Hello church family, this is Pastor Phil.
If you drive through any local neighborhood, you’ll find those little, plastic political signs skewered into your neighbor’s lawns. With each sign that person is declaring who they think would be the best person for a political office. You can actually make a game out of locating the signs. 2 points if two yards next to each other have the same political sign. 3 points if the yards next to each other have different political signs. Bonus! You get to wonder what kind of conversations they have with each other or if they just glare at each other on their way to work in the morning.
Any other day, not during election season, all of these houses would basically look the same. Just neighbors and friends living in the same community. But during election season they become something different. Sometimes if they have the same political sign in their yard that you prefer, they become allies, reassurance that you’re right in your choice, and maybe a tally you keep in the back of your head of how your choice is doing by counting how many of their signs you see. But, if they have a different political sign in their backyard those same neighbors become the competition, become those people, become the subject of conversation wondering how they could promote and vote for them—don’t they know what they’re like!
Suddenly and not very subtly, friends and neighbors become oddities and enemies to each other. Instead of Bob with his 2 young daughters and a wife that passed away from cancer last year he becomes a crazy, socialist liberal that you feel like you have nothing in common with. Instead of Jen, the older lady down the street who lives alone, she becomes a crazy, capitalist conservative that you feel like you have nothing in common with. All because of a plastic sign planted in a neighbor’s yard.
But wait, someone says, those signs matter! Capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, socialism, and all those other ism’s. They matter to our way of living. Great atrocities have happened from this or that way of governing. It matters to me!
Sure! It is good, right, and healthy to have those conversations. To discuss the pro’s and con’s, of this way of governing or that way of governing. To talk about what works and what doesn’t work and why you feel that way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with promoting your beliefs on the subject and popping little plastic, political signs in your yard if you want to or canvassing for your preferred politician or discussing why you believe the way you do. When we have those kinds of healthy conversations other people can weigh what is being said, look at the pro’s and con’s, and make up their own mind from there. That’s how this whole thing works.
But when it becomes personal and everyone who doesn’t feel the same way that I do is a lunatic or a fraud, when Bob and Jen down the street stop being Bob and Jen and become that crazy this or that, then nobody wins. We all lose, and we all lose our sense of what matters most.
There was a sermon illustration I heard as a young man in worship that stuck with me to this day and felt relevant to our meditation. I don’t remember all of the details of the story, like who the chaplain was or which world war it occurred in, even though those details were all shared (I’ve never been very good about those things). But the heart story began at the end of a battle between German and Allied soldiers and the dead and dying we’re scattered all across the tiny village. A Christian chaplain from the Allied soldiers recounted ministering to the dying and giving last rites when he came upon a German soldier bleeding out and muttering a phrase over and over again. Vater unser im Himmel, Vater unser im Himmel.
There was nothing the Chaplain could do for the man’s body, but he could offer succor for the man’s soul. The chaplain, not knowing German, held the man’s hand and completed the words of the prayer in his own language. “Our Father who art in Heaven.” Later, that chaplain would recount in his journals, how strange a moment that was, when just moments before that man was vehemently trying to kill him and his men and his men we’re trying to kill him, and now he was holding this man’s hand, praying these words, Our Father. Our…Father.
Pastor Paul in our reading today from God’s Word teaches us: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (You can read the whole section from Romans 14, here)
The ideological movements that were causing rifts and fractures among the relationships in the church at that time were about eating meat or not eating meat, about sacred days and when to observe them, among many other ism’s that were pitting them against each other. Like today, it had gone beyond healthy discourse to making it personal, and personally attacking others for their beliefs. In doing so, they had lost themselves and forgotten that whatever the other person believed, it was not their place to confer condemnation upon them for those beliefs. Each person had the same judge and master, that is the God who created them.
The same is true for us in this same political environment as it was thousands of years ago. Whatever political sign is promoted by our neighbor in their front yard, it is not our place to condemn them with our thoughts, words or actions. It is not Christian and not right, to call them crazy this or crazy that. In the end, in November, whoever is elected, it is our Christian duty to honor that person in office, just like it is our Christian duty to honor the person who is in office now and was in office before and will be in office after. Whether president or neighbor, we all have the same judge and master, the God who created all of us, and each of us will be held account to that same judge.
Thank God, that the God who created all of us, doesn’t not come at us like we come at each other. Instead, God comes to us in Jesus, and speaks words of forgiveness and mercy for each one of us, no matter our political ideologies or what it is we feel really strongly about at the moment. The words we receive in Jesus, are words of love and peace and reconciliation, for everyone. As people, who share the name of Jesus as Christians, it is these same words of mercy and grace that we are called to speak clearly to each other, no matter the sign in their yard.