During his inaugural address, President Barack Obama quoted the Apostle Paul, but it was really a Peter moment.
Obama looked out over the most diverse crowd ever assembled for a presidential inauguration from all walks of life from every section of the country. And he gave them the basics and core values of the American experience.
At Pentecost, Peter looked out over a large crowd, representing Jewish believers from every corner of the known world, probably one of the most diverse crowds of the evolving Christian community ever assembled to that point. And he gave them the basics and core values of what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
This is not to say that Obama’s inauguration speech and what Peter preached at Pentecost are on equal levels. Obama’s address was political and he’s a major agent of the state. Peter’s sermon was theological and he was a prominent disciple of Christ.
From a practical standpoint, the addresses flowed in different directions from separate foundations.
But philosophically, it’s interesting how both speakers used a similar template to create a call to action and to energize a crowd. Both drew upon past heroes to refocus on values and principles that could be used to initiate sweeping change.
Christianity expanded and major barriers began to fall by what Peter said. Pentecost paved the way for the growth of a new religion to the ends of the earth.
The American dream expanded and significant sociological and racial barriers fell when Obama became president. Then he placed the responsibility for implementing the American ideal to all citizens and extended the American experiment of democracy as a symbol of hope to all peoples of the world.
Peter called upon the people to use God’s sacrifice and power to be a gift to the world, to boldly spread the ideals of the gospel.
Obama called on Americans to use the values, dreams and sacrifices of the founding fathers and their heritage of heroes to courageously be a model to the world and spread the American dream.
Peter said in Acts 2:38 (NIV): And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off whom God will call.
Obama mentioned a promise in his speech: Eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace before us ”we carried forth that part of the great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
Parallel to the roots of the early Christian church that was reflected at Pentecost, Obama spoke of the ideal of community, a oneness of spirit that creates a sacrificial dynamic for all. Peter’s address inspired action of all types that changed the world.
Examine a few things that happened during and after the inaugural ceremonies:
¢ A businessman bought 300 rooms in an expensive Washington hotel so the poor, the needy and the veterans could have a place to stay and share in the celebration.
¢ Businesses donated tuxedos and gowns so the least of these in society would have something to wear to the inaugural balls.
¢ After the ceremony, Luci Johnson, a daughter of a former president, said in a TV interview she turned to an African-American woman behind her and said, Congratulations to you. ’No, congratulations to us, congratulations to all Americans,’ she said the woman told her as two strangers from two different backgrounds gave each other a hug.
¢ The Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American fighter pilots who were heroes in the air but second-class citizens on the ground during World War II, were honored guests, included in the celebration.
¢ And when Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has a brain tumor, suddenly went into a seizure at the Congressional luncheon, one of the first people who rushed to his aid ”and was at his side when he was placed in an ambulance ”was Sen. Orrin Hatch, a staunch Republican who is a kindred spirit with Kennedy on hardly any political issue. But people of all political ideologies responded to Kennedy’s emergency with grace and a higher sense of community.
In an America beset by a multitude of problems, there seemed to be a real and infectious spirit of commitment, hope and community that calls on everybody to do their part.
Millions of different people may have listened to a political speech on Inauguration Day. But, in a spiritual sense, maybe we heard a basic call to discipleship.
David McCollum is a contributing editor to Ethicsdaily.com.