Saturday, November 21, 2020

A 'Civil Body Politic'

Before the Pilgrims got off of the Mayflower they had to agree upon how they would live together in the land they were about to enter.

‘How can we live together?’ is basic question which underlies every community’s government. The answer which the people agree upon becomes the fabric which holds a society together, that which allows it to endure over time.

Before the group of over one hundred people we now know as the Pilgrims departed the Mayflower, on November 21, 1620, all of the men signed an agreement which we now know as the Mayflower Compact. This varied group of people had a variety of motives for crossing the ocean to establish a new England colony. When they arrived and were required to choose some way of governing themselves, they notably chose a government of the people, by the people.

The Pilgrims agreed to form a “civil body politic” which would “enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”  It would be a community governed by laws, not by the preferences of one or a few men. That which was enacted into law by the community would govern everyone in the community. No one was to be above nor beyond the law.

Our social compact rests on this idea: that in order for us to live together we all must submit and obey to the agreed upon laws of the land, even, or especially when we do not like how those laws affect us. Those who disagree with the law do not disobey it. Rather, they seek to change it as the laws permit. Thus the fabric bends but does not break.

Thanksgiving 2020 celebrates that we are still able to live together because we remain a ‘civil body politic’, in which the idea of a government of laws is stronger than the idea of  ‘getting my own way.’ Maintaining a ‘civil body politic’ requires good Pilgrims to rise up against those who would tear the social fabric which binds us.  Be a good Pilgrim, Pilgrim.

 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Christian Losers (and Winners)

How will you react if your candidate for President loses the election?

On the morning after the results are known, which could be days or weeks (Lord, I pray not months!), what will remain your greatest Christian obligation? To love God and your neighbor as yourself.

Here is a ‘Wednesday Prayer’: “Lord, help me to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat, displaying your love to everyone I meet. Amen.”  Practice that prayer today, before you know who won.                                                    

Tuesday will mark the 17th United States presidential election of my lifetime.  I have a fairly good recollection of perhaps 15 of them, starting with 1964.  While every presidential election seems to be of world-shifting importance right before it happens, it seems like the election of 2020 is being taken more personally than any I can remember. Families and friendships and church communities are at risk of being broken for good because of the deep divide among us.

That should not happen among Christians. Elections are temporal. Friendships are eternal, or at least they can be if we obey the Great Commandment. Christian friendships should survive elections.

How should a Christian react to the outcome? First, be humble in victory. Don’t gloat. Celebrate, yes. Gloat, no.  Second, be gracious in defeat. Don’t pout. Mourn, yes. Pout, no.

You cannot love your neighbor as yourself if you transfer your feelings about your candidate’s loss to your feelings about your neighbor. The fact that they supported the ‘other candidate’ doesn’t make them a bad person. Really. They may be wrong (in your mind) but not bad. Humility suggests that when we confront those with whom we disagree we think,  ‘They might be right.’ 

Everyone who cares about our nation and its future believes that they have chosen to vote for the best person to lead it for the next four years.  You should be passionate about your political beliefs, but be more passionate about loving your God and your neighbor, especially those who celebrate victory at your expense. You don’t need a command to love people with whom you agree.

Be a Christian loser, or if God so ordains it, a Christian winner.  “Lord, help me to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat, displaying your love to everyone I meet. Amen.”


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Don't Tell Me You Didn't Vote!

 

God doesn’t get a vote. You do. That is why God expects you to cast your vote by election day.  

Paul’s explains God’s instructions to us, “Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it's God's order. So live responsibly as a citizen.” (The Message)

Responsible Christians vote as a part of our call to be the salt that seasons society and the light that illuminates deeds done in darkness.

“Untold troubles can descend upon a country or an industry when Christians refuse to take their part in the administration and leave it to selfish, self-seeking, partisan(s)….” (William Barclay)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., eloquently explains why Christians should vote:  "The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool."

I do not believe any preacher is wise to suggest to you for whom you should vote. There is no way that Jesus would do that. Christians should seek to put into office those who align with their values and the values of God’s Word as best as you can understand them. But the minute the church tries to control the government by installing those it claims are ‘God’s candidate’, that is the moment the government will turn right around and try to control the church, demanding the allegiance that is reserved for God.

But, that doesn’t mean there is not a God-directed obligation to vote for someone who in your view will allow the church and society to peacefully co-exist and the people to flourish.

I can think of very few excuses for not voting which God would accept.  The worst possible excuse I hear is, ‘They are all the same, it doesn’t matter.’  Friends, you need only study the history of politics in your own lifetime to know how much every vote matters in determining what happens in your community, your state, your nation, your world.

Correct that, “God’s world.” That is why, if you choose not to vote, you had better expect your greeting at the pearly gates to include, “Don’t tell me you didn’t vote!”

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Janet is With Jesus

 

Janet is with Jesus. That’s the title of the last chapter of her book.

 

I like to think about our lives as God’s story writ large in a series of chapters.  Dear Janet’s book is filled with fascinating and mundane chapters, just like the books about your life and like mine.  But as I thought about Janet’s life my understanding of our lives being lived in ‘chapters’ took on a new meaning. Janet is a Grandma and one of her two grandsons is named Jon. When Jon was a toddler, still learning to talk, Grandma would read stories to Jon.

 

When Janet read stories to Jon, she always finished the book by declaring, “All done.” If you know Janet you can almost hear her quiet, sweet voice go up a few pitches as she closes the cover, raising her hands from her lap, smiling at Jon saying, almost singing, “All done.”

 

Grandma was so persistent in her practice that these simple words became Jon’s first words as a child, “All done.” You can imagine him mimicking Grandma, sitting in his high chair having finished his cookie, smiling at his Momma and Daddy and for the first time saying the words in toddler speak,  ‘All done.’

 

Yesterday we bade farewell to Janet, a small gathering round her grave, family and pastors trying to make sense of life and death.

 

One is tempted, in our limited human understanding, to look at Janet’s body in her casket and say, almost sighing, ‘All done.’

 

But we would be wrong to do so. Because we know that the story we have been reading of Janet’s life is not over. No. God is still writing her unending story.  The next to last chapter, concluding at the graveside, is all done. But the last chapter, the really wonderful last chapter, the chapter than never ends, has just begun. For that chapter, which describes how Janet is enjoying her inheritance of the new heaven and the new earth, that chapter, is never all done.

 

Because Janet is with Jesus.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Good News Food

 Meet Amina. She is now a 12-year old girl. Since she was seven she has lived knowing these things are real: fear and hunger.  Amina lives in Yemen, where fifty per-cent of the children are stunted because of malnutrition (yes, 50% of the children!). Amina explains her life like this:

 

“The war can get you in many ways. It is not only the bombings. People suffer when their homes are taken away. People die of hunger and there is not enough water.” She also added: “The thing that worries me most is that the war will continue on and on into the future. It will be my future.” (https://insight.wfp.org/no-end-to-world-hunger-without-an-end-to-conflict-wfp-warns)

 

Who cares about Amina?  The World Food Programme, for one.  That is why the Word Food Programme was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 to the World Food Programme (WFP) for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” (https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2020/press-release/)

 

Today I write about Amina because my mind is in desperate need of something good and positive to focus upon.  The crises in which we live, the political campaigns of which we are the targets, the combination of these factors can cause the greatest optimists to give up hope.

 

So today I celebrate the good news about food. Someone is focused on helping Amina. Someone is trying to prevent food from being used as a weapon to influence political outcomes.

 

Perhaps that news can help me, and maybe you, see some light, offer some hope.  There are people who see the big picture and are doing something about it, seeking peace in tangible ways. Trying to give a 12-year old girl a future that is not lived in fear of bombs and a future in which there is food on her plate.

 

What is the call of God’s people? To pursue peace on earth by bringing the Good News.  And for millions of people, the beginning of the Good News is that there is enough food to feed their children.  Pray for food that produces peace.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Why I Pray for the President

 President Donald J. Trump is infected with the coronavirus and is in the second day of his hospitalization. He is among the 34.6 million world-wide (7.4 million U.S.) victims who have been infected. This virus has and continues to upend virtually every nation’s economic, political and social systems, perhaps none more visibly than those of the United States.

 

As the President receives medical care, and as those around him, including his wife, Melania, are also dealing with the rapid-spread of this coronavirus, how should the people of God react?

 

The President is no different than any other human being. In the sentiment of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’,  when the bell tolls for the life of any human loss it tolls for me. We are a united humanity, at least at the most fundamental level. We should care about and pray for all victims of the virus.

 

But there is an even more specific reason for Christians to pray for the President, regardless of their political views:  “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:1-4, NIV)

 

This Sunday I will join thousands of leaders of religious groups in praying for the recovery of our President. It is not a political prayer; it is a prayer for a human whom God wants to be saved and it is a prayer for a person in authority, one who has the ability to permit the Church’s citizens to live peaceful and quite lives, enabling us to effectively  witness to the Good News for all humanity.

 

I prefer the prayer tradition which prays for those in authority by their first names only.  This demonstrates that we pray for them as human leaders whom we respect but to whom we do not bow.

 

For these reasons, I invite you to join me then in prayer for our President, Donald:

 

God, heal our President, heal the people, heal our land. Bring all people to the knowledge of your truth. Amen

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Snacking in Heaven

 

This cannot be true! Black licorice is deadly.  Or so say the doctors who treated a man who died after eating almost two bags a day of black licorice for several weeks.

 

Why is this so distressing to me? Because I love licorice. I have kept a jar of licorice in my office my entire 41 years of working.  And now this. “The key message here for the general public is that food containing licorice can potentially be hazardous to your health if eaten in large quantities.” So says Dr. Neal Butala, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. (Source: Yahoo News)

 

With all due respect to Dr. Butala and his colleagues who authored the study calling out black licorice as the latest thing that will kill me, I wonder if the ‘key message here for the general public’ might not instead be, “Don’t eat two bags a day of black licorice, or anything, people!”  As a licorice-lover I rise to its defense, and argue the problem is not the candy but the candy-eaters. The doctors say that even two ounces a day for two weeks can cause heart trouble, so if that’s true, I can eat one ounce and live!

 

In the ancient church teachings gluttony was listed as one of the ‘seven deadly sins.’  It’s opposite, the virtue, is moderation or temperance.  In other words, it’s a sin to gulp down bags of licorice, but it’s not a sin to have a little at a time.  Isn’t that how most of life should be lived, friends?

 

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight yourself in the richest of fare.” (55:2) That is one of my favorite passages to read at funerals. Heaven is not the absence of food. People in heaven, like this man who died from over-consumption of black licorice, I pray, still get snacks.  In fact, we get the richest of fare because God wants us to enjoy ourselves in God’s presence, worshiping God always, even while we snack.

 

I have a doctor appointment coming up. Maybe I will bring along my jar of licorice and ask her if I need to give up black licorice until I get to heaven. Or maybe I won’t.