The Cross As Freedom

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Luke 18.31-34; Galatians 6.14-16

Who loves a good action movie? You can admit it in here, it’s okay. I love a good action movie. I tell you, when Russell Crowe in Gladiator picks up that dirt and gets ready to do his thing out in the arena? That’s a good movie. I can get into the suspense and the excitement. And I confess, that sometimes there’s something very satisfying about the bad guys getting it.

I can get into a good action movie, but in the action movie, there is a hidden truth. Perhaps it’s not so hidden, perhaps it’s painfully obvious, this truth of the world. It is a truth that has its roots deep within human experience. It is true that the action hero is often a lame caricature of this truth, but this truth is pervasive. It is a truth that holds all of us captive in one form or another. And that is the truth that violence, as the ultimate means of exerting power, violence works.

Think about your garden variety action hero: a loving father, a husband perhaps, often desiring to live a quiet life in peace, by nature a calm, quiet man. But then terrorists attack or criminals are released from prison, or something from his (and it usually is a he) tortured past catches up with him and he is forced to once again to get his guns out, get his knives out and re-arm himself with the things that really have power. The only things that will ultimately allow him or his loved ones survive. Cold steel. Things that go boom. Things that take life.

So what if you have only a few minutes as we see in 24 almost every week, if you only have a few minutes to find that nuclear bomb and there’s somebody in front of you who knows where it is, what are you going to do? Ask nicely? Of course, the hero is a person of peace, but when push comes to shove, you have to rely on what really works.

Think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each side employs the language of peace, oh the rhetoric is powerful. But when push comes to shove, what do they rely on ? The cycle of violence continues back and forth, tit for tat, stronger and stronger , up and down it goes. Back and forth, it seems none are able to break it.

Think of the war on terror. Violence works, or so the world says. When we think there is no other way, we come up with “just” war theories and legal justifications for torture. We throw out human rights as something for better days, easier times. Because in the real world, that is the only way to stay safe. Violence as a method of last resort is the only answer, there is no other way.
You know it’s easy to be theologically and intellectually and philosophically and morally against this truth. It’s easy to speak words of peace and non-violence, but when push comes to shove, when someone has a gun to our heads, when the threat lies at our doorstop, words of peace, at first blush, seem particularly empty of power. And if there’s anything we don’t want, it is to be empty of power. We want power. We want control, because we think that with control we will have safety. Or protection. Or well-being. When push comes to shove, when we are threatened, violence seems to be the last answer, but the LAST answer. There is no other way.

To illustrate the tension, the mystery, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a famous theologian that I know many of you are familiar with. He lived in Germany in the time leading up to the second world war and he wrote eloquent words of peace. He was a pacifist. But when he saw what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in Germany, when he saw what was happening to his people, he wrestled with what to do. Ultimately, he was arrested for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler. There are no easy outs when push comes to shove.

Even in the bible, even in the bible, violence makes it mark. Even at the cross, this focused symbol of our faith, violence seems to be the way God gets things done. That’s what the bible says, isn’t it? That God sent Jesus to die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. That the only way for us to bridge the gap between the human and the divine is an act of violence, an execution. Even for God there seems to be no other way.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Sabbatical

    Well my friends, this is my last point of contact with you for the next three months, barring unforeseen circumstances. I am taking a sabbatical this summer, granted to me by you (through a congregational meeting some time ago). Clergy sabbaticals are designed for rest, recovery, and restoration. It’s a healthy thing to do, of course, and the Presbytery of Utah recommends that congregations grant their pastors a sabbatical every seven years (serving the same church, that is). It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been here in Logan for eight and a half years.

    The end goal for such a time is to provide pastors with opportunity for spiritual and mental rest and restoration, to help re-energize pastors, and to prevent burnout. Pastors have a fairly high rate of burnout, but providing time for spiritual, mental, and physical self-care is one of the best ways to prevent such things.

    It’s not only about rest, however. I’ll be studying and engaging in some healthy spiritual practices too. I will be worshiping at other churches each Sunday to experience the ways that other congregations praise the Lord, so that I might observe and consider new things for the ministry life of FPC Logan. I have a small collection of books I plan to read, including Canoeing the Mountains (a book about Christian leadership in uncharted territory) and One Long River of Song (recommended by someone at FPC), and a few others that I hope will inspire good preaching and pastoral leadership when I return. These readings will go along with daily scripture study. Due to the Covid pandemic I didn’t attend any continuing education conferences last year, but I plan to use part of this sabbatical time to so some individual continuing education. There is always something more for me to learn about my role as your pastor. I look forward to sharing some of this with you upon my return to First Presbyterian Church in September.

    Summer Worship—

    A reminder to you all that during the months of June, July, and August worship will be at 9am and 10:30am. If you show up at 11 you’ll miss half of the sermon!Masks will be required until Session determines otherwise, and worship will be in Bruner Hall for both services (this allows us to space out our seating). I have carefully chosen guest preachers for you on the Sundays that Pastor Meg won’t be preaching. They range from experienced pastors to seminary graduates, but I fell they will all bring a wonderful message to you each Sunday. Please give them the warmest welcome when they help lead worship.

    We have a system in place to live stream worship to YouTube, but there are a few technical challenges with this that I’ve been trying to work out over the last month (with audio and live streaming the video). If you choose to worship from home and the live stream is not available on Sunday mornings (because of some technical difficulty), we will try to post the recording for your viewing on Monday morning when the office is open. Please extend us some grace with this. I think it will all work out, but it’s not always a simple process and complications arise.

    Praying that you all have a wonderful, Spirit-filled summer. I’ll see you soon.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all, —Derek

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