The Sunday before the General Election: the devil you know?

by Kim on April 26, 2010

Next Sunday is the 5th Sunday of Easter. It also happens to be the Sunday before the General Election. The lectionary readings for the day provide rich pickings for a “topical” sermon.

In Psalm 148(:11), the poet calls for “kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth,” to render God praise. I guess the Prime Minister counts as a “ruler”, which the OED defines as “a straight-edged strip of rigid material”.

Acts 11:1-18 is the conclusion of the story of the Conversion of Peter (usually mistakingly called the Conversion of Cornelius). Plenty of material here about how the Spirit can use pagans, foreigners, even enemies, to wrongfoot and upend people who presume to tell us who is in and who is out - material, perhaps for a broadside at the pandering policies of all the major parties’ policies on immigration.

In John 13:31-35 Jesus gives his followers the New Commandment. So a sermon on self-sacrificial love? But don’t forget to remind the congregation that Judas has just left (v. 31) - then suggest that he has gone out to cast his vote - and that betrayal always lies at the heart of the people of God.

Finally, Revelation 21:1-6: the New Heaven and the New Earth. You could relate this passage to the outcome of the General Election by laughing for twenty minutes (make that ten if you’re an Anglican).

Me? I’ve been the minister at Bethel URC, in Labour-friendly Swansea West, for almost twenty-eight years, and most of the tendentious Tories that were in the church when I arrived harrumphed off in the wake of my letters and sermons during the Thatcher years. (If they’d stuck around for the Blair years, they’d now know how equitable I actually am.) So I won’t be preaching a “political” sermon. (However, just to be on the safe side, I will declare that anyone who votes for the BNP, even in protest, will thereby put their eternal salvation in grave doubt). Instead, I will be preaching part two of a series - planned before the announcement of the General Election - which began last week with “Death in the 21st Century”, and concludes the Sunday after next with “Heavens Above?” This Sunday? “Bloody Hell!” (God has a great sense of timing!) I will also tell the following joke:

While walking down the street one day, a MP is hit by a truck and killed. He arrives at heaven’s gate and is met by St. Peter. “Welcome!” says Peter. “But you present us with a problem: we seldom encounter such a high official here, so we’re not sure what to do with you.”
“Why not just let me in?” the MP says.
“No can do.” Peter says. “No, because you guys are so big on ‘choice’, I have been instructed to see that you spend one day in heaven, and one day in hell - and then you decide where you want to spend eternity.”
And with that Peter escorts the MP to an elevator, and down, down, down it goes. The doors open and - behold! - a golf course that makes Augusta look like a desert. And nearby, the 19th hole, with all the MP’s political friends - and enemies - dressed in £500 suits and milling around drinking and enjoying themselves. They embrace the MP and spend hours reminiscing about the good times they had while fleecing the people and ruining the country. Then, after a game of golf, everyone shooting under par, they dine on caviar, lobster, and champagne. The devil, of course, is there too, a real nice guy, quick with a joke, a smoke, and a top-up.
Then it is time to go, and everyone gives the MP a hearty farewell. He gets in the elevator and up, up, up it goes, and when the doors open St. Peter is waiting for him. “Now it’s time to visit heaven,” he says.
And then for twenty-four hours, the MP joins a group of teetotal hymn-singers (and so mainly Methodist!) who float from cloud to cloud. The MP gets bored out of his mind.
Finally, Peter returns. “Well,” he says, “you’ve spent a day in hell and a day in heaven. Now choose your eternity.”
The MP reflects for a moment and then says politely, “I don’t want to cause any offence, and heaven has been delightful, but I think I’d be better off in the other place.”
“Cambridge?” Peter winks… And then, “Okay, it’s your choice.”
Then Peter escorts the MP to the elevator again, and down, down, down it goes. The doors open. Alas, the golf course and clubhouse are gone; instead there is a vast barren waste covered with garbage. All his friends - and enemies - are still there, but they are no longer wearing £500 suits, they are dressed in rags, and they walk around picking up the trash and putting it in large black bags, as more trash endlessly rains down from above.
The devil comes over to the MP and puts his arm around his shoulder. “I don’t understand,” stammers the MP. “Yesterday I was here and everything was wonderful and everyone had a great time, now everything is horrible and everyone is miserable. What happened?”
The devil looks at the MP, smiles and says: “Yesterday we were campaigning. Today you voted.”

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }


Richard 04.26.10 at 11:29 pm

The old ones are the best!


Pam 04.27.10 at 11:26 pm

Kim - two things:
1. I’m starting to realise (slow learner that I am) that your parishioners would not be permitted to spend their faith journey in a comfort zone. Lucky things. (Don’t get a swelled head).
2. The Aust. poet Peter Porter died on Friday in London after living much of his life in Britain. A finely-worded obituary appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday. In his book “Better than God” which won The Age poetry book of the year in 2009, Porter said “God’s work in the world, if it exists, is only to be seen through the people we are who act it out. And so in a way, whether we invented him or he invented us, we have to live the life given to a human being on Earth. And we are so good at interpeting it and making it work.” Your thoughts on these words?


Kim 04.28.10 at 12:00 am

And we are so good at interpeting it and making it work.

Should there be a “not” in there, Pam? If, so my thought is, “I wish I’d said that!” If not, the world Porter is talking about is not planet Earth!

PS: I can at least say that the people at Bethel got what it says on the tin. When I first met them in the winter of 1982, I preached two sermons: one (after C.S. Lewis) on the the new thing God is doing (kainos, not neos), and the new, not “nice”, people God calls us to be, and the other on the evil of nuclear weapons. And then, when I arrived, I coupled my preaching ministry with with an intensive programme of visiting to get to know the people of Sketty and to begin to gain their trust. If your people know you love them, you can do - and get away with! - just about anything (though of course there is always some collateral damage).


Pam 04.28.10 at 1:44 am

I got the quote right. His book was in praise of human endeavour and imagination. Maybe I’m in a super good mood today but, on balance, I do agree (….sort of!).


Kim 04.28.10 at 7:37 am

Well, the old saying: it’s better to light a candle than [just!] to curse the darkness.

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