Epiphany 3 B: Trust Joe Biden; but Verify!

I write and publish this blog on January 19, 2021. Tomorrow, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. Thanks be to God!

Now, it is our job to trust but verify.

We are moved to do this by God’s Word, reaching out to us through the readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, on January 24, 2021.

Our Old Testament Reading is Jonah 3:1-5, 10

God tells Jonah to preach: “Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, has the well earned reputation as arch enemy of Israel for their horrendous war-making and barbarism. Yet the people of Nineveh believed God, and repent. God changed his mind and didn’t bring about the calamity.

The lesson is, with God, no one is beyond redemption.

The question is, will we repent or our own sins? Yesterday, on Martin Luther King Day,  President Trump’s White House formally published the report of their 1776 Commission, which denounces any attempt to call America to repentance for its sins of slavery or institutional racism. Will we, as a people, renounce that report and humbly ask for God’s redemption of our nation. America is not one thing, either all good or all bad. But, unless we repent, we will never be forgiven or restored from our sins and shortcomings.

Our Psalm for this day is Psalm 62:5-12

The Psalmist reminds us that the lowly people around us are indeed like a breath. But the high and mighty are a delusion.

Only the One True God of justice and steadfast love deserves our ultimate trust and allegiance.

This caveat should temper our celebrations of this Inauguration Day.

New Testament:  1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Sure, history may seem to repeat itself. The hands of the watch seem to keep going round and round. But the kairos, or appointed time is short. It’s time to make up our minds whose side we are on.

Today we may not have the exact belief of the Apostle Paul that all world history is about to come to its climax. But will we take our own span of life seriously? Will we be realistic enough to take the short arc of time allotted to America to be what she should be?

Above all this will take focus. Those with wives should be as though they had none. Mourners as though they weren’t mourning. Those who are celebrating as though they were not. Those who spend their lives shopping, as though they were as poor as the Hondurans trying to get to America. Real-politic wheelers and dealers as though all their deals meant absolutely nothing in the great scheme of things.

The present form of this world is passing.

The Gospel:  Mark 1:14-20

We could read Paul as being a pessimist for saying the present form of the world is passing. But he was the greatest optimist. He took seriously the coming of God’s Rule.

Mark shows us. God’s creation is now being restored to its original holiness. The distortions we see in demons, natural disasters, illness, and oppressive leaders, are being set aright through God’s Word and Christ’s ministry, death, and Resurrection.

This Sunday we should be celebrating Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States.

It is a new day; and billions across the globe have their fingers crossed. There is much reason to hope, since Joe Biden is obviously not “against God” and a destroyer of suburbs, as Trump has lied. He is a decent man who has already laid out an agenda to serve all the people and not himself. For starters he has laid out plans to use America’s great resources of wealth and science to fight the pandemic. And he has plans to collaborate with worthy allies to promote peace and undo the oppression and environmental destruction that is all too rampant in the world.

But the Psalm for today, and all of Scripture, warn us that we are not to put our ultimate trust or allegiance in any human leadership, or material wealth. Certainly we are not to, as the Psalmist says, trust in “extortion.” And that surely means we should not rely on the powers of intimidation practiced by a President who says, “America first” or threatens “fire and fury.”

They say the prime attitude in diplomacy is “trust but verify.” So too, in any government, no matter which party or leader is in power, we should do the same. More than passively “hope with fingers crossed,” each of us is called by God to engage in the lifestyle of the true citizen. We should all trust, but verify when it comes to our own leaders. Like the prophets of old we should speak truth to power. We should keep politicians’ feet to the fire. We should practice and honor political organization for the common good.

But there is MUCH to be thankful for on the occasion of this Inauguration. We have heard more than enough of people putting Joe Biden down by saying he wasn’t their “first choice.” He is the nation’s choice, and that means something.

Meanwhile, we should be deeply thankful that, as Mark’s Gospel shows us, the Rule of God has already been set in motion through God’s Word, through the ministry, death and Resurrection of Christ, and through the Holy Spirit.

This Truth sets us free from trying to keep up appearances. We are free to admit and repent of our past mistakes as a people. America is more than one thing – bad or good. We are a mixed bag, and we must admit it, turn away from the darker side of our nature, and fix things. If repentance worked for Nineveh, it can work for us. We can be better through repentance than through pathetic image preservation.

Joe Biden has plans to get off to a band of a start through a host of positive executive actions. Today is a New Day.

Let’s celebrate today; and tomorrow roll up our sleeves. Trust, but verify.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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