SCRIPTURE – Psalm 146
Praise for God’s Help
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
How to Vote
Nov. 6, 2016
We cut our connection with cable about a year ago, so for that period of time I’ve not watched one single network show. In fact, the first time I tuned into a network was few weeks ago when the baseball playoffs started. And during the first commercial break, I was reminded of why I enjoyed not watching TV – I saw my first political ad of the season. Of course, the more baseball I watched, the more ads I had to sit through. It’s like putting up with the pain of a tetanus shot in order to get a lollipop, except I rather have a tetanus shot than the commercials.
Blessedly, we’re almost at the end of this political season. On Tuesday, we’ll go to the polls and pull our levers or darken our circles or punch our chads and we’ll elect our leaders, including our new president – which may make some of us want to punch something else besides our ballot. For the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at some the promises our candidates have made, like the promise of security, clarity, respect, and authority, and we’ve talked about how only God can truly fulfill those promises.
Now, on this Sunday before Election Day, what should we talk about? There’s probably a good portion of you that think the last thing we should talk about is politics. As I heard one congregation member say this week when they read the sermon title, “I already know how to vote, so I guess I don’t have to come on Sunday!” A few notable examples aside, most pastors and churches make it their business NOT to be political, sticking to the things of God’s realm and leaving the politics to the experts. That assumes, of course, that politics are outside of God’s realm. But as author Phillip Gulley wrote, “The questions is not whether we should mix Christianity and politics. To follow Jesus is to be political.” Every contentious issue and disputed policy is a part of God’s realm, and our faith should inform every corner of our lives, including our politics, so we can’t get away with ignoring it.
By connecting our faith and our politics, we’re simply following the lead of Jesus, who very much engaged the political leaders of his time, standing up to the ruling powers like King Herod, Pontius Pilate, even the emperor. After Jesus’ death, his followers picked up the mantle, continuing to be a subversive presence, a thorn in the side of the powers-that-be. Imagine, a group of rag-tag people, mostly women and slaves, going up against the Roman Empire. Pretty easy to figure out which horse to bet on, right? But as author John Ortberg says, “Today we give our kids biblical names and we call our dogs Caesar and Nero.” There’s no Roman Empire in sight, but that rag-tag band of followers is still going strong, and is still called to engage their faith in the midst of the political process.
The word “politics” has taken on a decidedly negative meaning in our culture today, but the root word “polis” simply means “pertaining to a city.” Politics is the way in which humans organize themselves into a cohesive social unit. One writer said, “There is a process by which a group of people decides how to organize themselves, how to distribute power and resources, how to make decisions, how to live together harmoniously. That process is called ‘politics’.”
Wait! How to live together harmoniously? Did this writer even watch the debates? “Politics” and “harmony” have become polar opposites of each other in our modern culture. It seems as if the topic of politics has become a wedge, dividing people into different ideological camps. Politics turns neighbors into red-faced enemies. It divides towns and families and churches. It makes otherwise decent people say terrible things about others who have different opinions. It makes people demonize the candidate of the opposing party. It makes people un-friend each other on Facebook. And, I believe, politics presents a real challenge for us as we try to be Christians first in this world. After all, how do live out the commandment to love your neighbor when they have that other candidate’s sign in their yard?
So the question we face as Christians this first week of November is, “How to vote?” Notice, the question is not “Who do we vote for?” That’s not my business to tell you the answer to that question. As Disciples of Christ, we believe everyone is able to figure out for themselves who to vote for, and we can still ride our elephants and donkeys right up to the communion table and share a meal together in Jesus’ name. No, the question before us is, “How do I vote?” What I mean is, “In what spirit should we approach this civic responsibility?”
As we should always do when faced with social, moral, or ethical conundrums, we turn to scripture, not for black-and-white answers, but for guidance. Our psalm today says, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Happy are those whose hope is in the Lord their God.” But hope seems to be a scarce commodity these days. I hear more about people moving to Canada or taking up arms than I do about hope for the future. And yet, as followers of Christ, we are called to be a light to the darkness of this world, to shine our beacon of hope into the blackness of despair.
So how do we witness to our hope as we live out our political passion? How do our faith and our politics inform each other? When you get right down to it, it’s a question of integrity. It’s quite telling when one of the first people on the TV screen after a debate is a fact-checker who’s going to tell us which candidate told the most lies. And then our fact-checkers get fact-checked! TV ads paint candidates in the most negative of lights. We cheer when the opposition stumbles, making caricatures out of failed attempts to do good or even innocent slips of the tongue. I believe we can get so zealous in our desire for victory, we can become so passionate in support of our candidate, that we succumb to the some of the very evils we as Christians would otherwise deplore. W.C. Fields said, “I never vote for anybody, I always vote against,” and that seems to be a dominant theme of this year’s presidential campaign. There’s a big difference between being saying, “I’m for my candidate” and “I’m against that other candidate.”
If we can’t fully trust what our candidates tell us, if we aren’t quite sure of the proper criteria to use when evaluating our choices, it might be helpful to ask, “What does God have to say about all this?” Can scripture give us some illumination on how to vote? Psalm 146 says, “The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers, he upholds the orphan and the widow.” Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” As we employ our faith to help us make wise choices at the polls, maybe that’s a place to start, to strive to be on God’s side.
I once posed the question on Facebook about what a sermon on voting should and shouldn’t say, and got some very interesting responses, including this one: “I would hope a sermon on voting would say, “Don’t vote for the person who will most help you; vote for the person who will most help everyone’.” Now, the joy of this whole process is that we all have some widely varying opinions about which candidates can be the most help. That’s the beauty of living in a free country. But I think that’s a great place to start, because it mirrors for me what God’s kingdom looks like: a place where everyone belongs, everyone is welcomed, and no one lacks for what they need. Is that possible here on earth? Maybe. But it takes us working together, not tearing each other down or judging each other based on our political choice.
While visiting America from France, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “America is great because America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, it will cease being great.” That was written in the 1830s, just a few years before Donald Trump chose “Make America Great Again” as his campaign slogan. Now, we could argue whether or not America is still great, was ever great, or ever stopped being great. But I’d rather expend my energy on making America good. And that doesn’t start with Trump or Hillary Clinton. That starts with you and me.
So today, a few days before the election, let’s begin here. Some of us are blue, some of us are red. This has nothing to do with basketball; I’m not sure even God can bridge that divide. On Tuesday, one of those groups – either red or blue – is going to win and one of those groups is going to lose, and there is the potential for our country to become more divided than ever. And for me, that is far scarier than either of the candidates becoming president. Will we be red or blue?
You know what happens when you mix red and blue? You get purple. Purple is an interesting color, and very spiritual. Liturgically, purple is the color of royalty, symbolizing God’s reign. Purple is also the color for the season of Lent, a color of repentance and the acknowledgement that we are only human. And in just a few weeks, we’ll put up the purple paraments for the season of Advent, a season that is marked by the hope brought to us by the birth of Christ.
So, on Wednesday, I believe we should all commit to stop being red or blue, and instead become purple people. Not purple people eaters, but purple people. We should erase the lines that divide us and commit to working together to make America good again, or more good than it already is. Let’s not take to Facebook or take to the streets or move to Canada. Instead, let’s accept the country’s choice for its leaders and commit to doing everything in our power to change this world for the better. Let’s blend our red and blue differences into a radiant purple that reflects God’s reign, that honors each other’s humanity, that rekindles the hope the Christ child brings, and that shows our world that we serve someone far greater than the princes and princesses of this world.
On Tuesday, let’s vote for the people we believe will do the best job of leading our country. And then on Wednesday, let’s take all the passion and fervor and energy that we’ve been putting into either rooting for someone, rooting against someone, or complaining about the whole process in general, and put it to use in serving the kingdom of God. How should you vote? You should vote with the hopes of making this country and better place. And then you should go out and do your part to make that happen. Let’s be purple people.