The phrase “all politics is local” is commonly used about politics of the United States. … The former Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill is most closely associated with this phrase; perhaps he coined it. I find it full of truth.
There is also a statement made by Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian from the early to mid-20th century, who wrote “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” Of course, the unsaid part of that reasoning is to not interpret your Bible through the lens of your newspaper.
I have been mulling these sayings or expressions around in my head… I’m sure in light of the election. Along with these expressions is the very simple thing that I had heard many times before and heard again fresh on Wednesday morning from Bishop Greg, which is that regardless of the outcome of this, or any election, “Our marching orders have not changed.” Now, it would be very easy for someone hearing this sermon to think, “yeah, Sarah, you’re a priest and what you do day-in, day-out doesn’t change, but you aren’t us.” And you are right, I am not you, but seriously here, this is actually true for every one of the children of God; this is not just the priest’s job…” Being a Christian, whether now or in the very early days of Christianity means that our marching orders are to follow Jesus. All of us. Not just as priests but as Christians, as the whole priestly people of God. In the Judeo-Christian religion in which we find ourselves, the marching orders are from God.
Of course, in the process of following God, we often like to think that we know best how to do it, especially when we find a particular reading of scripture dark, more than a little concerning, or we don’t like what it says to us. However, we always have to look at the context of a reading to make any sense of it. The Day of the Lord in Amos’ day was thought to be a day of victory for the northern kingdom of Israel (having split from Judah). The prophet Amos delivers God’s words that God doesn’t necessarily always like what we think God likes. What God most wants is for us, all of us, to take the marching orders seriously. Darkness is, of course, a matter of life. God can handle darkness, God can sit with it. Insincerity, however, evidently doesn’t go over well. It has always been that way. We are not unique. The words of the prophets sting because there is truth in their words. Sometimes we do more talking than walking with these marching orders. The only way we can be with God on the day of the Lord is if we are doing God’s will, letting “ justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
The first letter to the Thessalonians describes Paul’s worldview of being caught up in the heavenly host at the end times. As bizarre as it may sound to us, it really has more to do with being ready. The Epistle and the Gospel story this week of the prepared and unprepared bridesmaids are both about being ready for God. Working out of fear works for some, not for others, but I think that if we ready to align our hearts with God’s, then it is easier to understand to be ready, don’t put off doing what is right. It reminds me of the adage, “if you can be anything in the world, be kind.” If you live your life in such a manner, one can be ready and watchful, and not fearful. Somewhat akin to being swift to love and making haste to be kind. Life is short, be ready by living life without regrets. Always follow your marching orders.
Although typically one would not consider my sermons to be political, don’t think for a moment that I’m apolitical. I am a very political creature; I even spent a semester of seminary as an intern in the Office of the Episcopal Public Policy network in DC. The issues which that Office addresses are determined by General Convention. Bringing my own moral convictions to an office dedicated to acting out our faith was fun. However, listening to an episode of Hidden Brain this week on Moral Combat reminded me of one of the biggest challenges of working there: making sure not to confuse our moral convictions with the universal will of God. We can confuse our moral convictions with our understanding of God’s will and that can put us or anyone in hot water at any time; our moral convictions are so much more so if we think they are from God. The trick then, in following our marching orders from God, is to find the sweet spot between following what we understand to be the will of God, and not having our convictions turn into an idol of sorts. And then there is holding that in tension as well with human nature’s proclivity to be apathetic. Somewhere in there is a sweet spot—-firm moral conviction, constant openness to be challenged and rethink, and always ready to take our marching orders from God, not from our own certainties.
Perhaps that is where the psalm can speak:
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; *
let those who love your salvation say for ever,
“Great is the LORD!”
But as for me, I am poor and needy; *
come to me speedily, O God.
You are my helper and my deliverer; *
O LORD, do not tarry.
And of course Jesus was political, but we need to make sure that we don’t use that as an excuse in order to not listen to what is uncomfortable, and always be humble enough to know that our ways are not God’s and God’s are not ours. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry likes to say “ If it’s not of Love, it’s not of God” and that goes a long way to remind and define our marching orders and those orders don’t change with elections. Elaine Prevallet, a nun of the Sisters of Loretto, puts it this way, and I will give her the last word:
“Surely, in the end, after all our righteous judgments on what is wrong with ourselves, each other, and with the world; …..surely in the end the gospel calls us to view the whole of creation, and each other, with the eyes of mercy, and to love it all anyway, with a mercying heart.”