FIRST LESSON: Mark 2:23 – 3:6
SECOND LESSON Romans 14:1-12
SERMON: “The Most Dangerous Place to Walk”
You have heard it said that there are two sides to every issue. But I say to you, that as one member of this congregation (who shall remain nameless) has said to me frequently, there are three sides to every story: His side, her side and what really happened. That may be true. As a people we both struggle with and commend ourselves for our diversity of beliefs and opinions. There’s the one side of nearly every question and the other side, and then there’s the right side. The trouble is we don’t always
have clear access to the “right side.”
History gives us a rather interesting account on resolution of conflict. French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Christo) once had a heated quarrel with a rising young politician. The argument became so intense that a duel was inevitable. Since both men were superb shots they decided to draw lots, the loser agreeing to shoot himself. Dumas lost. Pistol in hand, he withdrew in silent dignity to another room, closing the door behind him. The rest of the company waited in gloomy suspense for the shot that would end his career. It rang out at last. His friends ran to the door, opened it, and found Dumas, smoking revolver in hand. “Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened,” he announced. “I missed.”
There are people who enjoy engaging in controversy. And then there are those who believe that as Christians the best way to approach any conflict that occurs is to run away. After all, God wants us to love our neighbor and that means we shouldn’t argue or fight with them. So if there is a disagreement of any kind, we should flee to avoid having to disagree with them. Since God wants there to be peace in the world, then whenever there is a disagreement of any kind, we should be very careful not to share our beliefs.
“One Sabbath,” relates Mark, “Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Does anyone here think that conflict between God’s faithful people is something new? Here we have evidence that it goes back at least as far as biblical times. The Pharisees lodge a charge against Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus defends them.
Supporting the Pharisees’ side of the argument:
The Sabbath is a day for rest and renewal, which the religious leaders took very seriously. Volumes were written to clarify what did and did not constitute work on the Sabbath. For example:
Uh oh! Conflict!
Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” If David could break the law, then surely Jesus, the Son of God, Son of Man could do so.
27 Then he said to [the Pharisees], “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
The next part of today’s gospel reading is the same song, second verse, as Jesus heals a man with a shriveled hand. Are the Pharisees not right that the man could have come for healing any of the six other days of the week? Jesus himself is now working on the Sabbath! But is Jesus not right that even though it is the Sabbath, it is right to choose doing good over doing evil, to choose compassion over callousness, kindness over meanness.
These days, I don’t know where we could run and hide from conflict.
Should the United States, with or without the help of other world nations, take action against a government that while embroiled in civil war unleashed chemical weapons upon its own people? We are war-weary. Have we not learned our lessons from involvement in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan? Haven’t we hurt and lost enough of our young men and women? Haven’t we spent enough of our resources on nation-building when we could invest those resources in helping our own citizens? Who made us the policemen of the world?
And yet, did we not learn that we could not remain neutral forever in the face of Hitler’s aggression in Europe and the atrocities of concentration camps and the annihilation of some six million Jews?
Is there a middle of the road?
We have issues here in our own country, like gun control, health care, welfare reform, tax reform, pro-life /pro-choice issues, economic recovery issues? There’s a reason my wise mother taught me not to discuss religion or politics in any social gathering.
Is there a middle of the road?
Then there are the issues we face in the church – not just our church – all churches deal with these things.
Missions – should start at home. We should take care of our local neighbors first. Really? Are not the children in the Congo, Zimbabwe and Malawi, three of the poorest countries in the world, also God’s children, and don’t the poorest in our own country have much more than most of them?
Stewardship – If I handed each of you paper and pencil and asked you to prepare the church budget for 2014, would we not get as many variations as we had people tackling the task. And on the subject of money, does tithing mean before or after taxes?
Worship – What’s the right temperature in the sanctuary? Should we invest in improving the sound system? Must worship be completed in 60 minutes or less? If we can watch a football game for 3 hours, a movie for 2 hours, is it not okay if we’re in here for an extra 5 or 10 minutes?
Here comes the real bottom-line issue that generates differences of opinion: (okay, for some of us it’s bottom line, for others, not so much.) What is required for our salvation? Do we agree with Rob Bell who wrote in Love Wins that in the end everyone will be saved (including opportunities even after death). Or do we agree with Michael Wittmer’s response in Christ Alone, which articulately refutes Bell’s universalism.
Here’s a shameless plug for our Sunday morning conversations for adults: This year we are talking about some issues that tend to tear churches and their members apart. Who is Jesus Christ and how important is the answer to that question? Is it true you’re not a Christian if you believe in evolution? Do Christians have a reasonable hope for a resurrection like Jesus’? Is it true you’re not really a Christian if you are ever plagued by doubts? Is the “Church” [big C] still relevant in today’s world? Must we believe everything in the Bible, literally and word for word?
Neither I, nor those who will be moderating those conversations, within the framework of Martin Theilen’s book What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian, expect or require that we will come to final answers and resolutions of these issues that everyone will agree upon. Still, some of us do agree that by talking about them, we may at least come to understand each other better.
The most dangerous place to walk is in the middle of the road. Why? Because you are vulnerable to being hit by vehicles (people) on both sides.
There’s a walk we take between the Law and grace. The Pharisee is right on target with his objection to work on the Sabbath. No Jew of his time would have faulted him for questioning the picking of grain or healing on the Sabbath. The law matters because it sets needed boundaries to live in peace with our neighbors. Breaking the law, even for good reasons, opens the door to slippery slopes and ultimately abolishing it all together. But as important as the law is (and notice that Jesus doesn’t set aside the law; he offers a different interpretation of it), as important as the law is, it must bow to mercy and to life. David Lose writes, “Law helps order our world, but grace is what holds the world together. Law pushes us to care for each other, but grace restores us to each other when we’ve failed in the law.” Perhaps this is the narrow path Jesus said we would have to walk – the narrow, often tension-filled space between Law and Grace.
The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote to the church at Rome, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
How many people have turned away from faith altogether because someone or some organization has judged them or people they love harshly.
Who is acceptable in the eyes of God? Will everyone be saved, or only those who happen to agree with me – or with you? I don’t know. Thank goodness it’s up to God.
The most dangerous place to walk is in the middle of the road where you see both sides of an issue, and so are vulnerable to being hit on both sides.
As followers of Jesus Christ we walk in tension between Law and Grace.