Democrats VS Republicans

Democrats VS. Republicans – 01.13.2019
[Ezra 3:9-13 and John 1: 9-18]

          There was once an elderly gentleman who was sitting on a park bench, basking in the sun, when another elderly fellow sat down beside him. They looked at each other for a moment, but did not speak. Both men sat there for a short time, just staring straight ahead. After a little while, one of them heaved a big, heartfelt sigh. The other man jumped immediately and said, “Look, if you’re going to talk politics, I’m leaving.” Is there anything more uncomfortable than talking politics with someone you don’t know?  

Today we start a brand new sermon series called State of the Union. For the next few weeks we are going to take a close look at politics and piety – how do faith and politics come together in our lives? We’re going to look at the limits of tolerance, morality vs legality and we’ll close by talking about compromise. But to get us started, I wanted to talk about Democrats VS. Republicans. In this room, there are die hard right wing straight ticket republicans with a little tattoo on their shoulder that says “I heart Trump.” In this room, there are radical left wing straight ticket Democrats with bumper stickers that say, “Feel the Bern.” And then there’s a third group in the room this morning. A big chunk of us in the middle who feel sort of politically homeless – we don’t really like either party, and so we’re not sure what to do with politics. Before we get into all the pieces – we need to talk about our identity.


     Now, to give us a little insight on this issue, we are going to step back into the Old Testament for a little bit. We open in the book of Ezra. Now, little bit of backstory. Israel is this little country in the ancient world, and during their time they got conquered and defeated in battle a few times. Different empires would come in and oppress the people of Israel during their history. One of those empires was the Persian Empire. King Nebuchadnezzar comes in and conquers Israel, sells off most of the people as servants or slaves, and destroys the temple. Really, really bad day for Israel. Times goes on, King Nebuchadnezzar dies, and a new King – King Cyrus takes over Persia. Now, King Cyrus is much nicer and he tells the people of Israel – you can go home, you can rebuild your temple, you can start your life over, he even gives them some money to get started. God moved Cyrus’s heart with compassion, and he was very kind to the people of Israel. So they go home, the people of Israel go back to Israel and start to rebuild their lives, start to rebuild the temple, and that’s where our scripture starts. They break ground and they lay the foundation. [read v.10-11]. They gave a great shout of praise to the Lord. A great shout of praise – how come we don’t do more shouting in church? Seems like we really should be doing that. But look at what happens next, [read v.12-13]. The younger generation is so excited to build a new house of worship. They’ve never had a temple, and they are so happy they finally have something, somewhere to worship. But it says the older generation wept aloud. It says they had seen the former temple. They remembered the glory of the old days, they knew how awesome that first temple was. The new foundation was not as good, not as big, not as impressive – they wept because this new thing was not as good as what they remembered. And yet, verse 13 again, says [read it].


So you have this beautiful and bizarre picture of old people crying and young people cheering – and you almost forget that the whole point was the dedication of a new temple. They are so busy cheering or complaining – you can’t even hear yourself think! It says no one could distinguish because the people made so much noise. Does this feel very familiar to you? You ever watch football, and lose track of the ball? And maybe they cut away from the play, and you can hear the fans cheering and you can hear other fans booing – but you don’t know which side is upset? You don’t know what happened? Happens to me when I watch hockey. I lose the puck sometimes – and I’m not always sure what happened until they show me in slow-mo. Or let’s make it more personal. You ever have a fight, and you have one side and they have another side –and it gets so bad, you don’t even hear what the other side is saying – you don’t even remember what you said – it’s all just angry loud noise? When we disagree with someone – in politics, in love, in sports, in life – there’s something that happens where we draw these lines where it becomes us VS them. Back to Ezra, both generations are trying to rebuild the temple, trying to rebuild their lives, their home – they should be working together! They disagree on one thing and suddenly they are against each other. This is the starting point, but it goes for the rest of the book, and into the next book – Nehemiah, it gets so bad that the people rebuilding the temple and the walls of Jerusalem have to split the workers in half – this half builds the wall, and this half guards the builders from attack. People are literally attacking them while they are trying to build a wall. Boy, if I could just figure out some way to pull a practical application out of a story with people who are for and against building a wall to Mexico, I mean, Jerusalem. [pause] Seriously though – this story is thousands of years old, and it sounds WAY too familiar. I think maybe we have not gotten ANY better at dealing with people we disagree with. 


So, what we find is that Ezra shows us that our problems are not new problems. We have been dealing with the same disagreements for thousands of years, Ezra is a clear example of that – and our scripture in John gives us the answer. Now, I’m not going to lie to you. I was reading these verses this past week and I was so confused. Verse 10 and 11 are like a tongue twister. Came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him – what? That’s very confusing. I spent some time with it, and I realized – it’s easier to understand if we start at the end and walk backwards. Verse 18 [read it]. Basically, there is something out there. Something bigger than ourselves – we call it a higher power, we call it divine, we call it God. But we don’t know anything about God, we don’t understand God – we can’t wrap our minds around God. So God came to us, as a human being – as his son Jesus, to teach us about God. Verse 17 says, [read it]. God gave us the law, God tried to teach humanity how to behave by giving us a list of rules – and the rules are fine, but they’ve never been enough. We needed more than a list of rules. We needed Jesus. We needed the real truth and grace that comes from Jesus. Jesus came down at Christmas, the baby in the manger, and then he lived a perfect life down here on this earth. Jesus came to us to offer a connection to God. Jesus offers forgiveness and salvation. He offers us a family. Verse 12 says, [read 12-13]. To everyone who believes in Jesus, he gives the right to become children of God. When you become a Christian, you join a family, born of God. Now verse 10 and 11 kind of make sense. He was in the world, Jesus was in the world, and even though the world was made through him, God made the whole world, but the world did not recognize him. They killed Jesus. He had this message of love and forgiveness, he had a message brought people together. That healed relationships and focused on taking care of other people – and they killed him for it. They hung him on the cross until he died. And that should have been the end of the story. But he didn’t stay dead. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead to teach us that the message of love and forgiveness, the message of grace is stronger than the message of hate. The things that pull us together are stronger than the things that tear us apart. No matter what is tearing you apart here today, God has an answer that heals even stronger. God can redeem every broken life. God can lift you out of your pain. Jesus on the cross teaches us that the pain of this world is NEVER the end of the story. Verse 9, [read it]. the true light, that gives light to EVERYONE. Everyone – huh, that’s a funny way to spell “republican”. That’s a funny way to pronounce “democrat.” The True light gives light to say it with me… everyone.     

          The good news this morning, the good news from Jesus is that God adopts us into his family. Our identity comes from God. Before any other label the world gives us – we are children of God. That’s the only label that matters. Alright, little warning – what I’m about to say will shock you. Okay? There are republicans in hell, and they are sitting right next to democrats. Wait for it… There are democrats in heaven, and they’re sitting right next to republicans. I’m really sorry to burst that bubble. Politics is not salvation. Politics does not determine morality. Politics should not determine your identity. You are first and foremost a child of God. I don’t care how good the economy is, Donald Trump cannot save you. I don’t care how much you miss him, Barack Obama cannot save you. Bernie Sanders cannot save you. Paul Ryan cannot save you. Elizabeth Warren cannot save you. If you set them up as your idols they will fail you. Only the love of God found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can save you! Can give you new life. If you feel politically homeless and you don’t like either party, and you feel like you can’t identify with either choice – that’s probably because you were never supposed to find your identity in a political party! We find our identity in the fact that there is a God out there who cares about us enough to come down as a human-being, meet us where we are, forgive us and show us a better way to live our lives.  

Sometimes I see these horrible things that conservatives say about liberals, or the monstrous things that liberals say about conservatives – and I think, ‘Wow, that’s so mean.” And they respond, “well, I don’t like their Obamacare, or on the other side I don’t like their new tax law.” Yeah, okay – you don’t have to like them, they’re still human beings. I look at the way Jesus treated his enemies. Literally, while they were in the process of murdering him, Jesus says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It doesn’t make it okay. It was still horrible, what they did to him. They were bad people, hurting someone innocent, and still Jesus’ response was, “Father forgive them.” If Jesus could do that to the guys who murdered him – why can’t we do it to the people on the other side of the political aisle? Real quick, I want to teach you a new word today. Maybe you’ve heard this before. Repeat after me. Imago Dei. Let’s do that again. Imago Dei. Imago Dei is Latin for Image of God. It’s a really simple idea. Every single human being has value, deserves love, deserves a chance at forgiveness because God made them. Maybe they live a horrible life being a terrible person – imago dei, still made in God’s image. You don’t have to like them, you don’t have to agree with them, you don’t have to vote for them – but they are still a human being. We cannot forget that God’s light is for everyone, even if they reject it. So when you are dealing with “the other side” – remember imago dei, it should change how you treat people.


        Two quick applications and then we’re done. First, to realize that our identity comes from God, and that everyone has Imago Dei – changes how we see one another. What if, instead of assuming the other guy is a moron, what if we took just a second of our lives and tried to figure out where they are coming from? In the story of Ezra, if the younger generation had just paused for a second and asked – why are they so upset, maybe together, both generations could have built an even better temple. Jesus Christ stepped out of heaven into the pain and chaos of life on earth to meet us where we are – the least we could do is try to figure out where they are coming from. There’s a temptation in life to oversimplify. To make sweeping statements about who someone is, to assume you understand their motives and who they are. But life is more complicated than that. People are more complicated than that. The beauty of Imago Dei is that it shows us real people just as they are. Here’s the thing – I know a lot of democrats, and aint none of ‘em snowflakes or socialists. I know a lot of republicans, and they are not racist’s fascists jerks who hate the poor. But it is easier to hate when you oversimplify. So the first step is to let Imago Dei open your eyes to the fact that people are real people.  
        So, first, Imago Dei changes how we see other people. Second, it changes how we engage with one another. Think about the story of Ezra – where you’ve got happy and sad voices rising together in this indistinguishable noise. I read that story and I keep thinking, what if instead of fighting each other, they started working together. Find your common ground – we want to build the temple – and work together to get it done! What if, instead of Democrats VS Republicans it became Democrats AND Republicans. I truly believe that Republicans need democrats and democrats need republicans. The fair exchange of different ideas is part of what makes this country amazing. I say this all the time – if everyone in the room agrees with you, it’s not a conversation, it’s a cult. Now, I know what you’re thinking – we can’t. Democrats and Republicans are fundamentally opposed – we have to hate each other. Listen very carefully. The idea that Democrats and Republicans are fundamentally and completely opposed to one another is a bold faced lie from the devil. The idea that we have to hate the other side is the propaganda that comes from a broken world designed to keep us apart. But the grace of God is stronger than the hatred of the world.  I give you exhibit A – look around. What did I say at the beginning of this sermon? There are republicans in the room. There are democrats in the room. But we put aside our differences, we embrace our core identity which is that we are imago dei, image of God, children of God first, everything else second. This church is an example of what it could be like out there in the world. We’re not perfect, but we know that – but we work together to love God and love each other. Imagine if we could take that idea and show the world how it works.


       Democrats VS Republicans. What a ridiculous idea. I’ll leave you with this. Jesus is not a republican. Jesus is not a democrat. Jesus is the son of God, light of the world – and that’s way more important. In your life, you are not just a republican, you are not just a democrat. You are a child of God, a light in the world. And that’s way more important. Amen.

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