Planting a Tree

We call this text in Luke an apocalyptic text. It is part of a rich tradition of scripture and other writings that describe the coming end times in dramatic, terrifying and even violent ways. Even though Jesus in other places clearly tells us not to worry about when our world will end, there is a Christian tradition of ignoring Jesus and parsing this scripture and others to see if we are near the end times now. Earthquakes, check. Wars, check. Famines, check. Plagues, check. And because these catastrophes are both vague and always happening, people of faith for generations have speculated and even declared that the end times are surely beginning now.

And this just happens to be the appointed scripture the Sunday after our national election Tuesday. Weeks before the election I looked at this text and thought it might ring prophetic to some in our congregation, because during the campaign both candidates spoke in dark, apocalyptic language. If you vote for Hillary Clinton, you will be putting a power hungry crook in the White House that will be opening up the doors of government to the highest bidder, selling the White House sheets if it will make her an extra buck. If you vote for Donald Trump, you will be putting a crazy narcissist who can’t be trusted with Twitter let alone the nuclear codes in a position to literally destroy the *world if another country accuses his hair of being a toupee. Regardless of who won, I was sure that half of America would wake up Wednesday wondering if this is the end times that Jesus spoke about.

It has been reported that we divide ourselves into silos that affirm our political beliefs. We surround ourselves with friends and live in neighborhoods with people that think like we do. We listen, watch and read news from outlets that affirm our way of thinking. Most all of us are partisan, no more likely to vote for a Democrat if we are Republican than a Buckeye fan would root for the Wolverines. A recent survey said that parents would be more upset about their child marrying someone from another political party than from another race or religion.

Uniquely, our Messiah community brings us out of our silos. As your pastor who has had many conversations with almost all of you, I can tell you without hesitation that our members have many different political views. This diversity is something to be celebrated! Finally, we are in a place and among people where we can be challenged gently with love in our hardened stances. Here at Messiah, we can see that the Republicans we know don’t want to see poor people starving in the streets and the Democrats we know aren’t fighting to kill every baby in the womb they can find.

However, after an election that feels apocalyptic our diversity makes me a little uneasy. Just think about it. Half of our congregation woke up on Wednesday convinced the world was ending and the other half was relieved that the tragic course of our world was corrected. Look around these pews, some of us shed real tears of concern when we heard for the first time the words, President elect Donald Trump. While others, were equally relieved their prayers were answered and they would  never have to hear the words President elect Hillary Clinton. Contemporary worship, weekly communion, building projects, debates about sexuality, none of these have separated us at Messiah, but could the election of 2016?

So, on this Sunday, let me preach about the end times. The church is an outpost of the Kingdom of God not a part of the Kingdom of Man. Here nothing separates us from God and each other, not our gender, our race, our class, our nationality or even our political party. This means we are brothers and sisters, bound by Christ regardless of our other allegiances. This means we always seek to love each other, even when we don’t agree.  

All who voted for Trump, should be distressed at how visibly shaken and concerned some of their brothers and sisters at Messiah have become. Their tears and anxiousness should call you to come alongside them with encouragement and a listening ear. You know these people, their hearts are big. They are genuinely worried about their rights and the rights of friends and family which seem to them precarious, whether you agree or not.

All who voted for Clinton, should remember their fondness and love for their brothers and sisters who are celebrating the prospects of a Trump administration. These Trump voters are the same people they have eaten meals beside and celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and festival days. Many have demonstrated in our community their wisdom and passion for our world. They love God and neighbor as much as you do. Trust their good intentions even while you hope they are not misplaced.

No election in any country changes the daily task of a Christian. Jesus warned against worrying about when the world might end because it would distract us from sharing the gospel of God’s uncompromising love. It is reported that Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he was told the world would end tomorrow and he replied, plant a tree. Plant a tree. Our work today in this broken world is the same as it was before this election was decided, to declare God’s love for the world, by loving passionately and without compromise our neighbor. Whether we live in  a democracy, a totalitarian state, a caliphate or a commune, the question that starts our day is the same. Who Lord are you going to put in my path to love?

Finally, remember we are people who have pinned our hope on death and resurrection. Social upheaval and wrong turns by our politicians are to be expected. Because of the power of sin in our world, everything is corrupted and  eventually dies. Death, though, will never have the last word. Our God makes new life on the ashes of what our broken world, our broken lives have destroyed. This does not mean we sit back and let the Kingdom of Man hurt God’s creation, abuse those on the margins of our society or disparage the dignity of anyone created in the image of God. Not as Democrats or Republicans but as Christians we battle the Kingdom of Man. Our trust in the resurrection though means that we are not afraid to lose that battle.

Is today the beginning of the end? It could be. However, even the end will be just one more opportunity for God to bring us a new beginning. In the meantime, I will plant a tree. I will keep my eyes on the choices of the Trump administration as I would have on a Clinton administration. As Jesus taught in our lesson today, I will try to speak a brave but unpopular word of love when I fear that people, especially those weakest and most vulnerable are not being treated with the respect and dignity that the works of the hands of God deserve.  I hope all of you, Democrats and Republicans will plant a tree with me, too. Amen

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