I decided in July 2020 that I didn’t want to preach October 2020. Preaching corona-season was hard. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor seasons were harder. I didn’t think I’d have the energy to preach 2020’s election season. I don’t know whether it’s wisdom or cowardice; but now that we’re here, all I have to say is #NoRegerts.
But then we got to the Wednesday Bible Study at our church (which usually follows the lectionary) and this week’s reading, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. It’s a relatively innocuous passage. Uncontroversial. But there’s this one word in verse four that caught me and wouldn’t let me go.
“For we know, brethren, beloved of God, that he has chosen you…”1 Thessalonians 1:4
The Greek word for “chosen” here is eklogen, literally “election.” It doesn’t mean the brethren of the church have been elected in a democratic election (although there’s a joke in there somewhere about salvation by a two/thirds-Trinitarian-supermajority). The eklogen here is God’s choosing the church, making us the ones God elects for a particular work. But that notion of God’s eklogen exposes a deep vein of the theme of Election in the scriptures.
In the Bible’s first and only “national election,” it is Abraham, with his wife Sarah, who is elected to birth a new nation by the will of God. They’d never be the ones we’d vote for. They’re old. The kind of folks whose Corona deaths our modern nation is all too quick to write off. Yet, even old and barren (and dysfunctional), they are the ones God elects for this nation-building endeavor.
More unlikely elections follow. Jacob is elected despite being a second-born weasel. Joseph is elected despite being a rejected goodie-two-shoes. Moses is a stutterer (and a murderer). David was a runt and an adulturer (and a murderer). All these elections, even to public office, of un-pedigreed, illegitimate, and inexcusable characters are later catalogued in the Gospel of Matthew. They’re all lined up in a genealogy that ends like this:
“… Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.”Matthew 1:16
Jesus is the latest descendant from a long line of sinners who constitute the nation born of Sarah, elected by God.
Early in his ministry he was popular, with bump after bump in the polls, but toward the end of his 33rd (or so) year in office, public opinion shifted. The one whom God had elected was rejected by the party leaders, and even by his hand-picked campaign staffers.
On election day (the one democratic moment to be found in the scriptures) when the people are invited to use their voice, they (we) vote for Barabbas instead. Jesus is sentenced to crucifixion.
On the cross, the Elect of the elect from God’s own nation is driven out of office in shame. Crucified. This is what we voted for.
That’s what makes Easter like a cosmic October surprise. Rather than some salacious story renders a candidate un-electables, the news of the Resurrection is what ratifies Christ’s election. The One whom the electorate rejected is raised and revealed as the truly and duly Commander in Chief, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Name above all names, God’s Elect.
Christ is the fulfillment of God’s election of Israel, the fulfillment of a Bible’s worth of campaign promises, and the One through whom God extends the election of Israel to the people of every nation. As God’s elect, Christ sits on the throne at God’s right hand. The irony is that his throne is not made of wing-backed, brass-studded leather, but rough-hewn wood. The cross is the throne from which God’s divinely-elected official issues the executive order “Father, forgive them,” and proclaims a national victory, “It is finished.”
So, when Paul calls the church God’s beloved elected ones, he means they have been elected by God’s Elected One, welcomed as his citizens, as his ambassadors, even though we voted for the other guy.
This is, I believe, the key to surviving election season in America in 2020, that when it comes to the only election that ultimately matters, the results are already in, and Jesus Christ is Lord.
This is also the key to understanding what it means to be the church in any year. To be the church is to be citizens of a borderless nation whose ruler has no term limits, but is from everlasting to everlasting. Since we have been granted this citizenship, we can wake up on November 4th (or whatever date in 2021 this election is ultimately decided) and confidently say #notmypresident to whoever’s inauguration speech is on its fourth draft.
For Christians, neither Trump, nor Biden, nor Obama, nor Bush is our president. We don’t have a president. We have a Lord. We have a Savior, by whose election we have ourselves been elected into a nation which is constituted of and for all nations. We are, as Paul will say later, ambassadors: elected officials of Christ’s kingdom, sent in his name to live by the Law of Love, to order our lives by his grace, and to remember, at all times, that this is what God has elected to do, and that no subsequent election can change that.
For Christians, election season never ends. And that’s the good news.
Elect from every nation,from The Church’s One Foundation, SJ Stone 1866
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.