A Pastoral Word on the Presidential Election…    

Greetings friends!

As the late hours of Tuesday night unfolded and paved the way toward Wednesday morning, the surprising news of an upset became a reality as Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Presidential election. Of course, not all were surprised at the results, but based on what was being projected prior to the first polls closing, it appeared that Clinton had an 80% likelihood of winning the election and taking up residence in the White House. Instead, however, now President-elect Trump (as of this writing) secured 279 electoral votes to Secretary Clinton’s 228. (It appears, after Michigan, Arizona and New Hampshire are settled, the final tally will be Trump 308, Clinton 232.) The results have also indicated that for the second time in the lifetime of most of us, the candidate that had the higher popular vote lost the election. (Secretary Clinton has roughly 300,000 more votes overall than President-elect Trump; similarly, President George W. Bush won the electoral college while losing the popular vote to Al Gore in 2000.)

My message to the community of faith I pastor at Ellendale UMC is not about my personal feelings or opinions about the election results. What is undeniable is that we live in a land and are part of a people that are divided very deeply on a number of significant issues. Having only been a part of the electorate for now five presidential races, it is without question that this political season has been the most tense of my lifetime and it has unveiled some of the worst in our capacity to speak and do harm unto others. Based on things that were said and done during the campaigns, it is not surprising that many went to bed Tuesday or woke up Wednesday feeling a wide range of emotional responses, and for many, this feeling won’t just go away overnight. I could go into more detail about why this is and would be glad to do so at another time or in private conversation if you would like to follow up with me.

However, what I do want to speak to at this point is how I believe we as a people whose ultimate allegiance is to Jesus the Christ as the Sovereign over our lives and the created order, ought to begin to respond in moving forward. I think it comes down to the three simple rules of Methodism: 1. Do no harm; 2. Do good; 3. Practice the means of grace (or, as the late Bishop Reuben Job put it, ‘Stay in love with God.):

  1. Do no harm. Enough harm has been done in this election season. Hateful things were said by and about the candidates and also about the people who voted differently than you did. Understandably, then, a large number of people are deeply grieving about the results. Of course, there are many who are celebrating. Meanwhile, based on the rhetoric spewed over the last year or so – comments and actions that degraded others because of their sex, race, nationality, economic class, religious convictions, sexual orientation, education level… – many are sincerely afraid of what the future holds for them in our land and whether or not they are truly welcome to be a part of it. So…let us be a community of light that does not engage in that kind of behavior – no name-calling, no hate, no referring to others as “nasty” or “deplorable.” Every human being is made in the image of God.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – John 1:5

  1. Do good. Please, please, please let us learn to love one another. Jesus said it quite simply, though it may be the hardest thing for us to do. “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you…’.” (Matthew 5:43-44). As contentious and negative as the campaigns were, I am encouraged by the tone and tenor of the manner in which Trump, Clinton, and also President Obama have charted the course and given us a gracious example thus far of “the peaceful transfer of power.” Coming together after this election will be difficult and for many, the grief and anger will take a long time to process. If you are angry or saddened by the results, that is okay. Feel free to speak your mind about it! If, on the other hand, you’re elated or satisfied with the result of the election, then I would encourage you to be gracious and understanding with those who are not. Again, the hateful words filled with racism, classism, sexism, etc. have left many wounded and afraid. Let us remember that God has always come to the side of those who are oppressed and that Jesus ministered at great length with the vulnerable, with those whose beliefs were different than his own, with people of all ethnicities and was gracious to all, while especially challenging the religious majority and those in power. Let us be instruments of peace and reconciliation, especially by modeling love and encouragement to the most vulnerable in our world.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8

  1. Practice the means of grace. Again, the late United Methodist Bishop Reuben Job rephrased John Wesley’s third rule (“attend upon all the ordinances of God”) to say, more memorably, “Stay in love with God.” But staying in love with God is not a mere sentimental expression to give you all the warm fuzzies…it is a call to action and involves doing things, practicing habits that center our hearts, minds, souls and strength on God! What does this mean? It means that we need to take part in things that God’s people do: pray, search/read/study the Scriptures, take part in the worshiping community of faith, partake of the sacrament when offered, build relationships with others in the community through discipleship and fellowship, show mercy to those left on the side of the road, practice hospitality… In other words, don’t retreat! We really are stronger together (no pun intended) when we unite in our allegiance to Jesus the Christ in worship, in love to God and to our neighbors (including our “enemies”), and in our witness by being the light of the world.

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

Now as we seek to put some pieces back together in witnessing the fragility and brokenness of our nation, let us keep our intention on these – avoiding harm, doing good, practicing grace – and ask for God to work through and far beyond our efforts, for healing can only come through God’s grace. We used this prayer of confession in our post-election communion service and I find it a fitting note on which to end my message to you:

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way of peace. Come into the brokenness of our lives and our land with your healing love. Help us to be willing to bow before you in true repentance, and to bow to one another in real forgiveness. By the fire of your Holy Spirit, melt our hard hearts and consume the pride and prejudice which separate us. Fill us, O Lord, with your perfect love, which casts out our fear, and bind us together in that unity which you share with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

-from The United Methodist Book of Worship #482

three-simple-rules-parkerumc-dot-org

Photo credit – parkerumc.org

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“In the fertile land, the LORD God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden…A river flows from Eden to water the garden…” (Genesis 2:9-10)

“He carried in his own body on the tree the sins we committed…By his wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will heal them; the Lord will raise them up.” [The oil used in services and prayers for healing is from the olive tree.] (James 5:14-15)

“On each side of the river stood the tree of life…and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2)

Photo credit: Josh Scholten at http://www.cascadecompass.com

In the sermon yesterday, I mentioned a bit about the story of Cairo, Illinois, its turbulent history of racial tension and its dwindling economic plight, as well as its difficult conditions today. More than 55 arsons have occurred since 2007 in the town of (now) less than 3,000 people. The most recent fire occurred last weekend, which you can read about here. And here is an image of the building engulfed in flames:

Photo of the fire at old King Tut’s Tavern on Ohio & 8th in downtown Cairo. (Photo credit: WPSD-TV)

Carrie and I took the kids to St. Louis a couple of weeks ago, and drove through Cairo on our way. As we drove slowly through the downtrodden city, my heart was broken by the signs of poverty, abandonment, desolation, and destruction that was seen on almost every block. Soon, I began to wonder about those in the town’s midst who have been and are fighting an uphill battle for the cause of justice, praying the town is not deserted, hoping against hope that there is a positive future for the city, that it really can thrive again. I’m not sure where they are, but my prayers have gone up for these warriors, that more support would come their way, that they might see signs of resurrection hope in the city of decay.

As I was doing some reading about the town last weekend, I soon found out that Chris Tomlin recorded most of the video, “I Lift My Hands” in Cairo. Most of the images you see convey, in part, the decline that Cairo has suffered.  The opening lyrics of the song gripped me: “Be still, there is a healer…” The language of healing is one that is apt to describe what I pray for Cairo. This 5 minute video is very good and helps convey the message of the power of belief and hope. So give it a watch & listen!

My heart was stirred in watching this. But I must also admit that often the difficult part of this prayer, is the recognition that the harder the decline and the deeper the hurt a person or a town or a nation or a world endures, the more patience, the more work, the more difficult decisions, the longer amount of time is needed for healing. But maybe, just maybe, God will stir in the hearts of more people to reflect on the coming kingdom, whose tree of life produces leaves that are for “the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2) and will do whatever possible to bring the life from those leaves to the decaying and despairing parts of the world around us.

“Our Father in heaven…your kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.”