are at the moment ‘business as usual’ in DC. And some will think that that is a good thing. No one can deny that there have been egregious abuses of influence going on for too long in the corridors of power in our capital. But, equally, others are deeply concerned about what might happen next. Both of these positions are legitimate views. Some sincerely feel that power is now being redistributed to those who have, it is clear, been marginalized by the decision-makers. Other sincerely feel that power is now being eroded by those in power from those who are already disenfranchised. 

Part of the window in the Chapel of the New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral. Victoria, British Columbia

But we do not do anyone any favors if we fail either to recognize the wisdom of others who think differently from ourselves. Worse still, we don’t do anyone any favors if we fail to recognize this truth: that, important as national allegiances are – patriotism, if you prefer that word – that, as Christians, the place above all other with which we identify ourselves is the New Jerusalem – the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Above any other consideration of allegiance is this: we are before anything else at all pledged to God in Christ Jesus. This is precisely what St. Paul is saying to us this morning. We are not primarily followers of this politician, or that leader or, anyone else. We are followers of Christ.

And what is the way of Christ? 

After the election, I wrote a pastoral letter to the parish. I didn’t intend for it to be any way partisan, but to acknowledge that this past election has been uniquely (in our modern times at least) controversial. I am a resident of this country, but I am not a citizen. I don’t have a vote. In the UK over the years that I have had a vote I have voted for both right-of-center and left-of-center candidates. I am thoroughly Anglican in my politics. We Episcopalians are Anglicans, and we try to see a middle path through extremes of stance. I am glad that we just happened to have that reading from St. Paul this morning. (By the way, I don’t chose the readings, we get what we’re given and make the best of it). But that message from St. Paul makes me think that he might have been an Episcopalian. Forget the petty human partisanship, recognize that we have a higher calling.

And what is the calling of Christ? What is the dream that God has for us, and for all of his children (who, are, of course, every single human being on this planet of ours).

This is the way that I expressed it before and, of course, it hasn’t changed:

Jesus Christ - the embodiment of the Word of God - is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow and for ever.

We are called to live the Way of Christ, which means that we love God, we love our neighbor as ourselves, which means that we forgive without limit, that we remember that only the one without sin may cast the first stone, that we do not repay evil with evil, that we feed the hungry, that we care for the sick, that we clothe the naked, that we house the homeless, that we welcome the stranger in our land, that we do not judge others, that we visit those in prison and that we love others in the same way that God loves us - without condition, without reservation and without partiality.

That is the way of Christ. 

It’s a tough, demanding way. 

But it’s our way

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