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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Words matter. And the last words we remember from loved ones matter in particular. In the lead up to All Saints’ Day, I’ve pondered about the importance that we often attach to the last words of our beloved ones, of the saints who have gone before. Sometimes the words are a cry for help, sometimes they are words of a deeply committed hope and faith, sometimes they are words of blessing upon the family or loved ones who are at the side of the dying person, sometimes they’re just random. In many cases, of course, we aren’t sure what the person’s final words were. But in all of the varied cases, one thing remains the same: for the survivors, the future is uncertain and sometimes downright scary. The new reality that will unfold in the aftermath of a loved one’s death is one that is largely unpredictable. How will I…how will we move on without him or her or them? The beast of death and of the uncertain future is so scary.

And it works for more than death too. To speak to other current events (ahem, Election Day)…what will I/we do if my/our ideal candidate is not elected? We’re so prone to be trapped in fear about what we hear might happen if the worst thing occurs and the beast on the other side of the political aisle gets elected? Or perhaps there is more than one beast on the ballot? The future is so uncertain. How do we move on when the beast will surely rise from the earth and claim us, one way or another (or both)?

Daniel has a vision, a dream of sorts, which though it has a nice resolution at the end is filled at first with monsters who evoke fear and terror and death on the rest of the world who would dare stand in their way. Daniel admits that he is deeply troubled by these four beasts and asks for an interpretation by one of the angelic attendants in the dream. And did you notice the angel’s response? It’s almost nonchalant. The angel in a matter-of-fact way just says those four beasts represent four kingdoms. The angel doesn’t put as much significance on that part of the vision as Daniel (or we) would wish, but moves rather swiftly to point out that the eternal kingdom belongs to the “holy ones” of the Ancient of Days, or as other translations put it, the “saints” of the Most High God! If you continue reading the rest of Daniel 7, you’ll notice that Daniel is not satisfied with the lack of specificity about the nature of the vision and what all is represented therein…particularly those beasts. You see, living with ambiguity and the temptation to fear is not a new predicament for God’s people.

The angel, and thereby God, is inviting Daniel, and thereby us, to take a longer view than to be merely caught up in the temporal realities and kingdoms and powers that will one day pass…and yes, Tuesday (Election Day), too, shall pass. We are invited to take a view that, rather, is one that has stood the test of time and remains throughout kingdoms and empires, across crusades and dark ages, through times of persecution and exile, and even survived the times of enjoying popularity which was probably the most threatening temptation to the preservation and deliverance of genuine faith. The communion of the saints. It’s a part of the Creed we confess…a creed that has been around longer than any of the political candidates up for election, a creed that is older than the United States, older than the British empire, than the Holy Roman Empire, older than the dark ages, older than when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, even older than when the Church established which books would be within the canon of the New Testament. “I believe in…the communion of saints… (or the communion of the holy ones)…” and this forever and ever “…life everlasting.”

The last words of our Creed, the last words of the angel to Daniel in our passage. Congruent with the last words of our movement’s founder, John Wesley, who on his death bed proclaimed several times: “The best of all is, God is with us.” That statement – “God IS with us” is not a statement bound by a particular time period but is an eternal statement that stands the test of time…God was, God is, God will be – or as God revealed God’s self to Moses, “I am.” That is the one to whom the saints ultimately give their allegiance – not to the beasts that emerge from the earth, not to the kingdoms that come and go, not to the political parties or any temporal reality – but to the One who sits on the Throne, who has conquered the realm that ruled over all the kingdoms of the earth. For you know what the beasts all have in common? They all died: the reign of death. And this One, the one who appeared “like a human being” or “a Son of Man” established at the funeral of one of his best friends that, “those who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live.”

stole-from-papaw-ties

Last words. My wife, Carrie, made this stole (see above) for me. The symbols of eternity and the Trinity that are intertwined are made from the materials of some of my Papaw’s neckties. When I think of the communion of saints, he is one of the first ones who come to mind. The reality is that I don’t know what my Papaw’s last words were. I don’t know what he uttered as he died, if anything, for he was alone building a fence around some hay bales for his cattle. But even though his last words are unknown, he actually left a message loud and clear for his loved ones in positioning himself the way he did when he died. Granny found him lying in the field, his glasses in his shirt pocket, his right hand holding a hammer, his left hand holding a fence post. He died sending a message that said: “Until the eternal kingdom comes in fullness when God wipes away all tears and death and crying and pain will be no more…until that day, I will not stop working.” No temporal reality, no setback, no fear, no temptation would hold him back from his task. Papaw’s favorite hymn was one called ‘Yield not to Temptation,’ #191 in the All-American Hymnal that resides in the pews at Oscar UMC. Almost every time there was a hymn sing and my dad (the song leader) opened the floor for requests for congregational hymns, Papaw would holler out, “Number 191!” The final verse is so fitting for Daniel 7. Yield not to temptation…yield not to fear of the beasts…death will not have the final say…

To them that o’ercometh, God giveth a crown,
Through faith we will conquer, though often cast down;
He who is our Savior, our strength will renew;
Look ever to Jesus, He’ll carry you through.