God wants You to Vote – Sermon on 19th April 2015
How are you going to vote in just a couple of week’s time time? That’s a rhetorical question. Actually I don’t mind how you vote, I just care more that people do vote, and that they think about the process. I might violently disagree with who you are thinking of voting for, I might be totally in sympathy with who you are likely to vote for, but the most important thing is to vote, in my view.
What has that got to do with today’s readings. The first one: Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” This is after the resurrection. Jesus has appeared to his disciples who are fishing. They don’t realise who it is. He transforms their up to now unfruitful trip, and now is having breakfast with them on the shore with some of that abundance of fish.
Did the fact they were fishing mean they have lapsed from their mission, or are in danger of doing so? Whatever, Jesus used this opportunity to encourage and exhort Peter about his upcoming responsibilities and even to prophesy the manner in which Peter will die. By asking Peter, “Do you love me?” three times, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of Peter’s love and unswerving obedience to his Lord as necessary for his future ministry. Jesus begins by questioning Peter about His love for Him, and each time Peter answers in the affirmative, Jesus follows up with the command for Peter to feed His sheep. His meaning is that, if Peter truly loves his Master, he is to shepherd and care for those who belong to Christ. His words reveal Peter’s role as the leader of the new Church, the Body of Christ there in Jerusalem that will be responsible for spreading the gospel after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
Is Jesus, With his repeated question, subtly reminding Peter of his three denials. There’s no doubt those denials and how he felt about it all will have sat heavy with Peter, and it wasn’t lost on him that Jesus repeated His question to him three times. Now I’m a Linguist, and this is where I really wish I could read and understand this in the original, because of the different Greek words for “love” used in the first two exchanges. Jesus used the Greek word agape – unconditional love. Both times, Peter responded – “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” – using the Greek word phileo, which refers more to a friendship type of love. Jesus is trying to get Peter to understand that he must love Jesus unconditionally in order to be the leader God is calling him to be.
The third time Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”, He uses the word phileo, and Peter again responds with “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” again using phileo. Was Jesus stretching Peter to move him from phileo love to agape love. You might think that Jesus had given up, but he had perhaps rather sown the seed, made his point, made Peter think. Jesus wanted to make sure Peter understood this vital charge He was tasking him with and the ultimate reason for it, to follow Him and glorify God..
Then in Acts, the Conversion of Paul. I was leading a Bible Study at Cadnam this Thursday about Paul’s second missionary journey. We emphasised there the enormity of the task which Paul had undertaken – this was no Mediterranean Cruise – but I mentioned there that this is one of Today’s set readings, and how it starts off – Paul was still “breathing threats and Murder against the Disciples of the Lord”. And what we heard today was the conversion of he who became the other great leader of the early Church
But what’s this all got to do with how you might vote. The two great early leaders of the Church, both being prepared, albeit in different ways, for their vital roles, both about to embark on a life which will see them suffer and eventually die for their faith. But what are they doing. Well, there are two different expressions used to Peter as well – feed my Sheep, tend my Lambs, then back to feed my sheep. Look after them, instruct them, challenge them. It is much, much more than just “converting” people, it is about keeping them focussed and on the right track afterwards, which will include doing things right, about values, about bringing about the Kingdom.
Bringing about the Kingdom? Through voting? They are all the same, none of them are worth voting for, they are all a bunch of crooks. I had a conversation with the CEO of One Community Eastleigh a couple of weeks ago. She was telling how she had an argument with someone at an event recently. He had started having a go at her because she worked for the council – which she doesn’t – and that “you’re all the same”. It came round to a conversation about elections. “Oh, I don’t bother to vote. It makes no difference anyway!” – “Well what right have you got to complain if you don’t vote”. More than once over the years, I have been able to say “Well, actually, I didn’t vote for them. It didn’t do any good or make any difference, but at least I was able to register some small protest, however futile.
Does God care how you vote, or whether you vote? Well, yes. I think he does. “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”, we pray regularly. One way of influencing how things go “on earth” is to vote, to try and influence the government of the day or the political process, whether it be a vote for one of the main parties, or a protest vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party, which might at least be a way of saying that none of the others are worth voting for.
It is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta this year, a major document in the development of democracy. It didn’t give everyone the vote, but at least it began to limit the power of the king. And then there’s all the stuff that has gone through in the meantime getting the votes for different groups of people at different times, most recently probably the Suffragettes, and now they are talking about giving the vote to 16 year olds. It happened in the Scottish referendum, and they rose to it. There was something major on which to decide. It mattered, they listened and thought, they engaged, they voted.
A man of Faith dying for Political reasons. Does the name Oscar Romero mean anything to you? A couple of weeks ago it was the anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero in San Salvador. A name a lot of people are aware of. I said something about him on the radio that day. I don’t know a lot about him now, but I realised I knew nothing about him before. He died because the Government of the day did not like him and what he did.
San Salvador was a dangerous place. People disappeared, were tortured, were murdered. Oscar Romero, their archbishop, broadcast his weekly sermons, listed the murders, told the people what was happening, was the main source of information on what was really going on…. Until he was silenced. You may assume he was a liberation theologian, as I always did, but he wasn’t apparently. Quite the opposite, in fact. He was a conservative, with a small “c”. His more involved colleagues were dismayed when he became archbishop. He was approved by the government of the day, he would be a government puppet. But he wasn’t – not a bit of it. He did what he saw to be right. And he was feeding the sheep, tending the lambs
Jesus antagonised the authorities. He made a habit of it. Peter and Paul will both continue in that vein – the religious authorities, not the Romans. Challenging the authorities, and in those times the religious authorities had a much tighter hold over what the people did than the Church has today, so this is the equivalent of standing up to the state, just like Oscar Romero.
Now, you may have noticed a few weeks ago there was the publication of a pastoral letter from the Bishops of the Church of England to get people to think about the election. If you read it, it is very interesting – actually a bit boring in bits, the way these things are set out. But very interesting both in what it says, but also in how it was received. Many politicians were extremely defensive about it all, assuming it was primarily an attack on things they had done. But it wasn’t. They took the matters discussed, things ranging from food-banks to Trident, as criticism of them and their parties, and trying to rubbish and discount them.
But the main thrust of the letter was to try and influence people to be interested in the election, to want to vote, which is what I started off with. If you look at other Church things around, are you aware of the JPIT – the Joint Public Issues team – you will find things there as well about voting and thinking about the issues, you will find some very good stuff on the CTBI website about arranging hustings, and then alongside that about “what sort of Society do we want to achieve”. What is that about, if it is not “Thy Kingdom Come, on earth as it is in heaven”.
The Church and Politics don’t mix. It was another Archbishop – Desmond Tutu – who once said that “People who say the Church and Politics don’t mix are reading a different Bible to me.” Politics is about People and what happens for them, how they are taxed, how they are looked after, how they are helped. Anybody who comes to a place like this on a Sunday, or who professes a faith of any kind even if they are not worshipping on a Sunday, is being less than whole-hearted about their faith if they do not take two of those three things seriously – caring about what happens for people, and caring about how they are looked after.
That is why the Bishops wrote their pastoral letter. Feeding the Sheep, tending the lambs. It was not about challenging the government. It was about encouraging people to engage in the democratic process, where they can make a difference. Mostly, it was to encourage people to think about the issues, and to consider them in the light of their Christian Faith. In doing that, they are merely continuing where Jesus went with a good bit of his three years – yes just three years – of Ministry. They are continuing in the footsteps of the Old Testament Prophets who exhorted their people to do justice and love mercy, to leave bits unharvested at the edge of the field for the alien, to forgive people their debts
I’ll leave you with the words of Micah, words I never need to look up to check, words we need to follow if we are to strive for that Kingdom: chapter 6, verse 8: – “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy and walk Humbly with your God”
Contact David Wrighton, Team Leader, E-mail: email@example.com