Sermon: Post-Election Breakdown, part one
As a candidate under 35 for becoming a United Methodist pastor, I was required to get a 3 year Master’s degree, an M.Div., which included studying subjects like pastoral care, theology, Christian history, Bible, and ethics. But to do that, I had to have a bachelor’s degree, which I did… l have a bachelor of Science in Political Science. My dad was very disappointed when, after my first semester, I couldn’t tell him when the civil war ended. But after a couple more, I could give him a very balanced analysis of why civil wars start which I felt was much more important overall. Political science is not political history. It is a study of public policy, political theory, government systems, public opinion, and mathematics.
With my degrees in political science and theology, count your blessings that I don’t talk politics, because I’m not fun to talk politics with. Ask my dad. Ask my buddy Jake. But don’t ask Alex, because he loves that I talk system and trend instead of feelings and ideals. So we watched the election coverage, for Alex.
I am no expert, but I am a student of our political system, so I was looking for two pieces of data to call the election for myself: Rate of voter turnout and the results from the state of Massachusetts. But if it had been lower voter turnout than 2008 and Massachusetts had gone for Romney, I would have said, “Romney for the win” and gone back to my book. But since voter turnout was high and Massachusetts went to Obama, I said, “Obama for the win,” and went back to my book.
But Alex was mesmerized by our different election system and reporting, switching between Twitter, NBC, CNN, and Fox News for hours. And it was a good thing he did, because If he hadn’t, I would have completely missed the fact that, in this election, both parties, both campaigns, both candidates truly believed that the data showed that they were going to win the presidential election. Both of them. And that outcome would have been impossible. Because all we really knew, laying aside poll results, trends, opinions, and feelings… all we could say was absolutely true going into election night was that either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama was going to be elected the next President of the United States. That was, truly, the only truth, whether you were a true believer in one of these candidates or an analyst of the system.
But, you know, that’s not what anyone wanted to hear when they asked you who you thought was going to win the election. They wanted you to stake a claim, argue facts, make a stand. They didn’t want to hear “Obama or Romney, for sure.” But that’s all we knew, the absolute truth. The rest was conjecture or emotion because the facts weren’t in yet.
Please note: I have just talked about politics for 5 minutes without endorsing a candidate or a party.
Jesus was constantly asked questions. “Are you a king?” “Are you a Samaritan?” “Are you demon-possessed?” “When do we get to see your dad?” and Jesus responded by talking about truth. “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” he says to Pilot in today’s second reading. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” he said to his Jewish followers in the reading of a couple of weeks ago. And in the earlier reading from today, he says to his questioning disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
And yet… If you want to see partisan political discussion, you need look no further than Jesus’ own disciples. We are far more partisan than our country’s political parties, arguing about who gets to heaven and if there is a hell, and who gets communion and if its bread or human flesh when we take it. We disagree about who is in and who is out, whether we are talking about the kingdom or the pews, and who gets what and how much and why and when and if… And my mansion is bigger than your mansion and are there mansions and is there a hilltop and will we have bodies and will my shoulder still be busted and please tell me the people I don’t like won’t be there and that my Catholic husband will and also my dog, and what a bunch of unholy crap! This is why we fought wars and burned people at the stake, and we’re not even stepping into our forays with people who call God by a different name.
And this is why a lot of people give up on Christianity altogether. Because we spend a lot of energy and anger disputing facts not yet in evidence, looking for coded truth in a document that we don’t even know was coded.
I have two truths for you, and the odds are good that you are not going to like one or both of them, but the odds are also good that hearing and understanding these truths may bring you some peace.
Truth #1: looking for facts in the Bible is like looking for facts in a campaign ad. Neither one was built to be a fact-bearing vehicle.
Let me explain. Campaign ads are created to cause emotion in the watcher. A list of facts would not do that, so they are left out… All parties, all ads. Even if it looks like there is a fact, be sure it’s been spun as much as cotton candy. You want facts? Read a peer-monitored scientific journal. You want emotion? Watch a campaign ad.
The Bible is different, but the premise is the same. It is incredibly important to remember that the Bible was written before our scientific revolution when suddenly facts were what we were looking for, data, things we could hypothesize about and theories we could test. That was when human beings started looking for their own truth.
Before that they found it in stories. There was no search for facts. There was a different sense of truth. And we still maintain some of that today. Say your kid comes home late and gives you a reason. You hear their story, and you instantly know if you need to fact-check or not, because you can either hear the ring of truth in it or you don’t. You know when you are hearing a story that has Truth in it.
The Bible is the collection of stories about God and God’s people that were judged to have the ring of truth in them. Lots were rejected, but these were kept by the faithful for the faithful. Nobody sat down and said, “So Joshua blew a horn and the walls of Jericho fell? Let’s go dig up Jericho and see if we can find scientific evidence of that” when deciding whether that story said something important about God and God’s people and needed to be preserved. NOW, we have this crazy thing called Biblical archaeology, and we are missing the point if we need to see the ark to appreciate the story of Noah. Because the story has value. It wasn’t written when people needed facts to recognize truth.
And if this election showed us anything, it is that sometimes facts can be misread, and its the story of the event that will last.
We believe God inspired the scriptures we have and that they have meaning for us as people of faith. If you need facts from scripture, you might want to rethink your thinking. Because there is Truth in the Bible even though there aren’t a lot of what we would call facts.
Truth #2: Jesus claimed truth for himself, but he didn’t lay out a must-believe-or-you-go-to-hell checklist. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one gets to the father except through me” should be taken on its face, not read into and lists added. I argue neither for universal salvation nor for salvation limited to people who believe just like I do. I think scripture says Jesus gets to decide. I am saying, Jesus didn’t answer that question, so we probably need to quit asking him. Because most times someone asked him a really specific theological question, Jesus didn’t lay out a list of facts, he told them he was the truth or the bearer of the truth (truth #2) or he told them a story (back to truth #1).
So just as the only thing we could truthfully day before the election was “either Romney or Obama is going to be elected,” the only thing we can truthfully say in most theological debates is, “its going to be up to Jesus.” Part of believing in Jesus is trusting him to make some decisions. Part of faith is believing that he will take care of it and that we don’t have all of the facts in evidence. It’s going to be up to Jesus.
And I know that is not the answer people want to hear. They want us to stake a claim, argue facts, take a stand. And we do… Right behind Jesus.
That is our place. That’s the truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Our job is to believe… In Him. Amen.