How many of you plan to vote on Tuesday? How many of you have already voted? I have. I voted last Tuesday. I waited in line with lots of other people who were doing their civic duty. We live in a democracy and we have been given the power to elect our representatives: those who will govern us here in Memphis or in your suburb, those who will make laws for the state of Tennessee and those who will enforce those laws, those who will make laws for our country and the man responsible for leading our country for the next four years. It’s been a heated election. The last few elections have been heated. They have been full of vitrol and emotion. John Oliver of the Daily Show did interviews with people attending a McCain rally. Everyone he interviewed, at least those that they showed on television said that they were afraid for our country if Obama were elected. The Apocalypse would be upon us. It would be dreadful. They were trembling in fear. Then Oliver went to an Obama rally. There the people were full of fear: that McCain would be elected. It would be, they said, the end of the world. They could not imagine a more dreadful event in our country than for McCain to be elected. I read that in West Hollywood, California, someone had an effigy of Sarah Palin hanging from a noose. Here in Memphis, I have heard Barack Obama referred to as the AntiChrist.
These are not Christian responses to an election. No one should use a candidate for vice president as a Halloween decoration. No one should suggest that the candidate should be hung. No one should suggest that a candidate is the AntiChrist. No Christian should be encouraging hatred and fear. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. How much more should we be doing for those who are not our enemies, those who are fellow citizens, fellow lovers of our country.
Just before I sat down to write the sermon, I read a book review of a book Electing Not to Vote: Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting. I have never considered not voting. In fact, when I went to vote last week, I felt sad that I was not out there working the polls as I did every election day when I lived in Ohio. I was there, holding a sign for one candidate or another, or for one ballot issue or another, or driving a candidate around, or serving coffee and doughnuts to workers, or even gladhanding voters myself when I ran for city council. Not vote? The only greater sin I can think of is to kill someone. I haven’t read the book and I have little more than two reviews to go on, but why might a Christian choose not to vote?
One reviewer summarized the arguments: “But for the Christian committed to Jesus's radical message of nonviolence, there are other reasons for abstention, and the authors in this volume explore them with grace and insight. Voting in federal elections is a gesture that can implicitly acquiesce to the powers and principalities of the world, violate Christ's counter-cultural resistance to Caesar, and promote a most unChristian adversarial spirit among those who get swept up in partisan wrangling. . . . Voting can also be a secular analog of cheap grace, providing voters with the comfortable impression that they've done their bit simply by pulling a polling booth lever, and thereby discouraging imaginative alternatives to social change.” (http://www.amazon.com/Electing-Not-Vote-Christian-Reflections/dp/1556352271/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225557509&sr=8-1)
The psalmist who penned today’s scripture might be more concerned about voting than I am. He writes about four situations: a people wandering in the desert, lost, hungry and thirsty; prisoners who have rebelled against God and who sit in their cells; people who have been made sick by their choices in life; sailors who have seen God’s power in the storms at sea. In each case, the people have tried to make it on their own: they have tried to live by their own power. They have tried to live without God. And they have not succeeded.
How much are we like people who wander in the desert? We look for saviors. Obama will make the right decisions, get the country back on the right track. No, McCain has more experience. He can get us through this mess we are in right now. We become so sure that we have aligned with the right savior that we call the other candidate names, utter death threats, assume that if we lose then the world will end. Literally end.
We are like people who have made foolish choices and have made ourselves sick. We watched in glee as the values of our houses skyrocketed. We watched in glee as our retirement plans grew in value. Oh, we might be concerned that the very rich were getting more and more wealthy while the poor among us just got poorer, bridges collapsed, schools got worse and worse. We may not have made foolish choices by ourselves, but as a country we have made foolish choices. We have made ourselves sick.
We have seen the deeds of the Lord, God’s mighty works in the sea and yet, we have destroyed the sea. We have used it as a dump and as a place where we could fish forever, removing important parts of the food chain with what we thought was impunity. Scientists are more and more alarmed about the damage being done to ocean stocks of fish. In many parts of the world, the fish populations have declined percipitously.
We have rebelled against God. Over and over again, we have. And we find ourselves imprisoned in chains of our own making. We do not look to God first. We deceive ourselves. We have other priorities.
God loves us. God cares for us. God expects that we will love and care for each other. We must understand that God’s priorities for the world are based in love for all God’s children. Every Single One of them. Neither candidate running for president is a saint.
I believe there is a place for Christians in a democracy. It is to put God and God’s kingdom first. It is to use our power as citizens to vote not for saviors but for those we believe will choose actions that are more consistent with God’s desire for the world God created and the children God loves. No one is perfect. No secular ruler can bring the kingdom. No secular ruler will make the right choices all the time. No secular ruler can save us.
A Christian who has influenced my life is Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero is often protrayed as a liberal, but the reality is far different. Romero put God first. Romero was not a partisan, but a Christian. He was a quiet, scholarly, rather conservative priest when he was tapped by the Pope to become Archbishop in El Salvador. He accepted the role reluctantly. As he saw the murders in his country, the murders of innocents, he began to speak out against both the Marxist rebels and the conservatives military factions governing El Salvador. Romero emphasized that Christ calls us to love one another, not in a self-righteous hate-the-sin, love-the-sinner mode, but in a true love and compassion for the other. He said “I don’t want to be an anti, against anyone. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.” As we think about voting, let’s remember these words of Romero:
“We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs.
“[T]this is the hope that inspires us Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”