Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
Not sure how everyone feels about the election. I imagine opinions among us are as varied as elsewhere.
We had a bit of a conversation at our house about the fact that there were three parties running and the fact that all three received a significant percentage of the popular vote. In the lead-up to the election there had been talk about vote splitting and some more speculation about this following the election. I understand that experts can track the migration of votes, though I have always been a bit skeptical of this. In any case, there was consensus around our dinner table that there was no vote splitting. We agreed that there were three parties each with a unique vision for our province. And we agreed that it is not at all clear that those who voted green would necessarily have voted for one of the other two parties.
This is important because our lives matter to God. What we do in the world is as important as what we do here. Our worship encompasses all of our lives. This is the place where we remember who we are in Christ Jesus, it is the place where we are grounded and fed, it is where we confess our sins and receive forgiveness, so that we can go forth and live in the name of Christ, yet with enough humility to know that we do not know everything.
But that we do not know everything does not mean that we do not care.
One of my devotional practices since my youth has been to speak Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayers. Perhaps you memorized it in confirmation class. It’s in the Small Catechism. This is how it goes:
“I thank you, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
Did you notice how the prayer asks that ‘all my doings and life may please God’, and that we commend ourselves, our bodies and souls, and all things into God’s hands? In other words, it all matters, there is nothing that is not somehow excluded from our life with God.
This means that God is interested in everything we do. It all matters. And so we can pray like the Celts who had prayers for getting dressed and going to sleep, for waking up and for lighting the fire. They prayed for birth and death, healing and protection, hunting and herding, farming and fishing. They prayed invocations to bless the loom and the land, because all belonged to God. Here is a “Milking Prayer.”
Bless, O God, my little cow,
Bless, O God, my desire;
Bless Thou my partnership
And the milking of my hands, O God.
Bless, O God, each teat,
Bless, O God, each finger;
Bless Thou each drop
That goes into my pitcher, O God.
It all matters, for from him and through him and to him are all things (Rom 11:36). This, and Luther’s Morning Prayer, give expression to what we find elsewhere in the Bible. In Colossians Paul exhorts us, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus …” (Col 3:17)
In Ephesians Paul exhorts us to give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything. (Ephesians 5:20)
Our reading from the Book of Acts tells us about the stoning of Stephen. Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr, after the children of Bethlehem. He dies praying the words Jesus prayed on the cross, “Into your hands I commend my Spirit,” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” We see that his life with Jesus had shaped not only his preaching but also his living.
What Stephen says is borne by a life lived with Jesus in the community of the church. Besides the words of commendation and forgiveness Stephen says that he sees the heavens opened and the Son of Man – the truly human one – standing at the right hand of God.
One would think that in the moment of his violent death he would see his executioners, he would see injustice, he would be in the grip of fear. Instead, he sees the heavens opened and Jesus at the right hand of the Father.
A little while ago Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School and Jonathan Tran of Baylor University published a piece entitled “Being the Church in the time of Trump.”
In their piece they state that 81% of the white evangelicals voted for Trump and thus handed Trump the presidency.
Their piece is not about Trump but about a failure of Christian imagination.
They explain that if Christians see their only way of political participation as endorsing a leader who they agree with on only one issue and who does not understand the values of the Gospel, then they lack the imagination of all the other ways we can live our faith and participate in politics. They suggest that Christians could have voted for an independent candidate, as well as by their lives make a difference. For this they list many examples.
What troubles them is the belief Christians hold that the nation-state, not the church, is the arbiter of Christian political action.1 This is a failure of Christian imagination because it surrenders Christian ethics at the altar of the political plausible and thereby assumes that faith cannot truly come to bear on politics. This could best be summed up by saying that in the world we have to play on the world’s terms. And this in turn relegates God to our private lives and the interior of our sanctuaries.
To counter this, Hauerwas and Tran remind us that Christianity and democracy share the view that the possibility of losing is no reason to give up one’s commitments.
What they described was this: All politics is corrupt and that we must just hold our nose and vote for someone anyway.
This, they argue, is a failure to take our faith seriously. It treats our faith as if it did not matter outside of the church, as if did not matter for the milking of my cow, for my work, for my home. It struck me that such argument suspends ethics in the same way as concentration camp guards argued that they were not responsible because they only carried out orders.
Stephen gives us a different example. Fear for his life does not make him stop talking about Jesus. It also does not make him see violence as the only option for resistance, it does not narrow his vision to fearing only for his own survival or lamenting his own suffering; but in the vision of the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the Father, he proclaims that God reigns and God’s reign becomes visible in the trust and forgiveness he proclaims,.
This Christian imagination is not simply something we must muster, it is a gift. It comes with being a follower of Jesus, with Jesus at the centre of our lives, with the knowledge that everything belongs to God. This is one important reason we gather for worship: To remember the that the risen Christ is Lord of all.