Sermon, July 10, 2022

By Stephen R. Carnahan

A look at five troubling things
Yes, it’s been a difficult time for me lately, and not just me. All over the country, all over the world, actually, there are people who are troubled by what’s going on. Maybe that’s always true, but it seems some important things have been happening lately and we are troubled, and not sure what to do about it. Many of these matters have come out of Washington. Or have not come out of Washington when they should have.
I know what you are thinking: “Here we go again. Here’s another one of his political speeches. We are here to learn about the Bible, not to indulge in political debate.” I wish I could make you happy, but then I feel like I wouldn’t be doing my job.
Politics affects our daily lives. Our daily lives are where we live out our faith. Or say it backwards. Faith affects our daily lives. Our daily lives are where we live out our politics. If my task is to be a spiritual guide, then I have to deal with this area where life, faith and politics overlap. I have to talk to you about political matters.
Here’s some good news, though. You don’t have to agree with me about anything. You don’t have to do what I say. Your life task is to follow Jesus. My task is to do my best to point you in the direction of Jesus’ footprints. But you might find a better way. I can be wrong, sometimes very wrong.
All I can do is pray and consider carefully what I am going to say to you. You take it from there.
Thus I want to talk about four troubling things. Maybe five. I’ll tell you what I think, and what I think the message from God is in those things. You take it from there. Four, maybe five. Maybe six.
As you surely are aware, the Supreme Court overruled the Roe v Wade decision of 1972. That decision made it illegal to make abortion illegal. It was based primarily on the woman’s right to privacy. Now it once again is legal for states to make abortion illegal. And what should I say to you about this?
First. I shouldn’t say anything. I don’t know why men are part of this discussion. We did not grow up with the awareness of the possibility of becoming pregnant. I can hardly imagine what that does to a girl growing up. What does it mean to be a person who can bear another life, with all the hope and fear that goes with it? I don’t know and I can’t know, and I should just shut up about it.
Second, I have always been able to see both sides of the issue. I understand my relatives and friends who oppose legal abortion. But this debate is not a battle of good vs. evil. More on that in a bit.
Third, if we are going to follow the path of Jesus, we Christians have got to do a lot better on the part of women. Jesus had great respect for women. He trusted them and encouraged them to be spiritual models. He is deeply grieved that his followers, over the centuries, have demeaned and belittled women. I am troubled that the state legislatures that are passing these strict anti-abortion laws are filled with men.
Finally: we have been trying simple “only this” or “only that” solutions to a problem that is deeply complex. People in individual situations need to be able to talk, pray, discuss and compare options. Just saying no to every situation isn’t a wise answer, because every situation is different. We have been arguing so long and so hard because we all want our answer to be everyone’s answer. We need to listen.
Less than one month after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, The US Supreme Court handed down a ruling that makes it easier for people to carry guns in public, and harder for states or cities to stop them. Yes, during this time when the public has been pleading for the Government to do something to stop this insane violence, the court did just the opposite. For the first time in decades the Congress actually passed some anti-gun legislation, but the Supreme Court went the other way.
This is heart-breaking. We are the only nation that does this to itself. And why do we? Why do we fight so hard to keep the weapons that other countries find they can easily live without?
Many people who defend the ownership and carrying of guns like to say that the problem is not the guns, it’s mental illness. First let me say, the vast majority of people who are dealing with mental illness are not violent. But there is something about the functioning of the mind and soul that does contribute to violence.
For some reason, we Americans have come to the conclusion that we need to have power over other people. What is a gun but a means of extending the control you have over other people. But why do we want that power? Do we believe that other people are evil and thus we need to control them? Do we believe that we are so good that we should get to, literally, call the shots?
Listen to me: when you own a gun you have already decided that you are wise enough and have the right to end someone else’s life. A gun has no other purpose. It makes a terrible hammer, and a worse ruler. Yes, it is no good as a ruler. But we sure have put it in charge.
Following Jesus is very hard sometimes, and no time more difficult than when he tells us to love our enemies. A gun is a dangerous thing to have if your goal is to follow Jesus.
Again the Supreme Court has gone backwards and made it more likely that your children and grandchildren may face religious indoctrination in public school. This this came from a case in which a football coach started to pray on the 50 yard line after football games at public high school. Soon many of his players joined him. The school told him he could not do this. Why? What was wrong with it?
The rule has been that a teacher or other school official cannot lead students in prayer because it is a form of coercion. Children see a teacher praying and think, “That is something I should be doing.” Or they hear the words of the prayer and think, “That must be the right prayer to pray.” All well and good here at church, but in an institution supported by the public, when not all members of the public are of the same religion. Goodness, we Christians don’t even all say the Lord’s Prayer the same way.
Yes, Jesus told his disciples, and by extension us, that we should go out into the world and teach in his name, and baptize people and bring them into the church. I believe we should to this. But Jesus did not tell us to make other people’s religion illegal. Or to force people to follow our way. Jesus himself found people of other religions to be examples of pure faith. We simply cannot invite other people to the way of Jesus if we don’t respect their beliefs and perspectives. Once again, listening and talking with each other is crucial.
By the way, as long as there are exams there will always be prayer in schools. It has never been illegal to pray in school. It has been illegal to force or coerce people to pray in school.
Our nation is really struggling these days because we cannot agree on simple facts. We have come to a point where we simply choose to ignore reality. In fact, we can’t even decide what is reality. I have a few friends who don’t believe anything that comes from the information sources that I use, and I don’t believe theirs. Has this happened to you?
There is a big lie that is out there floating around. It concerns the last election. The facts show that the election was fair and that President Biden won. But there are others who say that Trump won, and each side accuses the other of lying. This big lie has done what lies always do—it has driven these wedges between us. And what am I to do in such a situation? How am I to be a pastor to you all?
I am going to say this: when I hear truth being spoken, I find love is there. I find people being treated with love and kindness, even in the disagreement. When I see violence and fear, I do not believe I am hearing the truth spoken. But what else can I say? Here in this pulpit I want to be very careful to separate my personal judgements and decisions from the message that God has given me to share.
I need the wisdom of Solomon. Two women came to him. Each had had a child, and one had died in the night. Both claimed the other was theirs. Simple enough today, with DNA testing, but not so simple then. So Solomon ordered the child be cut in two. One woman said, “Fine,” but the other said, “No let her have him!” Solomon recognized the mother whose love would see the welfare of the child over her own needs. Hmmm.
I will tell you this. 1. If you want to know my opinion about the election, come talk to me. In fact, stick around this morning after church and we will talk about it together. But for right now let me say this: “Whatever you do, do it with love.” Follow that path, and you will always be on the side of truth.
That’s four things, not five or six. But it’s enough. Whatever you do, do it with love.
Call to worship exercise
Take a deep breath. Hold out hands. All the things that have been going on. Set them aside. Hold out empty hands. Another deep breath. “God we are here, present as best we can me. Have patience with us. Speak to us. Touch us with life. Amen.”