This Sunday concludes our Advent Season, a time filled with wonder, reflection, and anticipation in the Church. During Advent, we remember the great gift of God to the world, as He wrapped Himself in flesh to tabernacle among us, not only to be with is as Emmanuel, but also to redeem us as Savior. We also look forward with joyous anticipation for the glorious return of our triumphant King, who will usher in a new heaven and a new earth filled with the unending love and glory of God. In the midst of our joy, however, the pain of our broken world has burst through with fierce urgency. The recent deaths in our community and across the nation have made us pause and make space to mourn for a world still caught in the grip of sin and death. This post is about living in the middle of that tension--between life and death, joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. May the Hope of Christ abound to all of us, whatever our condition may be.
~ Grace and Peace, LA
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NASB)
Tonight, President Barak Obama will deliver his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC. Undoubtedly, a significant number of people in America—and all over the world—will be watching to see if his remarks will add the crown jewel to what many political analysts call one of the most invigorating and uplifting Conventions on record. I must admit that I watched only highlights and snippets of both the Democratic and Republican Conventions. So my thoughts here are not a review of either party’s success or failure to galvanize the voting public through our national ritual of electing party candidates. To be honest, this year’s election is shaping up to be one of the most electrifying boxing matches in history, perhaps even rivaling the 1975 Thriller in Manila. Picture President Obama and his contender Mitt Romney clad in fine suits and boxing gloves, standing toe to toe, nose to nose, glove to glove with both parties cheering them on to fight to the death. This has been the tone of American politics ever sense President Obama took office. The air is toxic, the ads are vicious, and the jeers are deafening. You can almost smell blood. Unfortunately, many of us who bear the name of Christ have fallen into the slugfest mentality that rewards the candidate to deliver the biggest, deadliest blow to the party across the aisle.
I am probably in the minority, but I don’t see any progress in the never-ending cycle of pitting us against them, slinging mud on the other guy, and trying to stamp out one of the greatest assets of this nation—the free exchange of ideas. That is where progress, growth, and understanding are birthed. It is through cooperation, collaboration, respect, integrity, and love. Ahem…I know…these are usually woefully absent from the political arena. Some may be thinking, “Wait a minute! You can’t win by cooperating with the other guy; you can’t win through constructive compromise; you can’t win by being open to new ideas; you can’t win by showing respect and love for the person trying to take your head off with a deadly right hook!” And you are right. Partly—one person can’t win it all by working constructively with his opponent. But our political process is not about one person or one party winning and stamping out the voice of the other (well, it is, but I don’t think it should be!). It should be about the people choosing representatives who will make choices that are good for this nation, a nation made up of people from all walks of life. It’s about finding a way to honor the elderly, instill integrity in our youth, create meaningful jobs for parents, provide holistic healthcare options for the sick, create a pathway to citizenship for all legal immigrants, and protect our national interests abroad. That’s just a tip of the iceberg, but it’s a tall order, nonetheless. Too tall for one person, one party, or one ideology. To move this nation ahead, it takes all of us, and a leader who wants to work with and for all of us. This man will not be perfect; he will not be our savior; he will not be our pastor, priest, cleric, rabbi, or imam. He will be our national leader, our President, entrusted to work for all of us to make America a more perfect union. This November, we are charged to exercise our right to elect the person who best fits this description, who is willing to be guided by the high principles of cooperation, collaboration, integrity, respect, and love.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he charged his protégé, to pray constantly for the leaders in Ephesus, a city of diverse religions, nationalities, customs, and ideas. Amid chaos and dissention, Timothy was to be a man of integrity and prayer, a man who understood, taught, and lived by the gospel, not hating but loving and always speaking the truth. Does that sound familiar? I don’t know who will win this year’s election, but I do know this: whoever wins will need our prayers. So let’s start now…
Historically, the season of Lent is characterized by a renewed focus on penance, fasting, and alms (charitable) giving. All over the world, Christians turn their attention inward: the goal is to examine oneself in light of Jesus’s simple demand to follow Him in love. We look upward, seeking God’s guidance, assurance, and comfort in the midst of our struggle to leave the entanglements of worldliness and selfishness behind as we grab hold more firmly to the high calling of Christ. Finally, we are also called to look outward, to really see the need and suffering around us.
Too often, we walk around blind and deaf to the suffering around us. Just this month, our nation has endured the mighty hand of nature tearing through homes, businesses, churches, and families, leaving nothing but pieces of broken lives. Without eyes anointed by the grace of God, how can the Christian community see and respond to the deeper pain that these families endure? Someone who has lost a home…a business…a child…a mother…a brother…a sister…risks losing so much more. On a deeper level, many survivors stand on the brink of risk losing their sense of meaning and purpose in life, their sense of security and safety in the world, and even their faith.
Our call to Lenten reflection, prayer, and fasting is not a call away from the needs of others, but a call that should make us more sensitive to the cry of the world around us. Our world is groaning under the weight of poverty, sickness, petty politics, and violence. It is a world dancing to a song that leads to death and destruction. Who but a Resurrection People has an alternative song to sing? Who but our Lord offers the Way to true meaning, security, and faith?
During Lent, the early church examined new converts as they prepared for the ordinance of baptism. It was a time for deep assessment to ensure that those who had started with Christ had full intention to follow Him even into the most dangerous and lonely places that life might take them. As we move through our current series on prayer, let us use this time to seek healing and peace not only for ourselves, but also for those among us who will see for the first time the true glory of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.