SERMON: Series Part 1 “John Wesley on The 2012 Election”

Mark 12.17

17 Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

John Wesley on The 2012 Election

We are beginning a four-week sermon series on John Wesley.  We are going to look at what Wesley said about things like communion, salvation and what Wesley had to say about how we make decisions in our lives.  As I am in the midst of my required United Methodist classes on doctrine and history, the information is pretty fresh in my head.

Today, though, I thought I’d go topical and address how I think Wesley would have us handle the 2012 election we currently find ourselves mired in.  This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing, it’s a “how do we handle ourselves as Christians” thing.

Imagine you are in colonial America in 1774.  It’s fall, and the leaves are changing color and falling to the ground.  It’s been raining, so you consider cautiously the trip you are about to make it across to the street to the general store–knowing the normally wagon-carved streets would be nothing but sludge and slosh.  You make it across the street and stomp and slide your feet on the porch to free your leather shoes of the muck.  Tom, the aproned man on the other side of the counter, asks what it is you need.  You ask if the post has arrived and Tom reaches under the counter a pulls out a letter.  It’s from England and it bears John Wesley’s name and seal.

As you read the letter, he tells of his latest bout of illness, the trouble he is having with the Church of England and shares some words of advice about the elections he knows you will be voting in soon.  He says this:

Now, let me take you back to the Oakwood Inn & Conference Center I told you about a couple of months ago.  I loved that job and I loved the people I worked with.  I began working there in July of 2000.  In late October, one of my coworkers–a sweet old woman named Bettianne–handed me a pamphlet she got from her church.  It was a voting guide.  As I was giving it a once-over, she said to me, “Chris, you can’t call yourself a Christian if you don’t vote Republican.”  This was my first real-world experience with just how politicized the church had become.

Even then, I would have no idea just how bad it could get.

Do you see the difference between the approach of John Wesley and the approach so many of us are approached with come election time?  Coming from Wesley, of course we see grace in his response to a time that is all too often tumultuous.  We like to say there’s much more animosity that exists in our political process and the selection of our political leaders in our time, but there isn’t.  There really isn’t.

Just ask the senator from a northern state who was cold-cocked by a senator from a southern state in the run-up to the civil war.  Were they in a local pub?  Were they in a town hall?  Were they fighting it out on the street?  No.  It was the senate floor.  There is always animosity that exists within the context of the electoral process.

Our task, then, is to figure out how we exists within it.  Do our civic duty without being paid.  You don’t have to speak kindly, but don’t speak negatively of the person you vote against.  Don’t hate the people who voted for the other person.

It’s hard, though.  I was in Dayton, Ohio at the beginning of last month.  Even with two months to go, commercial breaks were wall-to-wall politics–and none of it positive.  That was Ohio.  I thought that us Hoosiers would have it pretty easy when it came to negative political ads.  Then, a senate candidate opens his mouth in a debate, and we are all treated to the same rancor that people in Ohio and Florida have been waist-deep in for months.

I saw something in Rolling Stone magazine that pretty much summed up the modern-day political season:

“What we Americans go through to pick a president is not only crazy and unnecessary but genuinely abusive. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in a craven, cynical effort to stir up hatred and anger on both sides. A decision that in reality takes one or two days of careful research to make is somehow stretched out into a process that involves two years of relentless, suffocating mind-warfare, an onslaught of toxic media messaging directed at liberals, conservatives and everyone in between that by Election Day makes every dinner conversation dangerous and literally divides families.”

We don’t like it, but we are in it.  What do we do about it?

We can begin by remembering who it is we are and what it is we are supposed to be about.  As children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to something wholly different than what we see.  We are called to rise above it.  An editorial in The Christian Century–a magazine I subscribe to–had this to say:

“When the church has nothing more to say than what could be said in a political stump speech, the church has surely lost it’s distinctive voice.  It also has forgotten that people come to church wanting and needing something quite different from the campaign speeches and ads that they’ve been hearing all week.”

A few weeks ago, a national event called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” was observed by over 1,000 churches.  Over 1,000 pastors preached sermons with the expressed purpose of declaring who congregants should vote for.  In theory, I have no problem with this.  In practice, there is a big problem with this.

What about the single mother who took her only day off, got her kids all bathed and clothed, and hoofed them all to church.  She is in desperate need of hearing the gospel–a word of hope from the place where she thought she would hear it.  Instead, she heard who it is she should vote for in the upcoming election–that she might not even be able to participate in because her kids have homework and she works late.

There’s a great song called “Can Anybody Hear Her.”  It’s about a young woman who is lost and struggling.  The song says, “Under the shadow of our steeple are all the lost and lonely people…searching for the hope that’s tucked away in you and me.”  How true is that?  We are called to be citizens of heaven first, then citizens of earth.

Wesley’s words of wisdom during an election season are perfect.  Don’t get paid for doing your duty.  Don’t speak ill of the other guy, and don’t hate those who voted for the other guy.  It’s about living our lives beyond the vitriol of these times in our lives.  Living our lives for the more important things.  The love God has for each and every one of us–Republican or Democrat–the loving example of his son, and our being the extension of those things to a world that so desperately needs to hear and experience them.

The only way we can improve upon the perfection, though, is to make it simpler–and go straight to Jesus for the answer to this question of how Christians are supposed to behave as citizens of both heaven and earth.  He said give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.  It recognizes that we still have to interact with the world around us, but ultimately tells us where our real allegiance should lie.

So, please go vote.  Please vote for whoever it is you believe should fill the post.  If you need a ride to the polls, give me a call.  Let’s, then, meet back here next Sunday to continue the work of the gospel that is more important still.

AMEN.

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