St Bride's: Sermons

Election Season, again

There is a Chapter of the book of Kings that refers to the spring as the time when armies went out to battle. Waging war was a seasonal matter. And so it seems is holding elections in Britain....

As the daffodils start to bloom and May - by which I mean the month, not the Prime Minister - comes over the horizon, the nation is full of the modern equivalent of armies going out to battle, in the shape of political parties, leaflets, broadcasts and so on... All leading to the great day of battle, the election

And this year we have both the local elections in some parts of the country on Thursday of this week, 4th May, followed by another - some would say unnecessary or premature - General Election on June 8th. There seems to be a general view from the media that people are fed up with them and the glorious vox pop from Brenda in Bristol, when the General Election was called, did illustrate a certain war weariness about Elections. Why can't they just get on with governing?

The war weariness is not helped by a sense of the electoral armies being in some state of disarray.

People who have generally been keen to vote or have a sense that it is their right and duty to do so, are asking, for the first time who on earth am I going to vote for? What are we faced with in terms of political parties?

A Labour Party that seems to have torn itself apart - and may or may not be led by a 'mugwump'.

A Conservative Party that is also somewhat divided about how Brexit should happen, with a leader advocating grammar schools and an education Secretary saying 'Not so much...'

A Liberal Democrat Party unsure whether they can recover from their post-coalition demise.

UKIP, which has lost the controversial leader who kick-started Brexit and seems to have disappeared to America, seems even more unsure of who they are now Brexit is happening.

And the Green Party who have great ideals, some might say too many, but struggle to get media coverage and whose resources are a fraction of those available to the two main parties.

It is democracy but it might arguably feel like the remnant of the two-party political system as we have known it. The election malaise is not helped by possibly bewildering trends from the US and other parts of Europe that also show a breakdown of confidence in the political parties we have known. And further doubt is sown by questions of how far we can trust what we see in the news and what people, especially politicians, are saying.

At least one of my clergy friendsĀ  - not I hasten to add your Rector - has bemoaned on Facebook that she really does not know how to vote this time round as the options seem so unpromising - for the first time in her life she is considering not voting.

There are parallels with the community we hear about in this evening's first reading, which features God speaking through the prophet Haggai to a remnant of Israel. These were the survivors of the Jewish community - a people dispirited after wars had demolished them to the point of being taken into exile in Babylon. They had seen swept aside all they held dear, all their certainties, their whole way of life, their community, their hope for the future and their faith in God - symbolised by the destruction of the Temple. Then they had endured years in exile in a foreign land, without their Temple or much else; and now some of them have crept back to Israel, to try to rebuild the society they had before. There are not many of them, they have to rebuild a community as well as their House of God.

God through Haggai speaks to them, reminding them that though much that was certain has been swept away, yet what was good, even glorious, about their former society, can be rebuilt. And God shakes up this remnant of Israel to hold on to hope and recognise that God is in their midst, God is there despite the loss of the old certainties - despite the loss of the Temple - and that loss is not the end but an opportunity to build anew; even a chance to build something better than before....

It is a message of hope and a promise, reminding them of God's promise to the Israelites since Moses led them out of their Egyptian exile and slavery, just as they are now returning from their Babylonian exile. But building new societies and temples does not happen overnight; it does not happen in sound bites; it happens brick by brick, through persistent and painstaking labour, as the tedious task of putting one brick on top of the other finally builds towards the longer-term vision, the hoped for and promised vision of a better society.

And so it is with politics; alongside the headlines and latest news of electoral disaster or foot in mouth - and the sound bites for which Andrew Marr has so pointedly taken politicians to task this morning - are the stories of people putting themselves forward for election, out on the doorsteps talking to people, household by household - not taking what they have to say for granted but engaging with real people, on real doorsteps, listening to real concerns and real aspirations.

Politics is about making real - and often very hard - decisions about how much of the budget goes on vital but everyday things like social care, books for schools, repairing roads, collecting the bins and all the nitty gritty of what makes our society tick. That is what politics and elections and democracy are really about - the painstaking labour of building the vote so as to get elected and then making decisions about how services are delivered and taxes spent. Or, if you're not the winning party, holding to account the decisions of those who do win the election. Both winners and the opposition are needed in a healthy democracy.

Yesterday I was out on the doorsteps of households in Surrey prior to the Local elections there this Thursday. In one part of the neighbourhood I was knocking on doors of large houses with drives so long I was jogging up them to save valuable time to talk to people. In another part of the same neighbourhood, literally a couple of street corners away, I was visiting the flats of people in a very different income bracket. Two particular conversations stand out; one with a gentleman in one of the large houses who said he didn't need to worry about public services and social care as he had private provision - but he was concerned about the cycle lanes as he liked to get about by bike when he could.

The other with a lady in one of the flats who was widowed, probably about the same age as the gentleman in the large house, but living a very different life. She couldn't afford her own social care, her arthritis meant she couldn't cycle and she couldn't afford a car; she is dependent on public services and public transport. Both are children of God, both are members of our community, our democracy, both are entitled to cast their vote and have their views heard and both are members of that small Surrey community; yet their paths may never cross. It is an indication of how our society has lost some of its bricks and become fragmented

Two of the institutions that might help to put back some of the bricks into the fabric of our society are politics and the church. To start with politics - politicians and those canvassing like we did yesterday - cannot avoid the real human beings whom they represent - and in particular the ones who are at risk of being left behind, the majority of our society who do need public services and care of one sort or another.

For a brief moment in last year's Brexit campaign there was a recognition - when Jo Cox was murdered - of the dedication and commitment that the vast majority of politicians at local and national level put into serving and building up their communities. Trying to make a difference for the people they serve, for a good politician represents all who live in their area not just those who voted for them. So when I was a Councillor in Brighton I had meetings with the tenants associations in the council flats that dominated the estate, as well as the second home-owners with flats in the Marina and the wealthier homes of Roedean.

The church too, is about building communities and building bridges between people. That theme of building is there in our second reading as well as the first, as Paul talks about laying foundations on which to build the body of Christ, building up churches, bringing together people often of very different backgrounds.

My sending church - the one that sent me off to train for priesthood - brings together the council estate of Ordsall with Media City and Salford Quays. At one point the Lord Lieutenant made tea alongside the head dinner lady at the local primary school and it was the dinner lady who was the churchwarden. These days, the other church I'm often at on Sundays, at St Giles, Cripplegate, brings together lawyers, financiers and others who live in the Barbican with 95 year old Molly who has always lived on the Golden Lane estate.

This building up of community, building bridges across differences, engaging with the complexity of life in its fullness, is of the essence of Christianity. For engaging with the fullness of life, as found in politics and churches, is what the Christ who is our foundation came to do, not to sit as God on high but becoming human to enter fully into the messiness of our lives and communities.

Engaging in politics is a recognition that all are children of God, all are the temples of the Holy Spirit that Paul talks about in Corinthians, for all bear the image of God and all are part of our community, especially the least and the poorest. And we are called to keep on hoping and looking for the God who is with us; the God who directly and through our prophets says, "do not fear, be strong, for I am with you.... and you can build something better than what came before..."

So even if you feel a bit dispirited at the current electoral choices and a bit battle weary from elections... like that remnant of Israel, please take hope, do not fear, be strong and remember that messy though it looks, God is there even in the electoral system - in our democracy and the communities it tries to build.

And if we community and democracy, our electoral system and our church depend on us to be the hands and feet and eyes of Jesus' body, the church, remembering that we are all God's children, all temples of the Holy Spirit and all made in the image of God.

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