Wednesday, November 2, 2016

God's Righteous Servant

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify the many, and he will bear their iniquities. - Isaiah 53:11 (NIV)

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. - Mark 10:45

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Samuel 23:18-24:25; John 11:31-44

I've hesitated to write more than small hints about this American political season, because the whole political dimension of our life together has become a battlefield of division and animosity. For one thing, I try to have enough humility to entertain the notion that I might be wrong about politics, and that my personal opinions don't matter that much to anybody else. I also have a lot of family and friends, and I serve a lot of people in church, whose political views are very different from mine. I give thanks that we can live and work and serve together, and even like each other, despite those differences - and I believe that kind of coexistence is one of the healthiest parts of our political life. So I feel that talking politics carries a significant cost, and a risk of damaging those relationships.

But I also need to be myself, and be real. That's part of being a person trying to make a positive contribution in this world, and part of citizenship, and part of my call as a Christian, and part of my duty as a pastor. I started my original blog ( as a place to share my "semi-random, semi-occasional thoughts." As it turns out, I've only posted there 23 times in seven years, on various topics. Then, at the encouragement of a church leaders' coaching group I'm in, I started this new blog ( to record personal reflections on my daily scripture and prayer time. I resisted doing this at first, but now I find it a helpful way to refine my thoughts a bit and hold myself accountable to keeping up with my daily spiritual practices. Part of the purpose is to eventually use the blog as an example and inspiration for others in their own daily scripture and prayer time, and though I'm not using it that way yet, I can see how it would be helpful. I try to keep the Take Up Today posts personal and real, so this blog is less of a presentation of something I feel is "important," and more of a mostly-daily record of what's on my mind and what the scriptures of the day mean to me. Sometimes I wander across the line of personal reflection into a bit of teaching or preaching, but generally what I write here comes from a real, personal place.

So for the next week or so, as our national election day finally draws near, I find myself needing to include overtly political views in what I write here. I do believe politics is "important," but rather than try to teach or preach about it, I just want to personally reflect. You're welcome to read along if you want. And you can always take this moment to start your own daily process of scripture reading and prayer and posting your reflections! But if you don't care for what I write here, that's OK. If you and I are already friends, know that I love you and respect you even if we couldn't disagree more on political things. If you're someone I work with in my call as a pastor, know that I am not trying to speak for the church or any part of it, or anyone else. And I am not casting judgment on you as a person, or trying to say that my way is the only reasonable or faithful way. I just have to be real here and include the political parts of my personal reflections along with other parts.

Why write all this today? Because my political reflections are so front-and-center for me that I can't not focus on them. I woke up this morning feeling depressed and worried about our country, having heard some news yesterday that the polls are tightening up. Odds seem to be better now than a week or two ago that Donald Trump might actually be elected President of the United States. This has always seemed unthinkable to me. Aside from my personal take (which would easily earn the label "liberal" from most people who use political labels) on his policy views, it seems obvious to me that he's entirely unqualified to serve in anything close to this kind of leadership capacity. As a country, we seem quick to justify or minimize his flaws in comparison with Hillary Clinton's, but if I set her pros and cons aside and just look at Donald Trump as a leader, I honestly don't know how we could expect him to serve as any kind of reliable president. He lies and exaggerates more frequently than any other candidate I've seen. He says whatever he thinks people want to hear, and takes the common political art of flip-flopping to an unprecedented extreme. At various times, he's said that he believes things that are polar opposites. Unlike any other candidate in generations, he refuses to release his taxes and personal finance records (while lying repeatedly about the fact that he can't release them while under audit) so we have no idea where his wealth comes from or how much of what he says about his finances is true. He has a history of lying, misleading, cheating, and bilking people out of money. His default pattern is to attack and shame people, seeking personal vengeance on anyone who he feels has wronged him. He has another pattern of violating women physically and mentally. Much of the energy of his campaign comes from whipping up anger against immigrants, minorities, or people who disagree with him. He advocates extreme violence as a response to differences of opinion. And on top of all this, the actual political solutions he proposes have the barest of details. Whether he himself actually believes the things he says, he ignores realities like the changing nature of manufacturing and economics and energy policy, and promises that he alone, by unspecified means, can set things back like they were a few decades ago. He doesn't understand the workings of the three branches of American government or the basics of the Constitution. He has rejected the briefings of our best security agencies. He says that he knows more than generals, or people who have spent their careers serving in other areas. Donald Trump is a fraud and a charlatan who has no idea how to lead, but thinks he does. We can tell a lot about what kind of leader a candidate would be by their campaign process, and if you look at Trump's, you see deception, chaos, poor coordination and communication, conflicts of interest, and reliance on groups that want to consolidate white male power and shut other people out. When we vote for president, we're voting not to make a statement or express anger, but to decide who's going to lead the executive branch of the country's government for the next four years. I can't even begin to imagine the disaster Donald Trump could lead us into. For most of this year, I feel like I've been living in a bad dream with this election. Now it feels close to waking up with it as a reality.

Obviously, I feel strongly about this. 

Last night I went to bed feeling gloomy about our country's prospects. I woke up with the same depressed feeling. But this morning (and glancing ahead, for the next few days), the Daily Texts offer a different perspective. The early Christian church proclaimed "Jesus is Lord," and I hold that as my own top political principle. Whatever happens in earthly government, all human power is subject to God's authority, and God chooses to be revealed to us most clearly in Jesus Christ - Jesus Christ on the cross, Jesus Christ the suffering servant.

The Daily Texts chose the NIV translation of Isaiah 53:11, which unfortunately obscures the connection between Jesus' righteousness and the righteousness of God's people. They are the same. We get all righteousness from him. The NRSV's phrasing, "The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous," more accurately shows that the same word is at the root. Because Jesus is right with God, and because he loves us, and has come to deliver us, we too can be made righteous. This is more than a transaction or a pronouncement or a get-out-of-hell-free card. It means that our whole ability to live a life that aligns and connects with God and God's creation comes by grace from the work of Christ for us. It means that his life pattern of compassion and service and love is the same power that moves us toward God. Our righteousness, at its best, echoes his. We are called to know and love God who is best revealed to us in the crucified and risen Christ, and to know and love our neighbors - all other people whose lives intersect with ours - as our way of living out the righteousness of Christ as best we're able.

I believe that is the vision God has for any nation or any group of people who want to claim the name of Christ. In this world, we're always going to fall short. And in our country, our political leaders will never get close to fully delivering on this way of life. But that is our goal and our vision.

These days, I am literally getting down on my knees and praying for God's guidance and mercy and grace and wisdom and courage. There are all kinds of problems in our country, and I don't know how to resolve them all. But I do know that I trust in God to be the one to show the way. God has given one Righteous Servant. May we put him first and last, always before us. May we recognize him and his way forward for us toward his vision.

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