Are there dots to be connected? Sunday, January 24, “the Donald” walked into the First Presbyterian Church of Muscatine, Iowa and heard Scripture readings and a sermon focused on humility. Just over a week later, he came in second at the Iowa caucuses after having been first in the polls right up to election day. Though many people would consider second place a triumph (see Rand Paul, Chris Christie, et al.), for “the Donald,” second place is for losers. Even on that Sunday in church before the defeat, after hearing 1 Corinthians 12:21 read specifically, “the Donald” himself pondered if there might be a bigger picture to be seen: “I don’t know if that was aimed at me. Perhaps.” Of course, “the Donald,” in his self-centeredness, wondered if the message that Sunday might have been altered by the church folks themselves, because of his presence. And, after hearing the words of 1 Corinthians 12:21, it does sound a little suspicious: “Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”?
Are there dots to be connected? No, and yes. No, neither the human, nor the divine, agents involved in the worship service the morning of Jan. 24, altered their message to speak directly to Donald Trump because he happened to be present. The passages of Scripture read that morning had been selected years in advance, literally years. The readings were part of the Revised Common Lectionary used by numerous Protestant congregations around the world. The words from 1 Corinthians 12 that sound so astonishingly appropriate for “the Donald,” are a straight reading of that verse from Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, “The Message.” And, though I do not know the Rev. Dr. Pamela Saturnia personally, I would be shocked if she would not have given the same message about Jesus’ love for “outsiders,” including her references to Syrian refugees and Mexican migrants, even if Donald Trump had not been in attendance. In fact, Donald Trump could have disguised himself (all it would probably take would be to comb his hair in some sort of human form), walked into any one of thousands of other Presbyterian churches, or Lutheran, or Episcopalian, or Methodist … and he would have heard the same exact Scripture readings (in various translations) and a sermon with a very similar message. There was no conspiring to speak to “the Donald,” specifically.
At the same time, there are dots to be connected; but they are to be connected by any one of us who heard those particular scriptures read on that specific Sunday. Trump’s experience merely highlighted the effect intended by the church universal in centering our worship around God’s Word, Sunday after Sunday, even day by day. We are all part of a bigger picture. The world does not revolve around any one of us. We have been given this world, we have been given life as a gift. Sunday after Sunday, we gather to be reminded of the truth that we have been loved abundantly and are called to love in return. Love God, love one another. We are frequently reminded as well that most of us broken and messed up human beings don’t do this very well. We tend to take care of ourselves and our own and leave others to fend for themselves. In fact, we can’t even be trusted to reliably read the Bible. We tend to choose the parts we like, that affirm who we are, not who we can become. Therefore, centuries ago, some very wise people decided that a schedule for Scripture reading should be set up; in order that, over the course of a few years, the whole breadth, height and depth of the big picture will be revealed and we will know our place within it. It is this framework into which “the Donald” walked, unwittingly, on Sunday, January 24, at the First Presbyterian Church of Muscatine. It is the framework into which many of us walk, wittingly, every Sunday, to be reminded of what we all need to hear, “the Donald,” “the Douglas,” all of us:
You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts – limbs, organs, cells – but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain – his Spirit – where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves – labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free – are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive. I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it. But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? … The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church … You are Christ’s body – that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. (1 Cor. 12:12-27, The Message)
Here’s to making the connections.