Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Carter’

Sermon 04-15-18: “The B.C. and A.D. of Our Lives”

April 25, 2018

In today’s highly autobiographical scripture, Paul describes his life before Christ and after Christ. As I say in today’s sermon, if we’re Christians, our lives should be characterized by a B.C. (before Christ) and and A.D. (after Christ) as well. Can other people see the difference?

Sermon Text: Galatians 1:11-24

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The following was written after the fact from my sermon outline, so it will differ somewhat from the recorded sermon. Enjoy!

Believe it or not, I have never watched the show Celebrity Big Brother. Have any of you? But it made headlines recently when one of its contestants, a former White House staffer who was fired last year, had this to say about Vice President Mike Pence: She warned that we need to watch out for him. She said, “I’m Christian, I love Jesus, but he thinks Jesus tells him to say things.” 

This was being discussed on that talk show The View. Joy Behar, one of the co-hosts, upon hearing this, said to her fellow View co-hosts, “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you!” She went on to say that hearing voices is “mental illness.”

Then the vice president accused her of “attacking Christianity,” and the whole thing got blown out of proportion—as all things political tend to do these days.

Of course, when the vice president said that he hears Jesus speak to him, he meant it the way we mean it when we talk about “hearing” the Lord tell us something: he meant that he sensed that Jesus was guiding or directing or leading him to do something. Not that he heard Jesus speak to him in an audible voice. It’s unlikely that any of us Christians would claim to have heard Jesus speak in an audible voice, even if we’re confident that Jesus has “spoken” to us.

Besides, Jesus doesn’t need to speak to us in an audible voice. Because we have God’s Word… and we believe that Jesus speaks to us in the pages of this book! This is by far the main way that Jesus speaks to us!

But the apostle Paul wants us to know in today’s scripture, by contrast, that when he heard Jesus speak to him, he meant he really heard Jesus speak to him, not merely in an audible voice, but in person—because Jesus appeared to him in his resurrected body on that Damascus road, gave him the gospel he preached, and commissioned him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 09-08-13: “Back to School, Part 5: Lust”

September 13, 2013

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Jesus’ sexual ethic is uncompromising, unpopular, and deeply countercultural in our day. Many of us may hear Jesus’ tough words and feel guilty because we know we’ve fallen short. This message offers both a challenge to change and a reminder of God’s mercy and grace.

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:27-30

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

I can’t read today’s scripture without thinking about Jimmy Carter. When he was running for president in 1976, he gave an interview in which he was asked if he had ever committed adultery. He answered that he had committed adultery—adultery in his heart. He was, of course, referring to Jesus’ severe words in today’s scripture. And for saying this, Carter was mocked and ridiculed all over the media and on national TV.

Jesus’ words were deeply unpopular in 1976, and it’s easy to see that they’ve only become more so since then. There is this popular idea that when it comes to issues pertaining to sex and sexuality, the church and the Bible and Christianity are hopelessly backwards. Repressed. Prudish. Our culture teaches us that the problem with human beings isn’t that we are helpless sinners who need a Savior; our problem is that we have failed to get in touch with who we really are—in here, in our hearts—and if only we’d do that, then we’d be healthier and happier. This is the feel-good gospel preached by Oprah Winfrey and many others. Our culture also says that what the church asks us to do as Christians—to not have sex before marriage, to not to have sex outside of marriage; to be monogamous within marriage, and to be celibate outside of marriage—is deeply unnatural. Read the rest of this entry »

Troy Davis and cost-free compassion

September 22, 2011

The state of Georgia became the object of scorn this week by executing Troy Davis, who was convicted of murdering a cop in Savannah in 1989. Evidence since his conviction casts some doubt on whether Davis did it—how much doubt I have no idea. I have no reason to imagine that Georgia’s pardons and parole board was acting in anything other than good faith. Regardless, Davis insisted that he was innocent up to his death. Many public figures—from Jimmy Carter (predictably) to politicians with solidly conservative bona fides like former U.S. Representative Bob Barr—opposed the execution, as did a former FBI Director, William Sessions.

It was funny the way many news reports also included Pope Benedict XVI in this list of opponents. They might have explained that since the Roman Catholic Church opposes capital punishment in general, the pontiff’s stance would only be newsworthy if he did support the death penalty for Davis!

I hope that my heart hasn’t become numb to these types of stories. Unlike many of my colleagues in ministry, and other Facebook friends, I didn’t feel any deep emotional investment in the outcome of Davis’s last-minute appeals. After all, I’ve lived in a death-penalty state all my life (except for that brief period in the ’70s when the U.S. Supreme Court banned it because of its unfair application). It’s not like I needed the Davis case to wake me up to the sobering reality of it—or to the likelihood that innocent people have been and will continue to be executed, whether Davis, in this case, “did it” or not.

Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted, indignantly, that she can’t believe that people are getting more worked up about yesterday’s changes to the Facebook newsfeed than they are to the fact that the state is going to execute someone. I wasn’t sure what to do with that. As long as Georgia has the death penalty, they (or should I say we?) will continue to kill people with it. If not Davis, then somebody else really soon. If not in Georgia, then in some other state in our union.

If we had to wait for tragedies to cease before we could resume our normal life, who could get on with living? We all have 24/7 access to every kind of tragedy, evil, and injustice if we choose to avail ourselves of it.

The whole spectacle of the Troy Davis story reminds me of a 1975 Bob Dylan song called “Black Diamond Bay,” which describes the last fateful moments in the lives of several people living on a tiny resort island that literally explodes from a volcanic eruption. The last verse shifts abruptly to the perspective of someone (presumably Dylan himself) learning about the disaster on TV:

I was sitting home alone one night in LA
Watching old Cronkite on the seven o’clock news
It seems there was an earthquake that
Left nothing but a Panama hat
And a pair of old Greek shoes
Didn’t seem like much was happening
So I turned it off and went to grab another beer
Seems like every time you turn around
There’s another hard-luck story that you’re gonna hear
And there’s really nothing anyone can say
And I never did plan to go anyway
To Black Diamond Bay.

For me, TV (and the internet) flattened the whole tragic story of the murdered police officer, Mark MacPhail, and his family—not to mention Troy Davis and his family—to just “another hard-luck story” that I’m going to hear when I turn on the news.

The media make events like this one seem unreal to me—too abstract, too distant. I don’t know the facts of the events in question. I don’t know these people on my screen. I don’t know the truth. I could muster some compassion for them, but how do I know my compassion is real, and not simply manufactured by media producers who are trying to tell me a good story—which means better ratings and more ad revenue?

How do I know that my “compassion” isn’t instead a voyeuristic kind of entertainment?

I am, along with the United Methodist Church (see ¶ 164.f of the Book of Discipline), opposed to the death penalty in all cases. As long as we safely imprison murderers so that they are no longer a danger to others, we can afford to wait on God’s justice to be done. Besides, God implements his own death penalty at the end of our natural lives. No one escapes it. And no one escapes justice in the long run. God sees to it.

So here I am, opposing the death penalty. Big deal. Unless or until I can do something about it in a meaningful way, what am I supposed to do about Troy Davis? I trust that God placed compassionate people in his life to help him, and that compassionate people are helping his family now. I trust that God has placed compassionate people in the lives of Officer MacPhail’s family. I’m obviously not one of those people.

Posting angry words about it on Facebook or even on a blog(!) hardly counts as meaningful action. It’s cost-free compassion. I need costly compassion. And that starts with people I know and people who are within my sphere of influence—people I feel called to care for.

In the meantime, I’m turning off the news again.