YoUnited States of America - Week Two: Now What?
Today we are going to be concluding the short two-part series, YoUnited States of America. The idea behind this series has been a simple one, but one that we need to internalize as followers of Jesus during these contentious and divisive times.
As Christians, we have a duty to be good citizens of our country, but we have a greater duty to be model citizens of the kingdom of God.
As we are nearing the end of the election cycle and will be (hopefully) discovering the results of the election on Tuesday evening... it seems appropriate to talk about something very important: What kind of job description should a President have?
There have been scores and scores of polls that have been conducted throughout this election, and even more in previous elections that list some of the basic qualities that people say are the most important ones for a President of the United States.
Here's a shortlist of the kinds of job-related qualifications that people hope for in a President---at least according to polls that have been conducted year after year for the last decade and a half:
* A strong vision for the country's future
* An ability to put their own times in the perspective of history
* Effective communication skills
* The courage to make unpopular decisions
* Crisis management skills
* Wise appointments
* An ability to work with Congress
But here's something interesting... When asked about the kind personality traits this is what people said in response to a Gallup poll (of over 30,000 registered voters) when asked what they most wanted in a President:
Those qualities---those four basic qualities---are ones that we can all agree are absolutely necessary and important in a leader, and especially so in the leader of our country.
What I was puzzled by when I read the results of all of these polls is that it's hard to reconcile these very measured and thoughtful responses to the kinds of things you hear people saying in news reports, interviews, magazine articles, you name it.
I think what happens to most of us is that we often project our own fears, our prejudices, anger, frustration, and uncertainty on to Presidential candidates and ultimately on whoever becomes President.
So our criteria for choosing a particular candidate becomes less and less about character, substance, and overall fitness and more and more about what they can do for us.
Those four basic, universal qualities are swept aside in favor of felt needs, alleviation of fear, and a desire for our view of how things should be done to prevail over all others.
So let me ask you a question... If you were writing a job description for a president, what would it look like?
And also... did you know that Jesus himself made such a job description? And it's not just for leaders and presidents... it's one that applies to all of us. And guess what? This job description transcends party politics, too.
Curious? We'll get to it in a bit.
But before we do, I want us to highlight something very important about this transcendent job description and what it highlights---and how this job description just might help us move forward after this election, and all others that follow:
There isn't any red or blue in the kingdom of God.
Our guide for today comes to us from Mark 10:42-45 which reads like this:
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This entire passage is preceded by a political move by James and John who come to Jesus and basically say to him:
"Listen, when you overthrow the Romans and the religious elites and restore everything to the way we hope it will be... we want to be given a real choice, powerful position in your new kingdom."
You can almost hear Jesus sigh two thousand years later, right?
Then he holds up the job descriptions of their proposal.
"So let me get this straight. You want to be like the rulers of the Gentiles, so you can lord it over others? To exercise power for the sake of power? To finally get back what you think was rightfully yours? To get your pound of flesh over the people who used to be in charge?"
The convention of the day was at the forefront of James' and John's minds you see. They wanted what the powerful people had. They wanted to overpower, tyrannize, coerce, dominate. To send the Gentiles packing. To relegate the religious elite to low positions and give them what they deserved. This is how the world worked in the 1st century---aren't we glad we are more enlightened?
Interestingly, early in Mark Jesus remarks about John the Baptist and what happened to him when he ran afoul of the kind of self-interes and self preservation--the very thing that James and John were wanting.
John the Baptist had the temerity to want to hold Herod Antipas to a higher standard of morality and character. He confronted him about the fact that he had gotten tired of his wife and divorced her so he could seduce the wife of his brother Philip. Herod imprisoned him and eventually had him executed.
Jesus lifts up a contrast to all of these bad examples by declaring that there is a better job description for leaders, and for the rest of us. He says:
Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
In God's economy, Jesus declares, greatness = servanthood, and those who want to be first in God's kingdom must be a "slave" to all. He then goes on to say that even he---who James and John have elevated to a position of prominence, did not come into the world to be served, but to serve.
Then he says something incredible. He declares that his servanthood will drive him to sacrifice and that this sacrifice will change everything--it will offer freedom from all of this political maneuvering, the need to be number one, the desire to get one over on your enemies, the longing for more, and more...
In the end, this what Jesus essentially teaches us in this passage:
The job description for leadership is one that applies to all of us---a race to the bottom, the common good above all, and servant leadership.
So how do we move beyond the disunity that we are all experiencing right now to more unity and understanding? How do we cut loose our obsession with the kingdoms of this world in favor of passion for the kingdom of God here on earth?
We ask a simple question, which is at the heart of Jesus' teaching on servant leadership. It's a question that Pastor Andy Stanley has asked in a number of his sermons and I'm borrowing it here today.
What Does Love Require of Me?
I believe that love requires at least these three things in the short term so that we can begin to experience long term peace and harmony: Servanthood, Surrender, Sacrifice...
No matter the outcome of this election---this question will guide us beyond red vs. blue even when our political leaders may not. Although some of them are beginning to learn.
I recently saw a video of the gubernatorial candidates from Utah.
This election is almost over, and hopefully, it will be over on Tuesday evening and not drawn out by controversy, lawsuits, and more things to tear us all apart. But no matter what, we have within our hearts the question that drove Jesus forward and it should do no less for us---those of us who say we follow him.
There isn't any red or blue in the kingdom of God.