What if Jesus were running in this election? What would he say? What would he do? If you’re a person of faith or a person who’s curious about faith, how do we engage with our culture and each other in a season like this? How can we use the words of Jesus as our foundation, our plumb line, for how we make decisions in a time like this? This week, I started what I hope to be a series of posts in an attempt to answer those questions. (Read the first post here.)
Most campaigns start with some kind of splash announcement event. When a candidate makes an announcement, you can usually get a sense of the main themes of the campaign by what they say in the announcement. You can usually get a sense of who the campaign is for, who or what the candidate stands for.
Maybe the best way to really judge a campaign, though, is by the crowds of people who gather around the candidate. The strategically placed crowds give you an idea, just by looking at them, who the campaign is trying to reach. Look at the smiling people behind the candidate, and it’s like saying, “Look, these people who look like this are smiling about what’s being said, you can smile about it too.”
Just before Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount, just before he begins his “stump speech,” so to speak, the Gospel of Matthew describes the crowds that are gathered around him. Here’s what Matthew says:
“23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”
What we see here is a collection of people gathered around Jesus that no one would ever expect to see together for anything. These are people who are diametrically opposed to one another in every conceivable way: socially, politically, religiously. To say that people from Galilee and from the Decapolis were together in one crowd is like saying the Trumps and the Clintons were having Thanksgiving together.
This story says that the crowd around Jesus is FULL of people here who have been told their entire lives about most of the other people in the crowd, “Don’t ever associate with people like that.”
So here’s the question: how is it possible for people from very different backgrounds with very different experiences in very different ways of seeing the world to come together on anything? We certainly don’t see that modeled for us very often, yet it’s still the reality that happened around Jesus and the vision for us even today: that people from every conceivable walk of life with every possible difference are able to sit down to listen to Jesus because Jesus has become their orienting principle.
The vision of the Kingdom of God that Jesus is articulating is that there will come a day when all people will come together united by Jesus and bound together in the mission of his kingdom. This isn’t a vision of domination or force, but a vision that someday, people will see God for who God is, full of grace and love and truth and beauty, and the only conceivable response will be to bow in awe and reverence and thankfulness.
I find these past few weeks that I can’t pull away from the news, and I’m really bothered by it. (Both by the news and by the fact that I can’t pull away from it.) Based on what people in “the crowds” are saying, sometimes I find that I am legitimately fearful about what November 9 and the days and weeks afterwards might look like. It feels at times like we’re on a dangerous precipice.
Division. Friction. Tension. Derision. That’s the world we live in right now. Partisanship. Fracture. Insult. Threat. That’s what’s modeled by our leaders. Every possible difference between people is exploited. It feels impossible to disagree without being labeled a bigot or a cheater. I, for one, think our community, our city, our world needs a different witness, a different word, a different example, a different King. I think the majority of people are hungry for something different, maybe even desperate for something different.
I believe that the way of the Kingdom of God is that different way, the way we’re looking for, and I think we see it play out in the crowds who showed up at the very first Jesus rally. What if we took our cues from those crowds? What if, as followers of Jesus, we stood together and said “No more.” What if we recognized together that who unites us is stronger than what divides us? What if we stood together and said though we are many, though we are different, we are one?
We might be a small witness in the grand scheme of things, but I think our call as followers of Jesus is to be a witness no matter how small that might be.
What would it look like for followers of Christ around the world to gather for worship together on November 6 and proclaim it to be “We Are One” Sunday? What if we invited our neighbors to join us and we stood together on that day and we said that no matter what happens on November 8th, we believe that Jesus is King?
This morning, I read these words from Psalm 103: “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” This isn’t a pipe dream for the future, this is current and future reality. His kingdom rules over all. No matter who’s elected president, Jesus is King. What if we were the crowds who gathered together despite our differences and overwhelmingly added our voices to the voices at that first Jesus rally and declared to the world that our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, the kingdom that will have no end?