I went to bed last night depressed and angry. A sizable enough percentage of Americans had embraced Donald Trump’s vision and attained for him an electoral college majority. They had accepted his fearful vision of America, his fear of immigrants and his disdain of women and of other religions. They had embraced his vision of a new American era of “greatness,” marked by walls on our borders and military might abroad.
I went to bed depressed and angry. I woke up several times.
And then, in the morning, I thought of a text from Revelation 10. It came to John after an experience of disappointment. The Word of the Lord indicated to him that he still had work to do: “You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”
I thought, too, of the text I had selected to preach on this coming weekend for a Veterans’ Day commemoration, 1 Peter 2:17–“Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” He said that when the king was Nero, a tyrant and a despot, who would put Peter and Paul to death. Give them their due. Live as good citizens. But fear God, and preach his word, even if that means your death.
What message do we have to preach again today? The same preached by Jesus. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said. But he told us how to live in this world, standing out from the values of the world.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
And in Matthew 25:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
I am sad, because we will have more wars. More soldiers and more civilians will die. Veterans will come home with reduced benefits (cut by the same people who inflate the budgets of weapons manufacturers) and an increasingly privatized VA (enriching civilian contractors). We will have more injustice, with cries of “law and order” excusing police racial profiling and brutality. The disabled, the different, the sick, the poor, all will find doors closed in their face in the name of “personal responsibility.”
And Christians will have to stand up, and prophesy again. We will have to point to God’s eternal law. We will have to point beyond governmental absolutism, toward the freedom of God’s kingdom. We will have to point beyond nationalism and xenophobia to the family of God, which transcends all human walls and barriers.
I think of Martin Niemoller, who lamented speaking up too late. I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., who walked with his people and slept in a jail and died in hope. I think of Oscar Romero, who spoke against the injustice of the Salvadoran oligarchy, aided and abetted by Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (and who was martyred for his witness on behalf of the poor).
I think of words often attributed to Romero, but written by Ken Untener:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
And so, O Church, do not be discouraged. Have no fear, little flock! Prophesy again!