Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was one of the biggest upsets in presidential history, leaving some feeling triumphant and others totally defeated. On election day, I was in Honduras on a mission trip, doing construction work at a Christian camp. I watched the results from afar, but was as stunned as anyone by the outcome. I sensed the tremendous grief being felt by all who supported Clinton.
The day after the election, our group of ten men had a Bible study which included the parable of the yeast, in which Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman takes and mixes in with flour until all of it is leavened (Luke 13:20-21). I said to the group that one of the problems with politics is that we expect a powerful leader to come in from on high and solve all of our problems. This is true whether we are liberals or conservatives. But our challenge as Christians is to act like yeast, to change things from the inside, to work for transformation like yeast in a loaf of bread.
Even in a time of grief, we can inspire people by what we say and what we do. This is true no matter who is in the White House.
The crucifixion of Jesus caused grief, but even as he was dying Jesus acted like yeast. Instead of being angry at the people who put him on the cross, he forgave them. Rather than saving himself, he saved the criminal next to him (Luke 23:33-43). Instead of being overcome by evil, Jesus turned evil into good.
The execution of 21 Coptic Christians by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists caused grief. But on the day of their deaths these faithful Christians acted like yeast. They were in Libya, working on a construction job. All were Egyptians except for one. He appears to have been a young African man, perhaps from Chad or Ghana. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, a Greek Orthodox bishop named Demetrios said that the executioners demanded that each hostage identify his religion. Under threat of death, they could have denied that they were Christians. But each of the Christians declared their trust in Jesus. Maintaining their faith in the face of evil, each man was beheaded.
The bishop describes this crime as “a grotesque example of the violence Christians face daily in Libya, Iraq, Syria and anywhere that ISIS prosecutes its murderous campaign.” But as horrible as these executions were, the story has an unexpected and inspirational ending.
The young African man who was with the Egyptians was not a Christian when he was captured. But when the ISIS terrorists challenged him to declare his faith, he replied: “Their God is my God.” After hearing those words, the terrorists killed him. But in that moment, the young man became a Christian. The Christians around him acted like yeast and brought good out of evil.
Such stories are transformational. They certainly inspire me. But they also leave me with a question: Are we living in such a way that people will look to us and say, “Their God is my God”? Our challenge is to speak in ways that reveal authentic faith, and act in ways that show real courage and devotion.
Rodger Nishioka is a Christian educator who is convinced that actions speak louder than words. “Words are lovely,” he says, “but in the 21st century, when we have rhetoric everywhere, maybe people are paying attention to how you and I live, to what we do.”
He tells the story of a young couple who moved from New Jersey to Iowa to start their careers. They visited a couple of churches but didn’t join a congregation. Then the wife discovered that she had stage-four breast cancer, and she was terrified. She entered the hospital for surgery, and was visited by the pastor of one of the churches they had attended.
Once she got home, the young wife received a visit from one of the women of the church. She brought a casserole and said that she and her fellow church members had been praying for the woman and her husband. Next day, there was another knock on the door. This time it was a man from the church, bringing another dinner. The congregation brought a meal to this couple every day for six months. The two had so much in their freezer that they invited young adults from their workplaces to a meal at their house. Their colleagues asked, “Where did you get this food?” They replied, “It comes from our church.” Note the pronoun: Our church.
What made the difference was actions, not words. In this Iowa community, young adults were seeing people acting like yeast and working for transformation.
At Fairfax Presbyterian, where I serve as pastor, we act like yeast by hosting the homeless on cold winter nights, so that they will not die on the streets. We mentor teenagers who are trying to figure out who they are and what they are supposed to do with their lives. We teach children the stories of Jesus and show them the love of Jesus. We fight the cancers of racism and prejudice in our adult Christian Formation classes. And we take medications to clinics in Honduras, so that lives will not be lost to diseases that are easily treatable. On our recent mission trip, we delivered seven large suitcases full of medicine, including over-the-counter medications donated by members of the church.
In a time of grief, our challenge is to act like yeast. To work for transformation, acting with courage and devotion and bringing life out of death. Jesus did this on the cross, and we do it as we try to follow him.