“The eagle never flies higher than the cross.” This phrase, this quote, was formative for me this week. It was included in the final paragraph of a message that our Bishop, LaTrelle Easterling, sent out in the wake of the election results this week. She sent it knowing that our conference, like our country, our churches, and our neighborhoods, are fiercely divided. Only approximately 50% of adults actually voted in this election. If you voted, thank you for making your voice heard. Yet, 100% of our nation is divided and has an opinion. One candidate won the popular vote. The other won the electoral college and will become our next president.
But it was a fierce election. Whomever was declared to be the President Elect in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after my head hit the pillow, exhausted from watching hours of election returns; we were going to be faced with an immense challenge in this nation to listen, pray, accept, honor, protect, learn, and talk. “This election brought out some of the worst in all of us in both large and small ways. This election opened up a chasm of racism, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia evident to one side. And this election opened up a chasm of political corruption, illegal activity, crooked behavior, and questioned integrity to the other. We clearly see this world through totally different lenses. So we [woke] up as a divided nation—and it’s not new. We’ve been divided for some time. But the chasm feels bigger than ever. The differences feel insurmountable.
But we did not wake up alone today. We have a God who is bigger than the chasm and more powerful than the differences. That’s how we face this new day in America—honoring the God of ALL of us, loving our brothers and sisters, showing grace to those with different opinions than ours, listening to the pain of those who are afraid, and praying for this divide to be healed. But we’ve also got work to do. We’ve got a lot to do to ensure that the least, the last, and lost, and the left behind are protected and honored. We’ve got a lot to do to ensure that we hold all of our leaders accountable to work for everyone to find a way up in this world. Today I pray and start the hard work of moving forward together. And we’re not alone. We’re never alone. And that gives me hope as we work to bridge the chasm that faces our nation.” (Dr. Wiseman, http://www.onscripture.com/season-healing-how-we-move-forward)
One of the first things we can do is to confess that we have all sinned against God and neighbor. Every day, we make mistakes that dishonor our Maker. Every day, we intentionally or unintentionally hurt other people who are made in the Image of God. And every day, we must ask for forgiveness.
At the time of the Passover meal, Jewish People would have 4 cups on the table that they would use to tell the Exodus story, the story of their rise from captivity as slaves and journey into freedom. Each cup was to be drunk, like a toast, in remembrance of the events in Exodus. Then there was a 5th cup, the Cup of Elijah, that was not to be consumed, as a Promise that God would come again one day. When Jesus was eating the Passover meal with his disciples, when he picked up the cup, he picked up the Cup of Elijah, and consumed it, stating that he was now the embodiment of God. He did this to bring unity to the people.
Like the chalice, the cup, I hold in my hands, we are bent people. We are bent by the weight of this world. We are bent by our great chasm, our great divide as a nation. But take heart! We are not broken! We are bent, we are NOT broken! And so, I invite you to join with me first in a prayer of confession, as our first act of repairing the damage done in our families, our congregation, our community, our nation, and our world; as a means of unifying us with Christ.
Jesus, please take our cups of sorrow: one cup holds the sorrow of the disenfranchised blue collar workers whose opportunities have dried up in recent decades. We stand convicted of having neglected their despair.
And please take the other cup of sorrow, which is our racism and misogyny in this country. Your last commandment to us was to go and make disciples of all nations—literally, all ethnicities. You command us to know the other, to listen to the other, to befriend the other. We confess the ways we have resisted this call and feared it.
Jesus, we give you our cups of sorrow. May we humbly accept from you, instead, the oil of gladness and the mantle of praise that you promise us (Isaiah 61:3). May we go to all the ethnicities in love and humility. Amen. (Melanie Weldon Soisset)
Today in our life as a congregation was supposed to be Laity Sunday. But for a variety of reasons, it is not happening. At first, I was lamenting the change, because it created a gap in our worship life. Then a colleague suggested moving Christ the King Sunday forward a week, and using next week to recognize Thanksgiving. So that is what I have done.
Christ the King Sunday is the newest liturgical holiday that the Christian Church observes, having arrived less than 100 years ago. The United Methodist Worship Planning resources tell us that at the time, many Christians in Mexico were suffering from religious persecution from an anti-religious government. Secularism was rapidly growing and taking the power in Europe. So, in 1925, the Roman Catholic Church declared the final Sunday before Advent as a worldwide celebration of the kingship of Christ over every earthly power. It was later adopted by Protestant churches
As Americans, we don’t fully understand what it is like to be governed by a King or Queen. We don’t understand the totalitarian rule that was expressed. Even though there are laws, the Monarch can overturn those laws. They had absolute power and authority over everything. In our nation today, some people are grieving because they believe that the President Elect will take away their right to marry the person that they love, deport their family members or themselves, or remove their access to healthcare. Others say they are overreacting. Our President has considerable power and is often said to be the “Leader of the Free World.” But our President has checks and balances from Congress and the Supreme Court. Others say that when one party controls all of these, the checks and balances fall apart. Maybe. Maybe not. Time will tell. What we do know is that we are in a similar position to that of Scripture.
Only twice in Scripture is there anything approaching a democracy. The people were ruled by Judges and Kings and Queens. They did not have a say in who ruled them, or what the outcome of something would be. Only twice did they have a say. The first was before the rise to power of King David, when the Israelites asked for a King so that they could be like other nations (this is what our Bible Study has just finished studying). And the second was when Pilate asked the crowd which prisoner they wanted released—Jesus or Barabbas. And the crowd chose Barabbas. And so Jesus was crucified, with a sign over him in several languages, seeking to mock him: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
What the government did to mock Jesus, the people adopted as a rallying cry. Yes, this man being executed is OUR king! This is what God’s Kingdom is really like—a reversal of worldly expectations and the fulfillment of Godly expectations. Jesus is the King of God’s Kingdom. God’s politics—if God even could be said to have politics—are not like that of a democracy or typical kings.
And nowhere is that more clear than in today’s Scripture passage. This letter may have been written by Paul while he was in prison, or it may have been written in his name after his death. It was written to a group of Christians who were having trouble understanding what to worship—they were worshiping, or at the very least, believing, that the stars controlled their destiny. They were using astrology instead of depending on God.
Today’s passage includes a hymn, a song that they were very familiar with at the time. It uses the language of praise and worship, and honors Jesus Christ as the head of the Church since the beginning of time. It sets up Jesus Christ as the King over the Kingdom—over all things in heaven and on earth. Similar to the praise of Emperors and Kings in the Roman Empire, this song heaps praises upon Christ to show the people that Christ is greater than any earthly power. Christ is the one who holds all things together, and all people together. This is something that not even the Roman Empire, through their military, armies, wars, and laws could do. The “Pax Romana”—the Roman Peace—is not peaceful. It used force to achieve its goals, and people still revolted. The Romans tried to regulate religion and social life. But it failed, because the people had different ideas. The Romans depended on force to bring people into their cult. Jesus instead depended on love to reconcile people to God. Jesus invited everyone—regardless of their background, creed, ethnicity, disability, gender, or past sins—into relationship with God.
This hymn, this song, was dangerous to sing in the wrong places. Singing it could get you killed—along with your family and anyone else singing it with you. It was considered treasonous. And in some places today, the result is the same. People are still afraid of being persecuted for their beliefs. In our country and abroad. And we as Christians are called to stand against oppression and injustice in whatever forms they may present themselves—even, or perhaps, most especially, when it is painful and difficult to do so. The eagle never flies higher than the cross.
As Christians, we must ask ourselves in the midst of this great chasm, this great divide, what would Jesus say? What would Jesus do? And I believe that the message is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. “Draw the circle wide. Draw it wider still. Let this be our song. No one stands alone. Standing side by side. Draw the circle wide.” This is a line from a song written by Mark Miller, a faithful United Methodist who serves on the faculty at Drew Seminary in New Jersey. He wrote this for General Conference—the every 4 year meeting of United Methodists from around the world—several years ago, as a way to bring diverse and disparate people together. The week after the Freddie Gray riots last year, I used this song as a basis for my sermon. And once again, after protests have happened in our City, as our Nation is divided, I bring it back to you. Draw the circle wide. We stand together, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, and Independent, united as Americans. And, moreover, we are united in Christ. The eagle never flies higher than the cross. Our Christian identity is greater than our patriotic identity. This Veteran’s Day weekend, we give thanks and praise for the men and women who have fought for our right to worship freely in this great nation. Yet, our Christian identity must be greater than our American identity. There are Christians in every nation on this earth. And we are united as brothers and sisters. Draw the circle wide.
I was asked this week by a well-meaning person, what I was going to do now that Donald Trump is the President Elect. I said I was going to do the same thing I was going to do if Hillary Clinton had been elected. Get up. Shower. And go fight for justice. This has been my calling from God since before the election, and it is still my calling now that the election is over. I, along with every Christian, am called to stand with the least, the last, the lost, and the marginalized in this world. I am called to stand with the people who fear for their own lives and with those who feel that they have been heard for the first time in a long time. I am called to fight for justice. I am called to make sure that every person is safe and welcomed in the Body of Christ. I am called to make sure that we are listening to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. I am called to speak out against bigotry, hate, violence, homophobia, xenophobia, racism, sexism, and all the other “phobias” and “isms” that divide people and bring hurt to anyone. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. I am called to love. Because love wins. We can cry our ugly tears. But we can’t neglect one another—Children of God, made in the Image of God—as we voice our truth, our reality.
My prayer is that one day, we can all stand side by side for justice; for peace; for love; and that God’s Kingdom will be achieved on this earth. That’s the dream. Right now the reality is quite different. It’s ok to mourn. It’s ok to grieve. It’s ok to celebrate. It’s ok to care for yourself. It’s ok to fight for justice. Right now, all rules are broken. We are in uncharted territory. And we need each other.
What would Jesus say? Draw the circle wide. And, I believe he would echo Bishop Easterling: “The eagle never flies higher than the cross. Our nation’s politics do not supersede the work of God or the Holy Spirit. Our grounding is found at the foot of the cross and our hope is built on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. We are united, even as we experience this election differently. We are united in our faith, our love of God and our love for one another.”
A story is told:
Once there was a wise old woman who lived in a small village. The children of the village were puzzled by her—her wisdom, her gentleness, her strength. One day, several of the older children decided to fool her. No one could be as wise as everyone said she was, and they set out to prove it. So they found a baby bird. One of the boys cupped it in his hands and said to his friend, ‘We’ll ask her whether the bird I have in my hands is dead or alive. If she says it is dead, I will open my hands and let it fly always. If she says it’s alive, I’ll crush it and she’ll see that it’s dead.’ So they went to the woman and presented her with this puzzle. ‘Old woman,’ the little boy asked, ‘the bird in my hands, is it dead or alive?’ The old woman became very still, studied the boy’s hands, then looked carefully into his eyes. ‘It’s in your hands,’ she said.” (From Carter Heyward, “Touching Our Strength,” p. 73, via Parker Palmer).
On this, Christ the King Sunday, we are called to remember that nations, and governments, and leaders will fade and fall, but the Kingdom of God will stand forever. We can’t put our hope and trust in any politician. We must put our hope and trust in Jesus Christ. It’s in our hands. Amen.