(This also appeared in the Faith column of the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, KY on January 20, 2017)
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-20, NRSV)
Today, January 20, 2017, is the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. And after a long and contentious campaign season that saw much conflict and division in both the primaries and general elections, discord that has continued beyond the first Tuesday in November, many Americans are hoping that this day is the beginning of healing, hope and peace. As an American who loves his country and his neighbors deeply, including those I have differences with, I join my fellow countrymen and women in prayerful hope that this experiment in self-governing democratic republicanism continues. I hope that the light of liberty and justice, of freedom and grace, of peace and community becomes a beacon of hope attracting those in the shadows of despotism and oppression out of the darkness. Certainly, I am not alone on January 20, 2017. And I am not alone in history; our story of America includes such a renewed possibility of hope every four years. And really, each and every day the sun rises over the Statue of Liberty and sets behind the volcanoes of Hawaii is an opportunity for hope.
And yet I am not naïve. Like you and most Americans, I am a realist. My head is not in the sand. I read the news and I see how often our reality falls far short of our hopes. War, violence, poverty, homelessness, hunger, unemployment, racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination still plague this national body seeking wholeness. Fear and greed are more pervasive that humility and generosity. Anger boiling into hatred seeps into communities, and fractures our society into partisan, cultural splinters. I have been particularly grieved that even Christians refuse to fellowship with one another, because they have traded their singular devotion to Christ for the idolatry of political opinions. We have traded allegiance to the Kingdom of God for allegiance to the Democrats or Republicans. In other words, instead of calling fellow Christians brothers and sisters, we call each other names over disagreements on policies in Washington, forgetting that our ultimate citizenship is in another realm.
In Luke 4:16-20, Jesus delivers his inaugural address to those assembled in the synagogue of his hometown. He unrolls a constitutional document called the Book of Isaiah and reads aloud the promise of God’s messiah who will deliver good news, liberty, healing and renewal to the downtrodden and cynical. And then he says the most curious thing: that this promise is fulfilled in their hearing. Can that be right? If what Jesus says is true then why does that promise seem to remain unfulfilled in our day, centuries later? Think about this: at midnight, on January 1, 1863, a decree called the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. By order of President Abraham Lincoln, the enslaved of the seceding South were instantly set free. Were you to go to Alabama or Georgia or Mississippi at 12:01, however, you would not have found many people who knew, cared or would obey that decree. But it did not change the fact that it was the law of the land. We might live in an era of people who do not know, care or are willing to obey the reality that God has fulfilled the promise, opened blind eyes, and set the captives free. But that does not change the fact that it is reality. All that is left for us to do is hear it as Jesus proclaimed it. I’m asking you, on January 20, 2017, while so many are gnashing their teeth or celebrating, while so many are convinced that one man can either save or destroy, can you hear what Jesus says? Do you not hear the good news?
On this new day in the United States of America, I choose again that battered banner of hope instead of despair. I choose the promise of a better tomorrow over the cynicism of our present age. I choose the Old Rugged Cross, which reveals my sin and humbles me to the level of human being alongside everyone else and opens the door to liberation for all, in place of uncompromising judgmental-ism of my neighbor. I hear the words of Jesus opening a door no man can close, proclaiming a freedom no human being can deny us, granting us citizenship in a Kingdom beyond Babel and the grasp of human power. I hear him. Do you?