Tuna Fish Sandwiches

This is probably my favorite sermon from this semester. I think it was the best-reviewed as well.

Romans 1: 26 -32

            In this particular section of his letter to the Romans, Paul is explaining a particular example, as stated in verse 18, of a, “revelation from heaven of the divine wrath against every form of ungodliness and wickedness on the part of those people, who, by their wicked lives are stifling the truth.” In other words, Paul is listing a specific example of how people were punished, by God, for covering up the truth of God with their impure actions. Many scholars believe that Paul is talking about Sodom and Gomorrah here, when God destroyed the city because of their prevalent wickedness.

These verses, particularly 26 and 27, have become a staple for the more conservative side of the church in regards to that position of homosexuality. And yes, Paul does mention how the wicked people did unnatural things with each other. “26 … the women among them perverted the natural use of their bodies to the unnatural; 27 while the men, disregarding that for which women were intended by nature, were consumed with passion for one another…” Whether or not that’s your belief, it’s important that we remember Paul’s description of the evil things people were doing doesn’t end there. He goes on to talk about how the people were also gossiping, slandering, murdering, disobeying parents; they were untrustworthy, undiscerning, and without natural affection or pity. The lustful acts, which Paul said were wrong, are only some in the list of many things Paul condemns.

As several of you probably know, Facebook can be a hotbed for discussion of all kinds. Sometimes it can be helpful and discerning. Other times, it seems that everyone involved would rather just be standing in the same room, screaming at each other. This past month, the conversations on my timeline got a little more than heated a few times.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know that the United States Supreme Court heard arguments recently about the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 (Prop 8) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – both of which make same-sex marriage illegal. As the arguments started, Facebook became awash with people posting links, pictures, and articles supporting one position over the other. At one point, people started changing their profile pictures to a picture that had a red background with a white equal sign standing out; the LGBT advocate group, the Human Rights Campaign, advocated this. I learned that week that while most of the posts and profile pictures in my timeline supported marriage equality and the overturning of both Prop 8 and DOMA, I still had a few friends who felt very different.

At one point, I posted this neat little flowchart that was an attempt to defend the right to marry for the LGBT community. It was titled “So You Still Think Homosexuality is Sinful?” and had several discussion topics under the “Yes” bubble to illustrate things said and not said in the Bible; it had sub-subtopics to clarify what the authors of particular books meant when that section was written or how it should be applied today. The whole point of the flowchart was supposed to debunk the idea that the Bible can be used effectively in modern society to define marriage as one man and one woman. And pretty much as soon as I posted that picture, I received a comment from a friend of mine who is much more conservative than myself.

This friend, who is a fraternity brother of mine and someone whom I do still call a friend and brother, simply posted the comment, “Romans 1:26-32.” Of course I knew why he was posting this particular verse. Of course I responded. Of course the discussion went on for hours with many, many posts and both of us claiming “victory” at the end of the discussion. I wish I could say this was the first time this happened. I wish I could say that every person I disagree with never picked a fight using Scripture. I wish I could say I never picked a fight using Scripture. I wish that these discussions didn’t lead to back and forth volleys that end with both sides upset and disappointed in the other.

This use of Scripture, when we use it to prove our points or to prove that we know more about the Bible than the other person, is a trap. It’s the same kind of trap that Calvin’s stuffed tiger finds himself in when the characters are introduced in the very first Calvin and Hobbes comic strip to ever be published. This comic appeared in newspapers on November 18th, 1985. In this strip, Calvin approaches his dad while his dad is cleaning the car and says, “So long, pop! I’m off to check my tiger trap! I rigged a tuna fish sandwich yesterday, so I’m sure to have a tiger by now!” His dad replies, “They like tuna fish, huh?” Calvin replies, “Tigers will do anything for a tuna fish sandwich.” The last panel has the stuffed tiger Hobbes hanging upside down from a tree, a rope around his ankle, and munching on a sandwich, and he says, “We’re kind of stupid that way.”

Hobbes gets stuck in a tree because of his want for that sandwich. Calvin says that tigers will do anything or a tuna fish sandwich, even proceed into an obvious trap and get stuck in a tree. It’s not that Hobbes actually needs that tuna fish sandwich, but rather he perceives his want for it as a need. He thinks he needs that snack and therefore gets stuck in a tree. He doesn’t see the greater outcome of that sandwich lying in the trap and ends up swinging from the tree by his ankle.

If we go back to my argument with my friend, we see an argument that’s been going on for quite some time. That discussion was a perfect illustration of how people who disagree with each other use the Bible to “beat” the other side. Scripture has become the tuna fish sandwich. Our use of the Scripture has become our want, our need, for that particular Scripture to validate our opinions. The end result of the bait and that want to be correct is us hanging upside down from a tree saying, “We’re kind of stupid that way.”

Paul revealed to us what the whole point of the Scripture is in verse 18, which I mentioned earlier. In that verse, Paul says God’s wrath came against those who used wickedness to suppress truth. The point of Scripture is to reveal God’s truth. The truth to Paul was revealed in a stunning revelation that left him blind for days and changed his whole life. The truth was revealed to the disciples in their interaction with Jesus and how he taught them to live and act. Balaam was knocked off his ass. Jacob wrestled with someone perceived to be an angel or even God. The truth is pushed at us in any number of ways, and they’re all very different in nature. But they all have a theme.

The challenging part for us is to not be blinded by one set of verses in Scripture. If we do that, we can’t see the forest for the trees. If we focus on one verse only, one small part of this very large collection of books, we end up missing the bigger picture. But if we take challenging verses like these ones, and put them into the greater context and flow of the Bible, we get to see it a bit more clearly. Because then we see how Paul is urging us to spread forth the truth of God instead of covering it up. That truth of love and justice and mercy that spills out of the pages of these books is what we should be exemplifying.

This is why we don’t get to stop at verses 26 and 27. If we do, we don’t get to read verse 1 of chapter 2, which says, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” We are all sinners. We all do things that are just as bad as Paul’s list in verses 26-32. But if we try not to focus on the judging of other people and instead try to focus on what we can do to make ourselves better, we become better people! We get to try and do what Jesus did! And that was spill over the truth of love and justice and mercy!

When we find the truth of God in the real world, it changes our lives. When we find the truth of God in the real world, we find out that it’s more than just a couple of verses. We don’t experience God’s love, justice, and mercy by picking and choosing what we want to believe in the Bible. Instead, it’s when we take central themes that we find everywhere in the text, and in the world, and enact those in our lives. Those same recurring themes in the Bible that keep making themselves known over and over and over are the same themes that make us feel good in the real world. They’re the same themes that make a positive difference in someone’s life. Those themes that are undeniable in both the Old and New Testaments bring positive change into our lives every day. Those themes are God’s truth, and they prevent us from getting caught in a trap.

By living out the themes of the Bible, we have the opportunity to not get our foot caught in a trap and hung from a tree. Instead of being stuck in one spot, we can enable ourselves to keep moving forward.


And, here are the notes I received:

  • Good form for a 12-minute sermon (5 minutes, 2.5 minutes, 5 minutes)
  • The “trap” needed more pop to it. Link between text, real world, and illustration wasn’t as strong as it could have been.
  • Be careful on a divisive idea/text. Sure, safe to do it at SFTS, but what about a congregation?


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