My Election Sermon

Growing up, my parents got involved in Mercer County Youth Soccer League. My mom coached my brother. My dad coached me. My mom also became a league official and then a referee. I remember her studying the rule book and being really proud of herself for passing the physical exam. She mostly refereed under-8 league games. She was really good at teaching the rules and she was also good at teaching good sportsmanship. She had a zero-tolerance rule for bad-mouthing. You didn’t call names or tell another to shut up. And there were times when she wielded her yellow and red cards…not against 6 year olds…but against adults on the sidelines who spouted off at the mouth. Yes…she sent grown adults to wait in their cars for badmouthing at a 1st grader’s soccer game. If she could expect and demand that 6 year olds control their tongues…well there’s just no excuse for adults who badmouth.

There has been a lot of anxiety since Tuesday’s election results. And I;ve found myself going into overtime to control my own instinct to badmouth. I’m very grateful for this particular fruit of the spirit…self-control…that my mom taught me. It has led to a lot of silence this week…which has allowed for plenty of listening. And if anything has been revealed to me this week, it’s that we are really, really bad at listening to one another.

but you can’t stay silent forever…especially if you are paid to talk on a weekly basis. So here is what I want to say. Since I can’t badmouth the President-elect (which would make me a hypocrite), and since I can’t badmouth his supporters (which would destroy some precious relationships) I must find something more productive to say. Psalm 72 is a good start.

This is my prayer for President-elect Trump:

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

Yes I have a prayer for our next President. It;s the same one i have for the current President: That he will rule with equity and justice and that he will have a deep regard for the poor and their particular struggles. I pray that he will view all persons with the inherent dignity that God has created them with. The dignity that comes form God who made all of us in God’s image…an image that is not tarnished by race or ethnicity, or nationality or gender. A dignity that is actually enhanced by the fact that God has created us magnificently different from one another and called us into the holy task of looking across all of these differences and the same image of God in someone completely different. So yes, I will pray for the new President. I will pray so hard, he may wish I was merely badmouthing.

But I can’t even begin to pray for the president if I’m not willing to be accountable for the same standards. That’s the crazy thing about reading “Give the king your justice” in a representative democracy. This government is of the people, by the people and for the people. So if the President is a king, then I am at least a Prince. And the justice I am asking God to give the president must find room in my own heart. The right treatment of my neighbor is not solely the president’s job. It;s also my job. Treating the poor with justice is not just the president’s job. It’s my job as well. Defending the rights of the most vulnerable around us is not just the President’s responsibility. It is also my responsibility. I can’t beg god to give Mr. Trump a sense of justice unless I am just myself. I cannot beg God to give Mr. Trump a heart of empathy for the suffering and compassion for the struggling unless I am empathetic and compassionate. And I cannot beg Mr. Trump to listen to my neighbors unless I myself am willing to listen to my neighbors.

I have two stories to tell you. One from each ‘side’ of the current divide. The first one comes form the town of my upbringing, Bluefield, WV. In February of this year, Norfolk and Southern railroad consolidated its Pocahontas and Virginia divisions. The Pocahontas division is based in Bluefield which is home to one of the finest rail yards in the nation. With this consolidation, most of the N&S workers will be relocated to Roanoke. The rail yard and the Pocahontas division predate the city itself. My home church was littered with railroad guys in their navy jackets proudly emblazoned with the NS logo. That which gave birth to the city literally died earlier this year. So 75% of the votes in Mercer County went to Donald Trump. The vast majority of these people at least try to love their neighbors as themselves. I am convinced that the major factor in their vote was the pain they feel having lost not just their jobs, but their livelihoods and their identities. If you want to debate the efficacy of their vote, I suggest you postpone that to another day. I’m of the philosophy that people’s feelings are real, even if you;re good at keeping a straight face. If we are to have any hope of healing this nation, acknowledging and honoring another’s pain will be necessary.

the second story comes from my current home town of Ridgefield, Washington. There are not that many non-white people in Ridgefield. Nevertheless, on Thursday a hand written note was left on the door of one our few non-white neighbors. It read “Time for your kind to leave”. Signed Donald Trump. I wish that were an isolated instance. In fact there have been hundreds of incidences nationwide in just four days. It;s not just badmouthing…it’s direct threats to people’s lives and safety. It’s not hard to draw a connection between these incidences and Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric. This is a very real problem. Hateful people have been emboldened and even excused by the most powerful man on the planet. And no one seems to want to be responsible. To make matters worse, the majority of these incidences have taken place in schools. Our children are listening to the rhetoric. And now they are telling their non-white classmates that ‘their kind’ is not welcome. I’m not sure how you’re going to get that kind of toothpaste back into the tube. But dismissing the fears of those who receives these kinds of threats is a particularly cold and cruel form of privilege. Instead, let us do unto others as we would have done to us.

You can’t say that you love your neighbors as yourselves if you remain willfully ignorant of their lives. And loving them is our highest calling as people of the Way of Jesus. The Way of Jesus included listening to the cries of the diseased, the distressed and the disenfranchised. the way of Jesus included blessing and affirming people often thought of as outsiders or even enemies. Centurions, women, tax collectors, children, eunuchs, lepers, Samaritans…Jesus’ list of people worth listening to is a who’s who of biblical deplorables. He just saw them as children of God.

So here we are. Losers and winners. We’re angry, afraid, disgusted and distraught. And Jesus just sees us as children of God. But Jesus also calls us to follow his Way at this moment in history in this place. It begins with praying. It continues with listening. It includes feeling what others are feeling. It includes building lasting bridges of respect, decency and peace.

Who will make these conversations happen? It will have to be people whose reach extends across divisions. It will have to be people whose base philosophy is one of love, grace, respect and hope. It will have to begin with us. Yes us…not some faceless Christian somewhere else, not some Bishop or DS…but this room of Christians. I am asking us to commit to a series of conversations over the next several months. Conversations designed to help us understand people very different form us. Conversations that will make real the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Conversations that will take us out of our comfort zones and into the hard holy work of peacemaking and bridge building. We have tremendous reach. We know people throughout town, across the state and across the nation. We also have the power of the Holy Spirit calling and equipping us for this work. A Holy Spirit that both convicts and comforts. There is no good reason why the healing of the nation cannot begin with us.

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