1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Matthew 23:1-12

I received a church newsletter this week (no, not ours). It included – no, it was mostly taken up by – a voter guide. It looked well researched by the outside organization that put it together, and it carefully limited itself to the candidates’ positions on various issues. It made sure to preserve the church’s tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status, even including a letter from a lawyer certifying that everything complies with federal election law. In keeping with all those important laws, the guide didn’t give a formal nod to any individual candidates, but it’s not bragging to say that I’m smart enough to know whom I should vote for.

At least this newsletter also included a pastor’s letter acknowledging that no party is perfect. The pastor noted that if Jesus ran for president, he would disappoint both parties: No party could wholeheartedly support Jesus’ defense of life, love for his enemies, and strict position on evil, all at the same time. But again, the conclusion of this letter clarified which issues matter most. It’s no surprise that one candidate clearly deserves my vote more than the other (and this is legally not an endorsement).

I’m ambivalent enough about politics, but I can’t just not add my voice to this conversation. Not because I disagree with any particular position this church newsletter took, but because this is just not how the conversation is supposed to go. No single set of moral issues is absolutely important, to the exclusion of all other issues. In fact, there is no single set of issues we can call “moral” in the first place. Every issue that’s been discussed during this election campaign is morally charged.

So please, don’t take my political preferences as God’s word. Don’t take anyone’s political preferences as God’s word, for that matter. Don’t let anyone simplify this decision for you: you have to make sense of politics for yourself. Yes, I will say unequivocally that people and nations are judged on their deeds. I’ll say just as unequivocally that no person, no nation, no set of issues is ever perfect. Political life has always been built on compromise, and that I will call the truth!

No candidate in any race Tuesday will ever solve all the problems facing the United States. It’s not that I don’t think one candidate will do a much better job than the other, but despite what you may have heard, he’s not the Christ either. The Son of God is not running for any office this year. Jesus made clear over and over, the Christ is emphatically not running. Ever.

We tend to expect a Messiah to lead us. We have since the people of Israel asked Samuel to anoint them a king. People expected the same in Jesus’ day. We want a political leader – or a military general – to fix the world so we don’t have to. We want a teacher, a Rabbi, a king. Jesus warns us, beware that you don’t get called any of those things.

It takes a powerful kind of ambition to try for any of these positions, and there’s a deep moral danger in this ambition. Douglas Adams said it well: “Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” Now, anyone running for President must do so out of love for their country, because it’s a lousy job no matter how you slice it. But the process of getting into this job is broken in ways that we can’t fix. Both of the major candidates have spent two years campaigning to lead an unimaginably powerful country, in a world where virtue is very hard to tell apart from opportunism.

So pray that the Holy Spirit will be at work on Tuesday. Don’t pray because the Holy Spirit has a firm ideological position to uphold, but pray that millions of voices together can collectively speak wisdom. Pray that the Spirit will be at work in your vote (yes, vote – but don’t expect to be unconflicted about the choice). Pray for the Spirit to be at work in the votes of people committed to ideals beyond their own self and their own money. Pray that the Spirit will be at work in the votes of a reconciled people, who are able to see beyond disagreement because they have been reconciled to God in Christ.

Pray also with your actions, on Tuesday and afterward. This is the prayer Christians have to lift up. Pray that while the arc of history may be long, it still bends toward justice for all, because without justice “for all,” there is no justice for anyone. So our prayer is not to ask God to “get the government in line.” Our prayer is to get ourselves in line with God’s acts already, because God’s doing is good news in this world.