Friends, I’m going to start not with politics, but with beauty, because that’s how God began the world: with sheer wondrous beauty, and it surrounds us still. This world is real, present, miraculous, still unfolding. Don’t forget this in the midst of our human messes.
But there’s another kind of beauty: the beauty of truth. I want to speak truth about Monday night’s debate. (Even if you didn’t watch it, no matter. This is still about all of us.) Who won that night? That debate was the most unsettling peculiar even ugly presidential debate in the history of our country. The lamentable human condition was in full display on that stage, just as it has throughout this election season. But listen, the Scriptures are littered with this same condition! I recognize it, because I’ve got it too, and maybe you? Maybe all of us?
Remember the mother? The mother of two fishermen, James and John, who was ready to do anything for her sons! Anything! Even fall to her knees and plead for their promotion. Not just any promotion. A heavenly promotion! Kudos to her for her extraordinary faith, in believing what others did not yet---that Jesus was just who he said he was, and he WOULD reign over ALL! But I cringe at the rest because I understand it too. “When you come into your kingdom, please let my sons sit at your right and your left, in places of honor? Of course. She wants her sons to be great! (Don't we all?)
Remember, too, the day that twelve men walked a dusty road, arguing? They were famous. They could touch a broken leg and heal it, they could pray over an afflicted woman and stop her hemorrhage. They could restore a little boy’s hand, burnt in a fire, back to wholeness. They could even touch a dead body and lift it to life, on occasion. Big stuff. Crowds followed them. They were wildly popular. People hushed when they spoke, cheered when they healed.
They kept a record, each one of them, secretly: how many healings, how many exorcisms, how many hands shaken and babies kissed and cripples running races. But they couldn’t keep it quiet.
“So, how many you got there, John, buddy? I’ve had three raisings from the dead. Not to brag or anything, but that’s pretty great, I’d say. ”
“Really? I took a poll in that last city and I’m definitely on top. They wanted to make me mayor!”
“Mayor! That’s nothing!” scoffed Andrew. “The Zealots want to make me president! I cured a whole colony of lepers!”
And so it went.
In their bickering and bragging, they even forgot about Israel, which was why they got into this campaign in the first place. They were all looking for a Messiah who would set Rome on fire, who would rout their political and religious oppressors and restore Israel to power and supremacy again. “Make Israel Great Again!” That was what they signed on for.
But, full of miraculous healings, pride and applause, even that heady slogan was lost. Ultimately, it came down to them. To each one of them vying against the other.
Aspiring to “Greatness” does that.
When such words and debates fail, there are other tactics. When Jesus healed and fed a whole mountainside of people out of one tiny lunch basket, someone had an idea. He got up and whispered to another, who grabbed another into their circle and soon a whole mob of them knew what to do. They would capture Jesus and make him a business offer he couldn’t refuse---he would be their king!! But they had a plan B too. If he refused, they would FORCE him to be their king! THEY would be the king-makers! They’d make this miracle-man feed them; they’d make him overthrow their enemies. Yes! Israel would be great again!
They were wrong about everything each of those days. Jesus didn’t come to do any of that. The power Jesus granted was the power to forgive, the power to humble the proud, the power to be as pure-hearted and dependent upon God as a child. The little girl or boy he pulled into their midst made that clear. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus didn’t end there. He clarified what aspect of that child we need to emulate: “ . . . whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
And later, "Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant."
But people didn’t want to hear that. Nor do we want to hear that now. We want our leaders to be "Strong Men," "Mighty Women," with strength and power in their fists and voices.
I tell you, I don’t care about living in a country that’s “great,” particularly when it’s been downgraded to mean Clinton’s “values” and Trump’s economic prowess rather than the moral or ethical good. Nor do I want a president who crows about his or her own greatness and accomplishments. A “great” president of the “greatest country on earth” is less likely to seek God for wisdom, to listen to the people who elected him or her, to listen to the sage counsel of others.
But I’m not giving up hope. I pray that whoever is elected, under the incalculable weight of responsibility, will change and become like that little child----lowly and utterly dependent upon God.
And I pray for us that we too would change and become like little children who are known not by our aspirations to “greatness” but by our servant-hearted goodness, no matter who’s in power.
If we can do that, then we all win. And maybe our nation could again be called “America, the Beautiful and Good.”
Friends, who do you think won?
And---what did I miss in this?