+ In the Love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Please turn in your lectionary inserts to our reading from Paul [1 Corinthians 1:1-9].
As I read the first sentence, if you have a pencil or pen you might underline or circle these words: "called," "church," another "called," and "call."
"Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
These four words— called, church, called, and call— are all variations on the Greek word kaleo, from which we get the English word, "call."
Unfortunately, it's impossible for us to see the Greek word kaleo in the English word "church," because, as The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, pp. 343-344 tells us, "church" comes from the German word Kirke, by way of the Dutch word kerk, and ultimately from the Greek word kuriakon.
Kurie means "Lord," as in Kurie eleison; and kuriakon means "belonging to the Lord," and originally this word was applied to a church building.
But in the New Testament the Greek word translated "church" is not kuriakon— it's ekklesia, from the Greek prefix ek-, meaning "out," and the Greek verb "kaleo," or "call."
So in the New Testament, the word church refers a gathering of people who have been called out.
And you can hear the Greek work ekklesia in the Latin word ecclesia, the French word église, the Spanish word iglesia, and even in the Welsh word eglwys.
And The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church goes on to say that ekklesia had this specific meaning in the first century Roman Empire:
"an assembly, primarily of citizens in a self-governing city."
To expand on what the Oxford Dictionary says, listen to this passage from a book titled Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden, pp. 77-78:
"The New Testament writers didn't . . . use new or esoteric Greek words. Centuries of lazy or pretentious translations hide this. But really, a 'disciple' is just a 'student,' an 'apostle' is just an 'envoy.'
"The idea rendered in English as 'church' . . . meant 'public assembly,' usually a city's governing assembly, [and the] ancestor of our legislatures. . . . Every citizen had a right to speak, to try to make his opinions part of binding law."
There is one passage in the New Testament when ekklesia is translated with this "governing assembly" meaning.
In chapter 19 of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is preaching about Jesus in Ephesus, but the city worships the goddess Artemis, so a riot breaks out.
The town clerk quiets the crowd, and says: "If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the lawful assembly"— the ekklesia. (verse 39)
Why did Paul choose a specifically political word for Christian gatherings?
Because from its very beginning the church was not only a spiritual movement— it was also a political movement, because spirituality and theology always have political implications.
There's another political word in this first sentence—a word which occurs three times in this first sentence, and about 60 times in 1st Corinthians alone, and many hundreds of times throughout the New Testament— and that word is "Lord."
"Lord" was one of the Roman Emperor's title, and every time the early Christians called Jesus "Lord," they were also declaring that the Roman Emperor was not "Lord."
Of course, Paul wasn't the first to use political language when talking about the Christian movement.
Jesus began his public ministry by announcing "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," and Jesus didn't mean it metaphorically, any more than Pontius Pilate metaphorically crucified him as the King of the Jews.
And the season of Epiphany begins with St. Matthew's story of the wise men who come to worship the newborn King of the Jews. Herod didn't think "King of the Jews" was a metaphor, either.
And then there's St. Luke's Christmas Gospel, which begins with the words "In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus. . ." (Luke 2:1)
Here's a little background.
In 9 BC, a Greek assembly— ekklesia!— issued a decree that described the Emperor Augustus as "Savior . . . [and] that the birthday of our god [Augustus] signaled the beginning of good news."
So when the angels say to the shepherds: "Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord," Luke is pointedly making a political statement.
And that Greek decree that described "the birthday of our god" as "the beginning of good news?"
Here's the first sentence of St. Mark's Gospel:
"The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
And, just as a final example, Jesus taught us to pray: "Thy kingdom come . . . on earth as it is in heaven."
Here's part of what I said in my Christmas Eve sermon 18 years ago in 1998, at another politically challenging time for our nation:
"These are sad times in our nation's capital. Our President has acted shamefully. Our bitterly divided Congress has impeached him. And now we face the possibility of a trial in the Senate.
"But tonight we can find comfort in an unexpected place— in a manger in Bethlehem.
"Tonight in Washington the President may be in crisis, but in Bethlehem the Holy Child is celebrating his inauguration— and his guests are not heads of state or ambassadors or celebrities; they are shepherds.
"Tonight in Washington the House of Representatives may be in crisis, but in Jerusalem the crucified Savior rules the world from the Cross with compassion and forgiveness.
"Tonight in Washington the Senate may be in crisis, but from heaven the risen Prince of Peace rules the world with truth and grace.
"Tonight in Washington our Government may be in crisis, but "to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government is upon his shoulders; and his name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6 RSV).
Today, our country faces a different set of challenges.
And let's be clear: Hillary Clinton's campaign slogan was "Stronger Together"; it was not "Christlike Together."
And Donald Trump's campaign slogan was "Make America Great Again"; it was not "Make America Christlike."
If Jesus is our King; if Jesus is our Lord; if Jesus is the Head of the Ekklesia; if Jesus is our President; if we are "citizens (the Greek word is politai) with the saints" (Ephesians 2:19); and if "our citizenship (politeuma) is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20); then our spirituality and our theology have political implications, and you and I must do our part to make both our political conversations and our political policies more Christlike.
. . .
Now at this point, I was going to pray an appropriate prayer, but as I looked through our Book of Common Prayer I discovered two prayers that were exceedingly appropriate.
My first idea was to combine them into one prayer, but then I thought— "no, I have a better idea."
So please turn to page 825 in your books of Common Prayer.
Prayer 33 is For the Cities, and Prayer 34 is For Towns and Rural Areas.
So considering that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3,000,000 votes, because she won the cities; and that Donald Trump won the Electoral College, because he won the small towns and rural areas, I thought we should pray both of these prayers.
And for the record, these two prayers were written before 1976, when Hillary Clinton was 29 years old and Donald Trump was 30 years old!
So, let us pray.
33. For Cities
Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth.
Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
34. For Towns and Rural Areas
Lord Christ, when you came among us, you proclaimed the kingdom of God in villages, towns, and lonely places: Grant that your presence and power may be known throughout this land. Have mercy upon all of us who live and work in rural areas; and grant that all the people of our nation may give thanks to you for food and drink and all other bodily necessities of life, respect those who labor to produce them, and honor the land and the water from which these good things come. All this we ask in your holy Name. Amen.