Posts Tagged ‘Otto Warmbier’

Sermon 06-25-17: “A Loving Father and His Older Son”

July 13, 2017

Detail of older son from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

Our scripture today tells the story of the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. As this sermon makes clear, we Christians—who are justified by faith alone through grace alone—can easily slip into the “religious” mindset all over again: we believe that we have to earn our place in God’s family.

Sermon Text: Luke 15:(11-24) 25-32

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We got heartbreaking news last week about the University of Virginia student, Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor last year in North Korea for allegedly stealing some political artwork from a hotel. He died last week of some kind of brain injury, which he received while in North Korean custody.

After his death, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware posted on Facebook that Warmbier “got exactly what he deserved… He went to North Korea for [heaven’s] sake and then acted like a spoiled, naive, arrogant, US college student who had never had to face the consequences of his actions. I see him crying at his sentencing hearing and think ‘What did you expect?’”

As you might expect, she received a lot of criticism for her comments. People on social media were outraged. The university apologized on her behalf. And as tempted as I am to pile on, I remember the uncharitable thoughts that crossed my mind when the news broke last year that Warmbier had been arrested: “Why the heck was he in North Korea anyway? And if he did do something to that artwork—oh my goodness—what was he thinking?

I felt morally superior to him—and obviously this professor did, too.

But why do we feel morally superior? We’ve all made plenty of foolish decisions. We’ve all sinned spectacularly. The difference is, unlike this poor college student, none of us has received a death sentence for it! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 03-20-16: “Your King Is Coming”

March 23, 2016

John Sermon Series Graphic

In his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, Jesus announces to the world that he is king. Do we live our lives as if Jesus is king? Or do we live as if God’s kingdom were a democracy, and we get to vote on the question? If the latter, now is the time to repent, while we are still in this “season of mercy.” As I warn in this sermon, while he comes as a merciful king the first time, he comes as a king who judges and punishes the second time.

[To listen on the go, right-click to download an MP3.]

There was a story in the news last week that gave me a chill: A University of Virginia student named Otto Warmbier, who was visiting North Korea as part of some organization, was boarding an airplane back to the U.S. when he was arrested. Allegedly, he stole some kind of propaganda sign from the hotel he was staying in. He confessed to doing it, but for all we know, he did so under duress, at gunpoint. I don’t know if stealing this sign was the moral equivalent of stealing hotel bathroom towels, but it didn’t seem much more significant than that. Yet the North Koreans immediately tried him and sentenced him to 15 years hard labor. Fifteen years!

Otto Warmbier

The story gives me the heebie-jeebies because I can’t help but think, “What if that were me?” Not that I would ever go to North Korea—and there’s a good reason the State Department warns Americans not to go there—and if I went, I hope I wouldn’t steal anything while I was there, but still… Even if Warmbier did it, 15 years in a North Korean concentration camp is a terrible price to pay for such a seemingly small and foolish decision! It’s so unfair!

Read the rest of this entry »