The Cross and the Ballot Paper
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
3 May 2015, 10:30 (THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER)On this May Bank Holiday Sunday in Eastertide with yesterday’s happy news of a royal birth and on the brink of the General Election, I am throwing caution to the wind and breaking every rule of etiquette and prudence to ask you:
How do you think Jesus will vote on Thursday?
Yes, here it is, politics, raised blatantly in the pulpit – some of you already may be texting the press, formulating a letter to the Archbishop or writing me off completely!
Because generally we want God to stay out of certain areas of our lives – and politics is very high on the list.
And yet the story of God in Jesus is about breaking the barriers that separate our human living from the presence, power and purposes of God.
In the incarnation, God shares our human lives and decisions: at Bethlehem he began that journey which we are all locked into and which involved him in betrayal and a trial, being denied and deserted by his best friends, submitted to torture and overwhelmed by pain, despair and death itself.
And God’s new and everlasting life in the resurrection re-united Jesus and his apostles with a fish breakfast on the beach in Galilee as well as appearances in Jerusalem and Emmaus.
Within his relatively short life, Jesus’ public ministry of three years or so was marked by his varied encounters in a tiny geographic region.
There he met local religious leaders and establishment figures, people with political power including the invading army and many people who clung precariously to life and existed on the margins of society – the sick, the mad and deranged, the sexually promiscuous, the dishonest and collaborators with the Roman regime.
What a cross-section of human life.
Furthermore, I am convinced that if Jesus had had the vote he would most certainly have used it.
Jesus was completely engaged in the world and although he needed to withdraw and to be still and silent and alone, he committed his life to those around him and so to the whole human race and all time.
He did not shy away from speaking out even when it was dangerous and the divisions that he drew and stood up for were not opinion but for truth itself.
Remember, that Pontius Pilate, politician and governor, asked Jesus in the face of his claims, ‘what is truth?’
Truth is of God and lies beyond us and yet is embedded in our daily living. It is to this that Jesus testifies, challenges and embodies.
Here is the ultimate politician, the one who holds all power.
Yet, that power is shared and universalised on the cross. And it never leaves that place of ultimate sacrifice and self-giving.
So putting a cross on a ballot paper is a metaphor and a practical truth whereby we participate in a common freedom where no one individual conquers but a greater truth is participated in and arrived at.
It is truth held in trust and for the good of all.
It doesn’t make life easy, simple or painless but it honours the truth that we must all live for the other and the greater whole rather than for ourselves alone.
Understanding the meaning of our existence is a constant journey of discovery – we Christians call it the life of faith.
This past week has underlined how uncertain all our strengths and assumptions are as we look out to our brothers and sisters in Nepal.
All that we are is transient and fragile – even the seemingly certain ground beneath us can shake and open up and destroy us.
God and his love is the only certainty – and that love can only be apprehended by faith and trust.
Our Bible readings deepen this understanding of our Easter faith.
The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch shows us the heart of our human journey in which we need to learn together, to share the stories of faith and to encourage that leap and risk that enables us to be held in life beyond that of our supposed making and imagining.
The great choices of our General Election are not the debates of difference but the commitment to one another to care and belong amidst those differences.
Philip and the Ethiopian came from different worlds and their physical paths were to separate but through baptism and faith, they would never be parted from God and one another.
And so the First Letter of John speaks of this unique bond of love that comes from God and which is the process, experience and freedom that enables us to know and to be known in eternity.
And how do we have any evidence of this truth? – by our love for one another.
And that love sets us free, for there is no fear in love. We may have to do hard things and endure difficulties, agonies even to death – but in love there is no death beyond that of the physical.
We live in thoughts and feelings as well as a material frame – but even more we live in the presence, the reality and the loss of self that is God.
And so to the Gospel passage.
We can only love if we are connected to the origin and source of all life, that is love itself.
Jesus uses the image of the vine whereby we are nourished and made fruitful.
It is a picture from everyday life, especially if you live in a Mediterranean land (!) – a vine is cared for and pruned; its branches must be attached to the stem and the roots in order to bear fruit.
Without God we can do nothing.
Without Jesus, we cannot be his people, the Church.
Today in May 2015 we are living with challenges and uncertainties that ebb and flow as far as our news and media consciousness records.
The crisis of war and fundamentalism goes seemingly quiet in the face of other news but there is a battle for freedom and truth.
Thursday’s ballot box is an intrinsic application of this for human kind – for freedom and the commonwealth is possible only by consensus and consent. However, flawed our democratic systems are and however jaded we become with the process of election campaigns, the alternative of imposition and tyranny is one that brings only misery, injustice and corruption.
Your single vote truly matters.
It is our participation and commitment that is the breath of freedom in community.
God himself is community and society – three persons, one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Please vote on Thursday so that through your individual vote and decision there emerges the common life, identity and purpose of belonging.
Jesus will then be voting: yes, with each and every cross that his Church makes.
I will end with three verses from a seven stanza poem by George Herbert entitled Giddiness.
Perhaps you might read it all sometime but suffice it now to reflect on the giddiness of our dispositions and choices.
How should we vote? How would Jesus vote? Herbert is sure that we must let God in to the voting booth!
O, what a thing is man! How far from power,
From settled peace and rest!
He is some twenty sev’ral men at least
Each sev’ral hour.
One while he counts of heav’n, as of his treasure:
But then a thought creeps in,
And calls him coward, who for fear of sin
Will lose a pleasure.
Now he will fight it out, and to the wars;
Now eat his bread in peace,
And snudge in quiet: now he scorns increase;
Now all day spares.
He builds a house, which quickly down must go,
As if a whirlwind blew
And crushed the building: and it’s is partly true,
His mind is so.
O what a sight were Man, if his attires
Did alter with his mind;
And like a Dolphin’s skin, his clothes combined
With his desires!
Surely, if each one saw another’s heart,
There would be no commerce,
No sale or bargain pass: all would disperse.
And live apart.
Lord, mend or rather make us: one creation
Will not suffice our turn:
Except thou make us daily, we shall spurn
Our own salvation.