The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Oh Lord uphold thou me that I may uplift thee. Amen.
Do you remember some of these words from years past? “These are difficult times for our country, and I pledged to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face. I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity.” John McCain on losing the election to Barack Obama.
Or, “Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, ‘partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.’ Well, in that same spirit, I say to president elect Bush, that what remains a partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country.” Al Gore on losing the election to George W. Bush.
“Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transition of power. And we don’t just respect that. We cherish it.” Hillary Clinton on losing the election to Donald Trump. “I have said repeatedly in this campaign that the president was my opponent and not my enemy. And I wish him well. And I pledge my support and whatever advances the cause of a better America, because that’s what the race was about in the first place, a better America, as we go into the next century.” Bob Dole on losing the election to Bill Clinton.
And finally this extraordinary letter left by George H.W. Bush in the oval office for Bill Clinton. “Dear Bill, when I walked into the office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that too. I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness that some presidents have described. There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticisms you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice, but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course. You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success is now our country’s success. I’m rooting hard for you. Good luck, George.”
I know there are many of you out there this morning who were overjoyed by the results of our current election. And I know there are many, many others who are deeply sad and disappointed. In recent days, I have been doing a lot of thinking about elections past. Truth be told I was pleased with the outcome of some of them and disheartened by the outcome of others. But in almost every case, I was proud of our democratic process and the way that, in the end, each candidate honored the values of our democracy.
Hard fought, sometimes vicious campaigns ended with a winner and a loser and joy and sadness, triumph, and defeat, yet as evidenced by the words above that, I just read, there was always a common love for the sacredness of our democracy that took precedence over everything in the end. In each case, these politicians realized that there were values at stake that were larger than our own political aspirations. Values that in the end, superseded their ambitions. Our parable for this morning about the ten maidens is a story about being ready about being prepared. As a precursor to the message of advent, we are reminded today to keep our proverbial lamps trimmed and full because Christ the bridegroom is coming, and we must remain alert and ready to receive him. From the point of view of our current situation, our gospel for this morning speaks to me about need all of us continually have to keep our metaphorical lamps full, not of oil, but of the values that we need in order to shine the light of Christ’s love into this world and push back the darkness of despair.
It speaks to me, of the need protect those values, stand up for those values. Because without them, there is only darkness. Values that point to the essence of our faith and our democracy – love, justice, freedom, equality, dignity, hope, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, service. The very same values that I think undergirded each of the statements made that I read at the beginning as George Washington said in his farewell address of 1796, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain, would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them.”
My friends, the truth of the matter is the gospel has deeply political implications. In all times and in all places, the teachings of Jesus have far reaching consequences for how we govern ourselves for how we treat one another. The gospel has much to say about what we should value in all of our human interactions. From my point of view, to say that there is nothing political in what Jesus taught is not to understand what Jesus taught. But the gospel is not partisan. It is not the property of one political party or another. In fact, as Washington pointed out, the way of love taught and lived by Jesus Christ offers a much needed critique to each and every political party. As a result in the months to come, we who consider ourselves followers of Jesus must work to lift up the values of the gospel that stand above party, to lift up the values of the gospel that critique our politics, values that stand above and beyond any and all political platforms. It is those values that claim my heart and soul. And it’s those values that our country needs now more than ever.
In an article written earlier this week, Mitch Albom who wrote Tuesdays with Morrie said, “The truth is, our future won’t be determined by who we choose to lead us this week. It will be determined by how we act after we do.”
He’s right, isn’t he? The election is over, but we remain an extremely divided nation. While I celebrate that we have our first female vice president, a woman of color whose election smashes yet another barrier to full inclusion, Album is right. Having a new president and vice president won’t mean as much if we are not willing as a people to look beyond our political affiliations and work for the common good of all Americans. We have to put the healing of the nation above our political loyalties. Always remembering, as Bishop Mariann reminded us in her sermon earlier this week, that this doesn’t mean plastering over the unfinished work we need to do. This does not mean promoting healing over justice. This means continuing to pursue justice so that our healing as a nation can be real and lasting.
My friends, we have so much work to do. And while we are supposed to disagree in this democracy, while we are supposed to argue our competing ideas, we are not supposed to hate one another. That is not the way. Hate is not the way. We have to uplift the values of honor, decency. The value of recognizing that like it or not, we are all in this together. We have to cling to the truth. That honesty matters. That integrity matters. As Bishop Curry said in an interview this week on the Today Show, “I want to suggest that we can find common ground when we make a decision that I care about you as much as I care about myself. And when we do that, we can disagree without being disagreeable. We can find common ground and we can heal this country.”
In our parable for this morning, five of the ten bridesmaids were wise and they kept their lamps trimmed and full of oil. We too must be wise and do the same thing between now and the return of our Lord, it is up to us to keep our lamps trimmed and full, full of what Saint Paul describes as the fruits of the spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Each of us, in our own, way from wherever we are in life have to shine the light of Christ’s love and forgiveness across our strained and divided nation, promoting the values of our democracy, that surpass political parties. Recognizing that I cannot be truly free and safe as an American until I am willing to make sure that you are truly free and safe as an American.
We have a long way to go. We have a lot of work left to do. But this democracy of ours is a gift from God and it deserves our very best efforts to preserve and protect it. Amen.