Archive for February 2013

Wait… What?

February 12, 2013

This is my sermon from this past Sunday. If you’d like to listen/watch instead, the YouTube link is down at the bottom.

Matthew 26: 50b – 56


When we’re in preaching class at seminary, we learn about the Four Page Sermon. In this style of sermon, the first page of four is dedicated to a “problem within the text.” – I must state here that I’m not necessarily using the Four Page Sermon, so don’t get too excited Sam, I just like how it starts.

Once I chose this text, I knew that finding the problem wouldn’t be a problem. The only problem here is: which problem am I supposed to focus on? Am I supposed to focus on the idea that Jesus could have summoned “twelve legions of angels” to save himself; that Jesus, despite his deity, was willing to succumb to a human death; or was I supposed to focus on the fact that, despite following Jesus for a prolonged amount of time, one of the disciples drew his sword in anger and used it to induce violence on another human being? Winner, winner; chicken-dinner! That right there is the problem.

If we take the Bible as a perfect historical document, which I’m sure no one in this congregation has a problem with doing, then we’re supposed to believe that the disciples have been following Jesus for 3 years. During this time, Jesus has been teaching them lessons of non-violence. In fact, two of the most famous lessons of non-violence are found in Matthew’s Gospel. At the end of the fifth chapter, we hear Jesus turning Jewish Scripture on its head, “38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…” Jesus continues, “43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who prosecute you.” That last part is something that should have stuck out to this disciple. “Pray for those who prosecute you.” It was a message to not take up your sword and whack off your prosecutor’s ear – and I have ten bucks saying the disciple wasn’t aiming for that slave’s ear.

But hey, can you blame this disciple? This disciple and his friends have been following Jesus around for three years! They have listened to Christ’s teachings, seen Jesus perform numerous miracles, and seen the oppressive hierarchy eat their own words time and time again when they tried to denounce Jesus by testing him with scripture. Jesus, to the disciples, was probably their best friend, and they believed that he was the long-proclaimed Messiah; the same Messiah from all the Scriptures important to the Jewish faith; the Messiah that was supposed to lead them to God’s Kingdom. Can you imagine the dedication they must have felt to their leader?  What would you have done if they had come for your Messiah? If you knew that they were going to beat that person, put that person on trial, torture him in any inhumane way they could think of, and then put that person to death – just like that Messiah had told you they were going to do – what would have been your reaction?

Let’s try to put this into perspective. Let’s take out the word “Messiah” and put in a word like “partner” or “child” or “parent.” What if they were to take your children from you and torture them until their death? What if they came to take your spouse or partner away and kill them? What about your parents? Siblings? What would you do if you were there, and you had a weapon? How easy and instinctual of a choice would that be for you to defend your loved one? I know that I wouldn’t hesitate. But the catch is this: Jesus would want us to hesitate. He would want us to stop what we were doing immediately and instead of drawing the sword, he would want us to put it down and offer ourselves as well as the person being captured.

Jesus here is performing the ultimate sacrifice. Again, he says that he could call upon God to save himself, but he doesn’t. Instead, he turns himself over willingly. When Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill,” that’s what he means. This moment right here, when Jesus chooses peace instead of violence, sacrifice instead of slaughter, it is the ultimate example of turning a sword into a plowshare and a spear into a pruning hook. The Kingdom of God will not attack humankind, despite this tremendous aggression. The Kingdom of God does not want to learn war against humankind. God is done with violence. But that disciple didn’t get it; none of them did. In fact, the disciples deserted Jesus right then and there. And, just like the disciples of the Gospels, we don’t get it either.


If you’re familiar with this text and the liturgical year, you know that I’m using this text about a month and a half too soon. There are several people you can thank for that: the first is my mentor back in Arkansas, Reverend Anne Russ of First Presbyterian Church of Argenta, Arkansas. All the other people belong to the Arkansas State Legislature, both the House and Senate.  You can blame Anne, because she wrote a blog post in response to a bill passed by the Arkansas Senate – Senate Bill-71, also known as The Church Protection Act. Our Democratic governor will likely sign this bill, which was also passed by the AR House of Representatives, into law. This bill will effectively take back a law that said it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon in a place of worship. We can take guns to church now in Arkansas. Because, that’s what Jesus would want.

Now, I love my home state. If you ask me any day of the week, I can tell you a thousand great things about Arkansas. If you see me wearing a t-shirt, that shirt is more than likely going to have something to do with Arkansas. If you’ve seen me in short sleeves, you might have noticed how I have a tattoo of Arkansas on my right arm. Arkansas is my home and I love it there. But, at the same time, Arkansas is like that best friend that you have always loved and have been best friends with since the second grade. However, you’re a little embarrassed to be around them these days because they always do something outlandishly stupid in public.

Now the pertinent question in this instance is not why the lawmakers would do this. The question is not why a Democrat governor would sign this bill into law. It’s not even whether or not the state should have their laws involved in the church in the first place. The question is this: Why is this even an issue? Why would someone even think about bringing a gun to church? We’re obviously doing something wrong here! It’s so apparent that we, as disciples, are failing when people argue whether or not to bring guns to church! It’s painstakingly barefaced that we’re failing as disciples when people want to carry around a weapon as a means of self-defense. Jesus didn’t just advocate against violence; if you look at the text, Jesus advocated against returning violence as well. Every time Jesus was faced with a violent scene, he reacted peacefully. Again, I stress how he said he could summon 12 legions of God’s angels to  save himself, but he didn’t!

And now we, as a society, choose violence every day. We choose it when we play a war-based video game. We choose it when we watch shows that amplify and glorify violent murder scenes. We choose violence when we decide not to talk about shootings in the public arena. We choose violence when we thoughtlessly hurl insults at others. We choose violence when we see our children pick up a branch and pretend that it’s a gun and do nothing to stop them. Plain and simple, we choose violence every day.

A lot of people, myself included, say the whole point of Jesus’ life was to give us an example to live by. If Jesus turned down violence at every opportunity, it’s because he was showing us how to do so as well. Jesus even showed us how to do it when he was staring death in the face. Bloody and broken, beaten and hurting, Jesus chose peace. Despite his desperation in his humanity, Jesus chose nonviolence. Despite having the power to end every bit of suffering that he was going through, Jesus chose not to. In a final act of Godliness, Jesus finished his revolution not with a bloody march of rebellion on Roman oppressors, but with a lying down of arms, knowing that God would not let violence have the final word.

So when we look at our society and see all the violence, acceptable forms and non-acceptable, we have to ask ourselves one question: Why?