People ask themselves, “How can anyone talk that way about the president?” Other people ask, “How could anyone vote for someone like him?” You want an answer, ask the person sitting in the pew next to you. We have folks of all different points of view here.
But this is not new. Do you remember how people spoke about President Obama when he was elected? “He’s the antichrist!” they said. “It’s the end of the world!”
I would suggest that Barak Obama is not the antichrist. He is Barak Obama, and it wasn’t the end of the world.
I would also suggest that Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. He is Donald Trump, and it probably isn’t the end of the world now either.
Whether we like our change in leadership or not, our duty as citizens remains the same: Hold our leaders accountable. Act with integrity. Insist on the truth. Stand up for the widow, the orphan, the foreigner and the poor.
This is not easy to do right now, because this is a kingdom of the earth. And in this kingdom of the earth, divisiveness is easy, name calling is easy, not listening is easy, and repentance, the journey of repentance to which we are all called, is hard.
In the verses before the Gospel lesson for today, John the Baptist stands on the edge of the Judean wilderness, crying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven the kingdom of heaven is close.” This was good news, because whether you liked Obama or like Trump or don’t like either or love both, Judea in John the Baptist’s day was far worse than the United States under either presidency.
The petty tyrant and Roman puppet, Herod Antipas ruled. And Herod Antipas did what all tyrants do. He arrested John the Baptist and put him in jail because John the Baptist criticized him. It seems like the power of brutality and repression win again. People thought the realm of God was coming, that things would get better. But if it were really going to get better then why would God allow John the Baptist to be arrested? Hope fades. The dark comes down.
For us, it doesn’t have to be the dark of political tyranny either. Could be the darkness of depression, of addiction, of debt, of broken relationships, of the knowledge that you have hurt someone deeply. It infects your eyes so that you can’t see anything else. It clogs your lungs so that you can’t hear anything else, it begins to devour your soul.
Then Jesus appears in the Gospel lesson for today and says the same thing John did; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close.” Jesus then shows us that the kingdom of heaven, the nation of God is closely associated with healing. Jesus makes blind people see and deaf people hear and dead people live again. He shares the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, which we will hear about for the next few weeks: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Love your enemy. Do to others as you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets. “Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” Simply tell the truth.
Kingdom of heaven. But Rome shows up again, with its lackeys. They crucify Jesus, humiliating him and degrading him. The kingdom of Rome wins after all. The dark comes down again.
But you know what? The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. Darkness does not win. Jesus is risen from the dead, from the darkness. Love wins. That’s the kingdom. That’s the country, the nation, the world of God.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus calls Peter, James, John and Andrew, common people, like you and me. They leave their fishing nets immediately. Leave their families. They stay in contact with family. But they go. Jesus makes high demands on them. He sends them out to heal. He sends them to villages to speak about the coming realm of God. He knows they will be crucified.
Jesus makes demands on us, too. You know, sometimes I think we talk about the church as if it was a business. And while the church can learn from business and business can learn from the church, we get to talking about you all, in the pews, as if you were customers. As if you came, put money in the offering plate in order to purchase an experience or a feeling or something. What do you think about that? Do you want us to treat you like a customer? I didn’t think so.
Sometimes when we talk about the church we talk as if it were a nonprofit organization like the Red Cross or United Way. Surely there are many things we can learn from nonprofits and things they could learn from us. But we also end up talking about you as if you were volunteers, like at a nonprofit. And there are many hard working volunteers who work for nonprofits. They do a lot of good. But sometimes when we use the word “volunteer,” we imply rather low expectations. We assume we won’t come to meetings when we say we will. That we are only expected to give half our best. Do you want that? Do you want us, the leaders of the church, to expect you to do half your best? I didn’t think so.
We are neither customers nor volunteers. We are disciples, literally, people who learn. We are missionaries. And Jesus has high expectations, deep demands to make on us.
I have to be clear that we do not meet those demands in order to get God to love us. God loves us already. We strive for the demands and work on the expectations because that’s just the journey. We are a part of the light in the darkness. We have been swept up into a reality and a truth that is on the move in the world. Jesus’ resurrection has swept us up into itself. We are emissaries of the fact that, no matter how dark the dark comes down, love wins.
One small example of that: Gladys Koltveit died this week. She appeared to be very content with her books and crosswords in her room at the extended care facility. But when some of you would come to see her from church, her eyes went deep. Her voice would go thick. I could tell when I brought her communion. When the youth wen tto sing Christmas carols to her. “Silent night, Holy night.” Sometimes darkness can come down pretty hard in an extended care facility. But you all were a part of the light for Gladys. And she was part of the light for others.
So whether we like the leadership in our kingdom of this world or don’t. Whether we used to like the leadership or didn’t. We still have work to do. We have life to share and truth to tell and listening to enact and love to show. We have a light to be. So let’s get to it.