Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Cruz, and Rubio
walk into a bar...
As they decide on their drink orders, the bartender makes his way over to this group. The bartender looks vaguely familiar to everyone but they can’t quite put their finger on it—maybe they’ve seen him at a campaign rally before.
At once, the candidates start to call out their drink order each thinking the bartender will take his/her order first. The bartender can’t decipher what they want through all the screaming and yelling and says, “Now, now children please be quiet. You’re not making any sense.”
The bartender tells the candidates that he is out of everything on the menu. The bartender continues, “I’ve seen all kinds of people try every kind of drink and none of them solve all their problems.” He says, “Sure, the drinks might start out tasting pretty good but everybody ends up getting sick later.”
Seeing the dejection in the eyes of the candidates, the bartender lets them on a secret. The bartender whispers, “I’ve been holding something under the bar for years and think this is just the time to uncork it.” Reaching under the bar, the bartender grabs a dusty old bottle of wine. One of the candidates asks, “What year?”
The bartender explains that it is a well-aged wine. He goes on to explain the terribly complex fermenting process that took generations to perfect. He said, “This wine is different than all other wines. This wine contains a special ingredient that makes it stay good forever.” Eager to learn about this magic ingredient, one candidate asks, “What makes this wine so great?”
The bartender looks deeply into the eyes of these candidates and says, “Love. Love is the special ingredient.” The bartender continues by saying, “Can you drink this bottle of wine, a wine that is saturated with true love?”
Imagine what might happen if the good news of Jesus confronted the chaos of the political scene in America. What might happen if everyone, not just the candidates, stopped and let Jesus say to us, “Drink this wine. This wine contains the necessary ingredient to make your heart well. This wine works because of my great love for you and the whole world.”
While I am firmly convicted that it is not my job as a preacher to use this pulpit or this church to raise up a particular candidate or agenda, I do believe it is my job to articulate how the good news of Jesus impacts our national and civic life just like I articulate how the good news impacts daily living in our homes, schools, jobs, and communities.
You might say I learned this tip about preaching from Jesus. Jesus never lifted up a particular agenda or candidate, in fact he went as far to say that we should not trust the rulers of this world. But the good news of Jesus was constantly crashing into the political scene.
So I say to you, do not be fooled by those who claim to possess the magic formula that will save our country. Sure, some agendas might be better than others but none of them will save our country and no matter how good the agenda none of them will make it if we continue to be so divisive.
In particular I want you to ask yourself, how is the good news of God’s kingdom confronting all of the broken and abused systems of society including politics? Let’s consider this question by taking a look at today’s gospel lesson.
In today’s gospel lesson (Luke 13:1-9), people come to Jesus asking him who the worst sinner of all is. These people try to justify themselves by comparing themselves to others. They say, “At least I’m not as bad as that group of people.”
Jesus foresees this tactic of self-justification and redirects the conversation. Jesus is good at redirecting the conversation isn’t he? Jesus says, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will perish just as they did.”
Jesus redirects the conversation and asks those present to consider the sin of their own hearts. Jesus challenges those present to take a good look in the mirror and says, “Unless you repent, you will perish just as they did.” In other words, if you continue to justify yourself by comparing yourself to others, anger and envy and hardness of heart will consume you and leave you for dead.
Jamie and I often reflect on a quote that says, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Comparison is the thief of joy because comparison creates a dangerous and false idol in our life. This false idol is created when we assess the value of others based on human standards, standards that are flawed, standards that are biased, standards that are short sighted, standards that don’t allow us to stand in someone else’s shoes.
By measuring our worthiness by the worthiness or unworthiness of others, we are prevented from looking at the world with love. Comparison leads to judgment and prevents us from seeing anything through the lens of love or compassion. Mother Teresa said, "If you judge people, you have no room to love them."
But the good news is that Jesus comes to shatter this illusion. Jesus comes to reveal the hideous nature of this false idol of comparison and give us a new lens in which to look at the world through. Jesus comes to show us what the kingdom of God looks like. Jesus comes to show us the way to love but before we can see the kingdom of God, before we can begin to trust the way of love, we must leave the old world and old way of living behind. First, we must turn and repent.
We must confess that we are no more or no less deserving of God’s love than anybody else. We must confess that we are filled with just as much anger and hypocrisy and sin as anybody else. And when we confess, Jesus meets us with the greatest words on love—forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.
When we turn away from the ways of the world and look to Jesus for help, we meet the one who is opening up a new way of living. And no we aren’t taken up in the rapture to escape evil when this happens. Instead, this new way of living that calls us right back into the storm of the world including the political storm. But this time we aren’t fueled by anger or hate or despair. This time we aren’t fueled by convictions that lead to divisiveness.
Instead, we are fueled by a new wine. We are fueled by a wine that has been fermented by a God who is endlessly pursuing his people with love. We are fueled by a wine whose main ingredient is love. We are fueled by a wine that helps us look at the world differently, a wine that helps us see the kingdom of God that is built on love, built on giving up our lives for the benefit of others especially the less fortunate. And when this wine is poured out for the sins of whole world this wine looks like forgiveness and mercy and compassion.
I don’t know if our politicians will take the bartender up on the offer to drink this new wine. Maybe they already have and maybe they never will. But we need not put our trust in the rulers of this world. Instead, we find our salvation by trusting the wine the bartender is giving us to drink.
We drink this wine not in hopes that it will fix all the world’s problems. Instead, we drink this wine with the hope that our world may know a little more compassion, a little more mercy, a little more forgiveness. We drink this wine so that we and the whole world may know what it is like to be loved by God, so the whole world will know what it is like to be a part of the human family.
We drink this wine with the hope that God is healing our hearts and the heart of the world with a generous love. I know this might sound like an outrageous hope, an unrealistic hope. You aren’t alone. Consider the parable of the fig tree.
The man in the parable believes that it is ridiculous that the gardener still thinks this fig tree has a chance to bear fruit. It has been three years. They’ve tried every possible strategy, every possible remedy to ensure the tree will bear fruit. But the tree is still useless. The man says there is nothing left to do and orders the gardener to cut the trees down, they are only wasting space.
The gardener replies, “You know, there is one thing we haven’t tried. I’ll dig around the trees and fill the soil with manure.” I know it might sound like a bunch of crap but maybe, just maybe all of this crap about God’s love might do the trick.
After we have tried everything else, after every other solution has failed, can we finally accept that God’s ways are better than our ways? Can we finally admit that we are just as much a part of the problem as those sinners? Are we finally ready to give God’s love a try?
I sure am. But don’t take my word for it. Try the love of God that you know in Jesus for a year and if it bears fruit, thanks be to God. If God’s love doesn’t bear fruit, then cut it, whatever it is, down. Amen.