Message delivered Sunday, September 29, 2019 at St. Andrew’s Christian Church, Rockland, ON – 10 minute read
Old Testament reading: Jeremiah 29:4-7
New Testament reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Gospel: Mark 4:1-8
It seems I have been participating in the political arena off and on for the better part of my life. There were losses and wins for high school student council. Yes, even in high school campaign signs disappeared or were found torn in half. Also in high school, I fell in love with the leadership style and politics of the woman I still believe should have been Canada’s first female prime minister, and was Canada’s first female Minister of Foreign Affairs, Flora MacDonald.
I won and lost a few more times in university before an interrupted period in life following my acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord. For what seemed a long time, I considered politics would be a distraction to my faith, and then re-discovered the arena as a vital part of expression for a public faith.
I ran for municipal office in Markham in 2003, experiencing the exhilaration of a close race, being declared early in the evening the winner, and falling into second place within moments. Perhaps the person most pleased by my political campaign was my doctor who encouraged me to do my best to keep off the twenty pounds I lost going door-to-door. My doctor today might encourage me to pursue political office if the same weight loss could be guaranteed. But, my body weight is not what we’re here to talk about.
As time moves inexorably toward October 21st, social media is crowded with tweets and posts from people who have made up their minds, people who are trying to influence the decision of others, and people who are trying to figure out whether to vote at all, and, if they decide to vote, who to vote for. Mainstream media has assigned journalists and opinion writers to focus on the election, charged to find something new every day that will entice our interest. In an effort to grab the headlines, politicians present policy proposals and daily cast doubt on the capacity of their opponents to govern, let alone govern wisely.
How does a Christian prepare to participate in this messy process of electing a government?
To begin, remember that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). None of us are perfect. Neither politicians, journalists, nor potential voters, Christian or not, can truthfully claim to be perfect, even when noting the shortfalls of others.
When considering my own imperfections, I am reminded the late Rich Mullins once said, “No, the church isn’t full of hypocrites; we always have room for more.”
Mullins also said, “I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite either, because nobody goes to church because they’re perfect. If you’ve got it all together, you don’t need to go.”
Those of us in the Church are neither more nor less perfect than others. We’re certainly not better than anyone else. But we are different. Different because of Jesus. Integrity requires us to accept the obligations that align with our faith.
We read earlier from the Old Testament a message from God to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah 29:4-7.
The Church has not replaced the nation or people of Israel. But we have been grafted-in to the same Vine, the teachings of the Old Testament are relevant to the Church, and apply to us even today. Now, two and a half millennia after God spoke in the night to Jeremiah, God’s words as written by the prophet help us to understand important aspects of the “love your neighbour” commandment.
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7, ESV)
As we approach another federal Election Day, we benefit from giving consideration to what these words mean for us, you and me in the Church in Canada, today.
We are not in exile. In fact, we have democratic rights the exiles did not have. The right to vote in freedom is absent from the majority of today’s world. Entrusted to us, our vote is to be stewarded with care, and with recognition that we are citizens of heaven living provisionally as citizens of Earth. We are dual citizens as it were, with responsibility to exercise our citizenship with integrity in both realms.
We Christians have adapted well, perhaps too well, to the nation in which we live. We have built houses and we live in them. We have planted gardens and eat the produce. We are living a Canadian family life, or seeking to do so. But do we seek the welfare, the very best, for our city, our province and our nation? In fact, what does it look like for twenty-first-century Canadian Christians to seek the welfare of the city, province and nation where God has placed us?
Like much of twenty-first century Christianity, you and I have been influenced by the changing society in which we live. What if we could reverse that influence so that instead of changes in society influencing us, as Christians you and I influenced the changes in society? The first-century writers of the New Testament reveal a Christianity that adapted within its culture – even today we Christians look like those around us – while living a lifestyle that influenced changes in society until over time the cultural shape of the Western world was referred to as having a Judeo-Christian heritage. What if instead of looking back, nostalgically longing for a time that perhaps never really was, we deliberately chose to look forward and ask ourselves, “How do we, today, in preparation for the coming election, seek the well-being of the nation in which God has placed us, knowing that in the well-being of the nation we will find our well-being?”
I think it best to begin with God’s message to Jeremiah for the people in exile. A similar message was personally delivered some three centuries earlier to the man described as the wisest who ever lived.
In 2 Chronicles 7 we read the record of God visiting Solomon during the course of another night. Here’s part of what the Lord had to say.
I have heard your prayer… if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:12, 14, ESV)
We have all sinned. If we humble ourselves and seek him in prayer, God is committed to forgiving our sin.
Our land, our nation, is damaged. The politics involved in electing Canada’s next parliament are designed to drive wedges between one voter and the next, doing more damage. If we will humble ourselves and pray, God is committed to healing our land.
In our national anthem we sing, “God keep our land glorious and free.” It’s more than a national song, it’s a national prayer.
The first step for Christian preparation to participate in the election of a government is prayer, both personal and in community with other Christians.
What should we pray?
We pray that God’s purposes for Canada will be accomplished. We pray for the health of the nation. We pray for political leaders, for critical issues facing the nation, and that voters will make a wise and informed choice and will not be discouraged from voting because of campaign antics. And, pray that there will not be difficulties in voting on Election Day or at advance polls.
For more guidance on how to pray during this election, two prayer-oriented ministries with positive prayer points on their website are the National House of Prayer (www.nhop.ca) and Nation At Prayer (www.nationatprayer.ca).
In addition to praying for the nation and the election generally, pray about which political issues are of greatest significance to God and you together in partnership, how you will vote, and whether you will get involved beyond prayer and voting.
One way to get more involved is to conduct some basic research to inform yourself about theological positions on policy issues as well as the positions of political parties and individual candidates. If you have time for social media, online videos, television or listening to your favourite music, you have time to research your vote beyond how you may have always cast your ballot or the party your parents supported.
By the way, this basic research will also inform your prayer during the election.
So what does the basic research look like?
First, remember social media comments and mainstream media headlines are not the same as the story or the truth. In areas of public policy that have captured your interest, it is beneficial to read the articles others are referencing, or at least the articles under the headlines that catch your attention.
If you’re trying to sort through which issues are most important, I encourage you to spend a few minutes visiting the election materials of some reliable Christian public policy engagement organizations.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (www.evangelicalfellowship.ca) has a variety of resources that inform on the issues for individuals, as well as what churches can and cannot legally do during an election campaign. Here are some of the issues for which the EFC provides background information and questions for candidates:
- Medical Assistance in Dying
- Palliative Care
- Human Trafficking
- Poverty and Homelessness
- Indigenous Peoples
- The Environment
- Religious Freedom in Canada
- Religious Freedom Internationally
Similarly, Citizens for Public Justice (www.cpj.ca) provides materials on:
- Climate Justice
- Ending Poverty
- Refugee Rights
- Participating in Democracy
The Christian Reformed Church’s Centre for Public Dialogue (www.crcna.org/PublicDialogue) covers:
- Refugee Justice
- Indigenous Justice
- Human Trafficking
- Climate Change
There are also election specific resources that have been prepared by the Canadian Council of Churches (www.councilofchurches.ca), the Association for Reformed Political Action (www.arpacanada.ca), and others.
When you explore election materials prepared by and for Christians, you will notice that no political party has the corner on biblically-based public policy. Different parties have a different focus and will capture different parts of the essence of different biblical concerns. As a result, you will benefit from also looking at the posted policy platforms of the parties. If you scan the index, you will find you can then scan the whole or only consider party positions on the issues God has placed on your heart.
For me, big issues include religious freedom in Canada and Canada’s ability to influence religious freedom globally, as well as the personal character of the party leaders and individual candidates, including the candidates in my riding. I make room for forgiveness in my assessment, and gather the information required to engage in informed prayer to make a decision, all of which is readily available through simple internet searches by party name, leader name, and candidate name.
For some, this may seem like a lot of work. But I think stewardship of God’s gift to us is worth the effort.
The holder of an undeveloped faith and uninformed opinion will fall readily into a political camp. One who holds a developed faith will choose a political camp with prayer, caution, & realism. Difficult for both will be to continue to follow Jesus first, before falling in behind the camp commander. For some, following Jesus will require changing camps.
That brings me to my concluding point for today. When we engage in the political sphere it is vital throughout our participation that we follow Jesus first.
The reading from 2 Corinthians 5 reminds us that we are new creations in Christ; citizens of heaven, as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20, even while resident on Earth. In addition to being citizens of Christ’s kingdom, Paul shared in this morning’s reading that we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
When associated with a political party, it is very easy to develop a kind of herd mentality. Your party leader is right and therefore the other party leaders are not!
Remember, at all times all Christians are ambassadors for Christ.
There is nothing wrong with joining a political party. There is nothing wrong with volunteering your time for a candidate, or placing a sign on your lawn. But be cautious about allowing your buttons to be pushed and your political battles to become heated attacks directed toward other people. We “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).”
You may be wondering about the Gospel reading from Mark, chapter 4.
“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:3-8, ESV)
As ambassadors for Jesus, we are sowers of the seeds of the Gospel.
In Jesus’ story of the sower, told using the available media of the day, a sower was spreading seed by hand, a small quantity at a time, across a large area over a long period of time. In regard to media in the twenty-first century, we are not hand-seeders but broadcast-spreaders covering vast territory in an instant. Other broadcast-spreaders share with us and we with them, and they with others, and so on.
We are not capable of assessing whether the seed we sow will be readily devoured, spring up and die off, be choked out, or produce a harvest. We are capable of determining whether we are sowing good seed. Every participation we have in the political process is a sowing seed event, including how we allow the seed sown by others to influence us.
Earlier on this morning, I quoted Rich Mullins’ comments on the all too real human weakness of those of us who make our way to Christian worship services on a regular basis.
“No, the church isn’t full of hypocrites; we always have room for more.”
“I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite either, because nobody goes to church because they’re perfect. If you’ve got it all together, you don’t need to go.”
We know we’re not perfect. We will make mistakes in our political engagement. But, as communications consultant Barry McLoughlin has said, “Hypocrisy in religion is the low hanging fruit of media.” That includes social media. We would be wise to bear that in mind, along with some simple advice for our media and social media engagement from Leonard Read who has written,
There is an Arab proverb to the effect that he who strikes the second blow starts the fight. Ignorance stands ever ready, and all about us, to strike the first blow. However, we need not strike back by projecting our own ignorance – by insisting on points we cannot soundly explain. Short of an ability to explain our beliefs in an attractive, enlightening, and truth-serving manner, there is always the friendly alternative of silence. (The Manners of Leadership)
Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23). Be an ambassador. Sow good seed.
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)
As Christians, our preparation to participate in the process of electing a government starts and ends with prayer, focused on Jesus and what he would require of us.
Pray for Canada. Pray about our participation. Pray as we participate. And then pray for those elected to form government, as well as those elected in opposition. Pray that those in positions of authority will look out for the best interests of all citizens, including Christian citizens.
That said, let’s pray.
Father, as Canadians are in the midst of an election campaign that will result in the formation of Canada’s next government, we pray for the well-being of our nation. We pray for the party leaders vying for the position of prime minister and the hundreds of candidates campaigning in each riding. We know that the perfect candidate does not exist, the perfect political party does not exist, and neither does the perfect campaign platform. Help us to inform ourselves and choose wisely in our stewardship of the right to vote in our free and democratic nation. Especially help us to trust You, in Jesus’ name. Amen.