Sermon: Let Me Take a Closer Look

June 17, 2018
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 4:26-34

This has not been a good week for public interpretation of the Bible. Let me take a closer look:

The Attorney General of the United States chose to use Romans 13:1 to justify this administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which includes separation of children from their parents at the border. The Attorney General said:

“Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

Apparently the Attorney General had failed to read the verses immediately prior (12:20-21): “No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

He might also have done well to read all the way to 13:8-10: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another: for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Mister Attorney General, go back to Sunday School.

Worse, the Attorney General made these remarks to law enforcement officers. Speaking to law enforcement offices is part of the job, but take a closer look at this: He told people with badges and guns that they are divinely appointed to commit cruelty. “Orderly and lawful processes” are exactly those being used to remove children from their families. They’re orderly: there’s a set of regulations to follow. They’re lawful: at least, people think they’ve got laws to justify it.

And these orderly and lawful processes are unarguably, relentlessly, and inexcusably cruel. Orderly, legal, and damnable. And according to the Attorney General, now they bear the blessing of God.

That is blasphemous.

It also hasn’t been a great week for law. Let me take a closer look at that:

I also heard US Attorney Ryan Patrick defend the policy in an interview this week. His defense: “We are following the law.”

I’ve heard that defense before. It was used at a set of trials in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1945 and 1946. It was disallowed.

It hasn’t been a good week for law or Bible. Just a closer look, perhaps, might have saved these individuals from horrendous error. Or not. A closer look at law or Bible might have given them additional ideas about ways to defend cruelty they had already decided upon. The simple truth is that you can defend nearly any atrocity you like from the law codes of the US or the pages of the Bible. You have to ignore a lot, but you can do it.

For instance, that very passage that the Attorney General quoted was used, in American history, to justify the following:

First: Submission to the British Parliament without legal representation before the American Revolution. This, incidentally, is the situation Hawai’i was in until 1959, and it’s the status Puerto Rico is not enjoying today. This past Thursday, the electric utility on the island announced that it has restored service to 99.58% of its customers.

That’s nine months later.

The second item to be justified by Romans 13: American chattel slavery before the US Civil War. Mind you, you have to ignore a lot of the book of Exodus to make large-scale slavery Biblical, but they did.

The third: Opposition to the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., replied to religious leaders who criticized their breaking of laws in his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail: “Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.”

But enough on bad public interpretation of the Bible. Let me take a closer look at these parables of Jesus, because frankly, my friends, I’m looking for some hope.

Jesus told his followers that the reign of God is like a seed. It’s like a seed in that it’s hidden from common view. It’s beneath the earth. That is, it’s somewhere where the reign of God can grow, where it can find sustenance from the depths, and where it can raise its head toward the heights. There’s only one place that I can imagine that happening, and it’s in the human heart.

Indeed, this has been a week to see voices raised over this issue. On Tuesday, the Southern Baptist Convention voted a resolution condemning the practice. On Wednesday, the American Catholic Bishops did the same. Even Franklin Graham, who has swallowed far too much from this administration, has joined the chorus. The United Church of Christ announced its opposition two weeks ago, and renewed it on Friday with a pastoral letter from the leadership: “The United Church of Christ strongly condemns the dismantling of families, the criminalization of the quest for freedom, and the caging of those whose only crime is to seek shelter from harm. How we treat those who seek shelter in our midst is a direct reflection of how we treat God. We call upon our 5,000 member churches to write letters to your representatives in Congress as an act of worship this month. Refugee Justice Sunday is June 17, World Refugee Day is June 20. Remind Congress there is a law that supersedes partisanship and political bantering, and that is the sanctity of all people of God.”

I guess some seeds have taken root in the human heart. There is hope.

We must feed and water those seeds, however, so that the tiny mustard seed of God’s loving reign is not plucked up like a weed and left to blow away on the winds of human power and greed. That is already at work. The President’s declarations that this policy is the fault of the opposition party is a tactic. It’s also a falsehood, but it’s a tactic. It makes the children into pawns in a political game. In order to give them their parents, the opposition is supposed to give something to the President.

It’s the same thing they did with the debate over children brought to this country at a young age. They’re using children again.

We need that mustard seed of righteousness, of justice, of divine love, to grow.

We know what to do. See evil, and name it. Do not obey it. See good, name it. Praise it. See evil, stand against it. Do not abide it. See good, and embrace it. Nurture it.

We encourage others to do well. We discourage others from doing ill.

And most of all, we treasure that seed of God’s reign that grows within our own hearts. We feed it with prayer. We feed it with deeds of love. We feed it with calls for justice. We feed it with Bible study that doesn’t stop with what serves our interests in the moment. We feed it with listening for the still small voice of God that moves us.

Let me take a closer look at this seed of hope. Let us take a closer look at this seed of hope. Let us nurture this seed of hope and watch it sprout, and leaf, and thrive.


Oh, No!

Pastor Eric regrets that there is no audio recording of this week’s sermon. He simply forgot to turn on the recorder, and for this, he humbly apologizes.

The photo is of Pastor Eric’s stole from this morning, a design of Carrot Top Studio.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on June 17, 2018

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283