Where were you when you heard the news that the election had been called and we had a decision on who would be the next president? One woman at Howard University had just defended her dissertation on Black women in leadership—just that day or the day before. She was driving in her car when the news came on the radio, and she had to pull over. Howard University is the alma mater of Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman vice-president, the first Black vice-president, the first Asian vice-president. This is momentous. There was a lot of whooping and celebrating on the campus green. One woman I know of heard the results and joined the masked throngs celebrating outside the White House. Our own Capitol Hill apparently had quite the party in the streets.
Others were not so happy. They gathered for rallies saying, based on no evidence, that the election had been stolen.
I was in the barn at my friend Catherine’s farm, where I live. I was loading a cart with hay, alfalfa, and apples to feed to the sheep. Scott Simon was doing his Saturday morning radio show on NPR when, mid-sentence, the story faded away and they cut to the breaking news.
What a week it has been! Did you find this election exhausting? On Tuesday when we went to bed, a lot of the states were projected to tip red. By Wednesday, a number of those had flipped to at least a hint of blue. The tallies have sometimes been super close. No matter which way you voted, this one has been a nail-biter. And when, after months of hearing hype and campaign promises, I heard the announcement of our next president and vice president, I mainly just wanted to go to bed. Instead, I pulled the cart out into the field, filled the feeder, and scattered apples on the ground. I fed the chickens and the horse. Regardless of who is winning or losing elections, the farm animals want their breakfast. Life goes on.
Today is our first opportunity to gather as a full congregation since Election Day. Some of us are jubilant; some perhaps did not see their candidates win. When we gather at coffee hour after worship, let us be sensitive to that: not everyone votes the same, and we love each other. We do our best to make everyone welcome here.
A number of you have been active in efforts to get out the vote all over the country. I hope that you feel your efforts paid off, as we have seen record turnouts. Thanks to all who worked on this election, to all who voted, to all who may still be counting or recounting ballots, to all who are monitoring the counting to make sure this election is fair and transparent, to all who are hearing the lawsuits and deciding whether there is a case to be made for anything other than a fair election. Thank you to everyone who participates in democracy. It works best when we all take part.
So. There is a lot I could say about the scripture passage we read a few minutes ago. We could talk about the four models that scholars propose for the rise of the Jewish people and whether the story of conquest in this book is based on anything historical. We could talk about the theology that says God is on our side and therefore we can wipe out the people living on the land that God has promised to us. We could talk about the multiple gods worshiped in the Middle East at the time of this story. And it just doesn’t feel to me as if that’s where the energy is in this moment.
So know that there are many things we could discuss about this passage that we’re not going to get to today. And I would be happy to discuss them at another time with anyone who is interested. But the one thing I want to lift up is this idea of choosing which god we serve. We have just come through this election season, where we choose which candidates we elect, which leaders we want to follow. Joshua asks the people to choose which god they will serve: the one that the Israelites call Yahweh, or some other god.
“Now therefore revere Yahweh, and serve God in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve
God. Now if you are unwilling to serve Yahweh, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve Yahweh.”
It’s their own moment of election. Which god do you vote for? Which one will you follow? And Joshua says there are consequences for their choices. If you choose Yahweh, for example, but then stray to foreign gods, Joshua says Yahweh will punish you.
My understanding of God is less harsh than this. If I am not following God, there are consequences, not so much in the form of punishment but just because I am separated from the force that guides my life for good.
Sometimes we choose candidates as if they could be saviors, and certainly there are consequences for our vote. But whether we voted for this candidate or that one, whether we agree on politics or the big issues of our time, we can all talk about choosing to serve God. We may have wildly different ideas of God. Okay, let’s listen to each other. We may be called to serve in very different ways, depending on our gifts and interests. That’s fine, too. There is room for everyone at God’s table. What there is not room for is hate.
Joshua says, “As for me and my household, we will serve Yahweh.” As we move forward from this election, let’s remember the God we serve. We serve a God who loves everyone regardless of political party and calls us to do the same. How do we operate as healers in our community after such divisive politics?
We serve a God who cares about all of creation, not just the humans. How can we do the same?
We serve a God who cares about immigrants, the poor, those with physical and mental challenges, the sick, and others who have been pushed to the margins. At this time of a broken immigration system, record numbers of people applying for unemployment benefits, a health care system that is being maxed out by COVID-19 patients, how can we help those in need most effectively?
Joshua calls the people to make a fresh start, to commit anew to God and to mean it. We are at such a point ourselves. There are plenty of opportunities to work for justice, compassion, healing, and more.
My expectations for a smooth transition of power are very low. The next few months may be rocky indeed. But our democracy is holding. The checks and balances are checking and balancing.
In this chaotic setting, I invite us all to remember that we serve, not a political party or an elected leader, but God. We serve justice. We work to build God’s realm on earth. All of that takes precedence over any political party, and I encourage us not to get caught up in all the froth and fury that may be fomented in the coming weeks. Stick to the high ground. Seek to be a healer of divisions. Perhaps at the holidays you will be coming in contact with friends and family who have different political views from your own. Love the people. Listen with an open heart. But don’t take the bait. Don’t expect to change anyone’s worldview. Don’t encourage hate. Focus on what you have in common, not what divides. Whenever possible, find paths that lead toward healing.
At the end of the day yesterday, I stepped outside and looked at the night sky. The air was cold and clear. There was Cassiopeia, the crooked W. Is that planet Mercury? Let me check my star app. The animals were all bedded down for the night in the barn and the chicken coop. I was reminded that one election is but a moment in time—in the millions of years of all God’s creation. Regardless of how we voted, whether our candidates won or lost, we all belong to God. The work of building God’s realm on earth continues.
I close today with Paul’s advice to the early church at Philippi:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9)