This morning`s Gospel is a gospel for troubled hearts. (John 14.1-14) If that`s how you might describe yourself just now I hope that you take that point in. I hope you hear Christ`s message of a spacious mercy; and a voice that you can trust to lead you through whatever you are facing. I say this because this is the bedrock of any relationship with Christ. What someone called `the sustained decision to take God as the God of MY life`. There is something foundational here in these words of Christ, which are a balm for troubled hearts.
So firstly, this is what we affirm today in our worship. That we will go from this place hearing, trusting and following the one who calls himself `the way, the truth and the life`. And secondly, I hope we might pause for a moment to appreciate what a gift this is. I`m emphasising this because it seems to me that nowadays perhaps despite outward appearances we are surrounded by so many troubled hearts.
Earlier this week I received- along with all of the clergy- a short message from Bishop James in which he asked me to encourage you to cast your Vote in the forthcoming Elections. And I`m sure you`ll know what I mean when I say that it occurred to me that the very thought of elections these days causes trouble in so many hearts. If the press and media are to be believed, voter apathy and low turnout is frankly endemic. Hardly a day goes by without some expression of dismay about the behaviour of someone in what we call `public life`. There is, it seems, a widespread cynicism about `leadership` and our ever-present argumentative atmosphere seems to generate far more heat than light.
What I`m getting at is that this results in troubled hearts. We are drawn into this picture of our national life and perhaps understandably are tempted to despair; to withdraw or to declare a plague on all their houses. Putting it simply, the troubled hearts are left unsure who to listen to anymore; unsure whom we might trust and unsure whom to follow. My point this morning is that we Christians are not immune from these feelings or temptations. We` don`t occupy any neutral or privileged space but since we have been drawn into friendship with Christ- the way the truth and the life- I want to suggest that our faith gives us a particular perspective; one which preserves us from troubled hearts.
Firstly, I think our faith invites us to get real about the limits of leadership. There`s a very wise verse in one of the Psalms which reads, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of earth”. Now a remark like this might be taken for cynicism but actually it`s about realism and a proper perspective when considering those we place in authority. Frankly, I wish sometimes that we could declare a moratorium on using that word `leadership`. It does seem to me that we have a collective Messiah complex in which we invest far too much in some very fallible and completely overstressed, overwhelmed and yes, monetarily completely over valued individuals.
We put them on a pedestal, whether in industry, politics or church; and putting aside the vanity and hubris they feel we forget to note that many of the misdemeanours they commit are often short-cuts or attempts to hang on to both the adulation and the impossible position we have given them. `Getting real` about leadership involves firstly, resisting the temptation to be blinded by this cult of the leader. If you want an example just look at how many in the media go weak at the knees when interviewing anyone in a white coat whose labelled scientist! Whatever we might love to believe about them they are after all, simply human beings.
And secondly, getting real about leadership means compassionately standing back from the almost ritualistic condemnation of those who fall from grace. We of all people should not be surprised by the tendency to sin that lurks within. But listen carefully to yourself next time you`re hurling remarks at the TV or Radio. I recall a member of Parliament gently rebuking some Christian Students who were making some very critical comments by saying: “You have every right to those views- I only ask `Do you pray for us`?” So before launching into that tabloid-style rant, imagination and compassion for the people who occupy these roles is a healthy and much needed corrective.
So firstly, get real about leadership; but secondly, beware of becoming a spectator. It`s often observed that `politics is too important to be left to the politicians`. Quite so, but if there is a disconnect between those who govern and the rest of us I sense that it`s because we have allowed ourselves to become spectators. For good or ill; those who stand for elections and all the rest (with all their mixed motives) are only really distinguished from the rest of us by their willingness to get their hands dirty. They often (not always of course) begin as what are called `activists`. Which is just another way of saying that they exercised their civic responsibility; a responsibility we easily neglect because on the one hand we doubt we can make any difference and sometimes it all gets a bit argumentative; or because we`re cowed into believing the old lie that faith and politics don`t mix:
This means we have little vision –I`ll return to this in a moment; and we`re lulled into being side lined since because we`re people of faith our views are somehow thought less admissible that anyone else`s. But again, we forget that we are up to our eye-balls in civic life. Much of the country`s voluntary sector would collapse overnight if we all pulled out. No, a healthy democracy requires that we refuse to be side-lined. We have a vote, we have every right to take part and we should prayerfully do so.
So get real about the limits of leadership; avoid being a spectator and thirdly have sense of proportion. Just as we should avoid turning our leaders into Messiahs so also we should listen in a carful and balanced way to the visions and philosophies they offer. These need to be closely examined in the light of our faith.
The resort of so many troubled hearts is to cling to the fallacy that these leaders of ours will carry us off to some perfect world. Their economic, social and political mantras are often compelling; especially when given saturation coverage. But so often what lies behind what we`re offered are values and visions of human kind which are at best limited and at worst malevolent. Some people here are experienced enough to know what the rise of an unthinking and uncritical nationalism can do. This seems to be emerging in a number of guises these days doesn`t it? And this is every bit as dangerous as adopting an equally unexamined set of economic theories which either appeal to people`s baser instincts or serve vested interests.
Now, I`m not forgetting that of course; it`s the almost perpetual failure of our leaders to actually deliver the goods which is leading to the cynicism. I`m simply saying firstly, that we should adopt a measured acceptance of their limitations and instead of calling down a plague on all their houses respond with a vision of our own.
The New Testament has a rich seam of reflection on those in authority. It sees them, at their best as God`s instruments in the world. Whilst that might sound odd it teaches us to pray for them, encourage them and steer them towards the vision of the world held out by Christ: the Kingdom of God.
I`m suggesting that we are preserved from cynicism by the truth that God knows what he is about. His desire to transform and recreate his world has been revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have no business falling into despair; we have no business being surprised by the folly and sin of those we elect to govern us. Our prior loyalty to God and his vision of the world means that we refuse to see any politician, party or philosophy as embodying or containing everything that will lead to heaven on earth. We will view our leaders with compassion and pray for them. We are not spectators but participants in God`s purposes. Our task is to play a full part in our community, refusing to be cowed, cynical or despairing by how messy it can sometimes be and continuing to point to Christ- the way the truth and the life and the real saviour of troubled hearts.