We stand at an important junction in national life so let’s take guidance from the word of God as we prepare to play our part in the events of the coming week.
So far as Thursday goes all I can tell you to do from the pulpit is vote! How you vote is a matter of conscience, but informed conscience of course and sermons are meant to be about the education of conscience.
With that in mind, let's look again at the lectionary readings, set in place long before the choice of Election Day, starting with the Romans passage. ‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’. That text touches on the sort of inclusion Christians hold to which for centuries has been the moral basis of countering discrimination against ‘second class citizens’ of any kind in the UK and across the world especially those who live in hunger. It’s a reminder to further policies that work with the voluntary sector including churches for practical action to serve our neighbour, not least the million Britons now having to queue at food banks, that reflect the love of God in Christ. Where do we find policies that will help bring hope to the dispirited true to ‘the God of hope [who fills us] with all joy and peace in believing’ to quote the first reading?
Then that uncomfortable Gospel - John the Baptist’s no punches pulled manifesto for preparing the way for God’s kingdom! It’s not a good example of the toned down rhetoric rightly called for concerning Brexit. We can take from it nevertheless, with its direct attack on the religious and civic leaders of John’s day, the need in voting to consider beyond the policies to vote on the virtues of the local candidates asking for our votes.
T.S. Eliot wrote of the futility of dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good. Politics stands or falls on personnel as much as policy. Our prayers for the election process, for respect going beyond mere tolerance of those we disagree with, are an important contribution, not least for people we know prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and serve in public life. They suffer ‘slings and arrows’ indeed, not least from social media. I have been distressed to see candidates holding to Christian ethics on abortion and marriage deselected - its rough territory, not least for those belonging to UK faith communities.
On Thursday we have opportunity to elect MPs and we should have particular sympathy for candidates who are church members taking courage to enter the fray with determination to serve the common good of Brighton and its surrounds. We want the best folk to serve, those who know the city, gifted with a strong moral compass who’ll be their own men and women.
This morning we’re singing G.K.Chesterton’s hymn O God of earth and altar, with its lovely Vaughan Williams harmonisation. Gilbert Chesterton was one of the brightest Christian minds of the last century. I like this story about him. When a newspaper asked several writers to answer the question “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton answered: Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.
That underlines the point made earlier about right government coming best from right people, or people as right as they can be given the sinfulness of the human condition. The moments in any election campaign that make most impact on me are those rare ones where there’s been humility exhibited, something very difficult with the power and pride of 24-7 mass media.
Chesterton’s 1906 hymn starts with the sentiment of human frailty: O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry, our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die; the walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide, take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.
His reference to entombing walls of gold link to my mind with the issue of debt. Debt, individual and national, entombs us, the latter souring relations between generations. It’s important to vote in a government that’s not profligate, that has some sort of eye towards decreasing it. Chesterton’s hymn reference to entombing walls of gold also voices the materialism of our age, much heightened I guess a century on from his, so that day by day we’re suffering something of a bribe campaign vis a vis where our bank balances might head after Thursday.
The major challenge in our society has been described as the transformation of consumers into citizens. People resist the call to public service through a self interest unconcerned about the common good beyond making sure they have the consumables they want and the neighbourhood watch functions in case others want to take these from them. The lack of readiness among people to take responsibility for civic life and the common good is alarming. So many of us live in the mini world of our household and the mega world of social media Facebook, Twitter etc leaving out the midi world of the local community including the parish church.
We salute those prepared to be candidates for election. There is a lot at stake nationally and internationally from our visits to the polling booths on Thursday! Those visits and votes are our taking responsibility for our nation as the citizens we are. Further than that our voting takes responsibility for a world in crisis through abuse of the environment.
Climate change is linked to human abuse of the environment. It’s good we have grapes now growing in Sussex but further south there are deserts growing, unfriendly to human habitation, which will do nothing to arrest the northward flow of migrants. Tackling those migrants is a vast, complicated issue for any government balancing our capacity to be hospitable against the capacity of each national infrastructure.
‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’. Linking migration and the associated environmental challenge to this teaching on inclusion is poetic licence to a degree. The right interpretation of the text is in its call to intimate union with Jesus Christ. In this eucharist, though many we’re welcomed together by participating in one holy Bread as we abide in Christ and he in us. Together we stand like branches coming forth from Jesus Christ the true vine and our aspirations for the world at election-tide can’t be separated from that vision for unity.
Our scripture readings this morning remind us of how the Holy Spirit can raise world leaders, build justice for the poor, create wealth and a better stewardship of the environment. To find the Holy Spirit, as a rule, though, we need to find Jesus, and to find Jesus and to dwell in him we need his body and blood, his word and the fellowship of his Church which is the vanguard of God’s kingdom.
May the kingdom of this world advance a little towards becoming the kingdom of God through this eucharist, through our prayer, through our voting on Thursday and through a new wave of the Holy Spirit pouring his love upon our town, nation and world. Amen.