“The state and the religious conscience are not good bedfellows. The bed is too narrow and the blanket too short!” –Martin Luther, as quoted by Dr. Eric Gritsch
“Worldly authority cannot force us to believe, it can only outwardly prevent people from being led astray by false teachings – else how could we oppose the heretics? Answer: That is the task of the bishops, to whom this task has been delegated, and is not within the sphere of the princes. Heresy cannot, after all, be opposed with violence: it must be differently handled, for this battle and striving may not be met with the sword.” –Martin Luther, On Worldly Authority
“Love your neighbor, as yourself.” –Jesus, Mark 12:31
Today is Election Day in a very polarized country and after another bruising election cycle. These words of Jesus and Luther echo in my head as I approach my civic duty to cast my own ballot. Since I turned 18, I’ve not ever missed the opportunity to exercise this right and duty, reminded often by my late grandfather, “I fought in World War II to protect that right!”
I would dare say that there has been much prayer surrounding the outcome of today’s elections, from the top of the ticket down the ballot to the most humble of public service. A pastor friend from CPE, Beth Jonas, exercised right judgment, in my mind, when she called her congregation to be in prayerful vigil for this day and the days to come. They have gathered each week since the conventions for prayer, and have prayer partners who are blanketing each hour of the day with prayer for all the candidates and the unity of our common life as Americans.
Prayer is a right posture to approach the weightiness of this day; prayer that honors our relationship with God. Our prayer is not about manipulating or coercing God to make the world as we believe it should be, it’s “an exercise in bending our will to the shape of God’s coming kingdom,” admonished my colleague, Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, ELCA. “Thy will be done,” we pray, “on earth as it is in heaven” kind of prayer.
Two years ago as we were in the throes of the presidential election cycle, our own Virgil Cain, pastor of Trinity, Smithsburg, put out a wide call to prayer on Facebook (you can also see that post on my Facebook page, I shared it). Pastor Cain concluded, “[Prayers are] not partisan. They are an attempt to help us recognize that we can only move forward with God’s help, and with the grace and wisdom that only the Holy Spirit can bring. May God watch over our nation, guide us in this election, and help us to begin healing the wounds the election has inflicted.”
Perhaps the most weighty counsel I have carried into this day came from Pastor Chuck Erzkus, then at Christ, LaVale. In his post-Presidential election newsletter article, he reminded his congregation that our unity as the church is in Christ, and that doesn’t change today, tomorrow or ever.
So, sisters and brothers all, vote your conscience today. Be neighbor to one another – after this last year, we can see that there is a lot of work to do, and a lot of healing needed to address what being neighbor means. And tomorrow, let us begin the churchly work of rebuilding community, nation, and world – for Jesus’ sake.
Lord God, you call your people to honor those in authority. Help us elect trustworthy leaders, participate in wise decisions for our common life, and serve our neighbors in community. Bless the leaders of our land, that we may be at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. –Prayer for the Nation, ELW p. 77.
This is a revision of my Blog post of November 8, 2016