The Politics of Preaching

March 29, 2018

by Parker Haynes, Associate Pastor, Myers Park United Methodist Church
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1
The Politics of the Gospel
In his piece on secular preaching, Jason Byassee begins by saying, "Preaching is always particular." I would add that preaching is always political.

Jesus’ preaching embodies a politic. Among his political names found in Scripture is Son of God, Messiah, Savior, Word of God, and Emmanuel. At the beginning of his gospel, Mark wastes no time in identifying Jesus and telling us what he has come to do. This is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, and the story you are about to hear is his euangelion.

In today's world, there are all kinds of news. There is news we hear from "official" sources, people who represent their organization. We hear news from third-party sources like newspapers and news outlets, businesses whose job it is to "sell" news for ratings. We hear news from sources that have no connection with traditional news outlets but are attempting to establish their place in the market. We hear news from each other, through gossip and the grapevine, and of course, on Facebook and Twitter. And there is the infamous "fake" news. But Christians know better than to use this kind of language to describe the news that represents "alternative facts." We call that kind of news a lie. Jesus' news, on the other hand, is not only true but good. It's gospel.

Jesus is not the only one to claim to have "good news." In the ancient world, the word Mark uses to describe Jesus' good news (euangelion) meant "news of victory" and was closely linked with victory in battle. The Roman Emperor, Caesar, who was described literally by the words "God-man" and "Savior" was worshiped as a ruler of divine nature. His power was said to extend to humans, animals, the earth and the sea. He was said to work miracles and heal and redeem men. The words he spoke were words of good news that would bring salvation to the people. The first good news of Caesar was of his birth and that

                        "humanity, sighing under a heavy burden of guilt, wistfully longs for peace...then suddenly there                                 rings out the news that the savior is born, that he has mounted the throne, that a new era dawns                             for the whole world."[1]
Today we are bombarded by people, things, possessions, hierarchies, institutions, corporations, leaders trying to tell us that they have good news. If we simply trust them, believe, give money, cast a vote, make a transaction, buy their product, then we will be healed, redeemed, saved. We would never say we actually think what they have to offer will save us, yet we live our lives like we believe it.
We believe in all kinds of news, but how much of it is actually good?
Some people have read the gospels and rejected Jesus' message as good news. And that's understandable considering Jesus' message is primarily addressed to the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized. So on the surface, it's not good news for the rich, the powerful, or the elite. But Jesus’ gospel invites the rich, the powerful and the elite into a new way of life that opens up possibilities that they could not otherwise imagine. His good news is actually good news for all, but it requires more of us than most of the "news" we often hear. In Jesus's good news, he invites us to participate not in a transaction or electoral system or hierarchy, but in a community called the kingdom of God.
The Politics of With
In his brilliant work A Nazareth Manifesto, Sam Wells describes the difference between relationships that take the form of “working for,” “working with” and “being with.” In this framework, it’s easy to understand why Jesus’ gospel connected with thousands of people who showed up to hear him preach. For Jesus, preaching was contextual. And precisely because it was contextual, it was able to be political. Wells amplifies the significance of Jesus’ regular, everyday life of 30 years in Nazareth before he started his ministry.

Jesus spent most of his life not working for or working with, but simply being with us. For 30 years, Jesus was raised and lived in Nazareth, among the people. He was “Joseph and Mary’s little boy.” He was the kid down the street, the one we went to church with, our classmate in school and fellow construction worker. Maybe Simon and Andrew would not have dropped their nets and followed had they not known him from their years together. All those years in Nazareth, Jesus was simply with.

Just like current politicians spend months on the campaign trail getting to know the community, Jesus spent time with the people as well. But unlike other politicians, Jesus continued to be with the poor and oppressed during his ministry and is still with us today. And by being with, Jesus was able to diagnose the realities of injustice and oppression around him and then preach into them.

The Politics of Confession
Preaching and proclamation of the good news must also always be connected with confession. We must first hear the gospel before we can know that we have anything to confess. Jesus’ news infects our ears leaving us with the realization that we aren’t gods after all. When God’s word is rightly preached there are only two possible responses: submission or rejection. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Either we will let ourselves be accepted and be forgiven and be borne up by Christ, or we remain unaccepted. If we ignore the spoken word of the sermon, then we ignore the living Christ.”[2] If we submit to the word and allow it to open up the possibility of the kingdom of God to take shape in our midst, then we not only confess our sins but our faith. Paul says that it is only through the Holy Spirit that we are able to confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Thus, we’ll know our preaching is the gospel when it results in the confession of sins and confession of faith.

Christian preaching today is in desperate need of political sermons. Many mainline Protestant traditions have become so enmeshed in their declining membership and attendance and have been so concerned with not losing more people that they have forgotten that while Jesus draws people to himself, many also rejected him. Our preaching should only be as political as Jesus was. Good Friday should be a constant reminder to us of the political nature of preaching the gospel of Jesus.
[1] Gerhard Kittel, “Euangelion,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, 722-725. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Printing Company, 1964.
[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Proclaimed Word,” in The Company of Preachers, edited by Richard Lischer, 37. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.
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