“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1) To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy.
2) To speak no evil of the person they voted against.
3) To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
-John Wesley, October 6, 1774
On most Christian calendars, this Sunday is the 23rd after Pentecost. Those with longer historical roots may also mark November 4 as All Saint’s Sunday. I suspect, however, in many a preacher and parishioner’s mind these are overshadowed by the calendar that proclaims this as the Sunday before the American quadrennial election. One more public opportunity to remind parishioners of their citizenship duties, however one defines that. One more sermon exhorting the faithful to choose the correct boxes on the ballot, however one defines that. One more intercession as a congregation for the politicians and policies that will be crowned victors, however one defines that.
And there is a lot of debate in Christian circles about how one should define citizenship duties, who is the right candidate, and how to pray for national politics and politicians. Some, like Miroslav Volf in Values of a Public Faith, set forth conversation starters; others argue partisan politics with a vengeance. Even those of us outside the USA recognize that these election results will have worldwide impact for years to come. So the political headlines of the day hang heavy on hearts and minds as we turn to the texts and allow God to address us through these ancient words made alive today.
As we crack open Mark’s gospel, we are transported into a political debate maybe not unlike those that have dominated the media over the last several weeks. Throughout Mark’s twelfth chapter, Jesus is being grilled by other religious leaders of the day. “By what authority are you doing these things?” “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?” “A woman is widowed seven times, in the resurrection whose wife will she be?” The opponents of Jesus want to catch him in a trap; to expose his failings and to publicly humiliate his logic and theology. Convinced that he is wrong, they seek the ammunition they need to crucify him – metaphorically and literally.
We who are prone to seek intellectual victory may want to take heed. Has our drive for being right deafened us to hear God? Have we stockpiled armaments for arguments that are better left behind? Do we hang on so tightly to our convictions that we cannot see the failings of our own position or the strengths of an opponent’s?
Then here in verse 28, into the middle of the hostility, comes a scribe with a genuine question for Jesus. He has heard Jesus “answer well” and his heart yearns for more. “Jesus, which commandment is the first of all?”
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
For ears that have become accustomed to these words, we can become deaf to their reverberations in our lives. The marrow of our faith is love of God and love of neighbour. We need lives that are perpetually refocusing on these priorities. Psalm 146 gives us an illustration of just such intentional living.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
We don’t praise God out of duty or obligation, but because we have discovered that, like young lovers who can’t help but bubble over about the budding relationship, we have a living, loving relationship with the one who made heaven and earth. A relationship built on the goodness of God, and His own trustworthiness.
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.
Now here is something to take to the ballot box. Those with the ‘response-ability’ to vote do so as disciples submitted to God. Our favourite politician or policy, cannot compete with our God; we lodge our trust, not in rulers and their plans, but in the Lord our God.
And we do so as those caught up in the mission of loving our neighbour. The Psalmist describes God’s love that guides our own actions of love. We are called to be a people who seek justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for prisoners, opening of blind eyes, uplifting those weighed down, protection for foreigners, care for orphans and widows, and obstruction of wicked plans (Psalm 146:7-9). The compassion of our God resounds into the world in a people who show like compassion themselves.
After Tuesday’s vote, God will continue to provide opportunities to trust Him in the way forward of love relationships. May we be ready to allow these first commandments to govern every aspect of our lives. “Praise the Lord, O my Soul.”