The presidential election season is in full bloom. Political sniping will soon reach a new apex. As the months go by, we will grow weary of the coarse political discourse and will breathe a sigh of relief on November 5th.
And yet, the political season is an opportune time to turn to the texts of our faithbe reminded of the values we hold most dear. This is an opportune time to remember that politics--though vitally important--are only one sliver of our ever more complex lives.
Unfortunately, faith and politics often conjoin to form a noxious mix in this country. Faith can too easily become intoxicated by the promise of power and prestige. Tempted by the siren call of political clout and media attention, faith can quickly lose its prophetic edge and its ability to speak truth to power. After all, how do you speak truth to the power when you are the power? When faith and politics combine, love and compassion are too often the first values we lose.
Politics can too easily become enamored of its sanctity. Draped in flags, festooned with garlands of public acclimation, and sanctified by civic rituals, politics and politicians can quickly forget that they are flawed, broken human beings commissioned by fellow citizens to represent not their holiness but the interests of their neighbors. After all, how can you represent others when you and your positions have supposedly received the sanction of the divine?
Two biblical texts this week, however, invite some other possibilities.
The Lord is My Shepherd
Psalm 23, along with John 3:16, is perhaps one of the most familiar of biblical texts. Familiarity, of course, can breed contempt. Or at least, our familiarity with this salm can dull its luster. In this case, both of these texts often lose their power because they seem utterly ordinary, even trite or platitudinous. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I was in seminary, I served as an intern hospital chaplain for a summer. As I met individuals and couples from all kinds of cultural and religious backgrounds, there was a striking consistency.
Everyone knew the 23rd Psalm.
Many wanted to recite it at moments of great trial. Patients who struggled to remember the names of their children could still declare, “The Lord is my shepherd.” People who had long left faith behind still returned to this text. Why is that?
I wonder if the power of this salm resides partly in the honesty of its words. It does not paint a picture of a world devoid of pain and suffering. After all, at the very center of the psalm is an acknowledgement of the dark valleys of our lives and the enemies--both physical and spiritual--we face. God’s care for us does not mean that we live in a daily paradise, devoid of all troubles. Instead, Psalm 23 confesses that even in the midst of such tribulations, God remains with us.
Who is My Shepherd?
What shape then does God’s presence take in our lives? Here a reading in 1 John 3:16-24 is most helpful. This passage points to Jesus’ sacrifice as the ultimate embodiment of God’s love for us. That Jesus laid down his life for us, however, comes with a price. We too must lay down our lives for others. In the terms of Psalm 23, because God walks with us in the shadowed valleys, we too must walk with our neighbors as they struggle. How is God present? God is present through us and through our neighbors.