The following article is the transcript of a homily delivered by pastor and Body Politic reader Rev. Dr. Richard Hyde earlier this year. Rev. Hyde served as Associate Chaplain of Dartmouth College and pastored small churches in New England and California, earned a master's degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School and a doctorate in religion and public life from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and has lectured at the School of Advanced International Studies and the State Department. He is currently Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Gray, Maine.
This is the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, the last Sunday after Pentecost that we number as such. Next Sunday is the 27th Sunday after Pentecost, but we celebrate it as the Feast of Christ the King, an anticipation of Advent, the season of four weeks during which we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ the King, the Messiah, the Savior, Our Lord.
We have had an election. It was one of the most bitter in our history. One has to go back to the elections of 1800, 1828 and 1860 to find anything so bitter and contentious. I sometimes think that we have become so good at running powerful and often negative political campaigns that we are destroying our ability to accomplish anything and might even be destroying our ability to be one nation. Ambrose Bierce, the 19th Century American author of the Devil’s Dictionary, defined politics as the systematic organization of hatreds. It’s a definition that is supposed to make one laugh, but it’s not as funny as it once was, because that is so obviously what politics has become.
Whether this election was ultimately a triumph or a tragedy for you, I hope that you will be humbled or comforted by the good news of the gospel that God is in charge of history, that God is the one who saves us from ourselves and who deserves our ultimate trust. The Christian Church has seen presidents and prime ministers and kings come and we have seen them go. We celebrate the triumph of Christ in good times and bad and the times in between.
For our worship today I chose some very important verses from this very important Letter of Paul to the Romans and some very surprising verses from the Book of Job, what is otherwise one of the gloomiest books in the Bible, to help us finish the season of Pentecost and look forward to celebration of Christ the King.
These verses are perhaps the most comforting in the Bible. We always need to hear some words of comfort.
The verse from Job has become famous because of Handel’s Messiah.
“I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth”
This is the Gospel in miniature, as good as John 3:16 - “for God so loved the world that he gave his only son” - and I never get tired of hearing it. What an amazing premonition it is of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. I look forward to hearing it sung at Christmastime every year and never listen to it otherwise so as not to detract from how special it is. I know it’s not Christmas yet, but with the Holly Fair next week – close enough.
Then we turn to Paul for some lines even more magnificent although they have not been set to music:
...in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This news is still good some 2000 years after Paul announced it. In this time of great national divisiveness, we need to hear and share this good news. And since Christ is with us, may we dare to share the good news with those who need to hear it and with those with whom we may not have much in common.
I have read many thoughts about the recent election and our current predicament, but the best I have found were written down some 50 years ago, by British theologian John Stott:
“Our Christian habit is to bewail the world’s deteriorating standards with an air of rather self-righteous dismay. We criticize its violence, dishonesty, immorality, disregard for human life, and materialistic greed. ‘The world is going down the drain,’ we say with a shrug. But whose fault is it? Who is to blame?
Let me put it like this. If the house is dark when the night falls, there is not sense in blaming the house; that is what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is: “Where is the light?” Similarly, the meat goes bad and becomes inedible, there is not sense in blaming the meat; that is what happens when bacteria are left alone to breed. The question to ask is, ‘Where is the salt?’
Just so, if society deteriorates and its standards decline, till it becomes like a dark night or stinking fish, there is no sense in blaming society; that is what happens when fallen men and fallen women are left to themselves, and human selfishness is unchecked. The question to ask is, ‘Where is the church? Why are the salt and light of Jesus Christ not permeating and changing our society?’ It is sheer hypocrisy on our part to raise our eyebrows, shrug our shoulders or wring our hands. The Lord Jesus told us to be the world’s salt and light. If darkness and rottenness abound, it is largely our fault and we must accept the blame.”
I do not wish to lay a heavy burden on us this morning, but the nation needs healing and we know that our Redeemer liveth and he shall stand at the latter day on the earth. We need to bring this good news to our neighbors, to the people we like and the people we dislike. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us.