Sermon 9 November 2014: “Elections, Politics, & a Third Way”

Text: Micah 5:2-5a; 6:6-8.  Also read for context: Micah 3:9-12

During my tour of duty as a Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) Instructor, I was also responsible for recruiting and screening applicants for the Historically Black College & University Scholarship Program.  My job was to look at applicants, first to see if they met the minimum requirements for the scholarship, and second to interview them and determine if they possessed the qualities and potential serve as commissioned officers in the Navy and Marine Corps, as leaders in our Armed Forces.  I then submitted my recommendation along with their application.  Now the hard part of all this was informing the applicants and parents when I recommended they not be picked up for the scholarship.  Telling a 17-19 year old kid and their proud and protective parents their kid isn’t good enough, no matter how nicely you try to spin it, always gets heard as “I think you suck.”  And there were more than a few times I got angry lectures about what a mistake I was making, the comment, “how can you live with yourself?”  Probably safe to say as the bearer of bad news, I was not a popular person with those families….and to this day they’re still probably cursing my name.

The Old Testament prophets were well-known as the voice of God, but they’re also well-known as the bearers of bad news and unpopular messages.  Prophets spoke a word of God’s divine judgement on the people, what they were screwing up at, how that was going to lead to their destruction and conquer of other nations – which ended up happening, I’ll add – and how they needed to change their ways.  The prophet Micah, whom we read today, is no different.  I have a feeling I might become really unpopular with you all this morning, because I’m going to do the one thing they tell you never to do: mix politics and religion in the sermon this morning. But before you run me out of the sanctuary this morning, hear me out…..

The big news this past week were the mid-term elections….and people came out to vote, votes that would ultimately decide who controls Congress.  And I have to ask you, after you voted, now that you know the results of that election, how are you feeling about it?  Do you feel good?  Do you feel secure and at peace, that finally, the country is in the hands of people who will make good decisions for this country?  Or are you scared and pissed off out of your mind?  And if the results were reversed, would it change the way you feel?

The news reported that only about 35% of the country turned out to vote this past week, down over 5% from last mid-term election.  And, only about 13% of people under the age of 30 turned out to vote. I think this signifies less that people don’t care about being involved in government and doing their civic duty, but rather, people just don’t believe their vote matters anymore.  It’s not going to make a difference; it’s not going to change anything.  

I think this is really about a failure of leadership.  Because our leaders, in their words and actions, really haven’t given us any reason to believe they’ll change anything.  And when their political platforms are based on pointing fingers at their opponent, stirring up anger and fear that already exists in plentiful amounts in their country, their leadership fails to change us.

Frankly, I’m fed up with it.  I’m fed up with the half-truths and lies, the empty promises.  I’m fed up with failed leadership that’s supposed to be by the people, for the people and of the people…..and instead their about their own self-preservation.  I’m tired of the same old message – fear this.  Be angry at that.  Hate this person or group of people….because they’re a threat to you.  And all the while….nothing changes.  Our feelings and attitudes….they don’t change either.  So we don’t vote.  But it’s more than that.  We don’t care for one another.  We look at people who think, act, and look different from us as just that – different….and a threat.  Something to fear.  Someone to blame.

A failure of leadership.  That’s exactly what the prophet Micah addresses.  To give you a little background, here’s a passage that wasn’t in our reading today, from Chapter 3:

“Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob, and chiefs of the house of Israel…it’s rulers give judgement for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, ‘Surely the LORD is with us!  No harm shall come upon us.’ Therefore because of you….Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins…”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  Corruption of both political and religious leadership.  Micah bears an unpopular message to them: that their failed leadership is going to lead to the ruin of Jerusalem and the nation, the people, of Judah.  An unpopular, harsh, but honest word of judgment.  But the Old Testament prophets also offered a word of hope in the midst of such judgments.  Micah does the same, offering another alternative, another vision of leadership…a leadership that comes only from God.

I wonder if the prophet Micah’s words are offering us a third way…. a way unlike any we’ve heard over the course of these mid-term elections.  Because this third way isn’t a political platform, a set of ethics, values, and virtues; a policy and strategy for real change…..this third way is a person – the person of Jesus Christ.

I came across an article that gets at this “third way.”  And I want to share a bit of it with you:

“Governments can do lots of things, but there are a lot of things they cannot do. A government can pass good laws, but no law can change a human heart. Only God can do that. A government can provide good housing, but folks can have a house without having a home. We can keep people breathing with good health care, but they still may not really be alive. The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do. We can’t wait on politicians to change the world. We can’t wait on governments to legislate love. And we don’t let policies define how we treat people; how we treat people shapes our policies.”

Following the person of Christ is unlike following any other person.  It offers something that political promises of comfort, protection and preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of our self-centered happiness can’t.  It is greater than anything that comes through our act of checking the right box on a ballot in the name of worshipping the right person or thing.

This third way is different because we are being led by the One who is for us and of us.  God’s leadership & vision for change is modeled in Christ – living with us as flesh, suffering and dying on the cross.  Justice, mercy and compassion, and humility aren’t just things we do as our “civic duty” as part of the Kingdom of God, but they are an invitation and call to a life of relationship with both God and those around us.

This third way, this invitation to relationship leads somewhere.  It leads to God’s vision of God’s inclusive family where security and peace isn’t just an empty promise – but it becomes a reality.  Real change that makes a difference. Real change….that changes us, and changes how we live.

And in light of conservative and liberal, Fox News & CNBC, Republican and Democrat, of choice one or choice two…..maybe this third way, this person Jesus Christ, the One in whom God chooses us…..is just the change we need.  Amen.

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