Choose Me! The Challenge of Election
Sermon for the Civic Service of the Mayor of Felixstowe – 16 June 2019
Text: 1 Peter 2v9
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
Choose me! Choose me! Choose me! Do you remember the pain of shouting out those words as you waited on the edge of the primary school playing field to be picked for a kick-about game of football during lunchtimes?
I hated it. I only ever played in the back two for my House Soccer Team at Boarding School, Right Back behind the goal and Left Back in the Pavilion! It was boring, it was cold, and people shouted at you when you didn’t run after a boy twice your size and speed. Rather give me a book, preferably Tolkien, and an overstuffed leather chair in the Library. Choose me? No thank you!
To be honest, though, there is nothing worse than not being chosen. If you are the one who is perpetually left out, the one who is never picked, the one who never gets a chance to shine. It hurts like crazy and you feel as if you have failed at life.
On the other hand, there is one thing worse than not being chosen, and that is being chosen by Mr Hobson! Most people would rather be left out than be the only option available and ‘chosen’ because nobody else wants the job.
To be chosen, to be elected, to be asked to represent the hopes and dreams of others, is a great and awe-filled privilege. Uneasy lie the chains around the necks of those asked to be First Citizen of a town, leader of a Council, or indeed of a nation and all those chosen will need help in finding the way ahead.
Being chosen has its perils.
History is littered with the devastation left behind by those who feel they are a ‘chosen race’ at the expense of other people.
Today is Soweto Day, the day that historians mark as the beginning of the end of the evil system of Apartheid. A system invented by people who were absolutely convinced that they were chosen to rule over others and used their supposed election as a means to subjugate, impoverish and dehumanise others.
There have been other ‘chosen’ people as well, the Third Reich, the Ethnic Cleansers of the Balkans, Pol Pot and company, and others scattered across the globe to this day who are hell bent on using a perceived superiority as a reason to decimate communities.
Being chosen, as Aslan reminds the talking beasts in our reading, is a weighty responsibility
‘Treat [the Dumb Beasts] gently and cherish them but do not go back to their ways lest you cease to be Talking Beasts. For out of them you were taken and into them you can return. Do not so.’
The first thing to remember about being elected is that those chosen are not called to rule but to serve. When we fail at that task, which is the only task we are given, we run the risk of returning to the wildness of the Dumb Beasts’. A quick glance at the Current Affairs of pretty much any nation across the world will show that to be true.
All who hold High Office need always to remember that, above all else, service of their community must be the lodestar of all their plans, decisions, and actions.
When our cries of ‘Choose me!’ have borne fruit and we find ourselves not only part of the winning team but the captain of the team we face other perils as well. The leader, being the one who is called upon to speak most often, runs the danger of listening only to their own voice and the voices of the like-minded.
When this happens two things occur.
Those who are elected can be tempted to give in to the siren call of self-service. Too easily we can presume that only the voices that we hear carry any sense and we dismiss contrary views and become unused to listening for the cry of the weak and the voiceless. Dag Hammarskjöld’s words remind us that to lead is to surrender yourself, and once we have grasped that then nothing can be taken from us.
The other danger of listening to only our own voice is that we forget that those who were not elected also aim to serve. At every election many people of good heart put themselves forward to serve our community, and (if we are honest) the differences between their manifestos are not great and are often a matter of semantics. All too easily we can demonise those in opposition and lose any wisdom and energy they have to offer our community.
It is a great joy to me to see in our own Town Council that no one, either physically or metaphorically, wears the rosette of the political party to which they belong, but all wear the same badge of our town crest in a common commitment to serve everyone wherever and however they can.
Being chosen is not easy; Hammarskjöld’s words will ring true to many
‘…the price for committing one’s life would be reproach, and the only elevation possible to man lies in the depths of humiliation.’
So why, friends, did you let your names go forward on to the ballot paper in the first place?
The pay for most is non-existent. There may be some expenses refunded but these are quickly swallowed up in entrance fees for fund-raisers and £1 a strip raffle tickets. The hours are anti-social and drag you away from home and family, friends and work. There are very few ‘thank-yous’ and instead there are shed loads of brickbats, which do nothing other than hinder the service you hope to offer.
This must be one of the most madcap things anyone could choose to do. And some, judging by the number of repeat offenders present, have not learnt the aphorism ‘once bitten twice shy’ either!
Why on earth do you do this?
Because you have been chosen. You are the people set apart to bring all the differentpeople of your varied communities together. This is a solemn and a holy task that can only be done in a spirit of humility, self-surrender, sacrifice and service. And having been chosen you will find, as you follow ‘Ariadne’s thread’ purpose out of the muddle of the maze of life.
My prayers are with you. Do remember that you have the support and the care of more people than those who voted for you. And knowing that you are chosen to serve may you be able to go forward with this rallying cry;
‘For all that has been – Thanks! To all that shall be – YES!’
[This blog ‘Choose Me! The Challenge of Election’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019]
 “I don’t know Who – or what – put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer ‘Yes’ to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.
From that moment I have know what it means ‘not to look back,’ and ‘to take no thought for the morrow.’
Led by Ariadne’s thread of my answer through the labyrinth of Life, I came to a time and place where I realized that the Way leads to a triumph which is a catastrophe, and to a catastrophe which is a triumph. That the price for committing one’s life would be reproach, and the only elevation possible to man lies in the depths of humiliation. After that, the word ‘courage’ lost its meaning, since nothing could be taken from me.
For all that has been – Thanks! To all that shall be – YES!
(Dag Hammarskjöld – UN General Secretary 1953 to 1961)