Vote… Faithfully

Sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of God: who was, and is, and is to come. Amen.

One of [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

-Matthew 22:35-40

Good morning! Today is Vote Faithfully Sunday. Episcopal churches across the country are observing this day as November 3 approaches. This isn’t the first election season when the Episcopal Church has asked its members to pray and vote, although I can understand why you might think so. So much is at stake this year.

A lot is at stake every time the American people go to the polls, but this year, with its harsh rhetoric and doomsday predictions, feels like something straight out of the Book of Revelation. We are told that there are beasts and dragons that must be slain, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are ready to ride out with conquest, war, famine, and death in their wake unless this candidate or that party wins the election.

One of the best descriptions of the run up to the election comes from the Bishop of Delaware, Kevin Brown. He writes, “No doubt about it, 2020 will go down as one of the most complex, emotional, and historic years in our nation’s history. Even without a major election . . . 2020 has been breathtaking, momentous, and often shocking — add in the reality of the election, and it’s no wonder folks have trouble concentrating during the day or sleeping at night. In this chaotic moment, it seems the partisan nature of our politics can’t get any more combative. Many people feel they cannot talk with a neighbor or family member about politics because the conversation will just become an argument, and the argument will just become a battle. It is as if Americans have been trained to fight about our values and priorities instead of discussing them and learning from others. Does politics always have to feel like going to war?”

I don’t know if politics always feels like going to war, but it has certainly felt that way this year. There are others I can name that felt a lot like going to war – starting with the first presidential election in which I cast my ballot back in 1972. That’s the one where the Republican incumbent carried 49 out of 50 states. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, who ran on a platform calling for an immediate end to the Vietnam War and the institution of a guaranteed minimum income, carried just one state – Massachusetts. That year was the first time I voted for someone who didn’t win, and it hasn’t been the last.

Here at All Saints’, Vote Faithfully Sunday starts a season of prayer for us. Every night at 9:30 pm we will pray together on Zoom. We’ll pray with special intention for our country, for safe and fair elections, and for healing – although that’s probably too much to hope for during these deeply divided days.

Those of you who grew up in the Roman Catholic Church will know what I’m talking about when I say we’re going to be praying a novena – the tradition of praying for something special for nine nights in a row. We’ll use the service of Compline as the framework – Compline being the Church’s “bedtime prayers.” If you are able to participate, you’ll find a link in Friday’s weekly news. A famous native of Chicago recently encouraged every citizen to vote “like your life depends on it.” Let me borrow her thought and say that I hope you will pray like your life depends on it.

What does it mean to Vote Faithfully? Whoever came up with the phrase surely intended it to convey two meanings. The first meaning of Vote Faithfully is “vote regularly” – that is, to vote every time there’s an election whether that election is for the President of the United States or for the local Alderman. Far too many of us cast ballots once every four years and don’t bother with the local elections. The persons we elect as our local or state leaders often affect our daily lives far more than who’s in the White House. If you don’t believe me, I can show you a map of what the state legislature of Ohio has done with congressional districts. Or I can share articles about the battles fought in local Texas school boards over evolution and creationism.

In the 2018 midterm elections, a total of 50.3 percent of eligible voters voted. The 50.3 percent of people who voted in the 2018 elections was the highest turnout of any mid-term election held since 1914. In 2014, just 36.7 percent of eligible voters turned out, meaning that a third of us decided for the rest of us. This is mind-boggling to me. To have the incredible privilege of casting a ballot and then not exercising one’s franchise is beyond my understanding. Talk about giving away one’s power to other people!

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, said it well, “It is a Christian obligation to vote, and more than that, it is the church’s responsibility to get souls to the polls.” Maybe you know somebody who needs some encouragement to vote – especially during this pandemic – or needs a ride to the polls. Early voting sites are open in all 50 wards in Chicago. You have several options: you can go to any of the early voting sites and vote in person. If you have a mail-in ballot, you can also take it to an early voting site and swap it out so you can vote in person. You can mail your ballot in as long as it’s postmarked on or before Election Day. You certainly don’t need to wait until November 3 to cast your ballot. So, vote faithfully, and help others to vote faithfully, too. And Church – it is our responsibility to get souls to the polls!

Vote Faithfully has a second meaning, too. It doesn’t just mean “vote regularly.” It means having our faith inform and guide our decisions about candidates and issues. What might that look like?

Last Sunday evening, my phone dinged telling me I had a message. I had just sat down to watch the deciding game of the National League Championship series. The Dodgers and the Braves were playing, and I was not excited about being interrupted. “Who could be texting me now?” I wondered. It was my sister letting me know that the Bishop Curry was about to be interviewed on MSNBC’s The Week with Joshua Johnson.

My sister, Mary, is a huge Michael Curry fan. She never misses the chance to see him when he’s on the Today show talking with Hoda and Jenna, or on CBS’s This Morning, or, really, on any other TV program.

I knew Mary would text me again in the middle of the bishop’s appearance to ask what I thought, so I reluctantly switched over from the ballgame to MSNBC. The main reason Joshua Johnson had the Presiding Bishop on was to talk about his most recent book, Love is the way: holding on to hope in troubling times. But I suspect a second reason was because Joshua Johnson needed a dose of Michael’s positivity. In the midst of all the negativity that is part of this election cycle, our Presiding Bishop consistently talks about love and hope – not as nice ideas but as sources of power.

And he did that again on Sunday night, returning to themes that he repeats over and over again. Michael Curry preaches one sermon these days, and it’s all about love. “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God,” he says again and again. And he invariably brings up the story we read in today’s Gospel. He turned to it again on The Week when he was talking with Joshua Johnson. When the lawyer asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, Jesus didn’t hesitate. He said to the lawyer, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

What Vote Faithfully means is to vote out of love – our love of God, and our love for our neighbors. There’s no way to disconnect one from the other. The person who wrote the First Letter of John put it this way, “If we won’t love the people we can see, how can we love the God we can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.”

As a person of faith, I believe I am called to love my neighbor, and one way to put that love in action is to advocate for public policy outcomes that promote the common good for all. Voting is one important way to do that. I am not asking you to vote on a partisan basis, or to vote based on your biases. I am asking you to vote your values based on the Law of Love – to vote the values of human dignity and equality.

Since I’ve been preaching for a long time, you can imagine the number of times I’ve preached about a moral issue during an election season only to have a parishioner bring up the separation of church and state. They are, of course, inaccurately invoking the First Amendment to the Constitution which makes it clear that the “separation” is from the state side, not the church side. Yes, there are laws that prohibit political campaign activity by churches. But that has never meant silencing the moral voice of this faith community or the moral voices of any others.

As one writer puts it, “An authentic faith . . . always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, it hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed ‘the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics,’ the Church, ‘cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’”

So, Vote Faithfully. Vote regularly, to be sure, but vote your values especially this year – the values involved in loving “your neighbors as yourself.” Vote out of love for your neighbors who have lived with historic racial segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement that are continued today through active and passive systems. Vote out of love for the 500+ children who were separated from their parents at the Southern Border and may never be reunited with them. Vote out of love for your 200 neighbors who line up for RCS’s pantry every week that they may achieve a measure of life, liberty, and happiness. Vote out of love for this country, mindful of those who threaten to destroy the moral and social norms needed to hold us together – the leaders who, as one columnist said, are “instigating a degradation of America’s soul.”

Am I telling you how to vote? Yes, I am. I’m telling you to Vote Faithfully! I voted absentee back in Ohio, and on Thursday my prayers were answered. The Licking County Board of Elections received my ballot and reports that it’s ready to be counted. How about yours?

Amen.