You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
In three days one half of these United States of America will be profoundly disappointed and personally despondent.
We just don’t yet know which half.
Half of all advertisement is wasted. We just do not know which half. $1 B of the $2 B spent on this Presidential election was, if not wasted, at least offered in a losing cause. Again, we today do not know which half.
A herd of elephants, a pride of donkeys, a country of these United States, more States and less United, these days.
You will, faithful listeners to Marsh Chapel, on WBUR, and otherwise, you will vote. I have no doubt about it. Good. And you have endured the preaching of the gospel this fall, from a venerable pulpit, and from a fallible preacher. Those especially who responded to the sermons on Biblical Justice, 9/16/12, and on Generosity, 10/14/12, both in harmony and dissonance, have, like love, ‘suffered long and been kind’. Thank you for your forbearance.
Given though the division, not to say war, between the states, or better said, within the states, or more precisely put, in the heart of Franklin County, just north of Columbus, Ohio, the home of Ohio Wesleyan University, a small Methodist college for small Methodists and others, incorporated in 1842, we may wonder, come this Sunday, whether the Gospel–love of God and love of neighbor–speaks to our incipient disappointment.
By the way, in case you had not heard, the whole election comes down to the single vote of one persona, of a young mother, a 2001 OWU graduate, with two children, who themselves will soon attend OWU, living in anti bellum home, four bedroom, shared driveway, on North Sandusky street, in Delaware, Ohio, across from the old ATO house, who attends Asbury Methodist Church, and is vice president of the Junior League. I believe her name is Mary. Or Martha. Or both.
Let me suggest that the Gospel speaks, to us, right now, in love. That is one thing about love, divine and human. It never ends. Campaigns will cease. Candidates will emerge or retire. Slogans will be put away, to be unearthed again. War chests will empty. Celebrations will come and go. Discouragement will be reborn into denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, then, it may be, acceptance. Some who are elected may learn that the position for which they graciously offered themselves is not exactly heaven on earth. Some who are defeated may discover that in losing they were not so much denied as spared. Not so much denied something as spared the actuality of it. We can be proud of those who will offer themselves for leadership and service, knowing the odds against them. Especially those who come up short, 49% not 51%. We owe them far more than we usually admit.
What would love of God and love of neighbor look like, Wednesday, November 7, 2012, the day after a national slugfest?
Well, who knows?
But, in part, I believe that the Markan Jesus’ summary of the decalogue, evokes something particular in us, this Sunday. Love. Love God. Love. Love your neighbor. Love. Now, there is also a neighboring verse that affirms love of enemies, of contestants and opponents, the consequence of love of God and love of neighbor.
Those who have listened to Marsh Chapel sermons these years, my own and those of my esteemed predecessors, know full well that this pulpit does not take lightly the consequences of political learning or lack thereof, social virtue or lack thereof, and spiritual piety or lack thereof. I refer you to the sermons just mentioned and preached some weeks ago. Real, dire, real, dreamlike, real decisive matters are at hand Tuesday. So, go and vote. The freedom of the pulpit encourages you, your own true identity in faith exhorts you, today’s Gospel itself leads you.
And what a Gospel reading! As was beautifully rehearsed from this pulpit last Sunday, Mark is a Gospel of Conflicts. In particular, Mark is a gospel wherein Jesus argues, with vehemence, with disciples and with opponents (scribes, Pharisees, and others). Since the river Jordan in Mark 1, Jesus has been at daggers drawn with the scribes, in particular. In 1:22, in 2:6, in 3:22, in 7:1, in 11:18, in 11:27. And we haven’t even gotten to the Pharisees yet. All of sudden, today, SURSUM CORDA, HEAR THE GOSPEL, Jesus meets a peacemaking scribe, an irenic soul, a kind opponent. Matthew and Luke will twenty years later erase, as if using an ‘etch a sketch’, this memory of kindness. Their scribe is a testing, testy type. But not here in Mark. In the heat of the battle, there is a quiet, kind conversation. Like those stories of Union and Confederate soldiers, across the line of battle, pausing to sing Christmas carols together, on Christmas eve. Like a Republican governor and a Democratic President finding something shared, something in common, in the teeth of a great storm. Something deeper, even than conflict, than power, than hatred, than self, is here. In the presence of a scribe! Of whom Jesus says, of this good scribe Jesus says, ‘you are not far from the kingdom of heaven’! I don’t know about you, but most days, if I could go home with that report card, I would rest my feet and rest my case. ‘The scribe sees with insight and hears with understanding’ (Marcus, 842). In love—and the scribe sees this—God is grabbing ahold of the world, and of us, again. A little Deuteronomy, and a little Leviticus, and a little love of God and neighbor. ‘Neither tragedy nor triumph, but trust’, we heard last week. And again today. ‘Fall in love with the world again’ we heard last week. And again today. ‘The healing of our faith is still possible’ we heard last week. And again today.
Hold onto free speech. Hold on to your own-most identity. Hold on to peace, like a river. And go and vote your conscience.
But after the voting, there remains the living, and, by our gospel, the loving in the living. What can this truly mean, come Wednesday? How shall we love God? By loving our neighbor. How shall we love our neighbor? By loving our opponent.
Let me propose an exercise. Its details may lack something, one point or another, from your point of view. Fear not. Add and delete your own spices and ingredients later. Remember this: Jesus and the good scribe talk. They talk. They listen, and speak. The summary of the law they affirm, as we know, was also affirmed by Rabbi Hillel, and as a way to condense to the two tablets of ten, five each, is not unique, or even remarkable, though quite portable, and useful. What is striking, here, is the relationship between the good teacher and the good scribe. They relate. The listen, and speak. In that manner, vein, and spirit, come Wednesday, consider an experimental exercise: consider why the other half votes the way they do.
So. You are a liberal. Good for you. I commend your liberality. But let me ask you something. Have you given much effort of thought to why half of the humans in the lower forty-eight, plus Alaska and Hawaii, disagree with you enough to vote for the other guy? For you liberals let me suggest three ‘l’s to consider. I mean, if we are to love God, love our neighbor, and love our contestant, then we might want to consider why the other side votes the way it does. Love is for the wise.
Life. Those more to the right of you in the choir loft tend to have a strong and particular view of the sanctity of life. Have you, Mrs. Liberal, really heard, I mean really deeply heard, this conviction? Now, we know there are manifold ways to be pro life, as a columnist well wrote the other day. But I wonder if, at some gut level, you have yet to appreciate, to approximate, what those to your right in the pew of life, think and say and believe, here? It will help us, all, down the road, if you can, at least, acknowledge, in detail, that with which you do not agree, in full.
Liberty. Those more to the right tend to have a fierce and protective sense of freedom, of liberty. O, I know that liberals love liberty and life too. My relative asked me once, though, why I thought conservatives did not want taxes taking their money. ‘Because they believe it is THEIR money’, I said. Individual responsibility matters. Personal holiness matters. Have you, Mr. Progressive, truly heard this? What you do, justly or not, deserves just response and reward. He who does not work, let him not eat, 2 Thessalonians. For freedom Christ has set us free, Galatians 5. Give me liberty, said Nathan Hale. Or give me…It will help us all, down the road, if we can, at least, respectfully and sincerely say that liberty is precious.
Limit. Those more to the right of you in the balcony are suspicious of large bureaucracies and big government. They see waste, where there should be frugality. They see ineffectiveness, where there should be fruitfulness. They see laziness supported, here, free ice cream given, here, a lack of rigor, discipline, and effort rewarded, here. Who governs least, he governs best, they think. Most of all, they see debt, endless and dangerous. They prefer to support private non profit groups, like the Salvation Army, or churches, or private missions. They have not even usually resorted to quoting John Wesley–get all, save all, give all you can–though they might have done so. Have you, Messr. Dreyfusard, adequately, honestly sized up the need for limits?
Love your contestant by knowing her view, and affirming the parts of if that you can.
You are conservative. Good for you. I commend your conservation. But let me ask you something. Have you given much effort of thought to why half of the humans in the lower forty-eight, plus Alaska and Hawaii, are voting for the other guy? For you conservatives let me suggest three ‘c’s to consider. If we are to love our contestant we might want at least to practice saying out loud why they vote the way they do. Love is for the wise.
Choice. When the chips are down and hard decisions need to be made, where is the liberty to be placed, where is the confidence to be invested? Those to your immediate left in the choir loft privilege liberty, in the sense of personal choice. The same affirmations under liberty, made a moment ago, might simply be inserted here. We recognize varieties of pro-choice positions. We know not everyone buys every party line. But, Mr. Conservative, have you truly, deeply considered what it would mean–I am speaking right now mostly to the men–to have your own health choices, of the most personal and most powerful kinds, made by others? Just how long, Mr. Mr., would you really put up with that? At least, can you see, why, from another perspective, choice is a deal maker or breaker?
Community. Those to your left in the pew tend to have a high view of what the common good should be. Maybe, way down left, they are reciting lines from ML King about the beloved community. They believe in building community, in doing things together, in sharing time and space and energy and resources. Or maybe they just have a memory of when their own family needed housing, needed food, needed health care, needed employment, or suffered through a Hurricane, and they think that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. They underscore that one’s own health finally requires a healthy population, that one’s own love of country requires a love of all the people, that one’s own security and freedom finally require a modicum of the same, provided for the whole. These lefties may have had a searing experience, up close and personal, with pain and poverty and peril. Let those who have much not have too much, and those who have little not have too little, they whisper. Liberty, yes. But justice, too. For all, in these United States.
Compassion. Those to your left in the balcony emphasize compassion. Their sense of pride, sloth and falsehood is heightened. There but for the grace of God, go I, they think. Their sense of hypocrisy, idolatry, and superstition, is heightened. They carry an acute memory of where and when things have gone badly wrong, in dispassionate ways. Children. Children in poverty. Children without primary health care, who sometimes become obese. Children in distress. Those just to your left, they are willing to forego a bit of frugality for the expansion of compassion. It matters deeply to them, this fall, whether or not another 40 million people, many of them children, will have access to health care, after Tuesday. Yes, they would rather spare the rod and spoil the child, if that means all children are fed, clothed, housed, taught, and healed.
Love your contestant by knowing his view, and affirming those parts you can.
Now let me close by moving from preaching to meddling. Maybe you think I have already been meddling!
Preaching since 1976, and my May 1976 departure from North Sandusky street, Franklin County, Ohio Wesleyan, Ohio, and a year living across the street, in the old ATO house, from the one person, Mary Martha, or Martha Mary, whose single vote will decide this election, my impression is that in practice we liberals are not always all that liberal and we conservatives are not always all that conservative. Here is what I mean. So, as a conservative, you believe in limited government, and think the private sector, including churches, should care for the poor. Fine. So, do you tithe? The average pledge in churches is 1% not 10% If you are so keen on limited government, a worthy goal, and think the civil society can carry the work, then why are you so limited in your giving to the churches and other eleemosynary institutions? (See what I mean about meddling?) So, as a liberal, you believe in community, in communal benefits, in the common good, the good of all. Fine. Do you build community? Do you take the time to participate in all those fallible, time consuming groups? Do you worship? Do you take the time and energy to build up the community, starting with the community of faith? Or do you lie in bed, or play golf, or something else, come Sunday. (See what I mean about meddling?) Here is what I mean. Let each be convinced, in his own mind. But practice what you preach. That is: I’ll expect a tithe from the conservatives and 100% worship attendance from the liberals, or, better yet, both from both! Devotion and service, love of God and love of neighbor, worship and generosity. Friends, these are things, right and left, over time that will last. Do these, and you will hear a divine whisper, ‘you are not far from the kingdom of heaven’.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
By the way, my name is Bob Hill, and I approve of this message!
The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel