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No Emperor Here

I have been listening to Ezra and Nehemiah on my YouVerson Bible app during my morning stretching exercises. My body benefits from the stretching and Ezra and Nehemiah have been stretching my perspective on this election season. We live in a democracy. We have the great privilege to live in a time and a place where we can work together to choose our government. At the same time, we have to learn to live in a sea of conflicting forces. Friends, neighbors, and family members have disagreements about who should be our leaders and what they should do. There is election noise all around us. Unwanted phone calls, confusing TV ads, and endless pieces of mail all urge us to believe one thing or another and to vote a certain way. And then there’s the frustration that deep inside, we know we each only get one vote. That vote seems very small and impotent. Since each election is a contest, there will be winners and losers. We may be pleased with the results, or disappointed when the “other side” comes out ahead. Is it worth all the fuss? In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, some Jews and other Israelites want to return to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem. They were exiles, or their descendants, who had been forcibly moved east to Babylon when Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed. The Persian empire later conquered Babylon. In the book of Ezra, Cyrus the Great granted the exiles permission to return and rebuild as they wished. But they ran into fierce opposition from local officials and unfriendly neighbors. Over the next decades three different emperors, Xerxes, Darius, and Artaxerxes are involved. Some took a positive attitude and helped the Jews trying to rebuild. Sometimes they ignored them or even ordered them to stop. It is a saga of gains and losses, starts and stops. And all of it under the rule of emperors with absolute power. Sometimes God’s people could influence them, sometimes they were ignored. This went on for decades. My point? We are fortunate to live in a time when we have organized our government in such a way that we do have opportunity to elect and to influence our leaders. It’s confusing and frustrating at times. Sometimes emotions run high. But as Christians we need to keep loving our neighbors. We can demonstrate patience and show that we actually do trust in our God. But following our consciences and seeking God’s guidance, we all need to do our best to influence the shape of our society. We can help choose the people who govern. That’s a marvelous opportunity. When things don’t go the way we wish, we need to go on praying, trusting in God’s providence. And we can write or call our representatives to help shape their views and actions. But don’t give up. Get out there and vote! We live in times of great privilege. Give thanks to God.

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