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Sermon: Acting the World into Wellbeing through Politics (8/21/16)
08.22.16

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Rhetorical question:  Who are you going to vote for in November?  How do you feel about folks who’ll be voting for the other person?

At the beginning of the summer, neither today nor last Sunday had a theme.  I invited you to offer suggestions.  Christian Ed reminded me that one of the days needed to be Rally Sunday.  We did that last week and focused on “Acting Children into Wellbeing.”

I got a lot of other suggestions for today.  Interestingly, a couple of those focused on growing older–either acting the elderly into wellbeing or acting ourselves into wellbeing as we age.  Having recently relocated to Over-the-Hill Town, I fully plan to come back to that theme.

No one suggested today’s topic.  I’ve gone rogue.  I did it because of the increased rancor of the current presidential campaign.  Don’t get me wrong.  Past political campaigns often have been rancorous, but the current election cycle….  Does anyone else find the things being said distressing?  Do you ever find yourself longing for a candidate with no dark clouds of questionable ethics hovering over them?  Are you giving serious thought to not voting at all?

Had I asked that first question–For whom will you vote?–non-rhetorically, I suspect we’d have seen hands raised for both candidates.  If I mentioned either candidate’s name, an equal number of eyes likely would have rolled.  Some of you might not have raised your hand at all.  Did you know that, that there are Republicans and Democrats in our congregation?  For the longest time, I’ve avoided acknowledging our political diversity, thinking that to do so would only invite the rancor out there into the safe space of our sanctuary.

Recently, though, I’ve come to realize that I haven’t given any of us enough credit.  On every other issue we’ve discussed together as a community, we’ve done so with respect and grace, even when we disagree.  What’s so scary about acknowledging our political diversity?

In many faith communities, a majority of congregants identify with a single political party.  That’s fine, but it doesn’t really encourage discussion, does it?  If we only talk with people who agree with us, we don’t have to engage in critical thinking.  Nothing invites critical reflection like disagreement.

So…I have an idea.  It might be crazy, maybe even scary.  But here goes.

If you know someone here today who plans to vote for a different candidate than you’re planning to vote for, why not invite them out to lunch for some conversation?  Note that I said “conversation,” not “conversion.”  Ask your dining partner their reasons for voting for that candidate.  Then listen generously to their response.  By listening generously, I mean listening simply to hear the other person’s story, to hear things from their perspective.  Don’t listen to analyze, criticize, demonize, or proselytize.  Simply listen.  And receive.  Then say, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.”  And since your table-mate also is hearing this sermon, perhaps they will listen generously to your reasons for voting the way you do.

Can you imagine having that kind of conversation?  I wonder what might come of it?  What might each of you learn?  How might each of your own commitments deepen as a result of listening to each other?  Maybe the best way to live our faith with integrity this election season is to refrain from vilifying candidates or their supporters and really listen to each other.  If you do spend some time talking together about politics and you want to report back, we’d love to hear.

It’s true that we are all over the map when it comes to political commitments.  There is one thing, though, that all followers of Jesus share.  Those of us working to establish God’s kin-dom here on earth as it is in heaven, those of us who believe in Jesus’ call to stand in solidarity with the least of these, those of us who seek to act the world into wellbeing…

As people of Christian faith, all of us—no matter who we’re voting for—are called to engage public and political systems.  Our faith isn’t something we tend to only in church on Sundays, or during times of personal trial.  Taking our faith seriously requires complete submersion.  The life of faith calls us to view every aspect of our lives through the lens of our Christian faith… even our political life.  Perhaps especially our political life.  How can we hope to act the world into wellbeing if we don’t engage political and public systems?

Today’s Scripture lesson recounts the call of the prophet Jeremiah.  The writings of most prophets in the Old Testament begin with the story of the prophet’s call.  That’s to let folks know that it’s not the prophet’s fault he or she has to say all these difficult things.  “I don’t want to say it!  God’s making me!”

The job of prophets is to poke the beehive, upset the status quo, speak truth to power,  proclaim that the emperor has no clothes.  If the social systems currently in place allow for the oppression of some, then the system must be changed.  Jeremiah describes the prophetic task this way:  “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

The image—which would have resonated well in an agrarian society—is of what happens at the end of the growing season:  plow it all under so we can start again.  If current systems aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, if the current crop isn’t nourishing the people it’s meant to feed, it’s time for an overhaul.

We’ve seen the positive results of people of faith engaging political systems in our country– the 14th Amendment, ensuring that no person can be discriminated against because of their race; the 19th Amendment, ensuring women the right to vote; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Americans with Disabilities Act; Marriage Equality.

The UCC often has been at the forefront of acting the world into wellbeing through public and political processes.  The work of Everett C. Parker, head of the UCC’s Office of Communications in the 1960s is a great example.  In 1962, when WLBT in Mississippi refused to air the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Everett filed a complaint with the FCC.  The FCC refused to hear the complaint.  Parker appealed the decision.  In 1966, the Supreme Court determined that WLBT had violated its public trust by depriving large sectors of citizens—particularly African Americans—of news coverage that affected them.  That decision was key in creating fairness in journalism in our country.

Another example of people of faith actively working in the public/political arena is the work that was done here two weeks ago.  Through the auspices of Faith in Public Life, some of our folks participated in a phone bank.  The purpose of the event was to educate voters in Cobb County about so-called Religious Freedom legislation, in particular, what it could mean for LGBT folks.

We might be voting for different candidates this election season, but as people of faith, we all are called to live our faith with integrity in the public sphere.  We all are called to take our faith with us into the voting booth.  We all are called to vote in ways we believe will act the world into wellbeing.

As you contemplate how your vote might act the world into wellbeing, I invite you to think about one group, in particular; it’s a group neither of the major political party’s candidates is talking about.  It’s a group on which both Old Testament prophets and Jesus focus:  the poor.  Some call this concern for those living in poverty “God’s preference for the poor.”  If God is so concerned about the poor, mightn’t those of us who worship God and follow Jesus do well to share the concern?

Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor of sociology acknowledges that from neither presidential candidate do we “have a full-voiced condemnation of the level or extent of poverty in America today.  We aren’t having a … serious conversation about the fact that we are the richest democracy in the world, with the most poverty.”

The article that quotes Dr. Desmond goes on.  “The silence [about poverty] is particularly striking because the problem is growing.  There is not a single state where a full-time worker earning the minimum wage can rent a market-rate one-bedroom apartment for 30 percent or less of their income, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.  And more than 11 million households spend more than half of their income on rent.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/12/us/politics/trump-clinton-poverty.html?_r=0

We heard from Christy Stanley last week about the large number of students in her school who, were it not for free and reduced breakfasts and lunches, would not eat those meals.

Can one vote erase poverty?  Of course not.  But what might happen if, when we cast our one vote, we bring the poor with us into the voting booth?  I’m not a big fan of what would Jesus do, but I think that’s what Jesus would do in November.  The root of the word “politics” is power.  As you cast your vote in November, I invite you to look at things through the lens of power.  Who wields power in our country?  Who benefits from the status quo?  Who gets lost in the shuffle?  Who gets forgotten?

Here’s one more invitation.  At lunch today—after you’ve listened generously to each other about your political views—I invite you and your table-mate to talk together about those for whom the prophets and Jesus were so concerned:  the poor.  How might each of you use your vote to advocate for those with little power?  How might the two of you together work within the public and political arenas to advocate for the least of these?  How might you—how might we all—engage public and political systems to act the world into wellbeing?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2016



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