Devotional – Romans 15.7

Devotional:

Romans 15.7

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

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It is hard to welcome one another, until we ourselves know what it means to be welcomed. We can imagine what we need to do and how we need to behave, we can get out the best silverware and the matching dinner sets, we can fill everyone’s cups to the brims, but until we have experienced being welcomed, we will struggle to welcome others.

I spent the last week in Orlando, Florida with my in-laws for the Thanksgiving holiday. They were forced to practice a new type of welcoming and hospitality because they hosted their 7-month old grandson for the first time. In addition to the normal preparations for people visiting, they had to procure a stroller, pack-n-play, diapers, wipes, and an assortment of other necessary items. Moreover, they had to adjust their schedules to the sleeping habits of our son and reorient all of their plans around his general disposition and mood.

And while we sat around the dinner table on Thanksgiving I was struck by how welcomed I felt throughout the week. They could have made assumptions about what we needed and then acted on it, but instead they approached us and asked what they could do to help. They could have become quickly frustrated with Elijah changing their plans but they adapted and made us feel comfortable. They could have expected us to change to fit into their way of life, but instead they changed to fit into ours.

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One of the most brilliant aspects of the Advent season is our anticipation of the way God fit into our way of life by taking on flesh and being born as a baby in a manger. Rather than giving up on humanity’s inability to repent and turn back to God, God comes down and meets us where we are. God, in Christ, welcomes us into the kingdom of God by connecting with us in ways that we can perceive and understand.

The same holds true for the life of the church, and for us as individual Christians. We welcome one another just as Christ welcomed us, for the glory of God. When we encounter those for whom the church is a strange new world, we don’t just wait for them to “catch up,” instead we adapt our ways to meet them where they are. When we welcome people into our homes for food and fellowship, we don’t dominate the conversation with whatever we want, instead we seek to invite all present to shape what we talk about. When we discover new people sitting in the pews near us, we don’t make quick judgments about who they are based on their appearance, instead we remember how the Lord welcomed us and we do the same toward others.

Devotional – Philippians 4.7

Philippians 4.7

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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How do you think people would respond if there was something that, if consumed once a week, would improve mental and physical health and reduce mortality by 20-30% over a 15-year period? What if this miraculous elixir was in reach of millions of people in America and research has proven that it truly does make a tremendous difference in the lives of people who consume it? How quickly do you think it would become the most popular remedy in the country?

Last week, under the “Breaking News” tab on USA Today Online, was a story detailing the availability of this particular product and the research to back up the claims. And, believe it or not, the “miracle drug” is regular church attendance.

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After 20 years of research, a group of colleagues from Harvard University published their work suggesting that regularly attending religious services brings about better physical and mental health. Regarding physical health, the researchers claim that, “Adults who attend a service at least once a week versus not at all have been shown to have significantly lower risk of dying over the next decade and a half.” Beyond physical health, participating in regular worship leads to “greater optimism and lower rates of depression.”

After reading the article, one would think that every house of worship would be filled to the brim every weekend!

However, the article begs the question: Why do people worship?

Do we gather together because we want the physical and mental health benefits? Are we so consumed by the fear of death that we will sit in uncomfortable pews once a week just so we can live longer? Do we understand and value worship the same we that we understand and value the prescriptions in our medicine cabinets?

Or, do we worship because in worship we encounter the living God? Are we so consumed by the love of God that we cannot understand a way of life without gathering together once a week? Have we been transformed by the Lord who knows us and calls us by name?

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. We encounter the peace of God whenever we gather together, whenever we proclaim God’s Word, whenever we respond to that Word, and whenever God’s sends us into the world to be the light that shines in the darkness.

Worship, though apparently beneficial for our mental and physical health, is not about what we get out of it. Instead, worship is about what God gets out of us.

Not My President

 

Colossians 1.11-20

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross.

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A year ago today I stood in this pulpit and preached about how God’s kingdom is not of this world. I used Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus (“Are you the King of the Jews?” “You say that I am…”) to juxtapose the world’s expectations against God’s expectations. The sermon ended with a staccato’d refrain that emphasized the kingship of Jesus and our allegiance to his kingdom.

I said:

The world tells us to gain all we can.

            Jesus tells us to give all we can.

            The world tells us to seek vengeance.

            Jesus tells us to seek forgiveness.

            The world tells us to destroy our enemies.

            Jesus tells us to love our enemies.

            The world tells us we are the center of the universe.

            Jesus tells us that God is the center of all things.

            The world tells us to ignore the weak.

            Jesus tells us that the meek shall inherit the earth.

            The world tells us that death is the end.

            Jesus tells us that death is the beginning.

I didn’t think it at the time, but it was a pretty political sermon. After all, making the claim that Christ is our King is a political statement. But what I didn’t anticipate was how the words from that sermon would play out over the next 365 days.

We’re told not to mix politics with religion. Political opinions and religious beliefs are supposed to be kept in the private sphere, they are things we can think about on our own time but the world has no right to interfere with either.

Except the world interferes with both all the time. We hear about things like the Christian Coalition, and the need for Christians to take back the Supreme Court, and I even get emails asking about what the church is going to do regarding local school board decisions.

We hear that the church is not supposed to be political. We shouldn’t endorse particular candidates or platforms. We shouldn’t tell people how to vote, or even to vote at all. The church can’t be political in the sense that it can’t be Republican or Democrat, but the church itself is a politic. To be part of the church, to be part of the body of Christ, implies that our worldview is changed and therefore everything else changes as well.

Like many Sundays throughout the liturgical year, this one has a special focus and significance. However, Christ the King Sunday is a more recent addition to the Christian calendar. Whereas Christians have celebrated the likes of Maundy Thursday and Pentecost for a long time, Christ the King was only established as official day in the church in 1925. It took the church 1900 years to need this day the same way that we need it now.

In 1925, Mussolini had been head of Italy for 3 years, a loud insurrectionist in Germany named Hitler had been out of jail for a year and his Nazi party was rapidly growing in power, and the entire world was suffering under the weight of a Great Depression.

Yet, despite the rise of autocratic dictators, despite the lack of economic opportunities, despite the strange and uncomfortable silence between two World Wars, Christ the King asserted, and still does, that Jesus Christ is Lord and he shall reign forever and ever.

Throughout the last Christian year from Christ the King to Christ the King, we’ve read from Genesis to Revelation, we’ve encountered the living God in the stories from Creation to Redemption, we’ve been transformed by the Word of the God becoming incarnate in the way we live our lives…. And all of this, all of the Sundays, all of the sermons, all of the scriptures, have pointed to one thing: Jesus Christ is Lord.

That’s the thing about Christians, for us everything starts and ends with Jesus. In his letters Paul addresses this strange and beautiful quality of Jesus over and over again. And rather than trying to accommodate Jesus to the ways of the world, Paul calls for all Christians to put Christ first. Yet, Christ is the King of a Kingdom that is so different, and so far from what we’re comfortable with, that putting Jesus first is difficult.

In Jesus’ kingdom the rules and the ruler are different. All assumptions about what is important, and who we are to be, and what we are to care about, have been changed.

It’s like being deported to a strange new land where everyone else is speaking a strange language. It takes time to learn the lingo, and adapt to the habits of the people around us. It’s not a simple matter of fitting Jesus into our present way of thinking, nor is it just giving an hour of our week to worship in a church. We don’t fit Jesus into our lives; Jesus fits us into his.

We are the ones transferred, moved, and deported from one kingdom to another. We move from the kingdom of consumption to the kingdom of communion; from the kingdom of popularity to the kingdom of poverty; from the kingdom of destruction to the kingdom of deliverance; from the kingdom of competition to the kingdom of cooperation.

Everything about what we think we know and understand changes in the kingdom of God, because Christ is King.

USA ELECTION AFTERMATH

The last two weeks have been particularly tumultuous in our country: Economically disenfranchised people are fearful about the potential of losing their health care coverage, while some devastated Democrats are calling for the murder of Donald Trump. Muslims are being threatened with a registration much like the Jews were forced to register in Germany prior to World War II, while Trump voters are being physically assaulted across the national landscape. Immigrants are cowering in fear over whether or not they’re going to be deported, while countless protestors are flooding the streets of cities and the pages of social media with the declaration: Not My President.

Some are berating and demeaning the crowds for their rejection of Donald Trump as their president as if this is the first time people have rejected the president-elect in the United States. It was only sixteen years ago that tee-shirts and bumper stickers were mass produced with pictures of George W. Bush accompanied by the words: Not My President. It was only 8 years ago that Confederate flags were waved during protests after Barack Obama won the election and people were chanting: Not My President.

Thank God Jesus is not our president.

For if Jesus were our president we would have had to pick him to lead us, and we never would have picked him to lead us. We would never willingly elect someone who told us that the first will be last and the last will be first. We would never willingly elect someone who told us to sell all of our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. We would never willingly elect someone who told us to open up all the borders and let all the refugees in. We would never willingly elect someone who spent so much time with the riff-raff of society.

If Jesus were our president he would be a product of the world rather than a product of God’s incarnation. He would have to make promises to the rich in order to maintain economic stability. He would have to compromise with other world leaders who treat their citizens like dirt. He would have to second-guess the stories he told out of fear that he would not be re-elected in the future.

If Jesus were our president he would have to make us promises that he could never keep, instead of being the glue that keeps all of us together. He would have to take sides in political debates and ostracize entire communities. He would have to brag about the stability of the union rather than name the brokenness that is keeping us from becoming who God is actually calling us to be. He would have to order the extermination of particular individuals and communities in order to keep our country safe.

Thank God Jesus is not our president. Jesus is our King. And instead of electing him, he elected us.

The kingdom Jesus rules is not of this world and it forces us to confront how broken our world really is. Jesus, as our king, subverts the powers and principalities and shows us a new way.

In this broken and flawed world, we see and know God because we see and know Jesus. Jesus is the image of the invisible, the very beginning of everything in creation. Jesus is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

When we encounter things that appear diametrically opposed, things like Republicans and Democrats, Christ is the glue that holds it all together. Through the blood of his death, the blood that was poured out for the world, we encounter the “other” as brother and the “stranger” as “sister.” All the worldly things that seek to divide us are broken down by the glory of the cross that seeks to bring peace and reconciliation rather than division and destruction.

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It is not an easy thing to be a Christian, to worship Christ as King. We need the strength of God to endure everything with patience while giving thanks to the Father, because we cannot do discipleship on our own. But when Christ becomes first in our lives, when every Sunday is like Christ the King Sunday, when we realize that we a part of a strange new kingdom, everything else starts to change.

Our King does not build walls to keep people out, nor does our king require the registration of different communities under the auspices of “safety.” Our King invites all to the table to discover the power and love of his grace.

Our King does not call for his followers to take up the sword to wipe out political opposition. Our King forgave the people who delivered him to the cross.

Our King does not pander to us with empty promises in order to procure our allegiance. Our King meets us where we are with a simple invitation saying, “follow me.”

Nearly 100 years ago, Christians all across the world needed the first Christ the King Sunday. They needed a Sunday set apart to reflect on how the Lordship of Christ outshines even the most powerful of dictators and the most devastating of depressions.

Today, we need it just as much. We need Christ the King Sunday because it helps to remind us that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It forces us to confront the strange reality of our King being nailed to a cross for the people of his kingdom. It reminds us that peace comes through his sacrifice, a sacrifice that we remember at this table.

Do not be conformed to the ways of this world, but be transformed by the bread and the cup at the Lord’s Table. Instead of consuming the politics and priorities of the world, be consumed by the grace of God made manifest is Jesus Christ. Reject the powers and principalities that seek to undo God’s creation, and kneel before the true King: Jesus Christ. Amen.

Devotional – Jeremiah 23.1

Devotional:

Jeremiah 23.1

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.

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The last week has been crazy. People on both sides of the political aisle are filled with anger, fear, and resentment. Those who voted for Donald Trump are being attacked for the political opinions and those who voted for Hillary Clinton are protesting the results of the election across the country. Many Republicans and Democrats are being led astray by false shepherds who seek to destroy and scatter the sheep of God’s pasture through calls for violence and manipulation.

However, there are some who are seeking to lead God’s sheep in ways that lead to life. One of those shepherds is a former youth, and now college student, from St. John’s named Danielle Hammer. While others were flocking to Facebook in order to shout their political joy or disappointment into the fray of social media, Danielle wrote a post that makes me proud to call her my friend and my sister in Christ. This is what she said:

“This election has caused so much uproar among our American communities. We have heard of the hate crimes and violence that has occurred. It is genuinely terrifying, and I think we need to take a moment and sit down with God and pray. Lend God your anxieties and concerns, because God is listening to your cries and God holds the future. How comforting it is to know that no matter what happens here on earth, our Lord God knows our destiny. And yet, we need to make peace in this world. Compliment someone, pay for someone’s meal, help someone carry their groceries, or any other act of kindness that will show someone that there is still kindness and love in this world. Volunteer in your community. Stand up for your beliefs. Be a listening ear for those who need it. These small but significant acts add up, and they brighten the day of people who might be upset. Showing God’s love is timeless, and no matter who is in office, we need to radiate God’s love to others. So keep on radiating kindness in your life, and pray for those who are living in hatred or fear.”

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Oh that we could reject the false shepherds who lead us astray, and instead remain steadfast in our willingness to follow the Good Shepherd! For the Good Shepherd is the one who goes before us on the way that leads to life. In our discipleship, in our following, we radiate God’s kindness toward all people. We look for the ways that we can speak up for the disenfranchised, the poor, and the marginalized. We seek the peace that allows all of us to dwell together in unity. We pray for the Lord to give us the courage to show God’s love toward all people.

Sigh – A Post-Election Sermon

Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

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On Wednesday morning, my little sister went to the elementary school where she is fulfilling a student teaching requirement. Like every other day, she gathered with the young children in their classrooms, explained and demonstrated their projects, and then went around the room to help individuals as needed. One particular young girl was clearly distracted from her work, and when my sister asked if everything okay, she looked up with terror in her eyes and asked, “Am I going to get deported?”

On Wednesday morning, thousands of angry citizens gathered in California to protest the results of the election. Though initially peaceful, the protest quickly turned violent and the crowd began attacking the police and lighting dumpsters on fire. As tear gas was fired into the crowd to break up the demonstration, the people only shouted their chants even louder, “Kill Trump, Kill Trump, Kill Trump.”

On Wednesday morning, a woman walked into a Wal-Mart somewhere in the Midwest while wearing her hijab. She went down the aisles picking out her items when another woman walked up, grabbed her by the shoulder while pointing at her hijab, and said, “That would look better around your neck. This is our country now.”

On Wednesday morning, countless Trump voters woke up to the news they prayed for, only to receive hateful and violent comments from friends and relatives alike. They received emails and notes saying things like: “If you voted for Trump, you’re the reason America has fallen apart. If you voted for Trump, you are a bigoted racist sexist monster.”

On Wednesday morning, white students at a Junior High School in Michigan formed a human wall to block minority students from entering the building. There were shouts of “go back to your country,” and “we’re making America great again.”

On Wednesday morning, a man was driving through a suburb of Chicago when a crowd of young men surrounded his car, pulled him from the vehicle, and dragged him through the streets. They attacked him because he had a Trump sticker on the bumper, and videos show the crowd screaming, “You voted for Trump, and now you’re going to pay for it.”

Sigh.

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Throughout scripture, if the Israelites are told to do one thing more than any other, it is to remember. Remember the covenant God made with Noah and Abraham, remember the acts of God which liberated you from slavery in Egypt, remember the care God provided to you in the wilderness through water and manna, remember the mighty deeds of God delivering you to the Promised Land, remember the story and teach it to you children, and your children’s children.

It is easy to remember God’s salvific work in the world when things are going our way. When we rest contently in the communion of our friends and family, when we check the bank account and see our savings increase, when we sleep comfortably in our beds with the heat pumping through the vents. It is easy to sing a song to the Lord when we feel like everything in our life is part of God’s great victory.

We can grab the hymnal and belt out the great songs of our faith. We can be reconnected with the great tradition of the church, and the story of scripture, which helps to root us in our discipleship. We can sing because we feel God’s marvelous work.

However, it is hard to remember and be thankful for all of God’s deeds when it feels like our lives are falling apart. When we wake up and see that our candidate lost the election, or when we wake up and are belligerently berated for voting for the candidate that won, when we are terrified about how we will pay all the bills by the end of the month, when we throw dirt onto the coffin of someone we love, when we shiver in the loneliness of life wondering if anyone even cares about us. It is hard to sing a song to the Lord when we feel like everything in our life is crumbling under the weight of suffering.

We struggle to lift up the hymnal and sing the songs of faith because they feel so disconnected. How can we sing the Lord’s songs when life feels so miserable? How can we sing when people on both sides of the political aisle are filled with anger, fear, and resentment? We fail to praise the Lord through song because we feel like there’s nothing worth praising.

And yet the psalmist calls for us to sing a new song. We might be sitting by the rivers of Babylon and still we must sing. We might’ve voted for Hillary Clinton and can’t believe she lost, and still we must sing. We might’ve voted for Donald Trump and our being attacked for our political opinions, and still we must sing.

We sing a new song because God is doing a new thing. God is working in and through the people of this church to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. Whether through a bible study, a prayer, or a simple smile from a pew on Sunday morning, God is doing a new thing here through the establishment of a community based on God’s love and not our own political opinions. God is doing a new thing here by giving us the strength and the courage to pray for, and love, the people who don’t agree with us.

We sing a new song because in singing we proclaim God’s victory. And to be abundantly clear, God’s victory is not in a new president being elected to the White House; we do not praise the Lord for a victory of one political candidate over another.

God’s victory is altogether different.

In singing of God’s victory, in praising the Lord for God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, we break free from the tyranny of things, and the bondage of our own modern Babylon. With one voice, let me say that again, with one voice we reject the messiness and despair of our world and look for God’s mercy and grace.

Over the last week, and throughout the entire election, we witnessed greed, and anger, and derision in one another and ourselves. Our communities are no longer neighborhoods of neighbors, but are instead isolated walls of division that prevent us from encountering God in the “other.” Instead of joining together in worship on Sunday mornings, or gathering together for celebratory block parties, we are consumed by computers and phones that promise “true” communities through social networks of people who look like us, think like us, and behave like us.

And yet God offers a new thing to this new community we call the church. God offers us himself in Jesus Christ, the one for whom we sing. Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be the new thing God is doing in this world. The life, death, and resurrection of the Son of Man shows how God can make a way out of no way, how God defeated death, and how God frees us for true and perfect freedom.

So we sing a new song, because in singing we proclaim that God lives and reigns. We sing because the world is about to change – God is changing it. We sing not because we are happy, and not because we are sad, but because we have a song to sing, a song about our God who loves, cares, and remains steadfast.

For we know that those on the margins of society, the ones who are afraid in the wake of the recent election, the children who are afraid of being deported, are the very people God calls us to love and care for. Through the songs of the past and the stories of scripture we experience the importance of ministering toward the sojourners for we, like them, are strangers in a strange land.

We know that that violent protests calling for the murder of Donald Trump are an abomination to the Lord. God implores us to remember the sanctity of all life from a young girl in an art classroom to the new president-elect of the United States of America. Through God’s mighty acts in Jesus Christ we know there is goodness in all people, and we are the ones often tasked with looking for it while others turn blind eyes.

We know that threatening people of other faiths is in fundamental dissonance with God’s willingness to elect us gentiles into the great covenant of the Israelite people. For a long time, we were the strangers from the outside looking in. We were the ones viewed with suspicion and unease. And that to do that to others now, is to forget and be ignorant of God’s love made manifest in the one who died on a cross for the world.

We know that denigrating and berating people for their vote is the equivalent of the judgment God commands us to abstain from.

We know that making a human wall to prevent minorities from entering a school is in sharp contrast to the one who invites all to the table and to the feast.

We know that violently attacking someone for a bumper sticker, for their political identity, is the beginning of a slippery slope back toward a world in which 6 million Jews were murdered, blacks were segregated from the rest of society, and Christians were stoned and beaten for believing that Jesus is Lord.

And we know all of this because we know Jesus Christ, and him crucified. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we receive the story of our own lives that transcends all other identities, including our political opinions. Jesus Christ is the one who transformed, and continues to transform the world. We sing our songs in praise of the Lord because Jesus Christ makes a way where there is no way.

Not a way of ignorance and lazy unity, but a way of unrelenting commitment to the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable.

            Not a way of isolation and fear, but a way of courage in our convictions about who we are and whose we are.

            Not a way of violence and death, but a way that brings forth new life and new opportunities for all to discover the beauty of the infinite.

So we sing a new song to the Lord, for God has broken the chains of our slavery to political isolation and frees us to love one another without fear. We sing a new song of God’s unending love and amazing grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We sing a new song in response to God’s mercy that reigns like a flood. We sing a new song because the Lord is doing a new thing. Amen.

A Drop In The Ocean – Election Reflection

Isaiah 12.1-6

You will say in that day; I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

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The line was long when I arrived at my voting location. I sauntered along with the others who were shivering in the cold until we made it to the door and the warmth. We listened to three different people explain the process of voting, we were shifted like a herd of cattle from one side to the other, and then one by one we had to hand over our driver’s licenses to prove our identities.

The woman holding my license (with a picture of me at 20 years old) brought it right up to her face in order to examine every fine detail. Without looking at me she said, “state your name and address.” So I did. And only when handing the card back did she look up over her glasses to say, “you’ve changed.” Which actually sounded more like “you look older than the card says you are.”

Like a sheep, I was then shepherded over to a separate table where I filled in four bubbles, took the card over to the machine, waited for it to beep, and was given my sticker. All told, I was there for ten minutes. 18 months of anger and political outrage, 18 months and nearly 5 billion dollars spent on advertising and campaigns slogans, 18 months and national turmoil all came to fruition in a ten-minute dance in a church social hall for four votes.

If I’ve heard one thing as a pastor more than anything else about this election over the last year and a half, it was this: “God is punishing us.” “God is punishing us for our sinful ways and making us choose between the lesser of two evils.” “God is punishing us for electing a black president 8 years ago.” “God is punishing us for not getting faith back in schools.” “God is punishing us for our lack of faith.” “God is punishing us and the world is going to end with this election.”

Want to know a secret that shouldn’t be a secret? The world is not going to end tonight when all is said and done.

God has been God a whole lot longer than this world has had democratic elections. God has been God through every presidency. God has been God long before America existed. God has been God, and will be God, long after we’re gone.

We Christians believe that Jesus is Lord which means we believe that God is in control. We believe that God spoke the whole of creation into being and has called each of us by name. We believe that God is almighty regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. And perhaps most importantly, we believe that God calls us to love and pray for our enemies, which today means we are called to love and pray for the people who voted for the other candidate.

Can you imagine? Christians praying for people they disagree with? Sadly, that’s at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus and it has been so absent during this cycle. Instead, political offices have been bombed, churches have been burned, and voters have been intimidated at the polls.

And perhaps we want to blame Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for this tumultuous season. But the problem goes far deeper than whoever will become the next president. The problem is us. We get the people we deserve running for office. Instead of seeing one another and brothers and sisters in Christ, we have adopted the world’s identification system and see one another as liberal or conservative. Instead of listening to those with different opinions, we just shout louder. Instead of believing that Jesus is Lord, we have fallen prey to the belief that the world hinges on this election.

But this election pales in comparison to God’s willingness to elect us. Not by a show of hands, not by absentee ballots, not by filling in a circle on a form, but electing us to salvation through his Son.

For it is Jesus Christ who humbles us to pray for those we hate. Jesus, though scorned and ridiculed by the people, does not call for votes to be cast, but says, “Follow me.” Jesus leads us on the path that leads to life, not prosperity and political prestige, but life eternal. Jesus places the uncomfortable yoke around our necks and says the burden is light. Jesus invites us to feast at the table and we do not deserve it. Jesus, high in the air with the nails in his hands and feet, says, “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.”

If we’re honest, we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know what it means to be a Christian in America, we don’t know how to hold our political identities and Christian identities in tandem with one another, and we don’t know how to love the people we hate.

But we do know the truth: Jesus is Lord.

So we give thanks, for even though the Lord has been angry with us, he comforts us. Surely we know and believe that God is our salvation. We will trust, and not be afraid, for the Lord God is our strength and our might. Through the immeasurable gift of his Son we have been elected into a strange new way of life. With the knowledge of this joy we draw water from the wells of salvation. As we remember and contemplate our own baptisms we remember who we are and whose we are.

So we give thanks to the Lord, and call upon God’s name. We proclaim God’s mighty acts from the beginning of time until this moment. We sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously.

Though some will say that our faith is fruitless, that to gather here at this moment, while the party lines are being heavily fortified for future derision, is pointless; that to pray for, and love, the very people who drive us crazy is a waste of time. Some will even be so bold as to believe that gathering at the table while the country is in chaos is no more than a drop in a limitless ocean, that it can never transform the world. Yet, what is any ocean but a multitude of drops? Amen.

Devotional – 2 Thessalonians 3.13

Devotional:

2 Thessalonians 3.13

Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

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This election cycle has been exhausting. The endless torrent of sound bites blasted through the television, the revelatory number of click-bait articles on social media, and the overwhelming amount of animosity between neighbors with differing political signs in their front yards have left most of us feeling weary and worn. I don’t know if this is a common thing for pastors to experience during presidential election cycles, but I’ve had more people than I can keep track of show up at my office telling me which candidate God wants me to vote for.

Many have already cast their ballots, but the majority of Americans will gather at the polls tomorrow to make their choice. Churches, schools, and other local community buildings will be filled with all kinds of people; people who are exercising their right to vote for the first time, people who feel they are being forced to vote for the lesser of two evils, people who will vote according to the party line regardless of the names attached to the positions, and people who believe that this election is the most important in the history of the United States.

Sadly, there are some for whom the foretaste of power has given them the bravado to stand outside polling areas to intimidate other voters. Whether the shout at the top of their lungs, or physically approach particular individuals, they will do what they believe is right in order to secure what they believe is right. Sadly, this election cycle has led to the bombing of political offices and the burning of black churches. Violence and fear still reigns supreme in this country. Sadly, the anger and animosity percolating in the country will not come to a peaceful conclusion when all the votes have been tallied. Many will be just as angry, if not angrier, if their candidate loses.

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Friends, in this time of great strife and division, do not be weary in doing what is right. Do not forget that the people who we disagree with politically are the very people that Jesus calls us to pray for and love. Do not forget that to be Christian is to believe that Jesus is Lord, and that God is really in control regardless of who wins the election. Do not forget that though we may not think alike, we may certainly love alike.

If you are in the Staunton area, I invite you to gather together at St. John’s UMC at 7pm tomorrow evening. As the polls close and the pundits proclaim early victories on the news, we will be in the Lord’s sanctuary feasting at the table. We will listen for the Spirit and ask for God’s will to be done. We will pray for our politicians, whether we voted for them or not.