Surely they have their reward
The Samaritan, the Pharisees and the Lamb of God
Our former president and vice president marked this past weekend in quite different ways, as Christmas 2021 heralds hope amid the crushing fear and stress of the unknown.
I came across two seemingly unrelated bits of news about last weekend, but they seem to paint a picture of these times when politics and religion have fused into an unholy monster threatening to devour our culture and destroy our moral framework.
Former Vice President Mike Pence spent Saturday helping out volunteers in Kentucky who were doing cleanup after the devastating tornadoes which destroyed a large part of the town of Mayfield. I learned this because David French happened to be there and wrote about it.
First, let me clarify that: “religion” is not just what people do at a church, synagogue or mosque. Plenty of faith-based beliefs: a quickly arriving man-made climate apocalypse; ghosts of racists past haunting every American institution with complete explanatory power; and that all guns (except those in the hands of police (with the exception of the previous point) are self-animated murdering automatons; all enjoy the fervor of religious worship by their adherents.
Of course, what we do at church has also shifted to the political. For instance, Raphael Warnock skipped from the oratorial and ecclesiastical pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, former ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, to the halls of the U.S. Senate. He did so by way of sharp elbows and political strategy, with not a small amount of help from Donald Trump, whose claims of a stolen election (only his!) invited his own flock to stay home for the runoff, and hand Kelly Loeffler’s seat to the Democrats.
Getting back to the weekend. On Saturday:
David French met Mike and Karen Pence because wife grew up in the part of Kentucky where the tornado hit. French included that bit in his Sunday essay about the decline of friendship and societal bonds among so many Americans, leading to more division. The Pences spent a day riding around Kentucky and pitching in, getting muddy in the rain with all the volunteers. French explained:
I hung back and watched him talk to the victims and volunteers. He was gracious and kind, and folks were genuinely moved by his presence. He took time to talk to each person and spent the most time with the victims of the storm. He helped out for a few minutes and then drove off to visit a different site. For the folks present, it was a very meaningful surprise.
Former President Donald Trump attended a church service, sitting in the front row, while lines of people waited for hours outside the church before the service, at Dallas First Baptist, where his friend Pastor Robert Jeffress, welcomed him, calling him “a great friend to Christians everywhere.”
Trump was honored at a church, not for his great service to God, but for his political power. Surely he has his reward. As the tweet says, the “church did exactly what that passage [James 2] said not to do.”
You can look up James 2 on your own. Also, I’m sure that Trump’s presence was just as meaningful to the people who came to see him, as Pence’s presence was to those in the mud and rain. I think you can figure out how those meanings differed. The folks in Mayfield had church; the ones in Dallas were in a church.
The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 9:5-7, a famous passage:
6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
The Pharisees and chief priests of Israel sat in the front rows, while the people had to wait in lines, pay money in the courtyards, and give political homage to their patrons. The religious leaders looked for the coming savior, that they would anoint him, choose him from among their own class, and elevate him with the power of God to make their own political power greater, to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to greatness. Surely they had their reward.
The shepherds labored in the field with their flocks. To them, the angels revealed the most momentous event in history. A baby in the line of David was born in Bethlehem, in a stable used for animals, in the mud. A King of Kings: Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace entered the world in a place where none of the powerful and influential looked.
To see the Savior, one had to turn his head from the political and powerful to the muddy and forgotten. From the palace to the fields. We so often see our glances stolen by the palace; it takes work to turn to the fields.
Last weekend, we had an almost perfect example of turning to the fields where the Christ child was coming, and another of the Pharisees gathering to honor themselves. Glory to God in the highest.
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