Saturday, January 05, 2008

"We’re having the wrong discussion about foreign policy"

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman began his piece yesterday by pointing out that on both Wednesday and Thursday, the price of oil briefly hit $100 a barrel.

What are the implications of that, beyond the effect that having that price stick might have?

Krugman says, that among other things, as this 2008 presidential campaign is unfolding, "we’re having the wrong discussion about foreign policy."

As he puts it:
Almost all the foreign policy talk in this presidential campaign has been motivated, one way or another, by 9/11 and the war in Iraq. Yet it’s a very good bet that the biggest foreign policy issues for the next president will involve the Far East rather than the Middle East. In particular, the crucial questions are likely to involve the consequences of China’s economic growth.

Turn to any of several major concerns now facing America, and in each case it’s startling how large a role China plays.

Start with the soaring price of oil. Unlike the oil crises that followed the Yom Kippur War and the overthrow of the shah of Iran, this crisis wasn’t caused by events in the Middle East that disrupted world oil supply. Instead, it had its roots in Asia.

It’s true that the global supply of oil has been growing sluggishly, mainly because the world is, bit by bit, running out of the stuff: big oil discoveries have become rare, and when oil is found, it’s harder to get at. But the reason oil supply hasn’t been able to keep up with demand is surging oil consumption in newly industrializing economies — above all, in China.

Even now, China accounts for about only 9 percent of the world’s demand for oil. But because China’s oil demand has been rising along with its economy, in recent years China has been responsible for about a third of the growth in world oil consumption.

As a result, oil at $100 a barrel is, in large part, a made-in-China phenomenon.
Krugman's argument is, I believe, right on target. We have to have a rational discussion about how we deal with China's economic growth, which finds the nation absorbing increasing amounts of global resources, all the while its government represses millions and menaces others.

For some time, I have been arguing that over the long haul, China is a greater threat to the peace and security of the United States--and of the world, particularly of Asia--than the radical jihadists. The jihadists, like all violent fringe groups will, eventually, burn themselves out, wear out their welcomes, or be co-opted. This doesn't mean that the US and the rest of the civilized world shouldn't deal with these thugs. But their movement simply doesn't have historical "legs." China--or, more accurately, the government of China--poses a more long term and a much bigger threat than the jihadists.

This is true even if the intentions of the government in Beijing are as benign as Krugman apparently believes them to be, that their only interest is in economic growth.

Krugman apparently ascribes no malevolence to the regime there. To take such a view means, I believe, overlooking the alarming growth of the Chinese military, the continued commitment of the government to repressing any movement toward democracy, and the continued menacing rhetoric regarding Taiwan. The Beijing government, I believe, is trying to use the country's remarkable economic growth to buy off a nation starved for the stuff of Western prosperity, gaining the population's acceptance of repression in exchange for HDTVs and cars.

Whatever Beijing's intentions, the country's growth, often at the expense of the environment, the safety of its products, and the economy of countries like the United States, poses a huge threat to this nation's economic and military security.

It deserves to be discussed in the presidential campaign.

But will it be?

[Of course, the US itself uses a disproportionate amount of the world's resources and needs to find ways to beat its addiction to oil. That too, is a topic worthy of more discussion in this presidential campaign.]

For more on the Chinese government's threat to the peace and security of the US and the world, go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

You GET to Love

[This message was shared at the funeral for Edith, a ninety-one year old member of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]

Matthew 22:36-40
1 John 4:10
During my first visit with Edith about a month-and-a-half ago at the Logan Health Care center, I asked her, as I often ask nursing home residents, how she liked living there. Her answer came in an instant. She liked it very much, she told me.

Now, I have to tell you that I don’t always get an answer like that. Moving into a nursing home after a lifetime of independence is a bitter pill to swallow for anyone. Rare is the person who can look past those feelings to accept the necessity of their new living situation. But Edie did accept it.

Why is that?

I got a few clues as our visit proceeded. For example, immediately after telling me that she liked being at Logan Health Care, she said, “We’re one big family here.”

As if to confirm that, a short time later, as I was preparing to share Holy Communion with her, Edith said, “There’s a man in the next room who likes to take Communion when I do. Would that be okay?” That was more than okay with me. So, Hubert came to Edie’s room and received Holy Communion at the same time.

Part of the reason that Edith adjusted so well to life in a nursing home, then, is that she was willing to do the work necessary to create a kind of family with the other residents and the staff at Logan Health Care.

This is remarkable, when you think about it. Edith after all, was already part of a family. And, boy, did she love that family! During that first visit I had with her and almost every time I visited with her in the hospital, Edie spoke with me about her sons, Chuck and Robert and their wives, Eva and Kay. She never failed to mention that she loved them and was proud of them.

In the time since that first visit, I’ve learned more about Edie and her sense of family. The other day, Mr. Brown, the local funeral director, told me about his long association with Chuck and through him, with Edith. He talked about the cards he often received from her. Often, she signed them, “Mom Eaton.”

What this tells me is not only that her family was important to Edith, but also that her family included more than just those related to her.

I get this same sense about Edith when I talk with people at Saint Matthew. And I can tell you that to them, Edie was more than just a name on the church roster. She was a beloved member of our Christian family!

In short, Edith seemed to know how to love, to make people feel valued and included. That is a special gift, one which, by all accounts, she exhibited with good humor. This gift, in fact, cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, you remember, was once asked what the greatest commandment from God is. Jesus, summarizing all the laws found in the Old Testament, said, “'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind'...And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’"

All of God’s laws and the words of all the prophets, Jesus goes on to say, are built on these two commands.

God our Father wants His family, the entire human race, to be held together by the strong bonds of love made available to us through Jesus Christ.

But, let’s face it, it’s not often that you and I see people who exhibit the capacity to love in this way, to treat so many as though they are part of “one big family,” the way Edith did.

If she could be with us right now, I suspect that Edith would tell us the source of her capacity to live so differently, to love so expansively didn't come from inside of her.

She might point to words from the apostle John, who writes in the New Testament, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

God loved us before we were even born. He died on a cross for us and rose from the dead for us before were ever knew that we needed a Savior. Edith believed in this Savior, she trusted Him with her life. It was Jesus Christ Who gave her her remarkable capacity to love!

Years ago, an eminent Methodist bishop spoke to a gathering of Church leaders and admitted, “For forty years, I’ve gotten it wrong. I’ve been telling people, ‘You’ve got to love. You’ve got to love.’ But what I should have been saying is, ‘You get to love.’”

Deep inside of us all, we want to love others as God first loved us through Jesus Christ. We want others to get a sense of the love that changed our lives forever when God sent His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will never perish, but have everlasting life.

Edie, it seems to me from meeting her and talking with those who knew her, went beyond wanting to live like that to actually, very often, living like that.

As you grieve your loss, dear family and friends, the greatest memorial you can erect in Edith's honor is to follow the Savior she followed and to remember that through Jesus Christ, Who loved you from a cross and an empty tomb, you get to love. You get to treat others as though they were part of one big family.

I think that Edith would like it if you lived like that!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Two on the Iowa Caucuses

Several months ago, at the invitation of founder Joe Gandelman, I began blogging at The Moderate Voice. I've done some cross-posting between this blog and that one. But here are links to two Iowa caucus-related posts I wrote last night:

And the Winner in Iowa is...Change
Fearless Predictions

Come to Logan's Town Center This Weekend!

On the first weekend of every month, Logan Town Center, the organization working to revitalize Logan, Ohio's historic downtown business district, sponsors special weekend activities. This weekend, the Ice Extravaganza is happening. If you're going to be anywhere southeastern Ohio this weekend, come and spend time in downtown Logan.

Click on the image above to see the complete schedule.

Follow the Good Shepherd

[This sermon was shared on Thursday at the funeral of Arthur, a ninety-five year old member of the congregation I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]

Psalm 23
John 10:11-15
From my brief acquaintance with Arthur, I’ve learned that he knew a thing or two about what it meant to be a good shepherd. In fact, I’m told that that was at least one person’s nickname for him. Of course, that moniker was given to him more for the kind of man he was than the sort of shepherd he was, though I have no doubt that he did his work well.

I met Arthur on November 21, little more than a month ago. But in the short time since, I’ve learned that he was a gentleman, in the fullest sense of that term. He was also a person who loved his family. Before I left his house that day in November, he had his daughter-in-law Sheila take me into his living room, so that he could show pictures of his family to me. Like the good shepherd in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15, Arthur cared about and counted all his sheep. Each member of his family was irreplaceably important to him!

Arthur was also a fun man, with a quick smile and a sense of humor that was with him until the end. He enjoyed cards. He liked to dance. He relished having get-togethers with family and friends. And, of course, he loved the farm life.

But there was something besides all this that made Arthur both memorable and special. My son met Arthur once. After he did so, I asked him, “What did you think?” “I don’t know how to put this, Dad,” he told me. “But the only thing I could think when I met him was, ‘Here is a man who surely is going to heaven.’”

Arthur, I’m told, was not the sort of man to talk much about his faith. But if anyone was heaven-bound, it was Arthur. And, I’m sure that he would tell you, it wasn’t because he was better than others. It was because Arthur knew and followed the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

There was an earnestness in Arthur’s praying, in the way he received the Sacrament, and in the warmth with which he thanked you for prayers or for the Bread and Wine that told you who his Good Shepherd was.

As he endured the pain and trials of his final illness, you could see that here was a man who was depending on the God we know in Jesus Christ to be the shepherd who would lead him through the darkest valleys of life and death, on to the everlasting light of life with God!

Arthur was ninety-five years old, just two months shy of ninety-six. You members of his family know that this is an extraordinary age and that the past two years, in particular, have been a gift. But it would be unnatural for you not to grieve. And you will grieve. Death, at least as it relates to our lives on earth, breaks ties of love and cherished habits. The longer a loved one has been in our lives, the stronger the love and the habits are. So, don’t feel that your grief is on a clock or that it’s illegitimate. Your grief is understandable.

But I know that Arthur would tell you that the way through your grief and beyond is Jesus Christ. Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd and tells us, “The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” That was what the Lord Jesus did with Arthur on Saturday. He called and led Arthur through death to everlasting life with God. Arthur, I believe, is in green pastures with all who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord.

But, as Psalm 23 points out, Jesus isn’t just the shepherd of the ends of our days. He can be our shepherd now. I used to think that when the Psalm spoke of “the darkest valley” or, in older translations of “the valley of the shadow of death,” it was only speaking of death itself. Or, of our encounters with death at the ends of our days.

Yet, in many ways, death shadows us all through our entire lives. But no matter what valley we walk through, our Shepherd, the One Who died and rose for us, is with us, giving us strength and hope and the courage and joy to live each day to the full, knowing that we are among His sheep for all eternity!

We’ve just celebrated Christmas, the day when the Light of the world crashed through our darkness to give us a hope that never dies. The Bible says of Jesus that “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” As you face your earthly futures without the gentle presence of Arthur in your lives, keep following the Good Shepherd. He will light your way and fill you with the same strength you saw in Arthur. And the same future with our loving God he’s enjoying now.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"Gentlemen, God bless you."

I don't know what Emmanuel Mwambulukutu's religion is, but the Tanzanian government's representative is a profile in courage, grace under fire. An update on his condition is here.

Happy New Year!

God grant to all readers of Better Living a good new year!

And may the Buckeyes win a national championship in football!

Monday, December 31, 2007

What Role Should Religion Play in Politics?

What role should religion play in politics?

That question has suggested itself for many reasons during the already too-long 2008 presidential campaign.

It’s a question of particular interest to me because I’m a lifetime political junkie, a student of history, and a Lutheran pastor.

There are, it seems to me, three main reasons we’re asking the question in a major way this year.

The first is the candidacy of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon. Personally, while I have the same disagreements with Mormonism as those advanced by evangelical Christians, I’ve never felt that Romney’s religion should preclude him from consideration for the presidency.

Article 6 of the Constitution says that there should be no religious test for holding federal office. As an American, I believe in the rightness of that provision.

But I also believe in it because I’m a Christian. Jesus’ command to love my neighbor entails appreciating the abilities and skills of all people, even those who don’t share my faith.

While polls show that there are some Christians who simply would not vote for a Mormon for president, I don’t think that this is anything like a majority view.

And frankly, I think that the question of whether a Mormon would be accepted in a position of political importance was answered in 1953. It was then that Ezra Taft Benson, a high official in the Mormon religion, was confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower Administration. In those days, the post was a lot more important and highly visible than it is today.

In 1968, Mitt Romney’s father, Michigan governor George Romney ran for the Republican presidential nomination. His bid came to grief over what I thought was a vicious misrepresentation of something he told a New Hampshire radio interviewer about the Johnson Administration’s attempts to, as he saw it, brainwash him regarding the War in Vietnam. The media and Romney’s opponents, Richard Nixon among them, portrayed the former auto executive as susceptible to brainwashing, not strong enough to be president. It’s a tragedy that George Romney’s candidacy was brought to an end in that way. Despite the exaggerations of his son, the elder Romney was deeply committed to civil rights. He was a can-do guy. But it wasn’t because of his Mormon religion that Romney, who later served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Nixon Administration, failed to become president. His Mormonism wasn’t even considered. Nor should it have been.

Two factors have made Mitt Romney’s Mormon affiliation significant this year. One is the importance of the Religious Right in the Republican coalition. Frankly, I dislike the Religious Right. (And the Religious Left, for that matter.) There is simply no way to draw a straight line from faith in Jesus Christ or the Bible as the Word of God to a consistent political philosophy. As a Christian leader, it deeply disturbs me when pastors or other Christian leaders presume to say that Jesus is a Republican or a Democrat. Or that God is a liberal or a conservative. Christians who make such claims subordinate the Deity, the One I believe to be Lord and Creator of heaven and earth, to temporary, temporal philosophies and preferences. In effect, they shove God aside and instead, worship their parties or platforms. Nonetheless, the Religious Right has put a premium on candidates conforming not just to their political views, but also their claimed religious doctrines.

Romney’s Mormonism also became important because, quite frankly, he made it that way. Over a year ago, Romney supporter Hugh Hewitt asked Christian pastor-bloggers to say whether they felt that Romney’s religion should preclude his being considered for president by Christians. Mine was the first reply Hewitt published, I believe. Simply, I said that, no, Christians should not dismiss a Romney candidacy because he was a Mormon.

But clearly, the Romney campaign felt something like paranoia on this issue. The prime campaign biography, written by my friend Hewitt, is called A Mormon in the White House? It was one of many elements of an effort on the part of the Romney campaign to earn the support of the Religious Right.

Every politician, of course, wants to gain support with important constituencies by demonstrating that they hold common beliefs and values. But Romney has appeared to attempt to appeal to the Religious Right by blurring the very real differences that exist between Christian beliefs and Mormon teachings.

This, it seems to me, was an incredibly stupid thing to do, politically speaking. That’s because the Religious Right has changed. For all my criticism of it, the Christian conservative political movement has attained a certain maturity. One characteristic of that maturity is that voters who identify with the movement no longer move in lockstep with their so-called “leaders.” Another is that neither its leaders or its rank and file voters expect that politicians are going to agree with them on every issue. Pat Robertson, after all, has endorsed Rudy Giuliani. The movement is also wary of pols who give lip service to all their issues yet, like many Republicans for the past twenty-five years, have done nothing to change what they see as wrong in Washington and the United States.

Mitt Romney would have done better at appealing to the Religious Right if he had, instead of trying to appear to be a kind of Baptist Mormon, simply said, as John Kennedy did of his Catholicism in 1960, “I’m not a Mormon running for president. I’m an American running for president who happens to be a Mormon.” He could have then taken his own religious affiliation off the table and simply demonstrated common political cause with those to whom he’s been trying to appeal.

Romney, in his “Faith in America” speech, delivered at the presidential library of George H.W. Bush, seemed, in part, to deliver such a message. But then, he said that freedom needs religion and religion needs freedom. While I personally believe that the Judeo-Christian tradition fosters the kind of civility and respect for neighbor that allows for the functioning of democracy, Christian faith, in particular, hasn’t needed freedom of religion to grow. Indeed, it seems to grow best and strongest when its natural inclination for subversiveness is given full vent. Historically, Christian faith has always grown strongest under the threat and persecution of repressive regimes. Freedom, then, isn’t a necessary prerequisite for religious belief. Nor is it impossible for freedom to develop without religion.

Be that as it may, after seeming to want to take religion off the table, Romney put it back, appearing to arrogantly tell those who have no faith that their participation in the political process was unwelcome.

A second reason we’re asking what role religion should play in the 2008 presidential campaign is the candidacy of Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor is also a former Baptist pastor.

Being a pastor should not automatically disqualify a person from consideration for the presidency or any other political office. (Although as a pastor who has run for political office myself--I ran for the Ohio House of Representatives in 2004, I no longer think it’s a good idea for preachers to be candidates while still serving as pastors.) One ordained clergy person has served as president, James A. Garfield, his presidency cut short by an assassin’s bullet. (Garfield, a congressional veteran of unimpugned personal integrity, is considered to have been one of the most well-prepared persons ever to become president.)

Ordained clergy persons have served in other elective political offices with distinction. The late Father Robert Drinan, a Democrat from Massachusetts, served in Congress until Pope John Paul II banned priests from serving in elective political office, forcing Drinan to step down. Today, Ohio’s Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, a former Congressman, is popular.

But I have been disturbed by the ways in which the affable Huckabee has used his faith and his one-time status as a pastor. Advertisements in Iowa have touted him as a “Christian leader.”

He also, I believe, draws less than obvious lines between his religious and his political convictions.

Take the matter of homosexuality, for example. Most Christians accept the traditional teaching that homosexual practice is contrary to God’s will, on a par with premarital sex. Sex, it’s taught, is a gift from God reserved for married people to seal their relationship, provide for their mutual enjoyment, and, sometimes, to create families.

But this is a religious view, not a political one. The Christian should have no interest in imposing it on others through the political process in a pluralistic society. A Christian might well believe that if states authorize homosexual unions, it will not threaten traditional Christian marriages and it will allow states to do the same thing they do with heterosexual unions: safeguard health, ensure insurability, and provide for the custody of children and the disposition of property when relationships are broken by death or other causes.

Yet, Huckabee seems to want to impose a particular Christian approach to this issue. He seems to want to coerce people into living as if they were Christians. But Christian faith and Christian behavior can never be coerced.

A third reason we’re asking what role religion should play in the 2008 presidential campaign, I think, is the existence of a nasty strain of atheism exemplified by such people as journalist Christopher Hitchens. It dismisses any positive attributes associated with religious belief and, effectively, calls for its total elimination from cultural life. Frankly, I think that this is, partly, the natural and unfortunate pushback against the legalism and arrogance associated with the Religious Right, which has done great damage to the cause of Christ, in which I deeply believe. It saddens me.

So, what role should religion play in the 2008 campaign?

For all voters, I do think that questions about candidates’ religious convictions are legitimate insofar as they tell us something about them. These convictions may, in fact, tell us nothing. For one thing, candidates may lie about their religious convictions. Generations of politicians have said, “God bless America,” while, in their daily lives, worshiping their egos, their bank books, or their libidos, among other little gods. Candidates who espouse certain religious beliefs also may not, in fact, adhere to their convictions with much commitment.

But a candidates’ religion is at least as legitimate a field of inquiry as their resumes, hobbies, and organizational memberships. Each may tell voters something important about their presidential wannabes. (In turn, presidential candidates should feel as free to say, “This far and no more” in talking about their religious convictions as they do about, say, their sex lives.)

I wouldn’t necessarily vote against someone because he was an atheist (something I used to be) or for someone because she was a Lutheran (something I have been for the past thirty-one years). But I am interested in knowing what effect, if any, those convictions have on the ways candidates make decisions, view other people, prioritize justice, think about national life, and so on. This seems reasonable to me.

The problem is that some candidates seem more interested in running for national pastor than for President of the United States. That seems like a mistake to me.

[FYI: Here is a link to a series I did early this year on how Christians might view the 2008 presidential race. And here is a series on how one of our presidents, Abraham Lincoln, once dismissive of religious belief, theologized in his second Inaugural Address. Finally, here is a piece I wrote on the question of how Christian George W. Bush’s second Inaugural Address was. It wasn’t.]

[This is being cross-posted at RedBlue and The Moderate Voice.]

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Who's Your King?

[This sermon was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

Matthew 2:13-23
Anglican bishop Tom Wright tells of preaching at a big Christmas service where a well-known historian, also well-known for his skepticism about Christianity, was persuaded to attend. After the service, the historian approached Wright, “all smiles,” he says.

“I’ve finally worked out why people like Christmas,” he told Wright. "Really?" Wright wondered and asked the historian to explain. “A baby threatens no one," said the skeptic. "So the whole thing is a happy event which means nothing at all.”

Wright says, “I was dumbfounded. At the heart of the Christmas story…is a baby who poses such a threat to the most powerful man around that he kills a whole village [of other babies] in order to try to get rid of him…”

The king who wanted to get rid of Jesus was Herod the Great. He was the father of the Herod (the one also known as Herod Antipas) who saw to it that Jesus would be crucified some twenty-eight to thirty-three years later.

This Herod wasn’t a nice guy either. He was so intent on holding onto power during his lifetime that he had two of his sons murdered. He commanded that when he died, one member of every family in Jericho, where he ruled, would be killed. That way, he reasoned, everyone would be sad when he died. So, his decision to take the lives of the innocent baby boys in Bethlehem was consistent with his warped character.

But let’s be clear about something. Unlike Wright’s skeptical historian, Herod believed there was a God Who had promised to send a new king for the world. He even believed that the prophecies had come to pass in Bethlehem. But he didn’t like any of that! As novelist Frederick Buechner has written, “For all his enormous power, [Herod] knew there was somebody in diapers more powerful still.”

Herod’s view of Christmas then, wasn’t that different from that of many people. He was certain that all the events of the first Christmas that you and I believe in happened in precisely the way we say. He would even agree with us that all these Christmas happenings were from God. But that didn’t matter to Herod. He was the king and he didn’t even want anyone, not even God, to replace him!

So, in an attempt to thwart God’s power, Herod ordered the murder of every child in Bethlehem two years of age or younger. That this was horrible, any decent person will readily agree. It puts Herod in company of Stalin, Hitler, and other tyrants of history.

But on this fifth day of Christmas, as we prepare to move into a new year, let me ask you something. I need to ask it of myself all the time. It's this: Who is the king of your life? Who’s in charge?

You see, it’s one thing to believe that the baby born in Bethlehem two-thousand years ago was God-in-the-flesh, Who came to our world in order to die and rise for us. Many believe that as much as Herod the Great believed that. But the real question that confronts us is whether we’re willing to let Jesus be our King, the final authority over our lives. We may not slaughter the innocents; but are there ways in which you and I try to prevent Jesus from taking the throne of our lives? And are we willing to surrender to Jesus, giving our obedience to Him?

At 7:30 on a Christmas Eve morning a few years ago, I sat at my computer, writing. I’d been up for an hour. The day before had been spent digging my family out of the snowstorm and helping some neighbors do the same. I was intent that this day, I would get my sermon done. You see, that particular year, Christmas fell on a Saturday and I didn’t want the need for a Sunday sermon hanging over my head all Christmas day.

It was then that I heard the sound of a car obviously stuck in the snow. I looked out a window and saw that our neighbor had backed her car into a pile of ice created at the end of her driveway by the township snow plow.

For a few moments, as I watched my neighbor’s tires spinning in the ice ditch in which she was becoming increasingly buried, a little drama played out in my conscience. I had my agenda, after all. I’d done a lot of pushing of cars the day before. I was in my warm house, the king of Mark World. If I slithered away from my window, my neighbor would never know that I simply chose to ignore her situation.

But then, things that God has taught us all in Christ came to mind. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of My family, you did it to Me.” “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you...”

I also thought of Joseph in our Gospel lesson, who, in spite of the danger risked his own life so that Christ could fulfill His mission on earth. I thought of Christ Himself, God-enfleshed, Who left the comforts of heaven to enter our sometimes dangerous world in order to share our life and through His cross and resurrection, to win eternity with God for all who trust in Him.

So, Philip, our son, and I put on our coats and gloves and tried pushing our neighbor’s car out of the ice. We weren’t successful. In the end, she had to call her brother, who was able to use his truck and some chains to yank her car free. Nonetheless, I felt better about myself after failing than I would have had I just gone back to my computer and successfully created the Sunday message of an unrepentant hypocrite.

I didn’t go out to help my neighbor because I’m such a wonderful guy. As my hesitation to help proves, I’m a sinner saved from everlasting separation from God only because of what Jesus has done for me.

But as the experience of Joseph in today’s Gospel lesson shows us, the call to follow Christ never comes at a convenient time or under circumstances convenient for us. It always comes in the midst of living life, while we pursue our own agendas. Life with Jesus Christ is what happens when we lay aside our own plans.

Herod heard the call and decided not just to ignore it, but also to kill the very living Message of heaven. Because that’s what Jesus is: God’s Message that we can have our sins forgiven and our lives made eternally new when we follow Christ!

I’d like to tell you that I always follow when Christ calls me. That I always obey God. That I always step down from my throne of power and let Jesus rule my life. But I would be lying if I said any of those things. Often, I try to act like a king, taking the road of selfishness and self-absorption, hurting God and hurting others. But I take comfort from the words written by one of Jesus’ followers, the apostle John:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He Who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
On the cusp of a new year, let’s make it our aim to dethrone ourselves and let Jesus be our King. We may not always succeed. But if doing so is our intent, our lives will eternally be the better for it!