Date: Sunday Nov. 13, 2016
Scripture: Psalm 146
Sermon: People Are People
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Do not put your trust in kings and princes. Do not trust rulers. [Psalm 146] Do not trust mortals in whom there is no salvation. An interesting idea coming from a people that demanded that God give them a king. The Hebrew people were governed by a group of judges. But the neighboring peoples had kings. The Hebrews decided they wanted a king. And they wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, finally God gave in and gave the Hebrew people a king. Years later, after Saul, and Solomon, and David, and various other kings, the writer of the Psalms tells us, Do not put your trust in kings or princes or rulers.
It’s easy to want a leader that will take care of you, make everything right, and set things straight. Let that leader be responsible for everything. Let the leader save you. Then you know who to expect to get things done. And you know who to blame when things aren’t the way you think they should be. A leader is very convenient.
Have the right king and all will be well.
Get the right boss and everything will be fine.
Call the right pastor and your church will thrive.
Elect the right president and your troubles are over.
Get the right guy, and it’s usually a guy, on top, and everything else falls into place. We expect the leader to take care of everything so that we don’t have to. And when things are not as we would like them to be, then it must be the leader’s fault. So, time for a new leader. And then we impose the same unrealistic expectations upon that person.
But the Psalmist tells us not to put our trust in kings and princes because, of course, kings, princes, bosses, pastors, leaders, are people. And, well, people are people. Susceptible to temptation. Weak. Falling short. Rising to the occasion. Making mistakes. Vulnerable. Amazing. Imperfect. Every leader is a person and every person is a fickle mix with great potential for good and not-so-good.
Leaders are all too human and when we expect them to fix things for us and create a just, peaceful society for us, we are abdicating our responsibility as part of the community. Yes, we want to encourage our leaders to pursue justice, peace, and the common good. But our faith does not teach us to rely on one person to save us. It teaches us to join in taking responsibility for the health and well-being of ourselves, the community, and society. Every person is created in the image of God, so we are all co-creators with God of a world that is hospitable and sustaining for all.
This idea of the importance of the community is shown to us by Jesus. At the beginning of his ministry, he calls people to follow him. They form a group. And he shares his vision and power with the group. He gives them authority to do all that he does. He holds nothing back from them. In the story of the feeding of the multitudes, the disciples are worried that there is no food for the throngs of people. Jesus tells the disciples, you give the people food. He has faith in their power to feed the crowd. They resist. After coming down from the mountain after the Transfiguration, a crowd confronts Jesus. We wanted your disciples to heal our sick. They didn’t do it. Jesus is frustrated and annoyed. In his eyes, they have the capability to meet the needs of the people but they don’t use it. So, he does the healing. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells the disciples that they will do greater things than he has done. Jesus fully expects his followers, as a group, as a community, to change the world. That is the reason for the existence of the church, the body of Christ. The church exists to transform the world by bringing the love, healing, and compassion of God to all. And Jesus has taught us all we need to know to do so.
The tradition of Jesus is one of shared responsibility and power. It is not a personality cult. It is not a group run by a demigogue. It is not an authoritarian dictatorship. What Jesus shows us was later expressed by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
So often people want to make Jesus the ruler who does everything for them. Jesus will do this for you. Jesus will do that for you. I met a man who told me that Jesus got his job for him. Really? Well, then why doesn’t Jesus get a job for the single mother who can’t feed her kids? Why doesn’t Jesus get a job for the felon who is out of jail and trying to start anew? Jesus is not going to do anything for you, but he will show you how to help yourself and others.
Jesus shows us how to be in community, holding one another accountable, supporting each other, passing on values from generation to generation, working together for the good of the whole. He does not show us how to abdicate our personal agency to a leader. He does not show us how to shirk our responsibility and expect a leader to do things for us. He does not show us how to revere a human leader so that we are absolved of expectations and consequences.
Now we have just had an election this past week. And some people wanted to elect Hillary Clinton so that she could solve all our problems for us. And some people wanted to elect Donald Trump so that he could solve all our problems for us. Some wanted to elect Gary Johnson, or Darrell Castle, or Jill Stein, or Rocky De La Fuente so that they could solve all our problems for us. But we are reminded of the words of the Psalm. Do not put your trust in kings or princes, and we can add, presidents. They are not going to solve all of our problems. They are not going to save us.
This was very directly expressed in a letter to the editor on election day. Charles Brusovich, Jr. of Lutz wrote this:
No matter who wins the election, I wonder how many people feel they have a personal responsibility as free citizens to promote the overall welfare of the country.
Does it bother anyone that we continually spend more than we pay in taxes by a substantial amount, and do we as citizens have a responsibility to curtail it?
Does it bother anyone that we complain about illegal aliens, but the only way they can stay here is because they are employed illegally by U.S. businesses and citizens? Do we have a responsibility to stop it?
Does it bother anyone that we send volunteers to fight “terror” when our own intrusive actions into other countries inspire it? Do we have a responsibility to vigorously object to ill-advised invasions?
Do we have a responsibility to each other to base our opinions in facts that promote the general welfare of the people? And to help each other by insisting on equitable wages, benefits and justice to all people?
Do we really think one elected person will change this? Or should we be looking in the mirror and asking ourselves if we are serving the country or ourselves? And, in the end, does one person make the country great, or do we make it great? [Tampa Bay Times, 11/8/16]
You and I may have different concerns and issues than Mr. Brusovich, but we can identify with his point about responsibility and accountability. The outcome of the election does not change the fact that we have much work to do. The whole election process showed us that our society is in great need and we can’t expect one person to make it right. Our faith calls all of us to work to make sure that every person in this country and the world is treated with dignity and respect. We believe each and every person is sacred and valued. And we need to make sure that the laws and conduct of our country reflect that. We need to address ourselves to caring for the environment which we believe to be God’s self-disclosure and gift. It is past time for us to insist on health care for the Earth which feeds our bodies and spirits. And we must redouble our efforts at creating a culture of peace. The election itself was fraught with contention, attacks, and hostility. We need to cultivate a culture of civility, kindness, respect and peace. And this includes speaking out with gentle strength against violence of every kind including verbal violence, sexual violence, economic violence, religious violence, gun violence, and war as a tool of foreign policy.
No leader is going to do this for us: this is our job. This is the calling of the church. This is what Jesus gathered people together to do. It is our responsibility to create the country and the world that we want to live in. And we need each other to fulfill our calling. We cannot do it alone. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.