I write this blog on Monday before our 45th President, Donald Trump, is sworn into office on Friday. I’m not sure when you will read it, but that’s okay because it’s not about Mr. Trump. I’m not sure that I can add much to what has been, is being, and will be said about him this week. Instead, this week and its solemnity and seriousness cause me to think about something far more meaningful than any one particular individual. As a Christian and a pastor, I am thinking right now about some of the things we are witnessing at this crucial moment in our nation’s history.
Let me mention just three. First, I want to juxtapose two realities – one from Jesus and one from current affairs. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” He never varied from or edited that position. The Oxford Dictionary has named its Word of the Year for 2016. Do you know what it was? “Post-truth.” Seriously (and sadly) that is the new word they chose. “Post-truth” refers to our predilection to create an alternate (and false) reality when the truth makes us uncomfortable. Maybe someone was clearly guilty of something. Maybe their word or deed is unquestionably verifiable, even photographed or recorded. So, they simply create an alternate story, purely fiction, that denies the reality others have witnessed and can prove. Then they try to convince others that the lie they have created is truth. Or, a reality understood and confirmed by virtually the entire global scientific community challenges certain businesses to improve or alter the ways they do business (which would cut into their profit margins), so they simply say that irrefutable scientific evidence is “questionable.” Post-truth. “It doesn’t really matter how you behave as long as your motives are good.” “It doesn’t really matter what you say about people as long as it sounds reasonable.” “It doesn’t really matter if a story is verifiable as long as it seems real on the Internet.” That last statement reflects a terrifying new practice called “fake news” which, as we recently saw in a moment of frightening tension between Israel and Pakistan, could have dreadful military consequences. Jesus said things are either true or not and that reality cannot be altered to suit our emotional comfort levels. Whatever the worlds of business or politics may say to the contrary, I’m sticking with Jesus. There is no such thing as “post-truth.”
Here’s another quote from Jesus vis-à-vis contemporary reality (especially in Washington): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Did you know that 91% of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate identify themselves as “Christian”? 91%! And yet we hear more vitriol, anger, and hatred from politicians aimed at other politicians than perhaps from any other demographic group at all. If our political leaders “lead by example,” then the example they are currently setting is not frequently consistent with the faith they claim. Gridlock in D.C. is primarily the result of selfishness – the desire to position one’s self in such fashion that being re-elected is assured. And that, in our age, means to position one’s self in a militant fashion rather than a thoughtful one. “Compromise” (meaning the willingness to respectfully listen to and seek to work with those of differing ideologies, a principle which guided the decisions of Congress almost from its inception) is now considered a dirty word. Politicians on both sides of the aisle too often think they can continue being re-elected only if they come across more like gunslingers than diplomats. What a sad day in American history. And yet, 91% of them claim to be followers of Jesus who said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who despitefully use you.” You really can’t have it both ways. Either we follow Jesus and his command to love all people and to seek peaceful, intelligent avenues to a shared future, or we simply use his name to get elected but reject his teachings. Here’s reality (and this is not “post-truth”): If 91% of the members of Congress and Senate would do their jobs according to the principles of the Lord they claim to believe in, most of the problems we know in our nation would cease to exist almost immediately! “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
A third observation. The disciples came to Jesus one day and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The passion to be in transforming communication with God reveals senses of wisdom and of humility. It is a way of saying, “God knows more about things than I do.” That’s why dating back to 1775 we have had annual calls to prayer. In 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law a National Day of Prayer. In the 80s, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the observance of that prayer day on the first Thursday of May annually. Last year every U.S. governor plus the governors of every official American territory called for the observance of a Day of Prayer. I think we need to take that seriously, and not just as a way of asking God to bless our philosophies or desires but rather of asking what God’s desires for us and our country are. The late Harry Denman was correct when he observed that the most effective kind of praying is “prayer without words.” How much could our future as a country improve if regularly (and more than merely one day a year) we would bow as a people and say, “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth.” There’s an old adage: “A day hemmed with prayer is less likely to unravel.” I think the same thing can be said of a nation.
In this home of positive thinking based on positive faith, have I become negative or hopeless about our future? Not at all. I believe in the future of our country because I believe in the Lord. I think God has a vision and a will for us. It’s just that we need to be more open to it and more diligent about it. And that involves such things as recognizing that truth is truth, and we cannot build a strong future on convenient lies... recognizing that if we claim Jesus as Lord, we need to follow his teachings whether or not doing so is easy or serves our personal agenda... and, recognizing that God listens to us when we pray and it is equally important for us to listen to God. Just those three simple, biblical steps can break the shadows that surround us at this moment and bring us as a nation into the light. And so I pray for our country and its people and its leaders in both parties, that we shall all know and have the wisdom to follow the One who is called “the Light of the world.”