Delivering the sermon at the National Prayer Service for the 57th Presidential Inauguration on Jan. 22, the Rev. Adam Hamilton called on President Barack Obama to lead by showing humility, by casting a strong, unifying vision that focuses on helping the “marginalized,” and by persevering in the face of criticism and discouragement. Mr. Hamilton is senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. To view the sermon, click here.
President Obama, who did not speak, sat in the front row for the service, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden. Some 2,200 people attended. The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, read the Lord’s Prayer at the service.
Wearing black robes and speaking calmly, Mr. Hamilton delivered his sermon, “Compassion, Vision and Perseverance: Lessons from Moses,” which weaved the story of Moses along with lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and current issues.
“Humility and courageous compassion for the marginalized and oppressed are central to the heart and character of Moses and are meant to be central to the heart and character of this nation,” he said.
Along with Catholic and Protestant leaders, the interfaith service included representatives from Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities. But Mr. Hamilton didn’t shy away from citing Jesus in his sermon.
“Jesus said at the Last Judgment it all comes down to this – ‘How did you respond to the needs of the least of these?’” Mr. Hamilton said. “This is America at her best. At our best, we’re a humble people. And we remember the call to have compassion for the least of these.”
Mr. Hamilton’s words drew laughter and applause at several times, especially with remarks aimed at the President.
“God has given you a unique gift, Mr. President,” Mr. Hamilton said. “Unlike any other President we’ve ever had, you have the ability to be to cast a vision and inspire people. You should’ve been a preacher.”
Mr. Hamilton shared how his congregation has worked with the public schools in Kansas City to help 2,284 children in six elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods. Some 2,500 church members have volunteered, building playgrounds, tutoring children, donating books and weekend snack packs, and even providing beds to 300 children who were sleeping on the floor at home.
“I mention that not to brag, though I’m very proud of my congregation,” Mr. Hamilton said. “But to say that’s one congregation with one vision and that unifies us as a church. We’re Democrats and Republicans in our congregation. We’re left and right, conservative and liberal, but somehow these kinds of visions pull us together into the future.”
Mr. Hamilton concluded the sermon with a story about a young Robert Louis Stevenson. After watching a man lighting lamps on the street, he said, “Daddy, I’m watching that man out there knock holes in the darkness.”
“There’s a lot of darkness in our world,” Mr. Hamilton said, addressing the president. “Help us re-discover a vision for America that is so compelling it unites us and calls us to realize the full potential of this country, to be a shining city upon a hill. And when you feel your lowest, don’t give up. Wait upon the Lord, he will renew your strength, that you might lead us as a nation to knock holes in the darkness.”
The Rev. Ben Gosden, associate pastor at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, Ga., felt those closing words worked on two levels – speaking to the leaders of the nation as well as leaders of the denomination.
“It was a perfect call to action for our leaders and for all of us in our local settings,” he said. “As much as (Adam Hamilton) was addressing our national leaders, it was a word for those of us who lead at every level in the United Methodist Church.”
Reflecting in an email after the service, Mr. Hamiilton said that, as he ascended the steps of the National Cathedral this morning, he thought of “all the great preachers who had stepped into that pulpit, particularly that this was where Dr. King preached his last Sunday sermon.”
Mr. Hamilton added that, with his sermon, he aimed to offer words that “would encourage, challenge and inspire,” and that he felt compelled to speak about the need for a shared common vision.
“I believe that the current polarization and divisiveness in our country may be the most important issue to be addressed and, if this can be addressed to some degree, it will help us resolve the other challenges facing our nation,” he said.
For the entire text of the sermon, click here.