How should Christians vote?
Easter 5 – Election – 2015 – Colwall and Coddington
Acts 8.26-40; 1 John 4.7-21; John 15.1-8
There now follows a party political sermon on behalf of....Well, of course I’m not going to nail my political colour to the church flag staff. Most people, I think, would regard it as an abuse of privilege to use the pulpit to say: Vote for X. Actually, I once had a curate who at the time of a general election plastered his car with Tory stickers and house with Tory posters, and who said in all seriousness: “I don’t see how anyone can be a Christian and not be a Conservative.” And he lived in what was the most Labour part of the parish.
Really it’s quite interesting how people of faith, of fervent faith, can support widely differing political parties and can believe that their faith squares completely with their party’s policies. You might think that our God would direct all us members of the Church of England to vote the same way. That he doesn’t shows not only that he gives us freedom of choice, but also that Christianity is no narrow constraining force, but has a real breadth of vision and possibility.
Election has a place in the Bible, notably in the idea of the elect, God’s chosen people, and of course there’s a particular election in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. There we’re told that a few days after the ascension of Jesus there was a general meeting of the believers, about 120 of them, and Peter said that they must elect a successor to Judas. Two men were proposed, one called Joseph and the other Matthias. Then they prayed: “Lord, you know the thoughts of everyone; so show us which of these two you choose to serve as an apostle.” They didn’t vote: they drew lots and, as the old Bible so quaintly puts it, the lot fell on Matthias, and so he was elected.
Well, I don’t think we can expect anything similar from God on Thursday. It’s up to us. He leaves it up to us with the freedom of choice he’s given us. Up to us, using our faith and all our faculties, with our own valuation of past performances and present promises.
One outcome we can guarantee is that on Friday morning we shall find that some former MPs have joined the ranks of the unemployed, probably including some prominent parliamentarians. And quite soon we may be saying: “I wonder whatever became of so and so.” I’ve often thought that about characters in the Bible. You get a tantalizing glimpse of them as they figure briefly in the story, and then they disappear leaving you wondering about their future. What, for instance, became of those Wise Men from the East who journeyed to Bethlehem and afterwards returned home? What about the man Simon of Cyrene who was press-ganged by the Roman soldiers into carrying Jesus’ cross?
And today we had that fascinating reading from the Acts of the Apostles. I wonder what happened to that Ethiopian. Surely his life could never have been the same again after his meeting with Philip and his baptism in the water that so conveniently happened to be there by the desert road. He was on his way home following his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and presumably when he arrived, he carried on with his work as Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Queen of Ethiopia. But did he tell others the good news of Jesus that he’d heard from Philip? Were there others in the Treasury who, like him, were looking for enlightenment from the Hebrew scriptures? Well, of course we can only speculate and trust that the Holy Spirit, who prompted Philip to make such an effort to lead this one man to faith, then inspired him to spread the good news, ie the Gospel, to his colleagues in the court of the Queen, perhaps even to the Kandake herself, as she was called. There’s a very, very long history of Christianity in Ethiopia: this incident could have been the start of it.
Do you remember that terrible famine there, now 30 years ago? I recall at the time being impressed by the fact that all those starving men and women and boys and girls we saw in the camps on our television screens were all of them Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now today there’s another danger for them: just over a week ago 30 Ethiopian Christians were brutally murdered by ‘Islamic State’. But that’s all another sad story.
Well, I will now say whom I’m voting for. I’m voting for Jesus. He’s my choice. He had a cross for me, and I’ll give him my cross. I’m a supporter of the Jesus Party.
It’s often said that politics and religion don’t mix. Of course it’s mostly said by politicians whose policies have been criticized by members of the church, bishops in particular. Politics and religion don’t mix. What nonsense! Politics is about the lives and welfare of people, and our Christianity has a very great deal to say about that. In fact, Jesus’ own electioneering speeches and village to village canvassing were first and foremost about the Kingdom of God, and that’s about fairness and justice and care for others. The Kingdom of God – it’s not about pie in the sky when you die; it’s about a slice of pie for all today.
The politicians want our support for their party, certainly at the moment and until Thursday. And we want people’s support for the Jesus Party – for ever and for their own sakes. We’re told that this time round, because of the unpredictability of the result, there are more undecideds than ever before at this stage before a general election. And of course there are also many people who can’t make their minds up about religion. Is there any way we can persuade them to vote for Jesus?
Philip had it easy of course. The Ethiopian was already asking questions about faith, questions to which Philip had the answers, and so without hesitation he became a member of the party. But is there anything we can do to stimulate people’s interest? I think there are three things.
The first is politics. If we muscle in onto topical concerns that really matter to people; if people see that the church – the bishops in their proclamations and us in our conversations – if they see that the church has something sensible, practical, fair and doable to say about important contentious matters, then they might take heed.
Second, it’s been said again and again: Christianity is caught not taught. If people can see that members of the Jesus Party have a certain quality of life, a measure of contentedness, a freedom from desperately striving to get more and more possessions and/or more and more entertainment; that they have a value-added life coming from serving others, a satisfying simplicity and connectedness, then they might think it’s not a bad party to belong to.
But third, something even more potent. And that is helping people to see that everyone, everyone is already in touch with God, whether or not they have any religious affiliation, whether or not they have any faith at all. This comes from taking seriously what St John wrote in our lesson: Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
I doubt that St John would have given these words the wide interpretation that I’m giving them. He would have limited his notion to Christian believers, those who believed, as he wrote, that God loved us by sending his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. But I want to expand it into simply: God is love, and if we have love in our lives, then we have God in our lives. It follows that God is very present and very real in this world and is exerting a wonderful influence in the lives of countless people, believers and non-believers, even good and bad people. There are some desperately sad people who have no love at all in their lives: no one to love and no one to love them, but they are very much in the minority. Most people do have love – indeed, much love.
And where there is love, there is God. That should be central to our manifesto. People ask: Where can I find God? This is an answer we can surely all give: He is there in the love you share with your wife, your husband, your partner, your children, your grandchildren, your friends, even your neighbour, as Jesus calls him or her, your neighbour whom you’ve never seen before whom you help or who helps you.
How can we know this truth? Partly from experience and also because it is what Jesus taught and demonstrated in all his life.
So, we can all of us do at least a little electioneering on behalf of the Jesus Party – by good politics, by demonstrating that being a supporter helps us to have a good life, and by guiding people to see that they are already very much in touch with Jesus’ God of love.
On Thursday do cast your vote, and on every day vote for Jesus. We are among his elect, his chosen ones, and we can, with confidence and also with pleasure, choose him.