Hello GRC –
Yesterday was a day working from home, starting the sermon. At lunch time, I turned on the news, and was reminded that the memorial service for President George H. W. Bush was in progress. I’m not a political news junkie, nor do I typically feel drawn to so-called “can’t miss” events like royal weddings. But this was not political news. It WAS historic, but what gripped me was the story of a life grounded in principles, family, and dedication to something greater than a man.
There was a moment when a son (George W) – well-accustomed to the world’s stage, to big moments, including 9/11 – was simply a boy who would never again (at least in this life) hear his dad’s encouragement or expression of love… and he sobbed.
There were glorious hymns sung in the cathedral: “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”, “O God our Help in Ages Past”, and “For All the Saints”. Biblical truth – read and sung – in the presence of world leaders. The church’s universal confession – the Apostles’ Creed – recited out loud (at least, by most). Pretty special.
There was another song. The news anchor identified the pianist and singer as “Michael Smith” (ironically, given the two Bush Presidents, also unrecognizable without his “W” middle initial!). He sang and played “Friends,” a song about saying farewell to friends, but in light of death, a powerful reminder of the eternality of the family of God.
The sermon also moved hearts. President Bush’s pastor from Houston, Rev. Levenson Jr., recounted the final hours at the bedside of 41; sitting on a couch with James Baker, Bush’s best friend and former Secretary of State, a man whom he considered to be a younger brother. Baker rubbed the feet of Bush for about half-an-hour, providing the comfort of human touch. [As he listened to the sermon, James Baker wept, and every viewer along with him]. Rev. Levenson Jr. then said this: “I witnessed a world leader (i.e., Baker) who was serving a servant, who had been our world’s leader, and what came to mind was Jesus.” He described Jesus’ last night, before the Supper, when he washed the disciples’ feet, and exhorted them to follow his example in service to one another.
I can’t remember being so moved at the funeral of someone far removed from my personal life. But beyond the emotions, how are we as biblical Christians to process this historic event?
- The pastor spoke well: there is no greater mission than to love God and neighbor. (See Jesus’ words about the “greatest commandment” in Matthew 22:37-39). But this is no generic love. The apostle John wrote, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11). Truly loving God and neighbor can only be rooted in the love of Christ, and saving faith in Him.
- Whatever political convictions you may have, there is much that’s valuable in today’s world when it comes to:
– Civility: read Bush’s hand-written letter to Clinton after losing a hard-fought election;
– Humility: some described his persistent refusal to humiliate Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall (“I’m not going to dance on the wall”); and
– Country, Before Self: the decision to go back on his infamous “Read my lips: No New Taxes” was a bi-partisan bill that he believed was good for country, but may have cost him re-election.
- We should give thanks to God for the gift of great leaders, and we can even seek to emulate them, but we should be careful never to idolize them. Jesus said to the rich young man, “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18).
- The greatest hope of America is not that another such leader would become President. Many of Bush’s admirable character traits would be desirable! But what we need is not greater leadership to follow. What we need is deeper conviction that the King of Kings – the One who delegates authority to any human government – is worthy of all of our allegiance, all of our priorities, all of our lives. Jesus alone was Good, and the death of that most unique Good Man, is life for all who believe!
Grace to you,
Peter Wang is our Senior Pastor.