Grace and peace to you in the name of the blessed and Holy Trinity.
Those ancient words of greeting, invoking the Divine Name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – seem especially weighty, important, even essential today. We woke this morning to more than news of a new president. Something more has happened than an election. It seems to me our divisions, our lack of unity, our mutual mistrust and disrespect of one another, all of which has been on display throughout this campaign, have now blossomed into the bitter fruit of disunity. It does not matter which party “won” the election, the result would have been the same. To me, it feels like no matter who “won,” we have all lost – lost our souls, our compassion, our direction, our hope. So, calling upon the source and grounding of love, of Divine Unity expressed in the Trinity is to reach for a lifeline only God can cast in our direction.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have set the tone for peaceful and even hopeful transition in the midst of our divisions. They have called upon us all to give Mr. Trump his due and a chance to lead. We should listen. Mr. Trump has spoken of unity and cooperation. We should trust his words are genuine. The rituals and words of “peaceful transition” that have guided our nation since the beginning are essential. With due respect to each of the three named and to other elected leaders who are called upon to guide us, I think we can all agree that we expect… no, demand nothing less than what is best for the whole of the nation and its people… all of them.
However, I’m not sure we can look with great hope to these leaders to unite a nation that is so broken and fragmented. We all like to think that the breeches between us are caused by leadership. This election process seems to suggest that is not the case. The leadership reflects us. We are divided, neighbor from neighbor, black from white, male from female, young from old, rich and poor, just to make a short list. The divisions in Washington reflect the divisions in our neighborhoods and our own hearts. We need another source of healing and recognition.
If we are to actually change the gridlock and hatred of this nation, you and I are going to have to change. First, every one of us must learn to reject the binary way of thinking that divides the world, artificially, into right vs. wrong, us vs. them, good vs. bad, red vs. blue, liberal vs. conservative, and so on. We all act (and all too often in the church) as if every situation and context has a right answer and a wrong answer; that, like some game played on a field, there are always winners and losers.
In truth, the world is more complicated than binary ones and zeroes. We live in tension between opposites and find life in working out and resolving the tensions. When we buy into the binary vision, we preclude dialog and compromise, making each sins in our tidy, but fabricated universe. Talking to each other and seeking a new way out of argument is to be valued not denigrated.
Our nation can learn from recent imperatives adopted between Lutherans and Catholics, who have a long history of a binary addiction. The first move for all of us is to begin with what unites us, instead of what divides. The second move is to value dialogue and be willing to be changed by our honest conversation. Two ways placed in a binary choice equals winners and losers and no growth on either side. Two ways in dialogue invariable finds a third way that transcends either beginning positions. In the passion of Jesus Christ, the world perceived a binary choice – Jesus or the powers that be. When God raised Jesus from the dead, a radical third way appeared. That’s how God works, so that is how the universe works.
The church, it seems, is in an odd position in the face of our national disunity and rancor. By all accounts, the church is a fading tradition, pushed to the margins of culture and bearing no relevant message to the world – unless we shape our message to the culture’s binary vision. But then we just advance the disunity and division.
The church, however, has often done its best work from the margins. At the margins the church is not beholden to the powers that be, so much. It seems to me that the church at the margins of society can be two things this divided people need: a voice of one crying in the wilderness and a voice for reconciliation.
This morning, I began my daily prayer for President-elect Trump, that he be open to and guided by the Blessed Holy Trinity; that he is genuine in his commitment to unity; that the weight of the office shapes him to be an able leader. Alongside that prayer, I began to renew my prayers for the church and my own ministry to be a voice crying in the wilderness (Luke 3:4) against racism, misogyny, bigotry, violence; a voice advocating for those in need of daily bread, for respect and dignity and for peace in every neighborhood and nation. I invite you to do the same. We must demand more from our leaders, and we must train them by being more ourselves.
Second, the church must be the essential force behind reconciling us. (2nd Cor. 5:18-19) It is time for the church to finally get out of the judgment business and stop being consumed by question of heaven and hell after we die. There is pain and division right in front of us that demands the ministry of reconciliation. We must grant respect to those who differ with us, and extend a hand in solidarity based on what unites us, rather than clenching the fist over what divides. We need to watch that evil weapon, the tongue, so that if we can’t say something that builds up and makes peace, we remain silent (Ephesians 4:29 & James 3:6-8), in our speech, our writing, and our Facebook posts. We have to better than our worst and then we have to demand that from those we elect.
This week, our political leaders ended a knock-down-drag-out fight that did not unite us. Last week, Pope Francis and Bishop Younan of the Lutheran World Federation publicly put aside 500 years of division in an embrace of peace and an agreement to continue seeking reconciliation. Which vision of the world do we need?
It is time for the faithful to be a voice crying out in the wilderness, demanding that our best selves rise above division and bring justice and peace to all. It is time for the church to be a force for reconciliation. That mission starts in your home, workplace and every relationship.
In Christ, Pastor Tim
© copyright Timothy V. Olson, November 2016