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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  • A Season of Resurrection

    Resurrection day has arrived. And with it the reminder of eternal hope because of Jesus Christ. Spring has also arrived here in Cache Valley, and while it’s not over, the end of our year-long pandemic seems to be approaching, thanks be to God. I hope this day finds you well in spirit and body, and also vaccinated (or soon-to be). I saw a sign the other day that reminded me while we’ve all been through the same storm in this last year, we haven’t all been in the same boat. Some people have weathered this storm fairly well, others have struggled mightily in one way or another. In spiritual terms, economic terms, emotional terms, and in health. And of course, not everyone has made it through the storm. I am worried that recent progress in this pandemic could be lost, but I’m thankful so many vaccinations are underway. As I’m sure it has been for you, this has been an emotionally challenging year for me as well. It seems to have contained more “downs” than “ups.” But my belief in God keeps me hopeful. Having spoken to many of you, I am thankful that a large portion of our congregation has received Covid-19 vaccinations or are in process of doing that now. The better our state and local community are doing, the sooner we’ll be able to worship in the building together.

    We’re beginning to worship together (outdoors, for the moment) for the first time in over a year. Your elders and Worship Committee have been hard at work making plans for us to transition from online worship back to in-person worship. I’d like to share with you how this process will work. To begin, we will continue to have online worship in some form, even as we get back to in-person outdoor worship (and eventually indoor). This allows anyone who wishes to continue worshiping from home to do so. We will be purchasing a special camera that allows us to livestream a worship service (which means what we do in worship goes straight to YouTube, with no long hours of editing required).

    Details for May are not yet determined, although we are making preparations and plans for indoor worship, for when Session feels it is safe. Session and the Worship Committee have approved the following plans for April:

    April 4th (Easter Sunday!)—we will worship together outdoors, in the Peace Garden and along the East side of the sanctuary, at 11 a.m.  We will hold this outdoor service (with members of our choir leading us in song) no matter the weather, so bring an umbrella or rain jacket if necessary. Masks will be required. YouTube worship will also be available.

    April 11th—we will worship via YouTube on April 11th, with a sermon delivered by an outstanding preacher named Rev. Brian Ellison. Brian is the Executive Director of the Covenant Network, a national group of church leaders working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole, that seeks to support the mission and unity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to articulate and act on the church’s historic, progressive vision and to work for a fully inclusive church (particularly concerning the LGBTQIA+ community). FPC Logan is a member of the Covenant Network. Meg and I will lead the service, but Brian will be our preacher.

    April 18th—we will worship together outdoors at Trapper Park in southwest Logan, at 11 a.m. This Sunday is dedicated to Earth Day, and after a service (with music from our Praise Band) you are invited to walk the wonderful Logan River Trail with us. Materials will be provided to collect trash along the trail. There is a pavilion at Trapper’s Park. We will hold this service rain or shine (come dressed for the weather). Masks will be required for the service in the park. A YouTube service will be available for those who wish to stay home.

    April 25th—we will worship via YouTube on April 25th. Going back to YouTube this Sunday allows us to evaluate the recent outdoor services and make plans for future services, which may be outdoor, or if we are fortunate, perhaps indoor.

    I thank you for your grace and patience during this long year, and in coming months. It’s been a difficult one for your pastors and church staff too. I am thankful that we’ve had YouTube worship, but I’m very much looking forward to getting back to seeing each other in person and worshiping the Lord together.

    In this season of resurrection, may your hearts be filled with grace, peace, and joy.

    —Pastor Derek

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