Matthew 5:9: Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
On Palm Sunday, 2018, Tim and I went to Plains, Ga., to attend President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class. President Carter asked me to begin the morning in prayer. It is a lifetime memory.
I prayed something like: “Dear God, on this Palm Sunday when we celebrate Jesus riding into Jerusalem as the crowd shouted ‘Hosanna’ and waved their palm branches high, may we remember that Jesus was not a war-waging king seeking power but the Prince of Peace seeking love and forgiveness. As Jesus said he came to bring good news to the poor, God, give us courage to follow in Jesus’ footsteps today.”
As I prayed, I had no idea what Carter’s lesson would be about. Without using one note, the 95-year-old began: “Our country has been a nation for 242 years. How many of those years do you think we have been at peace?” He took several guesses from the group and continued, “America has been at war 226 out of 242 years.” (Carter was a Naval officer, serving more years in the military than any president since Eisenhower. Of our nation’s 16 years of peace as a country, four were during his presidency.)
Carter then asked, “Guess who called me at home last night?” Silence. Carter let the anticipation build, “Donald Trump called me at home last night.”
He continued: “This was the first time I have heard from President Trump. It was in response to a letter I wrote expressing my unsolicited advice on China and North Korea. “President Trump said how worried he is that China is getting ahead of us,”
Carter continued. “China is surpassing America in their schools and universities, infrastructure and high-speed railroad, medical care, and hospitals.” Carter then asked if Trump wanted his opinion about why China is getting so far ahead of us. Trump said, “Yes.”
In 1979, Carter normalized diplomatic relationships with China. Carter asked Trump, “Since then, do you know how many times China has been at war with any nation? None. While America has been continuously at war and spent more than $3 trillion since 1979, China has not wasted a single penny on war. That is why China is ahead of us in almost every way and will soon be the No. 1 economic power in the world.”
Carter ended his Palm Sunday School lesson asking us: “What kind of a country do you want to live in? Our perfect example of how to live is the life of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, who taught us that our highest purpose is to love God and to love our neighbor.”
Dear God, on this Palm Sunday, what do we need to do differently, as a church, a nation, and a world, to truly follow the Prince of Peace? Give us the ears to hear your answer and follow your lead. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.