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Sermon illustrations

Government

The Farmer’s Market and Increasing Optimism in Politics

Daniel Kemmis provides a political model for seeing redemptive possibilities in our cities. Kemmis, a former mayor of Missoula, has noted an increasing cynicism about political life in this country. Time and time again, the American public places its hopes and ideals in the national office of president of the United States, only to find its hopes disappointed. Kemmis has come to the conclusion that no solution will be found in a policy targeted at the national level, because the scale is too large.

He calls us back to our local context, to our cities, and to basic traditions like the Missoula Farmers’ Market as a place to find healing for our political condition:

Why would anyone even imagine that something like the Farmers’ Market could play a role in mending a suffering democracy? Fixated as we are on “important” state and national issues such as term limits, campaign finance reform, crime, health care, and welfare reform, this suggestion seems at first to be merely frivolous.

But, in fact, none of the other paths to reform on which people expend so much energy will reverse the decline of democracy, and none of the policies that we enact to deal with pressing problems such as poverty, racism, environmental damage, and drug and alcohol abuse will do any more than slow the worsening of these evils until we begin to understand the political importance of events like the Farmers’ Market.

No amount of reforming institutions that are widely and rightly perceived to be beyond human scale will heal our political culture until we begin to pay attention once again to democracy as a human enterprise. Without healing the human base of politics, we will not restore democracy itself. One thing alone will give us the capacity to heal our politics and to confront the problems and opportunities that politics must address. That one thing is a deeply renewed human experience of citizenship.

Eric O. Jacobsen, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith.

The Separation of Church and State in America: What Did Their Separation Entail?

The wall Jefferson referred to is designed to divide church from state, not religion from politics. Church and state are specific things: the former signifies institutions for believers to congregate and worship in the private sphere, the latter the collective milieu of civic and political and legal arrangements in which we live while in the public sphere.

The church is private religion—be it evangelical or mainline Protestantism, conservative or liberal Catholicism, Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative Judaism, or any variant of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on.

The specific beliefs, practices, and positions of any faith are protected from government interference by the First Amendment, which mandates religious freedom. Yet the Founders consciously allowed a form of what Benjamin Franklin called “public religion” to take root and flower at the same time they were creating a republic that valued private religious liberty.

Jon Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, Random House, 2007.

That Fast?

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, once visited the Great Pyramid of Giza as part of an official state visit. When visiting the Great Pyramid of Giza, he was told it had taken twenty years to build. “I’m surprised that a government organization could do it that quickly,” Carter answered.

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material from Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.

The Two Cities

In 410 AD, Rome fell to the barbarian Germanic tribe known as the Visigoths, led by King Alaric. The idea of a “Christian” city (and empire) falling was a terrible defeat, not just militarily, but also as a question-mark to the sovereignty of the Christian God the empire had only recently adopted over other pagan options.

As historian Diana Butler Bass notes, it was Augustine who helped Christians understand the distinction between what in fact were two cities, the ‘the City of Man’ and the ‘City of God’. Such reflection is helpful today when many on both the left and right political aisles assume the Christian faith is represented by their party:

Christians had forgotten that they were citizens of two cities, the one Augustine called ‘the City of Man’ and ‘the City of God.’” They conflated the two into one, fully identifying Roman interests with Jesus’ way…Although Rome had accommodated the faith for a time, Augustine believed that Rome was the “City of Man,” whose way of life ultimately was founded upon self-love, domination, possessions and glory.

Augustine contrasted that way to the Christian way expressed in the “City of God,” the pilgrimage community that loves God, seeks wisdom, and practices charity and hospitality. “In truth,” Augustine wrote, “these two cities are entangled together in this world. Sometimes the City of Man honors the City of God and its virtues, other times not. For those who follow Christ, their true home is God’s city—always purer and more beautiful than any earthly one.”

Taken from Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 80–81.

See also Illustrations on Authority, King, Politics, President