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We are less than three weeks away from the General Election now, which, as with all General Elections, is such a crucial time for our nation. Democracy is an incredible blessing for us and it is a deep privilege to be able to participate in the democratic process. It is more that a privilege, in fact. I personally believe it to be a deep-rooted responsibility for us to participate. In the 21st-century, we are very quick to claim our democratic rights but many people are far slower to acknowledge their democratic responsibilities. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand in a democracy.
Democratic participation takes many forms, of course - one of which is to vote on 7 May - but also to continue participating through working for social justice in between elections.
And not least, as Christians, we have a responsibility to participate by praying for our political leaders; praying for those who seek the honour of public office, regardless of the colour of their rosette.
To think about that in a bit more depth, I want us to focus on our first reading this morning, Psalm 2, which you’ll find in the first half of the pew Bibles on page 519.
This is a portion of Scripture that speaks profoundly into our contemporary context because, quite simply, it is about politics and the state of the nations and the standing of the nations before God.
It’s very timely for us to think about Psalm 2, given the political turmoil we see all around us and around the globe. Wherever we look, it seems the political landscape is changing; nations and stock markets and communities are facing immense stresses and strains. So perhaps more than ever, not just because of the General Election, it is our duty as Christians to be praying for our political leaders as they attempt to rationalise what has gone before and create structures for societies that are sustainable into the future.
A Prime Minister in the 19th-century, Lord Melbourne once said, “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life”. I hope none of us think like that, because there is no division between public life and faith. As Christians, our history is testament to the fact that prayer and action must play a part in the well-being of our nation.
But we know, don’t we, about the sense of disillusionment and betrayal that pervades our society, and most societies, when it comes to reflecting on the political process. I have to be upfront here and say quite clearly that I don’t buy into the lie which is peddled by so many in the media that politicians can’t be trusted, that they are all in it for personal gain, and that they are all corrupt. I don’t buy into the lie that is peddled by so many in the media that all politicians are the same, all political parties are the same, and that we should somehow distrust every motive, as if they are all tarnished by greed and arrogance. I think that’s a lie perpetuated to sell newspapers and keep us tuned into the TV channels…
Most politicians are hard-working, honest and people of integrity; trying to make a difference for their local communities against all the odds. I think that most politicians are to be respected and applauded; not treated as if they are some lower life form. And I think that many people in the media should be ashamed of the way in which they undermine the democratic spirit of this nation by their method of reporting and the stories they focus on.
But it is true that the political world is no utopia and that there are many in this nation who do feel disillusioned with politics.
If it’s any comfort, feeling disillusioned with politics is not a new phenomenon, verses 1-3 of Psalm 2: “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us’.”
There is being expressed here a real sense of disillusionment with political leaders and a real sense of disillusionment with morality in society: a sense that everything is going wrong; that things aren’t how they used to be. And in these verses, the Psalmist sets out three attitudes prevalent in society that are perhaps mirrored in our own world today:
First, there is arrogance, verse 1: “Why do the nations conspire…” Of course, that is not a comment on rebellion against unjust rulers or the overthrow of cruel dictatorships but a comment on rebellion against morality and the ways of God. It’s a plotting and a planning and a looking after Number One that is so wrong - and the Psalmist interprets this as rebellion against God.
In verse 2, he says that the rulers plot together against the Lord. Again, a depressing picture of earthly power coming together at the expense of the needs of the poor and marginalised, at the expense of the concerns of God.
And it’s not as if these leaders can claim ignorance for their defiant behaviour. In verse 3, it is made clear that they are aware of God’s expectations but they are so deluded, they think they can defy God and get away with it: ‘Let us burst [God’s] bonds asunder, and cast [his] cords from us’.
Here is an arrogance, a disobedience, a self-delusion, that has so often been at the heart of the pursuit of political power throughout the centuries – and in our day too. Here, the Psalmist is describing godless nations that pay lip service to faith but whose actions reveal pride and arrogance; nations that are governed by selfish desires and selfish pursuit.
But then we get a different perspective on the same situation in the next three verses. We get a birds-eye view or, better still, a God’s-eye view. Because rather than centring on the attitudes of the people, we are transported to heaven to see how God views the situation. And here, things are very different…
Verse 4: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision”. It doesn’t matter what the politicians dream up. It doesn’t matter how much the people plot and plan. It doesn’t matter how much they all stamp their feet and turn their backs on God. God laughs at our pathetic and rather childish attempts towards independence because, ultimately, he is God and we are his creatures.
And then we get God’s awesome response in verse 5: “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury”. None of us can hide from the anger of God when we choose to disobey him because ultimately, whether we like it or not, he is King and Lord of all. As he says in verse 6: “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill”.
And here we come to the crux of the matter: Who is this King whom God has set on his holy hill? None other than Jesus Christ. And it’s his Kingship, his claim to be Lord, which demands obedience from us.
Often, we hear people say that Christianity is a list of Do’s and Don’ts: a set of rules to be obeyed. But our call to obedience doesn’t come from the Ten Commandments. We don’t obey God by adhering to the Laws written in the Bible. We obey God simply because we have a relationship with Jesus - and part of that relationship means to accept his Lordship in our lives. So we try to live our lives according to his teaching, his standards, simply because he is our Lord.
Christian discipleship is not an academic exercise based on 360 laws written 4,000 years ago. It is based on a living and lively relationship, which each one of us can enjoy with Jesus today.
But what is it about Jesus that gives him the authority and the power to claim Lordship in our lives? What gives Jesus the right to claim Lordship over the nations? Why should we as individuals and as a nation look to Jesus for our sense of guidance and discipline? The answer comes in verses 7-9:
First, that Jesus’ authority rests fundamentally in his own relationship with God. In verse 7, the prophetic words of Christ are foretold: “I will tell of the decree of the Lord. He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’.” Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The words from this Psalm were used again at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. At that time, the Gospel writers tell us, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
And ultimately, it’s in his relationship with God, as his Son, that Jesus’ authority over us rests because, just like most children, Jesus is the heir to the riches of his father. As God says to his Son in verse 8, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” We are the possession of Christ. He owns us: we are his. This country, the world in which we live, is the possession of Christ. And as our owner, he has the ultimate right to be our Lord and King and to demand obedience from us.
And not only obedience…let’s be clear on this too, that Christ has the right to exercise judgement on us when we disobey him. Verse 9: “You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now, I’m not into preaching hellfire and damnation but we must never manufacture an idol for a god who has no passion and power and sense of justice. The truth in Scripture and in this Psalm is that God will come in judgement if we continue to disobey him.
So this Psalm paints a vivid picture of a nation, a world, lost in its own godlessness, a vivid picture of a powerful God who overcomes the petty rebellions of humanity and a vivid picture of Christ, the Son of God, who is Lord over all. And so it is our Christian responsibility to pray for change in our world; to pray for the leaders of the nations. And, in conclusion, Psalm 2 gives us three ways to do that.
First, we need to pray that our leaders will develop wisdom, verse 10: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.” It is not an easy task to have great power and influence in politics; the job is stressful, the temptations are many and great. We need to pray that our leaders will be wise in how they handle themselves.
Second, we need to pray that our leaders may have purity, verse 11: “Serve the Lord with fear”. Our prayer is that the leaders of the nations will recognise that, in serving us, they are first serving God.
And finally, we need to pray that our leaders may respond to God in a personal way, verse 12: “Happy are all those who take refuge in him”. If our leaders developed devout and holy lives, imagine how the politics of this world would be transformed.
But, as with all things, transformation in society doesn’t begin with others: it begins with you and me. It begins with our responsibility to pray for those in authority. It all starts with you and me. It is our responsibility…
Let me leave you with an extract from a woman’s diary, something she wrote after attending a church meeting where they discussed the grave injustices in society and the desperate need there is for change; the need to see God at work in our nations. She wrote it as a prayer, and it goes like this:
“Dear God, your request that we act on injustice was discussed at our recent church meeting. Here are the results: There were 158 members in our church, but 45 said they were too old for that sort of thing. That leaves 113, but 36 said they do enough for church already. That leaves 77, but 42 said they don’t like to make a fuss. That leaves 35 but 22 are sure that someone else could do it better. That leaves just 13, but 12 say they’ve already done their bit.
So that leaves me. Where do I start?”