Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:15-20,
The Prophet Jeremiah calls the leaders of Israel shepherds and the people of Israel the sheep of God’s pasture. He says there are two kind of shepherds, bad shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep, and good shepherds who watch over the sheep faithfully, and seek out those sheep that have been separated from the flock.
Israel glorified the shepherd the way America glorifies cowboys. Abraham and Isaac owned sheep and oxen and asses. Jacob and his sons, including Joseph, who rose to political prominence in Egypt were definitely shepherds. but Jacob and his sons, including Joseph, who rose to political prominence in Egypt were primairly shepherds. Moses was a shepherd before he was the lawgiver, and he was watching over the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro when he saw the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed, and heard the voice of God commanding him to go and tell Pharaoh to “let my people go.” Saul was Israel’s first king. There is no evidence that Saul was a shepherd of the sheep; but when God anointed him as Israel’s king, God spoke to him through the prophet Samuel saying, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel.” Israel’s second king, David, was a celebrated shepherd. When David wanted to go out against Goliath, Saul objected, saying, “You are not able to fight this Philistine; for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” David said, “When I was a shepherd, watching over my father’s sheep, God delivered me from the paw of the lion, and from the paw of the bear. God will certainly deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” When David went out to face Goliath, he went out without armor, and he was armed with nothing but his shepherd’s sling, and five smooth stones. He said: “(Goliath) You come to me with a sword, and a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of Hosts, the God of the Armies of Israel.” You know the rest of that story. You know, too, that King David never forgot the lessons he learned keeping his father’s sheep. David strove to be a good shepherd of the people, because he regarded God as the greatest shepherd of all. His most famous Psalm begins: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Jeremiah lived four centuries after David. He saw the people of God’s pasture suffer under bad shepherd’s and led off into the Babylonian captivity. In the passage before us, Jeremiah seeks to give them hope. He says that God has fixed a day on which he would judge the bad shepherds, and gather his scattered flock back into the fold. He promised that God would make the flock fruitful, and appoint good shepherds over them, that they would no more be afraid or dismayed. Then Jeremiah promised Israel a king whose greatness would exceed that of King David himself.
5 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Righteous Branch. Pilate thought he was heaping irony upon Jesus when he caused a sign to be placed over his cross that called him “King of the Jews,” but Christians believe the irony was all on Pilate. The first Christians called Jesus the Messiah of Israel and they soon called him “the king of kings and the LORD of Lords.” The Book of Colossians reminds us that eventually Christians confessed that Jesus was “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” The author goes on to say that in him all things were created, visible and invisible, including all thrones, and principalities, powers. Since the dawn of history, the thrones have been occupied and the powers exercised by governors, kings, emperors, and presidents, good and bad alike, and some have been very, very good, and some have been very, very bad.
Now think about this: We confess that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God,” and we believe that he was, yet, in the days of his flesh, Jesus presented himself as a shepherd. In Mark 6 we read how Jesus saw a great throng of people, and he had compassion on them, because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” In Luke 15 Jesus told his followers a parable about a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to seek the one lamb who is lost, and he searches until he finds it. The ancient rabbis could imagine God patiently waiting for sinners to repent and return to him; but Jesus was the first to speak of God as actually seeking out the lost who wander, active for our salvation even before we sense the need of it. In Mark 14, just before his death, Jesus warns his disciples saying: “You will all fall away; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” He was right, most of his disciples forsook him and fled. Finally, in John 10, Jesus speaks to the flock in all ages saying:
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, nor the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and he leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
Now, let us place what we have learned about shepherds, good and bad, against the backdrop of present day America. It would be nice to think that the United States of America was the special object of God’s care, as Israel was once the special object of God’s care. There is no Biblical evidence for that. We conclude that the people of the United States are like people in every other nation in the world. We want our leaders to be good shepherds; not bad shepherds. We want them to lead us on right paths, so that we can lie down in green pastures, beside untroubled waters. We want them to restore our souls, or at least our confidence. And if we must go through the valley of the shadow of death, we hope they will be there to strengthen us, and we hope they will bring an army with them.
Now, if you noticed, I have just wandered into a subject we call politics. Some people think that when a preacher of the gospel even mentions politics, he or she has “quit preaching and gone to meddling.” That is partially true. I do not think a preacher should attempt to influence the outcome of an election, and I am disappointed with my brothers and sisters who did. However, there are times when a pastor can and must speak. I have done it in the past, and I will do it in the future. In 1991, when we invaded Iraq, I spoke out, saying that I hoped our motives were pure, and I did not think it was time for Armageddon. In 1998 when President Clinton was impeached, I spoke on Psalm 32, and talked about how David repented of his sin with Bathsheba, and received God’s forgiveness. In 2002 I spoke in favor of the invasion of Afghanistan—the Taliban that controlled the nation were terrorists, but in 2003 I signed a letter from the Faith and Order Committee of the Moravian Church urging urged President Bush not to invade Iraq without the support of our allies. In 2008, when Barak Obama was elected as our first African American President, I said that the story of African Americans now closely paralleled that of Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery. I pointed out how, after Joseph rose to power in Egypt, and his brothers came to him, and he had power over them, he said to them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
This morning I want to speak about our recent election. I find that I must, for I have delayed my concession speech long enough. Now you may not have been aware that I was in the running. That is o.k., I did not realize it myself until after the polls closed on Tuesday, November 8th. It was then I received a telephone call, notifying me that I was one of many who had received a write-in vote for the presidency. Now I am thrilled to think that somebody out there, perhaps even one of you, thought I was qualified to be President of the United States; but it has put me in the awkward spot of forcing a concession speech, so here goes.
I know why I lost the election. I am a third party candidate who had no budget, one supporter, and no desire to be president. In the future, if nominated, I will not run, and if elected, I will not serve.
I think I know, too, why Secretary Clinton lost. She did not lose because she stuck by her husband in 1998. That showed us what forgiveness and grace needs to be about. And she did not lose because of her personal email server, as unhappy as that whole incident proved to be. And she did not lose because she called the Klu Klux Klan and the Alt-Right and other hate groups a basket of deplorables. They are, and we know it. I think she lost primarily because she was a part of the system, and people are tired of the system. Secretary Clinton simply could not excite her most natural constituency.
By contrast, President Elect Donald Trump ran a campaign that shocked and embarrassed many leaders in his own party, but he won. I think he won because a great many Americans were willing to overlook his language and his history, because his language and his history marked him as an irreverent outsider, and they thought he would stand up for them, for they feel like outsiders, too. Donald Trump beat all his Republican challengers, and he beat the Democratic nominee, and he beat the Libertarian Gary Johnson, and he beat the independent Worth Green. Let me do as my fellow losers have done and express a few hopes for the President Elect.
1. I am hopeful that the president elect can use his wealth to our advantage. The President Elect is a billionaire, and he has announced that he will work for $1 a year. More importantly, he has barred his cabinet members from becoming a lobbyists for five years after leaving office. I hope he will complete the circle by giving us campaign finance reform. Ironically, as a Billionaire Trump has a tremendous opportunity to prevent our country from becoming an oligarchy where only the rich can afford high office. I hope he will seize it. That said, when I saw President Elect Trump visiting with President Obama in the Oval Office, I felt sorry for him. I have never been to Trump’s apartment, but I have been to Trump Towers, and compared to Trump towers, the White House, as a residence, is a big, big let down. Of course, as a symbol, it does not get any better. The White House and the Oval Office confers greatness upon those who can receive it. I pray that Trump will be able to receive it.
2. The President Elect can reform the tax code. He beat it, and his advisors have suggested that he will use his knowledge of the tax code to fix it. I hope he does. I did not win the election, and I will not run again; but I want everyone who voted for me to know that I have paid my fair share of taxes. Anyone else feel that way? I want everyone to pay their fair share.
3. I hope the President Elect can indeed drain the swamp. We are tired of gridlock in Washington, and at present Donald Trump is the only chance we have for breaking that gridlock. I hope every politician will put country before party. It is about time.
4. I hope President Elect Trump can strengthen our nations crumbling infrastructure, and improve our trade deals, and bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.
Senator Bernie Sanders has said that if Donald Trump can stand up to Corporate America, he will be his ally in the fight. Of course, Corporate America is now made up of Multi-National Corporations, and if they don’t like the business climate here, they may move elsewhere. By the way, since a corporation includes its stock holders, many of us are a part of Corporate America, and what is good for some Americans, may not be good for others.
5. I hope President Elect Trump will not set aside the Paris Climate Accords. Though it may disappoint some of his supporters, I don’t think he will. Leaders of 350 successful businesses like Starbuck’s and Hewlett-Packard say that going green is good for the economy, and my grandchildren tell me it is good for the planet. I think it is a win, win, and I hope President Elect Trump will see that, and he will be all over it.
6. I hope President Elect will continue our traditional alliances. I agree that our military is over extended, and I hope the President Elect will be cautious about deploying our troops (and dropping bombs). At the same time, I hope he will not abandon our traditional allies, especially NATO, and NATO’s longest standing global partner, Japan. In a war on terror we need a presence in Europe, in the Near East, and in the Far East; and we need all the allies that we can get. A retired police officer from our congregation, has been in Afghanistan training special Afghan response units. He told me that the people of that country are stanch allies, and that they are counting on America, and on President Elect Trump.
7. Finally, I hope President Elect Trump will pay special attention to the healing of our nation, whatever that takes. The ill-advised and bombastic rhetoric of the recent campaign opened a Pandora’s box of ill will in America. Few times in my lifetime has our country been more divided. I fear it will take the full force of the President Elect’s personality to put the lid back on the box, and even then we don’t know what monsters have escaped. Monsters often lie dormant for decades and generations before rising up to bite us. The President Elect has said that he wants to sand up for all Americans, and I hope and pray that is so. The eyes of the world are upon him. For my part, I offer President Elect Trump my sincere congratulations. I promise that I will support him wherever I can, and I will be the loyal opposition wherever I cannot. I ask my constituency of one to do likewise. Let us all hope and pray that President Elect Trump will prove himself one of the good shepherds who will lead and protect this flock that we call the United States of America. That it might remain “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
P.S.: It has been said that there are three sermons: 1) the sermon a preacher writes, 2) the sermon a preacher preaches, and 3) the sermon a preacher wishes he or she had preached. There is at least one more sermon: The sermon people hear, and truth to tell, people hear the same sermon very differently. I have been surprised at the different ways people heard the sermon I preached twice this past Sunday, at 9:00 a.m. and at 11:10 a.m.
This printed sermon is within a couple of dozen words of the sermon I wrote, and the sermons I preached. Of course, since I preached it twice, mostly without the help of notes, there will be some differences; but, again, they are slight.
Though I have ordinarily avoided politics, and don’t know enough to even comment on complicated issues like the National Health Care System, certain trade deals, and the ins and outs of emigration, policy, etc., I preached this sermon because I believe in the democratic process. For good or ill, America has spoken, and President Elect Trump deserves a chance to govern. I appreciate the way leaders of the opposition party have insisted on this. If President Elect Trump does a good job, and proves a good shepherd, it will be good for us all. If he does a bad job, and is a bad shepherd, there is another election in 2020. It should not be lost on President Elect Trump that it is his job to get us to that election.
The number one reason I preached this sermon was to reserve my right as a pastor to speak, and to open a dialogue. Let me hear from you. I am sure many of you will have more to say. So, I am sure, will I.
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.