Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 22, 2017
Scripture: I Samuel 16:1-13
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen.
I start with some disclaimers.
- This is a sermon about politics.
- It’s not intended as a politically partisan sermon – but I am passionately partisan.
- The sermon is about the relationship between faith and politics.
I’m wondering how many Dayspringers cast their vote in last Monday’s municipal election. And if you didn’t, I wonder why.
Being able to chose those who lead our city, our province, and our nation is, after all, at the heart of our way of life. (In Australia, as you may know, people do not have a choice. If they don’t vote, they are assessed a hefty fine.) Democracies cease to exist when people stop believing that their choice concerning who will govern their city, their province, and their nation actually counts.
The reading from I Samuel is about choosing a leader. Keep in mind that, in those days, nearly 3000 years ago, leaders were not elected. They were seen as having their authority as a result of a call from God. In the case of Israel, that call came through religious leaders like the prophet Samuel.
As we engage with the story which was just read, we discover that Saul had not been doing a particularly spectacular job of leading the people Israel. In his conversations with God, Samuel has discovered that God is not particularly pleased with Saul and has chosen a successor.
Lining oneself up with the king’s successor before the king is ready to lay down the mantle of leadership can be dangerous in an absolute monarchy. That’s one of the reasons why the unlimited power of the British monarchy began to be curtailed in the year 1215 when the Magna Carta was first proclaimed, following which there was a gradual evolution into a parliamentary democracy.
However, in Samuel’s time, being faithful to God’s call, (especially given that it went against the self-interest of the reigning king) posed a huge risk – a risk of the losing-your-head variety. So the process of finding and anointing the next king had to be done surreptitiously. (Did you know that our God is a “sneaky” God?) And eventually, David was anointed as the next king of Israel.
This story, reflects a pre-democratic (actually, a “theocratic”) approach to the selection of a leader. So what does it tell us about democracy and about how, in a democratic society, we participate in the selection of our leaders?
There were 13 candidates for the mayor’s position in the Edmonton municipal election. I hope that no one in the congregation who lives in Edmonton went through the list of 13 and tried to figure out who was the best “Christian” among them. Rather, I hope that you looked at the list of candidates and tried to discern which one of them had the most positive approach to city governance and the experience to facilitate the leadership of the whole council.
Now that the vote has been counted, and a new council is in place, I hope that you will assess the outcomes by asking yourself about the ways in which, through the actions of council, God’s hopes for the good of ALL the people of the city, are being implemented.
How well is the city doing with bringing many faith, cultural, and religious groups together to seek the wellbeing of all?
How well is the city doing so far as care of the homeless is concerned?
How well is the city doing when it comes to ensuring that people can move about the city safely and expeditiously?
And so on …
Two of our Dayspringers, Sarah and Iris, studied this passage in Samuel and came up with several ideas. One of those was the idea that, in Wayne Gretzky, we have a good example of leadership. As a hockey player, he excelled not only in his own stick handling, but also in his ability to “see” everything that was occurring on the rink – so that he could assist his team-mates to maximize their potential as hockey players.
Now we need to be careful not to “idolize” any human being – whether an athlete or a politician. We are all humans in this game of life together. And the story about David’s selection makes it clear that David was not chosen because of his “sex appeal.” (I know – once David was chosen, there are those comments about how “he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome” – sounds a lot like Gretzky.)
Human leadership is human leadership and we need, always, to try and stay focussed on the big picture. When assessing human leadership, we need to stay focussed on the needs and opinions of all, and not just on our own needs and opinions.
After all, remember that David, as it turned out, was not necessarily the best human being in the world. He sent Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, on a dangerous military mission which resulted in the loyal soldier’s death. That left David able to marry Bathsheba.
Sarah and Iris also found a list of conditions that make for poor leadership.
- No one disagrees with you.
- You focus on photo shoots and how you look.
- You have clones surrounding you.
- “Wrong” behavior starts to feel like a right.
- You speak of people as things, not people.
It is easy to become the kind of leader that Saul had become and that David, also, eventually became. As the historian, John Acton, put it: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Our denomination attempted, during the 1950s, to address the issue of how Christians can relate to governmental authority at the individual level and at the level of church and state relations. The document carries the title: Declaration of Faith concerning Church and Nation.
The position taken is implied in the name of our denomination – The Presbyterian Church in Canada. That is, we are “in” but not “of” Canada. We do not “belong” to Canada. We belong to God. But we also have a duty to our nation. Here is a brief excerpt from the 1955 Declaration (it’s on the screen).
The Church and State are intimately related, with manifold overlying concerns and common responsibility to their Lord. Their true relationship derives from the subordination of each to Jesus Christ. Each is bound to aid the other according to its appointed power and functions, but neither is given any right thereby to attempt domination over the other. We reject any doctrine which misconceives the Church as the religious agent of the State. We reject any doctrine which misconceives the State as the political instrument of the Church. We reject all doctrines which assume, whether on sectarian or on secular grounds that the Church’s life should be or can be completely dissociated from the life of the Civil State.
The language is highly complex and compressed and most of us would do better at understanding it if we were to read and ponder it.
So what does this all mean?
We are probably left with more questions that answers.
But I’d like to sum up by affirming that, when people are doing their best to work for the welfare of all human beings and of our city, nation, and world, they are doing the work of God – whether they see it that way or not. We may not be a “frontline” worker when it comes to the care of people and the care of the earth – but we can support those who are. We may sometimes disagree with our leaders – but rather than “nitpick” we can offer constructive criticism.
And, in all of that, the Scriptures tell us that God’s Word is being spoken and God’s work is being done.