Earlier this week the family, friends and a few thousand acquaintances of 41st US President George Bush gathered to lay him to rest. I’m not sure how many of you caught the televised service, but it was a veritable who’s who in politics. And to be honest, I didn’t watch any of it except in brief passing as I literally walked past a TV that had it on, but there was one question that was burning in my mind and was the first thing that I put in the search bar of my browser once I got the chance. Any guesses of what that question was?
You might have guessed it… “was Donald Trump at George Bush’s funeral?”
I’m sure you all heard that Senator and 2008 Presidential Candidate John McCain died earlier this year as well, and you might have heard the press around his funeral, and how his family specifically banned Donald Trump from going. When I heard that, I was thinking well yeah, I wouldn’t want him going to my funeral either. But then as I thought about it, in spite of all the things he’s said about Senator McCain, banning him from a funeral seems kind of harsh. Understandable, yes, but still harsh.
So I was curious if he was “allowed” to go to President Bush’s funeral, and if you were as curious as I was and looked it up too, then you’d know that he was. There was actually a video on CNN of him showing up, and man was it aaaaawkward. Here’s the clip:
Did you see that? I mean you could just cut the tension with a knife. But I guess it was to be expected. I mean politics is such a divisive topic, and even more so for those who are intimately involved… like say presidents and presidential candidates. These are the movers and shakers, the shot callers, the ones who make the world go around… or stop, if they so will it. And so when the people who have all that power don’t get what they want, well then I guess tempers would flare a little bit.
So just imagine the amount of power just in that one pew. It’s like over level 1000. There we have 4 of the most powerful people ever in the world (and their husbands), and they represent different political parties, different ideals, different views on how the world should be run. And if you pan the camera back a little you’ll see a whole room full of politicians, world leaders, people of influence. If that front pew there has a power level over 1000, then I would imagine the power level of the room would just be off the charts.
And then imagine being in attendance at such an event. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d feel really out of place. First of all, I don’t even know George Bush Sr so it’d feel like I was crashing the party. Second, I’m not a politician or world leader, so I think I’d feel pretty insignificant in the company of all those big wigs. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be honoured if they had invited me, seeing as how I’m the brother-in-law of the cousin of Barack Obama’s brother-in-law after all. But it would just be too awkward for me. I feel like I’m so not part of that elite 1% that I’d rather shy away back into my shell, thank you very much. And I don’t have to even be in the presence of this level of power and greatness to feel this way. Sometimes I feel out of place among even pastors who have more experience than I do. Sometimes I feel out of place when I’m the shortest person in the room. Sometimes I feel out of place when I’m the only Asian guy (which happens a LOT in the ELCIC).
I get self-conscious. I second guess myself and my calling. I wonder if I could ever amount to what the greats in my field have accomplished and do what I feel I’m supposed to do.
You know back in Jesus’ time, it wasn’t hard to feel this way. That 1% probably felt more like the 0.001%, as being insignificant, unnoticed, and not mattering was probably much more the norm than anything else. The only celebrities you’d hear about were the kings, the conquerors, the world leaders of the time. Today’s gospel starts off by listing a few of them, placing us in a time not too unlike our own, where the rich and powerful ruled and most others paled in comparison. But in the same breath with listing out these powerful to-do’s, Luke also mentions a guy named John, son of old man Zechariah. Sure, Zechariah was a priest, likely known by a few people, but his son? Man, that dude was crazy. He lived alone out in the desert and rumour had it that he ate bugs and wore fur like a wild animal.
That doesn’t sound at all powerful. It sounds weird, actually. Kind of odd. Not someone who could really amount to anything.
Yet… he did. In the shadow of all these great leaders and people of power and influence, John stood out. Bearing the name of a priest, a position that came from birth and life-long training, John had influence. Coming out of a place that no one really wanted to go or even trust, John proclaimed truth.
See, John… with his camel-hair-covered back and locust breath, he didn’t look like much. John… living out in the desert wasteland where only the truly insignificant go, he didn’t seem all that powerful. John… crazy man who wasn’t anyone of note, was the one that God anointed to bring a message of peace and good news.
Well… if crazy desert man John could be anointed, does that mean we could? Well, probably, we’d think off the bat, but we might not actually believe it. Let’s just leave that heavy lifting to the professionals. The preaching, the teaching, the baptizing and communing… that comes after years of training and practice. Sure we could do that stuff if God were to choose us and anoint us, but God doesn’t. God can’t. God wouldn’t. Not ordinary folk like us.
Not again, at least.
Or again, or again, or again. The thing is, none of the great bible characters really came from anything. They were foreigners, they were outsiders, they were nobodies. They were the weak, the marginalized, the powerless. They were the sinners, the outlaws, the ones that we didn’t trust. They were… the worst of us. And yet God showed us that even the worst could be used in God’s kingdom. Even the weakest. Even the weirdest.
That doesn’t mean that we have to go and live out in the desert and learn what part of a bug’s anatomy is the best tasting. That doesn’t mean that we have to give up everything we have, grow a long beard, and practice our finger wagging and brow furrowing. That doesn’t even mean that we have to quit our jobs and go to seminary.
But it might mean that there is someone in your life that could use a friend. It might mean that there is someone at your school or your workplace that needs their spirits lifted. It might mean that the next stranger you encounter needs to have their hope in humanity invigorated, and all they need is a smile of greeting, a wave to say thanks for letting me into their lane, or a look of respect that says while we don’t know each other, I know that you are worthy and a valuable contribution to our society.
It doesn’t take much, but it could mean a lot. And God empowers us for that. God chooses us, fills us with knowledge of love and grace, and allows us to go out to reflect that on others. God anoints us as God’s children with power and authority, and sends us out into the world to bring a message of peace.
This power doesn’t come from our skills or talents or abilities. The power doesn’t come from who we or our parents are. The power doesn’t come from how many votes we got or how much influence we weld. But the power, like it did for all those very ordinary bible greats and we see today with John the baptizer, comes from the Word of God, filling us, invigorating us, renewing us with the truth and promise of the gospel of peace.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. We lit the second Advent candle on the Advent wreath. We are that much closer to Christmas, the day that we remember Christ entering our world as a baby and commemorate that by not coming to church. Last week’s theme was hope, and today’s theme on the second Sunday is peace. And it isn’t easy to feel peace when we feel insignificant. It isn’t easy to feel peace when we feel like we’re underqualified to prepare the way of the Lord. It isn’t easy to feel peace when we don’t believe in ourselves to be able to do what it is that we are called to do.
And I get it, we at times feel insignificant, but God fills us with significance. We at times feel weird and different, but God welcomes us, includes us, and joins us in community. We at times feel powerless and weak, but God fills us with the power of the Spirit, drawing strength from the saints and the promises of the cross, and anoints us to do what it is that we do for God and the sake of the world.
See being kind isn’t something that is reserved for the most powerful and influential. Showing care and compassion isn’t reserved for the most strong and gifted. Being at peace doesn’t necessarily mean fitting the mold of whatever you think you ought to be, but only in opening our hearts and accepting the love and mercy bestowed upon us by God, recognising the calling to be God’s people in the world, and living in the knowledge that we are but sinners saved by grace and anointed to proclaim this good news to all.
On this second Sunday of Advent, a day we reflect on the hope of Christ’s coming, the peace that it brings, and the knowledge that we are part of God’s family forever, may we see and recognise the ways that God is calling us, leading us, and empowering us by the Spirit of love and joy, now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.