“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25).
I rendered unto Caesar last week. I went to vote early and rendered about two and a half hours of my morning. Other people in other places rendered more, some less. All of us could have thought of other worthwhile things to do with that time. I almost ditched the line and the waiting, but now on Election Day I’m glad I stayed. All of us who stuck it out did our civic duty and exercised our right to vote and rendered the morning unto Caesar. Some of you will render a piece of today.
The long lines said “this is important.” And it is. The length of the lines matches the depth of our frustration over what is and the height of our hope for what can be. Things like elections and policy positions and leaders really do matter. But as much as they matter, they can only matter so much. John Ortberg gets it right when he says
Imagine that we elected all the right people to all the right offices – President, congress, governors, right down to the school board, city council members, and dog catcher (is that still an office anyone gets to vote for?).
Let’s imagine that all these ideal office holders instituted all the right policies . . . Every piece of legislation – from zoning laws to tax codes to immigration policy to crime bills – is just exactly the way you know it ought to be. Would that usher in the Kingdom of God?
Would the hearts of the parents be turned towards their children? Would all marriages be models of faithful love? Would greed and pride be legislated out of existence? Would you finally be the man or woman you know you ought to be?
In the words of theologian McCauley Culkin: “I don’t think so.”
Because no human system has the ability to change the human heart.*
I find voting to be a very moving experience. I show up at the polling place eager to get it done, and then in the midst of it I’m struck by the gravity of the moment, the beauty of it, the privilege and responsibility. That we’re able to pull this off as a nation is remarkable.
But as remarkable as it is it has its limitations. It’s a system we’ve devised and as such there are some things that will never be accomplished by voting or legislating.
What if there were a place and process that could change human hearts? I’d gladly stand in that line for as long as it took. I’d camp out. But there’s no line for that. No place to go, no process to engage.
Voting is sacramental in that our choosing is a profound reminder of our need for grace. We check a box or pull a lever or whatever, knowing all the while that the act of voting is a gift that leaves us needing something more. We confront our need for help from beyond ourselves. God is sovereign. Jesus is Lord. Always has been, always will be, no matter what happens today.
So vote. Thankfully, humbly. Celebrate the vocation of citizenship. Experience solidarity with all those people in line with you. And ask for grace. The vote will not heal us. That is work for another leader and he will be faithful to do it. Thanks be to God.
Gracious God, for the right and privilege to elect our leaders we give you thanks. For the freedom to discuss and debate and disagree yet live as one people, we give you thanks. For the knowledge that you govern all things and your purposes will be fulfilled, we give you thanks. The work of salvation is yours to accomplish. Work through us as you see fit, we pray. Amen.
*(From John Orteberg, “Non-Prophet Preaching” in the Summer 2008 issue of Leadership Journal, p. 30)