• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Partisan or Political

A three-week season of sermons for the Fall, sermon 1 of 3, preached Nov 6, 2022 at the 9:30am Worship


Context

Last week, we read Luke 19 to help us remember Why We Give. That was our last Sunday in the Stewardship sermon series we titled “WHY?” Over those four weeks, we reminded ourselves why we worship, why we gather together in groups, why we serve, and why give. I hope each of us will come to worship, join a group, find a place to serve, and give to help this church grow in number and in spirit in 2023.


Today, we turn to Luke 20. Early in Luke 20, the chief priests and elders challenge Jesus’ authority. He challenges them with a question about John’s authority and a parable, and it says they would have grabbed him right there if not for fear of the crowd.


Then a group of government agents challenge him about Caesar and paying taxes. He challenges them by asking for a coin, then commanding they give to Caesar whatever is Caesar’s but to God what is God’s.


Then Two more groups step up against Jesus, the Sadducees and the Scribes.


Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord from


Prayer


Scripture Luke 20:27-47

27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus 28 and asked him a question:


“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man dies leaving a wife but no children, the man’s brother shall marry the widow and raise up children for his dead brother. 29 (Let’s say) there were seven brothers; the first married a woman then died, childless; 30 so the second (married her then died) 31 and the third married her (and died), and so on, in the same way, all seven (brothers) died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, then, whose wife will the woman be? For all seven had married her.”


34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection…


37 “And the fact that the dead are raised, Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now, he is God not of the dead but of the living, for to God, all of them are alive.”


39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For (the Sadducees) no longer dared to ask him another question.


41 Then he said to the (Scribes), “How can (some) say that the Messiah[d] is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the book of Psalms,


‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand 43 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’

44 “David thus calls (the Messiah) Lord, so how can he be his son?”


45 In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and who love respectful greetings in the marketplaces, and the best seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance (give big speeches). They will receive the greater condemnation.”


This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)


Sermon

Tuesday is election day all over our nation. I hope yall will all go vote if you haven’t already. The signs and ads are everywhere. I’m not registered to any political party so I didn’t get to vote in the primaries. But I do always vote in the main and special elections.


When I filled out my ballot last week, I could picture the sign of every candidate, the colors and fonts they use… but I couldn’t see all of their faces, nor could I clearly state their top three priorities or policy statements. So, I sat down and went to each of their websites, scrolled back through a few months of their social media accounts, if they have one, then filled out my ballot, and put it in the drop box.


It got me wondering, would I, would we vote for Jesus?


In a way, all these groups in Luke 20 that confront and challenge Jesus are like partisans, representatives of their preferred political parties. But let’s pause and minute and talk about those two terms… partisan and political.


By political here, we mean the simplest definition, the way power is used in a group. Note, that word does not carry any positive or negative connotations. We often say the word “politics” in our country or culture as an insult. “They are being too political,” or “they are playing politics,” but the base word just means how we organize ourselves and decide stuff together. Politics isn’t bad. What’s bad is when we agree together to do politics, to manage and share power in our society a certain way, then betray one another. Every community, every relationship, has a political dimension to it, how we agree with one another to share power and make decisions together. What undermines politics is when someone betrays that agreement to take more power to themselves.


The other word, Partisan, means someone who is more loyal to their subgroup than to the whole. In the word politics, we mean we agree, as a whole, to share power and do things a certain way together. This other word, partisan, means our loyalty is more to a subset of the whole than to the whole. To be a partisan means we will betray the politics of the whole to get more power for our party.


Are yall with me? Its not a problem to be political. All groups, communities, relationships have to be. Politics is trying together to figure out how to share power, what to do together. The problem is being partisans, when we break the political agreement of the whole to grab more power for our subgroup of the whole.


That’s what the Chief priests and Elders do at the start of Luke 20. They want to know “by what authority” Jesus speaks and acts like he does. Jesus’ way of teaching, healing, serving challenges the power of the Chief Priests and Elders over the people. For Jesus, the politics of God is for all God’s people, and doesn’t put some, like the Chief Priests, closer to God and over others. The Chief Priests were the only ones who could go to the inner most room in the temple, where the holy presence of God was believed to be. When Jesus died, that curtain protecting the holy of holies was torn in two, giving full access to God not just to Chief Priests, but to all people, not just to temple goers, but to the world. The Chief Priests were partisans. Jesus honored the politics of God.


The spies who confronted Jesus about paying taxes, they were trying to keep their economic power. As long as the tax revenues came in full to Caesar and Rome’s coffers, they were fine with whatever else people wanted to do with the rest of the money. Their loyalty to the Roman government fed their bellies, paid their bills, and gave them power over people to collect taxes. Jesus says give to Caesar whatever Caesar is due, but give to God what is God’s. Primary loyalty to Caesar denied Caesar’s place under God. The spies were partisans for Caesar. Jesus honored the politics of God.


The Sadducees have a partisan policy against the resurrection. They don’t think its possible, or real, and they debate Jesus publicly ,trying to trap him with a hypothetical. Jesus responds, in this age, people give ourselves in marriage to one another. But, in the age to come, and in the resurrection, its different. In God’s kingdom, we are all children of God, and therefore brother and sister of one another. And in God’s kingdom, God is even now the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, meaning they are with God even now. The Sadducees were more interested in proving their partisan belief. Jesus was more interested in honoring the politics of God.


Last, the Scribes. They kiss up to Jesus, laughing at how deftly Jesus humbled the Sadducees. Jesus quotes scripture, and wonders how the messiah, supposedly the literal son of David, can be called by David, Lord. No father calls his son Lord. Its always the other way around. They stop laughing. Their power is the scripture, and people respect and admire and pay them for their knowledge of it. But they use that knowledge to gain status for themselves rather than to expand the kingdom of God. The Scribes are partisans, and do what they do for the benefits it brings them. Jesus does what he does to honor the politics of God, God’s kingdom, and all God’s people.


That’s why I wonder if we would vote for Jesus? How often are we more loyal to our partisan preference than to the Kingdom of God? How might Jesus confront or challenge our preferred partisan positions? How might we chuckle as Jesus schools someone in another partisan camp, just to have him turn and scold us right back for our partisan ways?


I’d like to think if Jesus’ name was on the ballot, we would vote for him every time. But I fear, much like these Chief priests, Elders, spies, Sadducees, and Scribes did, we would vote for our partisan preferences. After all, on that Passover night so long ago, when given the choice, we voted Give us Barrabbas. Surely, we can lift up God’s politics as our higher priority, and lay down any partisan preference that doesn’t exhibit the kingdom of God.


To God be all glory and honor, now and forever more, amen.


Charge


Benediction

Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.


Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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