This Is Who We Are

“This Is Who We Are” Mark 1:4-13 Baptism of Our Lord January 10, 2021 First Christian Church Mahtomedi, MN Preached at First Christian Church on January 10, 2021. “This isn’t who we are.” President-elect Joe Biden said these words in the aftermath of Wednesday’s assault on the US Capitol. Politicians like to say this during events like this.  I know more often than not the people who say this mean well.  They want to say that as Americans we aspire to higher goals and that what happened is something that is uncharacteristic of who we are as Americans. This phrase comes from a good place. It’s also incredibly wrong.  This is who we are.  This is who we are as a nation. Because if you are African American like I am or Native American or Japanese American, you know that our nation has a dark side and far too many times that dark side has shown up to harm persons of color, LGBTQ Americans, and others.  For some of these people seeing the images of a mostly white crowd running amok within the walls of the US Capitol, a place where I once worked, nod their heads and say “This IS Who we are.” This is not all of what the United States is all about.  If it was, then we as a nation are without hope.  The words found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution matter to us as Americans. As a nation, we strive to live up to better ideas and many times we do. But let’s not kid ourselves.  A century ago, three African American men were lynched in Duluth under trumped-up charges of rape.  Later this year, we will commemorate a century since the Tulsa Massacre which killed an untold number of African Americans in what was called Black Wall Street. This is who we are. We are sinners.  We fall short. We commit evil. We are not okay. In Mark, John the Baptist comes around preaching a baptism that led to repentance, to change their lives. One day, Jesus comes.  That had to come as a shock to John because Jesus had nothing to repent of.  But he baptizes his cousin anyway.  When he comes up from the water, the sky splits and the Holy Spirit comes into him.  It is then a voice that claims Jesus as the Son of God.  It is there that he is given an identity as our savior. This is who Jesus is. When we are baptized, we are claimed by God. This is who we are.  You and I are Daughters and sons of God. But we still sin.  We fall short.  We are claimed by God, but let’s not forget that we are sinners saved by the grace of God. Because we are claimed by God in spite of our sin, we are called to act. After Jesus was baptized, he went into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil and then went into his ministry, because he knew who he was. Our theme for Epiphany is “For the Sake of the World.” It’s a phrase that comes from our Lutheran sisters and brothers and it says the church exists for the sake of the world.  Churches exist as people who are baptized and claimed by God to go out to proclaim justice and preach reconciliation.  This is who we are. In light of the storming of the capital our baptism matters. We are called into a ministry of reconciliation and Lord knows we need it.  As a congregation, we need to find ways to give space to where people can listen to one another. Our baptism compels us to move from the sidelines and join in God’s work of justice and reconciliation. What happened this week is a wake-up call for the nation and the church. What we saw is a reminder that this is part of who we are as a nation.  We saw rioters, bullies and a President out that want to spread fear, to use the words of God, but worship an idol. That is who they are. But we at First Christian have another identity. Claimed by God, we have a role in preaching God’s love and justice to our nation and our world. We will be talking about this more because we must.  It is time for us to live out our baptisms. It doesn’t matter how small we are in number or how much money we have in the bank. It is time for you and I to live up to who we are in the eyes of God. We are the children of God. This is who we are.  Let’s start acting like it. Thanks be to God. Amen. Listen to the sermon podcast.

Sermon: Thirteen

This is the sermon I preached yesterday. You can read it here and you can also listen to the podcast. Yes, Thirteen is referring to Romans 13.

Exodus 20:17, Matthew 22:34-40 and Romans 13
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Ten Words from God Series
June 17, 2018
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

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2yearoldcryingI’ve shared this before, but I first learned about the internment of Japanese Americans in high school. I can remember reading about the Issei and the Nissei, the names for the immigrant generation and the first generation of native Japanese Americans respectively.  They came to the United States seeking a new life and set up lives and communities along the Western coast of the United States. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the lives of these immigrants dramatically changed. All of the sudden, over 100,000 American citizens were viewed with suspicion.  In the days following the attack, the United States declared war against the Japan and we formally entered World War II. But our government also did something else. Executive order 9066, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt allowed for the government to round up those 100,000 Americans and place them into Internment Camps across the West.  The United States government forced 100,000 people whose only crime was to share the ancestry of a current enemy, to give up their homes and businesses, to leave their hometowns to go to camps where they stayed until the end of the war.

We look back at that time with a sense of shock and shame.  We wonder how a government, our government would be willing to do that to American citizens.

And yet, here we are 70 years later at another point in history when our government is doing something that seems unimaginable.  

We have all seen and heard the stories about families who come to the border who are forcibly split up children from parents to go to special detention facilities.  Vox, the online magazine states, “Between October 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018, at least 2,700 children have been split from their parents. 1,995 of them were separated over the last six weeks of that window — April 18 to May 31 — indicating that at present, an average of 45 children are being taken from their parents each day.”

This is part of a new “zero tolerance” policy by the Trump Administration, an effort to make coming to the United States, legal or not, as so horrible that people will stop coming. Many of those coming are requesting asylum, escaping violence in Central American nations.  But it doesn’t matter to our leaders. No matter what, if a family comes to our Southern border, the children are separated, even to the point to taking a woman’s child as she is breastfeeding them.

When asked to justify this policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded by using a passage in the Bible. This is what he said:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful. Our policies that can result in short-term separation of families are not unusual or unjustified.”

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Of course, I am speaking from Matthew, but I want you to remember that as we look at Romans 13.  This passage written by the Apostle Paul has been one of the most misused pieces of scripture in the BIble.  If you look at it alone, then it could be bent to excuse government policies which is what the Attorney General did this week. This passage has been used to justify government oppression which is not the intent of Paul.  Anglican Priest Fleming Rutledge has said that this passage has been used to keep people in oppressive situations. Today we are justifying the separation of young children by saying that Romans 13 says it okay.

Paul’s intent was to say that God created the world and that government is part of God’s created order.  Government is there to protect us, so we should be good citizens, paying our taxes and obeying the laws.

When you are reading Paul’s epistles which are letters to local churches, you have to understand it in that context. It is dangerous to take this passage whole as something that can be used in all times and places.  Yes, as Christians we should be good citizens and respect authority. But you can’t and shouldn’t use this to bless government activities. Romans 13 never tells us how to deal with a tyrannical government. You can’t really use this if the government is something like Nazi Germany. It is one thing to respect the authorities when the government is acting in a way that is just.  But Romans 13 has nothing to say when the government is unjust. The Attorney General also didn’t read the last part of this chapter where Paul tells the people not just to respect authorities, but to live in a certain way based on love. Paul says, “Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. 9 The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have,[a] and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself.[b] 10 Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.”

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Love is what is at the base of what we do.  If it isn’t seen as loving, then it isn’t love and it isn’t from God.  Ripping kids from their parents when they are already in a strange country where the language is different isn’t loving and it isn’t ordained by God. If someone tells you this, they are a liar. Even Paul knew that government even if it is good, is only provisional.  The ultimate power is not the Caesars of the Roman Empire or the United States, but it is found in God. When early Christians said that Jesus is Lord, that was dangerous. It was political, because in a place where the leaders were considered a deity, saying Jesus was lord was saying that someone else was challenging their power.

What is happening at the Southern border is not biblical.  It is not approved by God. The God that heard the cries of the Hebrew children killed by the Pharaoh, is not going to approve of destroying families.

I’ve spoken that the church is called to be a place where people of all backgrounds can come together at Christ’s table, especially at a time we are so divided.  But the church is also the church militant, it is called to speak out against injustice. We can’t remain silent when something like this is happening. We can’t allow the Caesars of this world to bend Scripture to justify their evil practices.

This is not about partisan politics.  This is not about bad Republicans and righteous Democrats. If you are thinking that way, stop it. We aren’t here to just speak out when we don’t like Caesar, we are called to speak out when the Cesar is unjust regardless if they have a D or R after their name.

You and I are called to speak.  This is a time to speak up. At the end of the day, we are called to love God and our neighbor.  Because to love God and neighbor are the foundation of every other commandment. If it isn’t loving it isn’t Jesus and if it isn’t Jesus we need to speak up.  Now is the time. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Trumped Up

There have been a myriad of stories about how Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump is winning over evangelicals.  And there have been a lot of pixels given over to talking about how hypocritical evangelicals are.  In the 90s, they wanted to burn Bill Clinton at the stake for adultery, but now they ignore Trump’s many affairs and marriages.

So, are evangelicals really flocking towards Trump?  Well, the picture is not as clear as some would like to think. Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat noted that not every evangelical was jumping on the Trump train:

First, the good news for despairing anti-Trump believers: Despite those polls showing him doing well with evangelicals and Catholics, Trump is not the first choice of most active churchgoers. Indeed, active religiosity is (relatively speaking) one of the bulwarks against Trumpism, and his coalition is strongest among the most secular Republicans, not the most religious…

…Trump is losing the most active believers, but he’s winning in what I’ve previously termed the “Christian penumbra” — the areas of American society (parts of the South very much included) where active religiosity has weakened, but a Christian-ish residue remains.

The inhabitants of this penumbra still identify with Christianity, but they lack the communities, habits and support structures that make the religious path (somewhat) easier to walk. As a result, this Christian-ish landscape seems to produce more social dysfunction, more professional disappointment and more personal disarray than either a thoroughgoing secularism or a fully practiced faith — which makes it ripe territory for Trump’s populist appeal. And his occasional nods to religious faith — like, say, his promise to make store clerks say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” — are well tailored for voters for whom Christian identity is still a talisman even when an active faith is all but gone.

So, the people who are attracted to Trump who might consider themselves Christians are people who don’t normally attend church, you could call them cultural Christians.  As Douthat notes, they have the language of the faith, but they are not connected to the institutions that could offer them help in hard times.  Their faith has the words of Christianity, but without the church.

The importance of this is that it reminds all of us Christians- evangelical or not- of the importance of church going.  I don’t know how it’s being viewed in evangelicalism, but there is at times a sense within progressive/mainline Christianity that going to church is not the main thing.  In fact, we have pushed people out of the churches and into the community, but we’ve done it at the time where people need it the most.

Church is the place where we are formed to be followers of Jesus.  It is a lifelong learning process, where we learn of the importance to love God and neighbor.  For those on the outer edges of American life, just trying to scrape by, Trump is able to latch on to those last fading embers of Christian faith and inject his own agenda.  But for those who go to church on a regular basis, they know that Trumps’ statements on Mexicans, women, Muslims and whoever else Trump doesn’t like is contrary to what the Bible teaches.

Does that mean that there aren’t evangelicals that go to church every Sunday and are voting for Trump?  Yes. Is that a problem?  Definitely. (Read comments from evangelicals like Russell Moore and  Peter Wehner about the that issue.) But it seems that the real decider on Trump is based on how often the person goes to church.

There are many that want to believe that evangelicals are every kind of evil imaginable. (I will add that there are many who think that mainline/progressive Christians are every kind of evil imaginable as well.)  But the picture is always more complex than we would like it to be.

But while churchgoing evangelicals are not going for Trump, it is important to note that the percentage of church going Christians has been going down.  A recent Vox article shares the numbers:

From 2007 to 2012, there was a 5 percentage point drop in the number of people who said they were Christian, according to a Pew Research study. The number went from 78 percent of Americans to 73 in just five years.

But it’s not just that fewer people are identifying as Christian; it’s that even the people who still identify as such are going to church less frequently — and as we see in the Trump polling, this matters.

Less people going to church means more people falling sway to other gods.

It is having actual communities where people gather and worship God that can be an innoculant against the wiles of Trumpism and any other isms in our world. This is why we need churches; as places where people are formed and also as communities of resistance against the ways of the world.

The Revenge of the Rednecks

Every election year in America is interesting, but 2016 is going to be one for the history books. When real estate mogul Donald Trump started his campaign last summer I was among many that thought it was a joke.  When he started portraying Mexican immigrants as rapists, it seemed his campaign would sputter early.  I thought the same thing after he slandered Senator John McCain for getting captured during Vietnam. Or when said sexist things about Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly.  Or…

You get the idea.  Things that would have sunk more traditional candidates have only made Trump stronger, not weaker.  And many of us are left scratching our heads as to why this man has such strong followers, especially after he has said horrible things such as deporting all 11 million people here illegaly or banning Muslims from entering our country.  Who in the world would support a man that is nothing more than a nationalist that peddles soft core bigotry?

It’s a question many are wondering.  Among churches, there are many that scratch their heads as to why anyone on God’s green earth someone would support someone like Trump. Evangelical leaders are especially troubled . Some go as far as to think that those evangelicals who support Trump aren’t really evangelicals at all.

But since I run with mainline/progressive Protestants, I am interested in what they think. The answer is pretty simple: they think Trumpistas are ignorant racists.  Here is what Tim Suttle has to say:

CNN recently conducted 150 interviews at Trump rallies in 31 cities. The results paint a picture of supporters who are largely white, angry, scared, and united by intense dislike for President Obama. Much of the outrage clusters around issues of race. Hatred toward Obama stems from the sense that he cares more about blacks than whites, and that he is too friendly toward Muslims (along with the Trump-birthers who still think he’s a secret Muslim). Supporters outside Trump rallies chant, “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. All the Muslims have to go!” Backlash against the Black Lives Matter protests fuel many other Trump supporters. Frustration with underemployment or lack of opportunity has been directed toward hispanic immigrants. There is a sense that, as one supporter claimed, “No one’s looking out for the white guy anymore.”

Now Suttle doesn’t say that they are racists and that’s that. He does think they are focused on the wrong enemies.

But mainline and evangelical leaders do tend to lump Trump voters into one box, the box that says these voters are racist, xenophobic, uneducated rabble.

I don’t doubt that a number of Trump supporters are racists and xenophobes.  Anyone who can’t see that is blind.  But that said, I wonder if those of us in the mainline churches are missing something.  Are we not seeing why they might be attracted to Trump? And are we not seeing how we have treated these people and in some way has pushed them to choose a reality TV show star?

Trump has exposed something that we Americans are loathe to talk about and that is class.  As hard as it is to talk about race in America, we like to pretend class doesn’t exist.  But the fact is,it does and it shows itself in how middle and upper income Americans look at low income Americans, especially those who are poor and white. The well educated in American society tend to view the working class, especially the white working class with contempt.  British writer Clive Crook has noticed that coming from class-conscious Britain didn’t prepare him for the way the working class is treated in America:

I’m a British immigrant, and grew up in a northern English working-class town. Taking my regional accent to Oxford University and then the British civil service, I learned a certain amount about my own class consciousness and other people’s snobbery. But in London or Oxford from the 1970s onwards I never witnessed the naked disdain for the working class that much of America’s metropolitan elite finds permissible in 2016.

When my wife and I bought some land in West Virginia and built a house there, many friends in Washington asked why we would ever do that. Jokes about guns, banjo music, in-breeding, people without teeth and so forth often followed. These Washington friends, in case you were wondering, are good people. They’d be offended by crass, cruel jokes about any other group. They deplore prejudice and keep an eye out for unconscious bias. More than a few object to the term, “illegal immigrant.” Yet somehow they feel the white working class has it coming.

But this attitude isn’t just found among the elite Washington set. It is found especially among the mainline/progressive churches.

For all the talk of inclusion, most mainline churches tend to reflect the culture they were born in, that is the middle and upper classes. The people who attend local and national meetings tend to be well-educated folk. When we plant churches, we tend to go after white hipsters and(maybe) persons of color. Working class whites? Forget about it.

Four years ago, I shared that for all the justice and peace talk, mainline Christians had a class problem:

I don’t think the people who make up most mainline churches, who tend to be from a more professional background don’t like these folks very much.  I know this, because I hear how pastors talk about working class whites in meetings with other pastors, and I can tell you they aren’t looking at them as some kind of salt of the earth figure.  I’ve also heard it from people in the pews of mainline churches as well: this kind of contempt for them.
We look down at them because we see them as racist, homophobic, sexist and any other -ist and -ism that you can think of them.  The thing is that working class whites can be all these things, but they are more than that as well.  As Packer notes in his essay, these are people who see very little hope and take it out on everyone for their lot in life.
When we talk about planting new churches to reach young adults, we mostly mean reaching people of the same socio-economic class that we are a part of.  As much as we want to talk about caring about the poor and the workers, I sometimes wonder how accepting we are of those that actually fit this description.  How willing would folks be to accepting a man or woman that you can tell has lived a hard life and whose moral life is kind of a mess?
My own opinion is that the mainline church has a class issue and we don’t know it or at least don’t want to acknowledge it.  A good number of the mainline churches I know exhibit the values of the middle and upper middle classes.  We don’t have any way to connect culturally with the working class.

Which is maybe why Trump has such a following among the white working class. They don’t like him because of his positions on say health care, but that he that he stands up to the upper class. Crook notes:

…contrary to reports, the Trump supporters I’m talking about aren’t fools. They aren’t racists either. They don’t think much would change one way or the other if Trump were elected. The political system has failed them so badly that they think it can’t be repaired and little’s at stake. The election therefore reduces to an opportunity to express disgust. And that’s where Trump’s defects come in: They’re what make him such an effective messenger.

The fact that he’s outrageous is essential. (Ask yourself, what would he be without his outrageousness? Take that away and nothing remains.) Trump delights mainly in offending the people who think they’re superior — the people who radiate contempt for his supporters. The more he offends the superior people, the more his supporters like it. Trump wages war on political correctness. Political correctness requires more than ordinary courtesy: It’s a ritual, like knowing which fork to use, by which superior people recognize each other.

Crook ends up saying that the vote for Trump is a protest over the lack of respect.

Of course, there is also an economic reason for the rise of Trump. Thomas Edsall and Charles Murray have some good analysis at what has happened in the economy that gave us the Donald.  What happened in my hometown of Flint, Michigan is something that happened around the country: we had a massive deindustrialization starting in the 70s that made life challenging for the working class. African Americans and other minorities were hit hard.  However, even during hard times, these groups had one institution that was there for them: the church.  For the white working class, there is nothing to rely on, not even the church.  In both its evangelical and mainline forms, American Protestantism has abandoned the white working class.

An example of this took place in my hometown. I started to notice something happening in Flint, starting in the 1980s and continuing to the present day.  One by one, many of the mainline churches in the city started closing. Part of this is because of the shrinking of the city and the shrinking of mainline denominations.  For African Americans in this majority black city, there was always the black church to help them in the challenging times.  That’s still the case today. Was that the case with working class whites. I don’t know.  I know that evangelical churches have stayed either in the city limits or nearby, but when it came to the church that prided itself in social justice and caring for the least of these, mainline churches were nowhere to be found. Conservative political writer Yuval Levin wrote what is happening in this new lower class in a 2012 article:

The formation of the “new lower class,” meanwhile, amounts to nothing short of a cataclysmic cultural disintegration. Among this group, the family is falling apart—with marriage rates for people between ages 30 and 50 plummeting from 84 percent in 1960 to 48 percent today, and only 37 percent of children living with both of their biological parents. Religious practice and belief are sharply declining: About 4 percent of Americans in Murray’s lower class reported having no religion in the early 1970s; today the proportion is greater than 20 percent. Industriousness is falling, especially among men: The share of lower-class households with a full-time worker dropped from 81 percent to 60 percent in the past half-century, while the number of men claiming to be disabled and unable to work has grown five-fold. Lawfulness has plummeted: Crime rates among this group exploded between 1960 and 1990, and although they have since declined some, much of that decline appears to have been caused by far higher incarceration rates, which hardly constitutes a sustainable solution.

Long story short, when things are going bad for you, when the upper class looks at you as nothing more than stupid racists, when institutions like the church are not to be found, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that these folk go for a guy that tells them that it’s the fault of Mexicans or Muslims for their plight.

As the 2016 campaign rolls on, I think that mainline churches really need to look at themselves.  How are they reaching out to the down and out? We are good in talking about being with the poor, but the hard reality is that the mainline churches are geared towards the “creative class,” and not towards all people. (Don’t get me started on how mainline churches are really only interested in tokenism among people of color.) We have to ask ourselves if we truly believe these people are people that God loves and seek ways to reach them, not just politically, but spiritually, giving them churches that can help them weather the storms of life. What the white working class needs is the same thing poor African Americans need: dignity.

But this means being real about how mainline churches have given lip service to the poor and working class while making sure their upper class compatroits are doing well. It means setting up churches in areas where the Tex Sample’s “hard living” folk live.

Much of the 2016 election year for Christians has been about either denouncing Donald Trump or outright frustration that Christians, evangelicals especially, are so enamoured with a candidate that is authoritarian and borderline racist.  There has been much written about denouncing Trump and to some extent denouncing his supporters.  There is an important case to be made for that.  Trump is too dangerous to be allowed to occupy the highest office in the land. But I also know that Jesus hung out with a rough crowd that didn’t set will with religious leaders.  If Jesus can do this, then it might mean we have to as well, to reach out and offer hope- not to accept their prejudices, but to meet them where they are and start knitting them into the larger whole.

I end with something I wrote in 2012 about this topic.  It sill carries relevance today:

There are policy answers to what’s going on here, but there are also spiritual issues going on here. We should be reading this and wondering how we can give them a word of hope?  How to do we let them know that God loves them and cares about them?  How does the church reach out and help them?  How do we stop talking about the poor or the down and out and actually get to know them in all their complexity?
I don’t know what is the answer here, but I do think we in the mainline church need to find ways to know these people and welcome them into our churches warts and all.  I think it might be what God would want us to do.

 

 

Sermon: Mr. Congeniality

Mark 12:1-12
Third Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2016
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 

Ever since I was little, I’ve had an interest in politics, especially during presidential years.  I can remember as a seven year old, sitting in my second grade class and having a mock election.  It was 1976, so the kids were asked to vote between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.  I remember Ford won in our class, he wasn’t so lucky in the real general election.

 

So, I was looking forward to this coming election.  Emphasis on the word, was.  I wish the election were as fun as it was 40 years ago, but this election is not turning out to be fun at all.

 

While I like to follow politics, I don’t like to talk about it at church.  I do that for a number of reasons.  The first is that Jesus is Lord. Our love for Christ must come before being a Democrat or a Republican. I also believe that because we believe God’s table is for everyone, I believe we must be welcoming to all regardless of party affiliation.

 

But I think I have to say something about this election, especially since the Minnesota caucus is two days away.  I’m not here to tell you who to vote for or even what my own party affilation is (though if you look at my Facebook feed, you would know).

 

I have to say something about one particular person, Donald Trump.  As everyone knows he is running for President.  When he started his campaign back in the summer of 2015, most everyone thought his campaign was a joke.  Now in March, on the verge of becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, we are no longer laughing.  

 

It’s been hard to figure out why Mr. Trump seems to be doing so well.  It’s certainly not because of his policies, which are paper thin.  What has been particularly head-scratching is that he has said things that would have sunk the campaigns of other people.  What is troubling is his character. He has made fun Senator John McCain’s imprisionment. He made fun of two persons with disabilities.  He has made sexist comments about a woman journalist.  He has called Mexicans rapists. He has said that he wants to ban Muslims, including Muslims who are Americans, from entering the company. He wants to deport all 12 million illegal immigrants in America.  None of this is something he said when the mikes were on but he didn’t know it, or off the record. No, he has said all of this live, in front of people and news cameras. I haven’t even talked about the fact that white nationalist groups are campaigning for him, including recording robocalls that have been heard in Minnesota. As Max Lucado, a well-known evangelical pastor said this week, Trump lacks decency and that matters in the White House and in life in general.

 

David Brooks, the conservative columnist notes that the rise of Trump is because of the rise of anti-politics, a sense that the other side is not just wrong, but evil. The other side is not acknowledged. Political writer Eliot Cohen says that a major reason for Trump is moral rot. For him, it’s one thing to be a jerk in private, but in public there is supposed to be a certain way to act, with respect. He notes that President Franklin Roosevelt named a finished large dam after the person he beat in the 1932 general election Republican President Herbert Hoover.  Considering how much Trump loves to put his name everywhere, I’m pretty sure he would not do the same thing.

 

So what does this have to do with today’s text?  Jesus tells a story of a man who plants a vineyards and then rents it out to tenants.  He goes away for a while.  After a while, it’s time to collect the rent, so he sends one of his servants.  The tenants decide at this point that they don’t want to pay rent and beat him up.  The landlord sends another servant and he is beaten up.  He sends a third and that one was killed.  This goes on for a while- the landlord sends a servant to collect the rent and the tenants either injure the servant or outright kill him.

 

Finally, the owner decides to send his only son.  His son was the sole heir to this land.  This point was not lost on the tenants.  As they see the son coming from a distance, they see this as a chance to get the land.  In that day, if an owner has no heirs, the land can go to the tenants.  The tenants had wanted the land all to themselves and this was their chance.  

 

When the landowner’s son arrives, the seize him, kill him and in a sign of ultimate disrespect, they throw his body outside of the vineyard.  

 

The landlord hears of this and is enranged.  Jesus says that the next thing that happens is that the owner will send people to come and punish the tenants and when I say punish, I mean kill. Judgement came to the tenants.

 

The problem with tenants is there sense of not thinking of others.  As I said, Trump is a sign of a culture go awry.  We are a society where we view those who are different with fear and contempt.  Where liberals and conservatives were able to compromise, they now look at each other with hatred and think life would be better without the other.

 

The workers thought that because they worked on the land, they had a right to the land an the owner had no right.  They were willing to do whatever it takes to prove that point, even if it meant killing the landlords son.

 

This parable was meant as a warning to the religious leaders of Jesus time.  They were the type of people that took pride in their following of the law, not caring much for how other were or were not able to follow along.  Jesus, predicting his death, knew that these leaders would reject him and would seek his death.  This parable itself is a take on a older text from Isaiah 5 called the Song of the Vineyard where the writer likens Israel to a vineyard that grows rotten grapes.  The gardener was so upset he decided to let the garden grow wild, to be left to its own devices.  The vineyeard was Israel and it wasn’t following the ways of God so God was ready to give them up to face the consequences of their actions, which happened in due time.

 

We live in a time where civility is nearly gone.  We seek to be with like-minded people and not encounter anyone who has a different view.  Our college kids want safe spaces where they don’t have to hear different opinions.

 

We shouldn’t be surprised that someone like Trump has appeared; we have prepared the ground for his seeds to germinate and grow.

 

This is the time for the church to be counted. We need to be a witness for character, because that matters- in our church and in our world.  We should expect our leaders to be people of care for others.  For the most part, most of our recent Presidents: Ford, Carter, Regan, the elder Bush, Clinton, the younger Bush and Obama have all governed with decency and honor.  You might have disagreed with their policies, but they were people who worked with a respect for the office and for the people they were sent to govern.  As followers of Jesus, we should speak out when there are people who seek to lead from a position of hatred, meaness and selfishness.  None of these are godly virtues; they are the characteristics of the tenants, people who thought only of themsleves, only in having more and saw others as being in the way of what they want.

 

As we walk through our Lenten series Purple Reign, we are reminded that the king that we serve, Jesus Christ, was one that treated others with respect, especially those that are forgotten.  He crossed political and social boundaries to share his message.  He gave up his life to save the lives of others.  These are the values, the aspects of character that we should be looking for in leaders.

 

The parable ends with the tenants facing judgement.  This is not something we should look forward with glee.  The God we serve is one that shows love even to those who don’t deserve it.  But flagrant violations of virtues cannot go unchallenged.  The tenants came to a point where they had to face the consequences.

 

This Tuesday, I will go to my caucus. And I will vote against Trump.  If he becomes the Republican nominee, I will not support him. I can’t tell you how you should vote.  I won’t tell you how to vote.  But as you go to your caucus, be mindful that we are called to care for others. I pray that you will not act like the tenants.

 

Dear church, it is time to be a witness for Christ.  Thanks be to God. Amen.