Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Voting With Your Faith”
Rev. Art Ritter
October 18, 2020
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
We have just a little over two weeks to go. If we can just get through these next couple of weeks, the bitter election season will be over. Of course that means there won’t be any problems with the counting of the votes, any cries of improper voting, or any threats of challenging the election results. If we are lucky, then we will all be able to take a deep breath.
Four years ago, for the first time in my ministry, I preached a sermon on voting from a Christian perspective. I re-read that sermon this week and found an interesting line, “This has been perhaps the most remarkable election period of my lifetime.” I might have been right then but that statement is wrong now. This election has been the most memorable one in my lifetime, and perhaps for all of the wrong reasons. We are holding this election in the midst of a global pandemic. There is argument and disagreement on how to deal with the COVID-19 virus. Our president actually contracted the virus. We are holding this election at a time of great social strife. Our country is divided along racial and economic boundaries. There is little consensus about important issues like health care, immigration, the economy, and care of the planet. The first debate between the two presidential candidates turned into an embarrassing exchange of insults, interruptions, and name calling. Social media is filled with conspiracy theories and posts composed of words of ridicule and hate. Emotions are running extremely high. I know from personal experience that this election has caused the end of some long time friendships and has split apart family members who carry dissenting values and opinions. St. Anthony the Great, one of the church’s Desert Fathers said, “A time is coming when people will go mad, and when they see who is not mad, and they will attack the one saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’” It seems that we are living in that kind of time. Everyone is mad and they are especially mad at those who are not mad like them.
To be honest, I am been left numb by this election cycle. Perhaps it is a combination of all that is going on in the world and in my life. I can only deal with a little bit at a time so I try not to absorb too much. Yet as numb as this election has left me, I have let a few things get under my skin. I am appalled and frightened by the power of conspiracy theories and the need for people to latch onto any opinion or belief to help them make sense of the world. Some of the news media buys into these theories or even create these theories for entertainment value. Some of the candidates promote these theories to attract followers. Fear and anger drive their ratings and their poll numbers. Yet when we hear something that gives some credibility to our own prejudices, however unproven it might be, we embrace it. If we believe something is true then we don’t have to listen to the cries of others. They are not legitimate and we don’t have to change. That bothers me.
I also get upset with organized religion and faith leaders who are so free with their political endorsements that they seem to ignore God’s truth when it suits their own purpose. This past week while driving home from a visit with my father I saw a billboard on I-96. It said, “Vote Biblically.” The point of the billboard was one particular issue. I have some problems anyway with people whose vote reflects only one issue since it seems to indicate that thousands of other issues affecting millions of other people aren’t as important as their one issue. But this sign indicated a most general Biblical stamp of approval which ignores the nuances of thought that filled the words of the ancient prophets and the teachings of Jesus. For those who paid for the sign, Biblical voting means agreement with them on this one issue and ignoring the rest of the Bible which speaks to thousands of other very important concerns.
The very next day I drove by a house in Northville whose yard was covered with campaign signs supporting one particular political party’s candidates. In the midst of all of those signs was another one that said, “Vote Jesus.” I was angry. I get angry when people assume that God is on their side, that God supports their party, their candidate, and their position. I think we all need to follow the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln who said we should be less worried about having God on our side and more worried about being on God’s side. I will end my venting there.
Some might say that religion and politics don’t mix. It might see to others that religion and politics are mixing way too much. Is there a better way? Brian Robertson writes, “The election season is an easy time for followers of Jesus to shirk our responsibilities to be the incarnation of Christ in the world and participate in the delusion that redemption will somehow come from the empire.” While we may support our favorite candidates and speak out in favor of political movements, as Christians we must work harder to change the world through actions of love and justice and compassion. We need to speak and act with love and not with fear. In a society where choices are based on personal need and security and opinions formed by suspicion of others, our participation in that society needs to reflect our decision to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
This morning’s reading from the gospel of Matthew is actually the lectionary text, once again showing the Holy Spirit at work in the assignment of Scripture passages. Jesus was being tested, perhaps even trapped by his opponents. This is a passage that includes references to money and politics and religion- three of the four things people are not supposed to talk about in polite company. “Teacher,” he was asked, “do you think it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” It was a real election year debate trap question! These opponents knew that if Jesus said no, the Roman authorities would be after him. If he said yes, than he would lose his reputation in the religious community. Jesus asked for a coin that showed the head of the emperor and said, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus wasn’t really talking about whose image was on the coin. He was really talking about whose image in upon each of us. God has made us in God’s image. God’s claim is upon our every thought and action. No matter what other loyalties we might carry, no matter what political party or candidate we might support, we are God’s. We are followers of Christ. If we forget that identity we might come to think that we can be defined by our possessions and our bank accounts and our political affiliations. Jesus wanted his followers to know that they are forever God’s beloved child and that identity will in turn shape our behavior, urging and aiding us to be the person that God created us to be.
So what does that have to do with voting? A great deal, I believe. If we walk into the voting booth or sitting with our absentee ballot and reflect upon whose we are and to whom we owe ultimate allegiance, it should make a difference. William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury once wrote, “If Christianity is true at all, it is a truth of universal application; all things should be done in the Christian spirit and in accordance with Christian principles.” Indeed, if we claim to be people of faith, then our faith should impact every part of our life- including our part in the political process. Yet our identity needs to be affirmed in God’s love and in what God’s calls us to be, not in the platform of a political party or candidate.
I read somewhere this week that the Hebrew word most often translated as “voice” is “qol.” This word is also translated as noise or sound or vote. It simply means letting oneself be heard. Thus our voices and our words are one way to be heard. Our votes are another way.
I keep thinking back to that political sign I saw in someone’s yard, “Vote Jesus.” Perhaps it isn’t such a bad idea after all. It is not a bad idea if our values are the values of Jesus. Quite often, when I ask people what their favorite verse is in the Bible, I will hear the response Micah 6: 8. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?” Such a simple thing. Such a good thing. Yet it is something we tend to ignore in political seasons when we worry about our own interests. What if Jesus were on the ballot? He would be a candidate who says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. He would say that we should love our enemies. He would say that we should do well to those who do not do well to us. He would say that we should support and care for the least, the last, and the lost. He would say that we should forgive in countless ways. He would say others should come before us. He would say that greatness is measured in being a servant to others. And would we really vote for that? How would our voting change if we evaluated our candidates based on those holy requirements spoken by the prophet? How would it change our opinions, our choices, and our relationships with other this political season if we were eager to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?
In his letter to the church at Philippi, a letter written as Diana Butler Bass reminds us, when Paul was sitting in jail as a political prisoner, he writes, “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” Our faith needs to be stronger than the promises of any candidate, the anxiety of any political campaign or the struggle of any election year. Our lives needs to model not convenient choices which benefit self-interest or political party but choices which speak about God’s desire for mercy and justice. Our values should reflect the interests of all, especially the interests of those without a voice. I pray for our nation. I pray for our leaders. I pray for the candidates. I pray for our wisdom in voting.