Sunday, April 17, 2011

How to Vote: Sermon, Palm Sunday, April 17, 2011

Matthew 21:1-11

Giving all glory and honour to God.

My family on my father’s side has always been quite political. One of ancestors sat in the first New Brunswick Legislature in the 1780s. My grandmother’s family, the Hatfields, were all Liberals until my great-uncle Heber became a Conservative. That was youthful rebellion at the start of the 20th century, you defied your parents by being a Tory. The Liberal riding association would meet in the Hatfield general store, and Heber could hear everything through the stove pipe, and he would tell the Tories all the Liberal plans. He went on to be elected as a Member of Parliament, and his son Richard was Premier of New Brunswick. The family was still divided. In his first election Richard was the Conservative candidate and his brother-in-law was the Liberal. Richard’s sister Rheta never said whom she voted for in that election, her brother or her husband.

I’m thinking about this as last year on Palm Sunday I preached that 20 centuries ago there would in fact have been two parades. One stars Jesus, and today we have had our own version of this parade, people waving palm branches and laying their cloaks on the road and shouting Hosanna. The other parade stars the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. For before the festivals he and his troops would march from the coast, to beef up the garrison in the fortress so that the pilgrims can be monitored and the power of the Roman empire displayed.

These two parades are such a contrast. The kingdom of God and the empire of this world. Jesus is indeed a king, but a completely different kind of king than anyone expects, the Son of God, a king who comes to bring a realm of love and peace and justice. Pilate represents the Roman emperor, who is also called the Son of God, and claims to rule with peace and justice, but with the world’s ways with armies and navies and legislation and taxes.

Today, long after and far away from Jerusalem in the year 30 or so, these two parades continue. And we participate in both at the same time. That’s right, we try to walk with Jesus on his way, where our duty is to love God and each other and seek justice and resist evil. And we live in civil society, in a country that has a military and taxes and laws just like the Roman Empire, and we are citizens here with duties and responsibilities. Just as in the time of Jesus, we have to live faithfully in empire.

We have a responsibility which didn’t exist in the time of Jesus, to elect our representatives in elections for the federal Parliament, the provincial Parliament, and the township council. We had municipal elections last year, in the fall we will vote provincially, and right now we’re in the middle of a federal election campaign. And we see lawn signs and media stories for the election in our riding, Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, and we’re deciding which candidate we will support on May 2nd. So today’s sermon is called How to Vote.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to say who to vote for. My family has an allergy to being told in church which party to elect, as my mother grew up in Quebec during the period when you were told in church that you must vote for the Union Nationale government of Premier Maurice Duplessis. This has horrified us ever since. And, as I said, my father’s family was split between two political loyalties, but he saw that the relatives who voted for one party were no better Christians, or no worse, than ones who voted for the other. I’m saying that a follower of Jesus can in good conscience support any party and any candidate in this election, and it will be a legitimate choice. There have been times and places where believers in Jesus could not in good faith vote for a certain party, but we are fortunate to live in Canada today where it’s not unchristian to vote a certain way.

So I don’t think, and the United Church of Canada doesn’t think, that the church should be a partisan cheerleader for a political party or candidate. As Canadian Christians we can vote for whomever we wish. But as people of faith, our beliefs impact on every aspect of our lives, including our political choices. Our faith does have something to say about voting. Our vote is an act of faith, for it is a witness to what we believe, a chance to make a difference for the common good. So this sermon is about how to vote – how to choose.

God calls us to be engaged in the world, to play a role in shaping society, to be witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ all the time, including during elections. We have a right and a responsibility as citizens of Canada to participate in elections, and we have a responsibility as citizens of heaven to bring our values to the ballot box (with us as we go behind that cardboard screen and make our mark on the ballot paper). So here are some suggestions for how to vote.

The first thing is to vote. When my great uncle was elected in 1940, 70% of eligible Canadians voted. In 2008 it was only 59%, and among younger people it’s very low. And, with our duty to love and serve others, if we are going to vote, we need to check if our neighbours need help getting to the polls.

We have to educate ourselves about where the parties and candidates stand. Our values as followers of Jesus include pursuing the common good, overcoming poverty and injustice, and caring for the Earth, and these are benchmarks for us as we look over the party platforms. We have to evaluate the promises made during the campaign, asking about each promise if it is just, and inclusive of everyone. And we can ask questions informed by our faith as we engage in debate, at all candidates meetings and at our door and in letters and online, asking where the candidates stand on issues like criminal justice, democracy, peace, agriculture, debt and taxes, immigration, health care, poverty, justice for aboriginal peoples, the environment, and others. The United Church has an election kit that discusses these issues, and there is information in the bulletin.

And we can pray, for the party leaders, candidates, election workers, and for us as voters. The Book of Common Prayer has a prayer before an election, and as we prepare ourselves to bring our faith to how we vote, let’s pray it.

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom: Guide and direct, we humbly ask you, the minds of all of us who are called at this time to elect fit persons to serve in the House of Commons. Grant that in the exercise of our choice we may promote your glory, and the welfare of this country, And this we beg for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

1 comment:

Ray Wells said...

One suspects that the efficacy of the prayer has been lacking over the last few elections, or maybe not enough of us have been praying it. But I will pray it on behalf of this election ... interesting that I discovered your blog by checking out who else were liking Diana Butler Bass' postings for today.