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--I had to laugh when Bishop Scarfe noted in his sermon this week that the readings for the past few weeks and upcoming few weeks seem to be perfectly suited for a divided nation in the midst of an election cycle. Some of my friends who live in an uncontested state think it pretty cool that we live in a contested state. I usually grumble something along the lines “that’s because your television is not inundated with those damn commercials.” But the bishop is correct. We have had lessons the past weeks about bridling our tongues, about remembering who really is in charge, about living a life reflective of the faith and Lord we profess. And we will be readings in the coming weeks that remind us we are required to choose. Do we trust in God? Or do we place our trust elsewhere?
The other reason I loathe being in a battleground state is the sheer number of questions surrounding “the Godly candidate.” It does not seem to matter which candidate people are talking about, supporters want to put the mantle of God on their favorite and horns on the candidate they are not supporting. In one sense, I dread this week. Having seen far too many times the booing of God during the Democratic National Convention, thanks to some of your e-mails, I know the anxiety and “aha”s that are out there. Can I be a Democrat and still be a faithful Christian? We Republicans would never boo God, so clearly He must favor us, right? You have all probably heard and seen and maybe even said statements like those. I know a few people have grumbled that I don’t seem to like any politicians. Let me make this clear: “I don’t like career politicians.” I like and pray for Christians who are engaged in the political arena, whatever their party affiliation, but I am not a fan of the man or woman who is looking to take the next step, who is isolated away from those who elected him or her, who is beholden to the next election cycle.
Some might say I have become cynical, that this is the way things are done in this country. I am sorry, but I do not accept the claim that our Founding Fathers envisioned this kind of mess and division. I cannot accept that our Founding Fathers wanted corporations and the very wealthy deciding the course of this country with money being the undue influence. I know they did not envision a year-round, full time legislature that was not subject to the laws that it passed. I am certain that they expected a certain statesmanship from those engaged in the process. I am even fairly sure that they never envisioned the money being raised and spent (seemingly all in our state) in an election cycle like we now find ourselves immersed. I am certain they expected us to passionately disagree, but I am fairly certain they expected us to remember that we are all entitled to the same Creator-bestowed rights. We can disagree, but there is no need to vilify.
From a Judeo-Christian perspective, I think I have even more reason not to get too invested in any political candidate. Chiefly, I think back to the lessons of Scripture and the warnings about men being placed in power over us. Although there are many lessons buried in the history of the monarchy, I think we would all agree that one of the overarching themes of those histories is the difference between God and the difference between mortal rulers. Think back specifically to Samuel and God’s warning to Israel. “You want a king. I’ll let you have your king. Remember, though, your king will be a taker. He will take your young men, your young women, your servants, your grain, your seed, your animals and use it for his purposes.” Contrast that with God who is a giver of grace and blessings. Men in power take. God in power gives (good things). Can this distinction be any clearer in our current election? Both candidates are fighting over what they will take and from whom. Our election seems to be boiling down to a question of whether the government should take more from the rich or take some support from those in need among us. It’s an ideological fight, to be sure, but we Christians have a better questions. We questions have a better story. We have the Gospel story of a God who wants to provide for us, who wants to care for us as a loving Father, who wants us to walk in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives on earth and to spend all eternity with Him.
And, yet, the challenge for us as Christians is to recognize that God can and does work His will through human initiative and sometimes even through the way we govern ourselves. You and I live the first part of that statement. I think all of us here, after some 45 years of continual feeding ministry, have figured out that God was correct when He said that we would always have the poor and hungry among us. We feed and feed and feed, and we offer the bread of eternal life, and still there are people who hunger. Similarly, we might like to think, as a culture, that we have moved beyond violence against women. Yet, day after day, we are reminded that boyfriends and husbands physically assault women, in some cases the mother of their child, and that those same women have forgotten who they are in their Father’s eyes. How many children do we know are abandoned, if not physically, emotionally by their parents? How many people have we served that, while working, are unable to make enough money to get by but make too much for most programs of assistance? And are you familiar with modern slavery? Yes. Human initiative, particularly in response to a prodding or calling by the Holy Spirit, can often make a difference in the lives of those suffering around us. So, how do we meet this challenge? How do we, as a group of Christians called together in the community, in this battleground state, stay counter-cultural and yet live as productive members of a society that is a beacon to much of the world?
A great beginning place is this week’s Psalm. Psalm 146 serves as the beginning psalm of the Hallel, the last five psalms of praise in the Psaltery. I know, the Jews consider Psalms 113-118, which are read during Passover to be the true Hallel, but you and I, like them, are looking forward to that day when He calls us all to Him and remakes the earth. Some Christian commentators want to call these five psalms a grand or great doxology or other such appropriate name, but I think the lessons of 113-118 are repeated here and remind us in all times and in all places to praise our Lord. It is the root of the word which we love to say around here, even during Lent I’ve noticed, hallelujah! We should at all times and in all places praise the Lord -- especially during an election year! How we face elections, even those as divisive as ours, testify to how we view God’s promises to us. Do our tongues speak in anger, as James warned us last week, when we differ? Or do they speak in passion, cognizant that the other is also created in the image of God? Do we make this sanctuary a place of campaigning? Or do we remember its true function, a consecrated space to praise God, and participate wholeheartedly and thankfully? And as we look at this psalm and its lesson for those of us who have two more months of campaigning to face, remember it is God’s Anointed who penned these words. We don’t think it was David, who wrote so may of the psalms, but it well could have been Ezra or Nehemiah, who lived to see the Temple restored by human (kingly) initiative and civic governance. But someone in the line of humanity, a mortal, penned these words for our study, our exhortation, and our admonishment.
Our psalmist begins with a proclamation of praise. As long as the psalmist lives, he will praise the Lord. This author has figured out his primary purpose, the purpose that we all share, the purpose for which you and I gather in church--to praise the Lord! Halleluia! Almost immediately, the Lord is contrasted with human leaders. There is a temptation for us to trust those in authority over us. Sometimes, I think there is a temptation to trust and a temptation to distrust our leaders. But the psalmist reminds us that our leaders are not to be trusted as we trust the Lord. You see, the problem for our leaders is that they, unlike God, are mortal. Even good leaders die. And whether the leader is good, bad or indifferent their plans die with them. Think of what’s happening in North Korea. Whether the sweeping changes in power will result in any significant changes is anyone’s guess, but I bet none of those “retired” expected to fall out of favor so quickly. The problem with mortal leaders is that they die. There is a finiteness to their power and to their lives. In a democracy such as ours, losing an election is nearly equivalent to a death, in so far as plans are concerned. Does anyone doubt candidate Romney’s sincerity when he promises to repeal the President’s health care initiative? Anyone remember the Presidents promises, when he was candidate Obama, to close Guantanimo? Yes, death or failed re-election end our leaders’ plans. Contrast that with God. He is the same today and yesterday and tomorrow. We may rail and scream and fight against him with every fiber of our being, but a day comes when we can no longer wage that battle. A day comes when our life in this world ends, and still He continues.
For that reason, those who claim the God of Jacob as their Lord are happy. The psalmist is not claiming that the Lord’s people do not go through hard times. We do. We face the same travails and misfortune as others. What separates us in the end, though, is that peace that passes all understanding. We know that we serve Him. We know that He will redeem us. We may not understand all the nuts and bolts of our service; we may never really understand the point of what it is we are doing. But we can trust that He will redeem whatever befalls us, even death itself. If you or I die this very moment, are we extinguished forever? No, we are promised like the thief on the cross that we will be with Him in paradise if we claim Him as Lord. As Paul teaches us, whether live or die, we live and die in the Lord. We are always His and nothing can separate us from Him! If you understand that, if you truly accept and believe it, how can you not have an incomprehensible joy in your life? That joy does not diminish the struggle, but it does remind us that the struggle is not without purpose. How we face life and how we face death testifies to the world around us what we believe about God and Christ. Put a different way, as we will read in an upcoming Gospel lesson, how you live your life tells others who you think He is!
And, in case you have forgotten who He is, the psalmist quickly reminds us. He is the Creator of all things. He made the heavens and the earth and all that is therein. And, in case you have forgotten His character, this magnificent awesome God who created all things, loves and tenderly cares for widows and orphans. He restores the sight of those blind and the hearing of those deaf. He even sets free those imprisoned! The Lord loves the righteous and will destroy the wicked.
Who are the righteous and who are the wicked? We know, now that the hopes of the psalmist have been fulfilled, that the righteous are those who cling to our Lord Christ. The righteous are those who die to themselves and are raised to new life in and through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. The righteous are those to whom He has bound Himself and those upon whom He has sealed His promise to care for and to exact vengeance on their behalf. The righteous are those who love the Lord their God and who try to execute His call on their lives to His honor and glory. The wicked are all those who trust in themselves, their plans, their ways. The wicked are all those who reject His claim as Lord of all, who are scandalized by His cross, and who disbelieve His Resurrection.
So, how do we as Christians face this election in a way that glorifies God? First, we quit trying to wrap the mantle of God around our mortal prince, whoever that candidate may be. There was only one Savior and none of them are Him! As sober Christians we realize that neither candidate is God’s candidate. To be sure, we can say such things while expecting God to work through their governance and their initiatives, but we understand that none of them are His Anointed. Whoever we vote for as sojourners in this land will have faults. One candidate professes a faith which rejects the Nicene Creed and is nominated by a party that rejects some of the righteous living revealed in Scripture; the other professes a faith but seems to have difficulty finding time to do the work of His disciples, namely worship Him, and who represents a party that rejects some of the righteous living revealed in Scripture. In the end, whichever candidate we choose to support matters very little.
Secondly, we keep living a life as described by those whom He has raised up to train us. Whether we are forgiving others 7 times 70 times, bridling our tongues, going into the world as heralds of His peace, or simply disagreeing civilly with each other in our politics, you and I are always by our actions testifying who we think He is. If we show the same anxiety as those around us, if we engage in the same name-calling as those around us, if we engage in the same poor stewardship as those around us, how are we testifying that we are the Lord’s possession? How are we testifying that we have His peace?
Lastly, and most importantly, we continue His work. We care for widows. We care for orphans. We feed the hungry. We clothe the poor. We care for the battered woman. We nurture her children. We proclaim freedom and dignity to those enslaved in our midst. And we remind all whom we encounter that our Lord loves them, died for them, and wants them to return home for all eternity. Put another way, we keep our focus on His calling, on His will, less concerned with the consequences of a vote and more concerned with the acceptance/rejection of His love and grace.
You see, while we sojourn in this land and participate in its governance, we are not really citizens of this land. True, most of us were born here and are considered citizens by those placed in authority over us. But, in the end, our citizenship is of another place. We are, in the end, His possession. He has sent us all here as ambassadors of His grace and His good will toward men. Yes, we should support the candidate whom we think will best enable us to accomplish our purpose, but we should do so confident that even if the other candidate or even a third or fourth candidate wins, His purpose cannot be thwarted! The task for which He has purposed you and me cannot be stopped! Nothing, no election, no press, no power of evil, not even death can keep us from accomplishing His will. And in the end, that’s the only promise this campaign season that can be trusted!