Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

I doubt that St. Paul or St. John had American elections in mind when they wrote the lessons for today but I had them in mind when I read them. Because of that, I heard some things in the lessons that I thought important for us to consider this morning. It is certainly not my place or desire to influence your vote. I have opinions, as you do, but it is hardly fair for me to dress up like God and stand ten feet over your head to dole out my politics, which are neither more nor less worthy than yours. What I do want to do is think with you about two consistent aspects of the political process: speaking and asking. The phrase in Paul’s letter that gives special light to those two essential ingredients of democracy is “speaking the truth in love.” In a different and more balanced context I will be happy to tell you my political views and only slightly less happy to hear yours but for now let’s look together at truth and love in an election year.

St. Paul wrote to a small faith community, not to a large and complex nation. But the principles he established are not diminished by complexity. How we honor and apply them may vary, but principles themselves do not. That is what makes them principles instead of ideas or theories. Paul says that, in principle, it is not good to be like children “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.”

Was there ever a better description of what it is like in an election year? At some early point in this interminable campaign, truth shattered like glass so that tiny bits of it show up everywhere but wholeness, balance, and perspective seem to be left to historians and appear to be of little interest to campaigners. Their interest seems confined to tossing and blowing us about with trickery and scheming.

The antidote to that, says St. Paul, is “speaking the truth in love” because this moves us Christ-ward. This growing into Christ is not about an intellectual acceptance of the Christian narrative. Paul knows Christ to be what life is really about, the way and the truth and the life. He knows Christ to be the answer to how life really works, the bread of life that continually satisfies. Speaking the truth in love moves people toward the center where life’s deep meaning and effective means are to be found. That is our anchor in windy times.

Note that the anchor is truth and love. A friend of mine once told me that love without truth is sentimentality and truth without love is brutality. Although we often have trouble holding them together and political campaigns seem challenged to lay a hand on either one, they belong together. I have no suggestions or hope for changing the nature of campaigns. I do have some hope that we might be less subject to the tossing and scheming they impose upon us. I do not think the world will speak truth in love, but I think we can.

The beginning of true and loving speech is, oddly enough, listening. Good honest speaking is always based on good honest listening. We cannot speak truth to another’s mind and heart without knowing what is in that mind and heart. Hear the words of a wise man, William Stringfellow, who said this about listening.

“Listening is a rare happening among human beings. You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with … impressing the other, or are trying to decide what you are going to say when the other stops talking, or are debating about whether what is being said is true or relevant or agreeable. Such matters have their place, but only after listening to the word as the word is being uttered. Listening is a primitive act of love in which a person gives himself to another’s word, making himself accessible and vulnerable to that word.”

In an election context that means listening to the other side, not judging or preparing to pounce, just listening. In effective discussion one cannot disagree with another until you can state their position to their satisfaction. Until then you are having a misunderstanding, which means you don’t really know what the other is trying to say but are arguing with it anyway. Misunderstandings hardly ever serve truth or love, much less the two together. Consider then the counter-intuitive possibility that the way to be less blown about by crafty trickery is to seek truth through the primitive act of love called listening.

The Gospel for today picks up a different theme in election year survival. The setting is after Jesus had miraculously fed five thousand people. When they realized that he might be a source of food, they wanted to make him their king. So Jesus slipped away. In today’s Gospel the crowd found him. Jesus tells them they have been looking for him for all the wrong reasons. They were asking for bread and butter, but Jesus was not about that kind of bread: My bread is deeper than that. I am what life is about and I am here to show you how it works, not hand it out.

In an election year we are the crowds who keep asking for bread. Even those who do not need it keep asking for it. Elections are about me getting the bread I want without any hint of inconvenience, reduction or, heaven forbid, sacrifice on my part. Jesus made it clear in his teaching that life is about connections and relationships, a point that is affirmed by everything from theoretical physics to pre-school play dates. Jesus also demonstrated that life works best when self-giving trumps self-serving, a point affirmed by biology, psychology, sociology, and theology. But we drown out those truths in our clamoring for bread like tax breaks, social security, student loans, veteran benefits, schools, roads, bridges, jobs, health care, security, and government contracts. The list goes on and on.

All of these things have their place, of course, just as the crowd around Jesus needed sandwiches along with salvation. There are larger and smaller bits of shattered truth in all of our requests and hopes. But they are not what life is about, and getting them is not ultimately what makes life, or a nation, work. The truth is that life is about being connected and then using that connection to offer something to others.

One of the best definitions I know of love is ‘actively seeking that which is best for another.’ In this context, speaking the truth in love is being connected to others and actively seeking what is best for them. How much of that do we hear in an election year? Precious little. And it is not because of those crafty schemers. It is because of us. We, like the crowd around Jesus, keep demanding bread. Campaign-ers, unlike Jesus, do not tell the truth but pander to us, promising us more bread than could possibly be delivered.

Consider the counterintuitive possibility that what Jesus told the crowd — those who wanted to make him king because of one kind of bread — he could be saying to us: Keep your eye on the bread of life, the kind that connects us to others and leads us to seek that which is best for them.

I know and you know that neither St. Paul nor Jesus had this or any election in mind when they talked about speaking the truth in love and having the bread of life. But what they said could make us a little less tossed and blown by this election process and a little less narrow as we participate in it. Amen.

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