I’m wondering this morning, as the sun rises over our nation, what would Jesus do during the inauguration of our 46th president? Would he turn on the news and observe from a distance or would he buy a bus ticket and travel to DC? If he were there would he wave a flag to prove his patriotism or would he use it as a weapon to bring harm to those who see the world different than he does? Perhaps Jesus would find a few friends and go fishing. I’m tempted to think the latter because that’s what I want to do. I want to go to my “happy place” and deny the mess we find ourselves in.
To help get some clarity on my thoughts I read the Palm Sunday story—the day Jesus was inaugurated as the King of Kings. Do you remember the story? Jesus was traveling into the city of Jerusalem and a spontaneous parade erupted. All the trappings were there for a grand inauguration. The colt he traveled on, the songs the people sang, the palm branches, the cloaks people laid on the ground before him were prophetic signs to announce the Messiah had finally come and a new era was dawning.
The story says, “When Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.”
On his inauguration day Jesus wept. He lamented that peace was in their grasp, yet the people he loved couldn’t—or wouldn’t—receive it.
With his eyes still red from tears, Jesus enters the temple courts of the city and performs a prophetic act; he drives out the opportunists who turned the outer temple court (the place of worship for gentiles) into a market place. He registers a complaint for all to hear: “It is written, my house will be a house of prayer for all nations; but you have made it a den of robbers.”
First Jesus laments and then he rebukes the religious leaders for abusing their power and neglecting their mission.
I believe Jesus was patriotic. He loved his nation and wept over it. He saw the forthcoming collapse of its economic, political, and theological center and it broke his heart. But he was far from being a nationalist. He never embraced the narrative of exceptionalism. On the contrary, when the religious leaders and those in charge of the temple allowed the court of the gentiles to become a center for consumerism rather than a place of prayer for people from other nations, Jesus disrupted their enterprise and corrected their behavior. As always, Jesus acted to ensure all people, especially those on the margin of society, had access to the center of community life.
If you’re like me, wondering how to participate in the inauguration, may I suggest we follow the example of Jesus: prayers of lament for our nation and a strong rebuke of Christian nationalism are in order.
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Walter Brueggemann rightly critiqued the North American Church when he said, “The crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.” This generic U.S. brand of Christianity has left the world with a bad taste for the Church and a lack of trust in its leaders.
The world needs to see a Church that looks more like Jesus and less like the political ethos of our nation. After four years of fear based politics and demonizing rhetoric—coming from both sides of the political spectrum, liberal and conservative, we find our country at an extremely vulnerable place. (From my perspective the demonizing rhetoric comes more from the other side than mine—but isn’t that how the algorithms work?)
It is far past time for those of us who call ourselves “Christian” to splash water on our face and wake up. As the water runs down our face and drips on the collar of our shirt, let us remind ourselves of the vows we made at our baptism; vows to love God and love our neighbor; to place our trust in Christ and his kingdom; to grow in Christian character, in order to become mature disciples who live and love like Jesus.
God help us all, both those who have been lead astray by conspiracy theories and those duped with a lust for political power. Help us repent. When we have been mesmerized by the lure of affluence and neglected your call to love the poor; Lord, help us realign our values with yours. If we have settled for a watered down Christian nationalism and think those who look like us and vote like us are better than others . . . Lord help us stop and change the way we think! Today, we lament and weep! Our country and the Church are in dire need of your grace. Lord, have mercy.
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Biblical laments most always end with words of praise for God’s goodness, coupled with an expression of hope in God’s promises.
My hope in Christ inspires me to pray for our new President, Joe Biden and our new Vice President, Kamala Harris. God’s promise to make all things new encourages me to pray for the Church, believing she will rise up and lead the way forward, not with political power or militant force, but with love. I see a new brand of extremists on the horizon—extremists for love and justice who will rebuild what we have broken.
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.