Once every four years, it happens like clockwork: Primary Season, when all across America voters trek to the ballot box to make history while our presidential contenders battle for every vote. This year, we watched as Mitt, Newt, and Rick traveled from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina and saw the casualties occur along the way. Michele Bachmann is gone, Rick Perry fizzled, and Jon Huntsman faded away. Now it’s on to Florida for the January 31st primary. And there in Florida, the voters are preparing.
The National Latino Evangelical Coalition launched its “Nuestro Futuro” campaign, a national campaign to register new Hispanic evangelical voters, particularly young Latinos and Latinas. Since the Hispanic population now comprises 16% of the United States, this is an important constituency for all candidates. All across America, similar groups are gathered: groups with powerful voting blocs, wanting to be sure that the next Commander-in-Chief attends to their concerns. And indeed, as all of these groups gather and cast their votes, they will have an impact. By next November, only one will be standing: the Republican who has the onerous task of taking on an incumbent president. Signs will litter the landscape, bumper stickers will consume our cars, and no one will want to turn on the TV for fear of the endless inundation of resonant, assured voices repeating the mantra: “I am _______ and I approve this message.”
What is this message? We don’t need to hear it or even know what candidate is involved. The message is clear: Vote for me, of course – or, don’t vote for the other guy, because I’m the one who really knows what’s going on here. I’ve got the answers. I’m the authority. That’s what we want: the answers for poverty, for sickness, for war, [and] for environmental issues. We are looking for the authority, the specialist, the expert on the matter. We want to hear the most accurate information. We seek clarity, but where can we find it in our country today? Is Stephen Colbert the authority, or is it Glenn Beck we should believe? Who tells the truth: FOX News Network, or MSNBC, or neither of the above? Do we choose one and “stick to that story” because that’s who our neighbors and friends and parents believe, or do we just turn it all off and tune it out? Deciding there is no way of knowing whose words to heed, do we simply opt out and not play the game at all – just let events unfold and happen to us, instead of through us?
In our lectionary text from Mark this week, we encounter a crowd and a speaker, a scenario not unlike what is taking place in today’s political landscape. However, there is a twist on this seemingly familiar event. Jesus enters the synagogue and he offers a new teaching – a teaching with authority. We do not know what this “teaching” is comprised of. All we hear, from our view on the outside, is that those who listened were “astounded” and noted that his teaching was not like that of the scribes, whom they were accustomed to hearing (not like FOX, friends, or CNN, either!). Before we can even inquire as to what precisely this Jesus is saying, how his words can truly be so different as to inspire awe – before we can even begin to ask - we are broadsided with action, fast and furious. Into the milieu appears a raucous man with an unclean spirit. Roaring and convulsing, the man names Jesus, challenges him, and is healed, and in that moment the authority of Jesus takes on a new dimension: no longer in word only, this authority. Authority in deed, as well. Not only can Jesus speak with authority, he can do the deed. He is a healer, a game-changer. And that is the true beginning of the gossip train – far and wide will word of the authority spread, throughout the region of Galilee… and beyond. The people who have seen this healing – not just heard the words, but seen the healing, with their own eyes – they are amazed.
Words, words, words – they matter. Yet, what good are empty promises, words uttered to convince the listeners without convicting the speaker? Whenall we get are words, and no actions behind the words, is not the authority of the speaker to be questioned? Because Jesus follows his words with powerful actions, his authority is established. He is one to be trusted, one who speaks and then acts in accordance with those words. He is unlike the leaders of the synagogue, and the scribes, who have plenty to say but little to do.
In our world today, we badly need leaders who not only speak with authority but behave with conviction. We need no more leaders who fervently preach “family values” but care little for their own relationships. We need no more leaders who claim compassion for the poor while lining their own pockets. We need no more leaders who base every decision on polling numbers rather than on a strong moral compass.
The voters agree. Beyond the media spin and outside the partisan bias, U.S. citizens are looking for one who speaks with authority. According to the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, the President of National Latino Evangelical Coalition “…That party that shows real commitment… much more than kind of rhetoric and much more than just saying you know we like you but is showing real legislative muscle behind the things that are important to us…I think at the end of the day they will hear the affirmation of Hispanic Evangelicals.” And likely the affirmation of other voters as well. It’s an aphorism as old as the hills but it is still prescient today: It’s not enough to talk the talk. You gotta walk the walk as well.
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Rev. Angela Zimmann holds degrees in Industrial Engineering, Divinity, and Rhetoric and Writing.