Here is my post for this day, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost and Father’s Day. This doesn’t have much to do with fathers, though.
I do not remember when it was or how old I was when I first became fascinated with politics. But I remember the thrill of the nominating process, the campaign and, finally, the election. Most of the time it was the Presidential elections that interested me; with all the moving about we did, state and local elections were only sidelights to the real thing. But over the years and most recently, I have become disillusioned by the whole process.
We start the campaigns for the next election almost before the last one is complete. Even though we are not even to the 2006 Congressional elections, our focus is on the presidential election of 2008. The nominating conventions that once were the heart and soul of the political parties have been reduced to two or three hours of orchestrated hoopla with the nominee of each party pretty well known before the convention even starts. And the campaigns, instead of being debates between the candidates on the merits of their thoughts, have and will focus on mud-slinging and negative focus advertisement. No longer do we vote for the best of the best; we vote for the least of the worst.
Our campaigns have become glorified beauty contests in which the candidates compete to show their best side while hiding what is behind the facade. Much like Saul’s replacement in today’s Old Testament reading (1), we focus on which of the candidates we think looks like the candidate we want; we do not dare to delve deep into their souls.
Larry Bowen once quoted Richard McBrien as saying, “politics has to do with the public forum and with the process of decision making that occurs there.” (2) Henry Skolimowski pointed out that political institutions are a shadow of our soul. Such institutions express and embody the wisdom of the people of the time. If there is no such wisdom among the people, these institutions express their unwisdom. The state of our unwisdom and the state of our soul are closely related.(3)
If my understanding of Old Testament history is correct, the people of Israel sought a king. When the nation of Israel was first established following the Exodus, the nation was governed by Judges, enlightened individuals (both men and women) who resolved the disputes between the people. But because the nations around Israel had kings and courts and palaces and the trappings of glory and power, the people of Israel felt that they were somehow being short-changed. Never mind that their King was the One and True King, God; they did not have an earthly king and they felt somehow left out.
So it was that God commissioned Samuel to seek out a possible candidate for the position of king and Samuel discovered Saul. But even though Saul had God’s blessing, he ultimately succumbed to the lure of the power and the glory of the office and was killed in a civil war. Thus, Samuel has to find another candidate to be king and that is how he found David. But Samuel was going to select one of David’s older brothers because they looked the part, strong and masculine. They looked what a king should be. But when Samuel met David, he saw what was inside David, the intellect and wisdom; he saw the things that a true king really needed. But even David would ultimately fall to the lure of power and glory; even David would lose the blessing of God.
Skolimowski points out that our institutions do not work because our souls do not work. We cannot have good political institutions if our visions are crippling narrow and our wisdom lamentably limited. The road to good political institutions and social institutions comes by deepening our wisdom and by broadening our vision; which is to say, enlarging our souls.
What does Jesus tell us this morning in the Gospel message? (4) Keep in mind the mustard seed. The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds we have, yet it grows into a luxurious and wonderful tree, yielding much beyond what was intended. If our faith is like the mustard seed, we are able to go beyond the limits of what we see in today’s world. We are so used to seeing politics as the arena for the greedy and the selfish that we forget that examples of politics can be noble, selfless, high minded and idealistic as well. We let our cynicism block any hope that the latter will overcome the former.
Yet, communism failed, not because of what the conservatives did and take credit for but because there was a better way to express thought and desire. Apartheid failed, not because of some military revolution but because people took words of non-violence and slowly changed the mindset of the people who used apartheid to control people as well as changing the mindset of those who were controlled.
The great non-violent revolutions of this world have come about because we have offered medicine for the sick and ill, food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and hope to the downcast. When we choose to use violent means, we find that change is very slow and often does not happen.
And even though that last paragraph is very radical, for it suggests an alternative to our current mindset, it is the very essence of the first great non-violent revolution, the preaching of the Gospel two thousand years ago.
And those who have accepted this message know, as Paul wrote (5), that our confidence in the outcome comes not from what we do but rather from our faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is the love of Christ for each one of us that urges us onward, down paths that we would normally fear to walk. It is the love of Christ for each one of us that urges us onward, allowing us to live beyond the limits of this world.
So we have a choice this morning. Shall we choose the most obvious solution to a problem, knowing that the answers that we get may not result in a true solution? Or shall we look for the Holy Spirit and allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and guide and direct us, showing us the path that brings the fulfillment of the Gospel message to this world?
Some may not know that the Holy Spirit is out there, for they have yet to know Christ. To those seeking Christ, we offer the hope and promise of the Gospel message that comes when you open your heart to Jesus. And, though this choice is fraught with danger and intrigue, it is a choice that leads to the best possibilities, eternal life. You are invited this day to make a choice, to walk with Christ or to walk alone. You are invited this day to make a choice, to allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct your life or to remain lost in the wilderness of society.
These are the choices for today.
(1) 1 Samuel 15: 34 – 16: 13
(2) Note to the AERA Division L (Educational Policy and Politics LISTSERV) on 6 Jan 1998.
(4) Mark 4: 26 – 34
(5) 2 Corinthians 5: 6 – 10 (11 – 13), 14 – 17