That Gospel Crazy Law

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

Luke 10.25-37

I’m going to go out on a limb here… have any of you heard of this thing called the ‘Internet’? Yes, you use the internet? Wonderful tool, isn’t it? One of the blessings of the Internet is that it offers us a place where folks like you and me can discuss and learn. It offers a chance for us to offer our thoughts and our opinions and to listen to the perspectives of others. It offers us the opportunity for mature and reasoned and useful dialogue. Right? Right? Well, the opportunity is there. Yes, the comments section on internet stories offer us chances for good dialogue, but that’s not what we get, much of the time.

There is a maxim that has been offered about internet dialogue called “Godwin’s Law” – I don’t know if any of you have heard that. It’s an observation, and I’m paraphrasing here, that no matter what the discussion may be, it can be about science or politics, it doesn’t matter what it is, at some point sooner or later, someone is going to call someone else a Nazi. Or someone’s going to compare another to a Nazi. Sooner or later, dialogue devolves, says the maxim, to a place where one demonizes another as the epitome of evil. That’s what Nazis are, right? The epitome of evil.

It’s interesting for me to reflect on what this says about us, that this maxim turns out so often to be true, but the reason I raise this law at this moment is that it popped into my head when I was thinking about the story that Jesus tells us in scripture. Because Jesus seems to fall right into Godwin’s Law. Jesus and the lawyer, scripture says… Well, let me go off on a small tangent here. I had to apologize in the first service to Nathan, who happens to be a lawyer, and lawyers you know, always get a bad rap, right?. Any other lawyers here? Sorry about that! But in this story I have to come clean and say that the lawyer is much more like a scholar of the Torah, a bible teacher, a preacher. That’s me.

Jesus and the one who studies the bible are having a discussion, and a good one. They are dialoguing about the law and the lawyer asks a question that we all ask at one point or another: What do we need to do to inherit eternal life? It’s a good discussion, perking along, and wouldn’t you know it, Godwin’s Law comes up because Jesus ends up talking about a Nazi. Except that in the telling of his story, the Nazi is the hero and not the demon. Jesus tells the story about a Samaritan playing the role of hero. Now Samaritans weren’t Nazis, but for the lawyer and many of Jesus’ listeners, the Samaritans were the hated enemy. The hated ones. The demonized ones. If you wanted to insult a Jew, you would say, “You Samaritan, you.”

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

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  • Patience–for the Lord is Near

    I don’t often read from the book of James in the New Testament.  It’s a relatively short book, with instructions for Christians ranging from words about poverty and riches to warnings against judgment upon others, and finally to instruction on patience in the midst of suffering.

    Patience in the midst of suffering…  I confess that doesn’t sound very appealing.

    Suffering comes in so many forms, and all of them are significant and legitimate. Suffering varies, of course, and as a person living in the United States of America, I’m often reluctant to claim that I suffer from anything egregious. I have food, shelter, companionship, and various freedoms. But we do suffer. We suffer from lots of things. Isolation, job loss, self-doubt, economic uncertainty, criticisms or judgments from others. Criticisms or judgments from ourselves. There is no doubt that in one way or another we are even suffering from this COVID-19 pandemic. I miss you all. Meg and I are your pastors. We should be seeing you each week and praying with you, rejoicing at the good things in life, and comforting each other amidst the difficult time in life.

    It’s impossible to determine when we might get to the end of this, but I feel like we are about to turn a corner thanks to the hard work and miraculous creativity of scientists who are making COVID-19 vaccinations possible. I was in Colorado for a few days at the end of January to visit my father again, and it was such a blessing to drive him to a hospital where we received his first vaccination shot. The next one will be available in a few more weeks, and only then will I feel more secure about him, and the rest of us, making it through this.

    While reading James recently I came across this passage in the fifth and final chapter.

    Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

    James is writing to a group of people in first century Palestine who are wondering when Christ will return. He suggests they be patient for the coming of the Lord. I hope they were able to be so, because here we are two thousand years later…awaiting that same return. But in the midst of our ‘waiting’ we’ve learned something else about the Kingdom of Heaven. We don’t have to wait for the return of Christ for Christ to be present in our lives and across this world. The Kingdom of God is at hand. We help bring it about. We help bring about that kingdom of love and grace and comfort.

    James goes on to suggest that just as a farmer waits for his or her crop to sprout up and grow with the rains and flourish for time of harvest, we too must be patient. He then instructs them to strengthen their hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Patience. It’s been a long time, but I hope and pray we are doing well with patience during this pandemic.

    I am still in shock that around 3-4,000 Americans are dying each day from COVID-19 or related complications. It is staggering. The number is higher around the world. How do we mourn such a time? I’m not exactly sure, but perhaps the season of Lent which begins on February 17th will give us some room to do just that.

    This all brings me back to one of the central purposes of us as a congregation—the faithful worship gathering that we hold each week. I thank you for your patience and support while we worship on YouTube and occasionally via Zoom. I’d rather be in person with you, but not at the risk of anyone’s health or life. It’s a bit strange to me, being the church in this ‘digital age’ forced upon us by quarantine and social distancing. We’re doing our best, and I hope we’re doing it well. But I’m having a struggle with patience as I dream about seeing you all again in person. Session continues to discuss future plans; we will continue with our current setup for now and pray for a day when vaccinations are widespread and transmission rates approach zero. Not only for the sake of our worship, but also because of the value we place upon the health and well-being of each person.

    I’d like to also thank you for the love and support you have extended to my family as we’ve grieved my mom’s death on December 28th. My father received many cards from you, and he sends his thanks; they were all very meaningful. As you know my parents regularly visited Logan and enjoyed worshiping the Lord with us. Dad says when we’re back in person for church you can be sure he’ll be around to worship with us again. He, along with all of us, can’t wait to hear the Praise Band, Chancel Choir, and Westminster Bell Choir live and in person. Once again, thank you all.

    As James pleaded to those early Christians living in very uncertain times, may we strengthen our hearts, for indeed the Lord is near.

    Peace be with you all,  

    Derek

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