Sermons from Pastor Jim

West Nottingham Presbyterian Church
February 18, 2018
Dr. Jim Horn

Mark 2:23-28

The Law vs. Mercy

Are there any lawyers in the congregation today? I want to give them a disclaimer that what I say about lawyers might affect your blood pressure today. I am going to read you some very unusual results from some extraordinary legal cases.

In 1964 a California woman was driving a Porsche after having had several alcoholic drinks. While driving 60-mph in a 25-mph zone, she had an accident in which her passenger was killed. Porsche was ordered to pay $2.5 million for having designed a car that was such a high-performance vehicle for the average driver.

In 1985 an overweight man with a heart condition bought a lawnmower from Sears. Later he had a heart attack while starting the mower. He was awarded $1.8 million.

While in the process of attempting to burglarize a school, a man fell through a skylight. The company that insured the school was ordered to pay $260,000 in damages and to give the would-be burglar $1,500 a month for the rest of his life.

In Maryland, two men tried to dry their hot-air balloon in a commercial laundry dryer. The dryer exploded, injuring them slightly, and they ended up winning almost $900,000 in damages.

These would be funny if they weren’t so pathetic. No wonder justice wears a blindfold. No wonder lawyers are the targets of so many jokes. Now you and I both know that there are many outstanding, dedicated lawyers in Maryland and throughout the United States. We also know that people can be ridiculous and blame others for their mistakes without taking responsibility. There are more frustrating things in today’s society than our system of jurisprudence. Perhaps that’s because the law was never intended to save us. Laws are intended to protect people, even if we’re not the people being protected.

Jesus had his own problems with the Teachers of the Law, and so did the Apostle Paul. In fact, this was why Jesus was vulnerable to the influence of the religious leaders of his time: he had a tendency to interpret the Law of Moses a little differently from the established norm. Consider our lesson for the day. Jesus and his disciples were passing through a corn field and his disciples began to pluck the ears of corn. Unfortunately for them, though, this was on the Sabbath. The Pharisees saw them and complained, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

They had a valid point. The Sabbath was to be kept holy. God rested on the seventh day and he commanded the people of Israel to do the same. Orthodox Jews observe the Sabbath laws to not work – cook food or harvest in the fields by preparing extra meals on Friday and leave it out for Saturday. The offense of Jesus and the disciples was that they were homeless wanders who did not have food laid out for them the day before. The actions of Jesus and his disciples went against this commandment, one of the Ten Commandments, and it disturbed some people.

But Jesus said to 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.”

All I can say is that if you are going to pick an argument with Jesus about a point of law, you had better know the scriptures better than Jesus knows them. Jesus used the actions of King David in the temple as a precedent for what his disciples were doing. David was hungry, and he ate consecrated food. Surely that was more dramatic than plucking corn on the Sabbath. Then Jesus added some very important words, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

A legend of John the Evangelist tells us that John was once playing with a partridge. Someone chided him for resting and goofing off in play rather than being busy at work. John answered: “I see you carry a bow. Why is it that you do not have it strung and ready for use?” The critic replied, “That would not do at all. If I kept it strung and ready for use, it would go lax and be good for nothing.” “Then,” said John, “do not wonder what I do.”

You can’t keep the bow strung and ready for use all the time; that would ruin the bow. My guess is that people who keep a Sabbath get as much done as those who do not, and I would also guess that they live longer. We need a Sabbath. What that means in today’s jargon is, I need a break, I deserve a day off; I need a vacation.

Some may think that we are to adhere to a literal interpretation of the Gospel. The Gospel is not a legal document and no human has the authority to enforce it. A Scottish minister was asked if he thought it was wrong to take a walk in the country on Sunday. He said, “Well, as I see it, there’s no harm in takin’ a walk on the Sabbath, as long as ye dinna enjoy yourrrself.”

Do you see the problem? Literal or legalistic interpretations claim that they are to enforce the laws of Scripture over other people. But human interpretations do not come from God. THE LAW CONDEMNS US ALL. If we think that we are saved by keeping all the Laws and Ordinances in the Bible, then all of us are doomed.

Henry Moorhouse tells of a lady who said to him, “I can’t see how a person who has broken just one of the Ten Commandments can be as bad as another who has broken five or even all of them.” Moorhouse explained, “Suppose you were hanging over a precipice, suspended by a chain with ten links. If someone took a hammer and smashed every link, where would you go?” “To the bottom of the canyon, of course,” she said. “But if he severed only one link, what would happen?” “Why, that would be just as bad,” she said, “I’d still fall and be killed!” Suddenly she grasped the truth that “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

This also means as one sin is forgiven in mercy, all sins are forgiven in mercy. When one wrong is committed, many other things go wrong. But, it one thing is done right, many things are made right.

On February 14th, Nikolas Cruz, 19-year old killer of 17 in Majority Stoneman Douglass High School, Parkland Florida, Broward County. He was adopted at a young age. Police were called 39 times for disturbances. Nikolas was expelled from Stoneman Douglass Highschool for fighting with the new boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend. His adoptive father died when he was young, and his adoptive mother died in November. Melisa McNeil, his lawyer described Nikolas as a broken human being. Police are law enforcement agents. There are laws against all of these things that Nikolas Cruz did, but they can only be enforced after the crime was committed. Gun Control Act (GCA), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).

I am the adoptive father of five special needs children. They were broken too. When they messed up, they’d tell me they “didn’t do anything wrong.” I would tell them, “But you didn’t do anything right either.” They learned to prefer what is right. I can tell you they should all be on that ATF list that would ban them from purchasing or holding a firearm because they can’t handle life and death situations, let alone know how to keep a lethal weapon safe. I show them mercy, guidance and offer them the hope and righteousness of the Kingdom of God. I have learned that the power I have is love. Showing mercy encourages them to overcome adversity. Giving them rules never helped them.

I am convinced that there is no law or law enforcement that exists today that could have prevented Nikolas Cruz from doing what he did in Parkland, Florida. The FBI tip-line operator, law enforcement at all levels, missed the warnings. On January 5th a friend reported that Nikolas Cruz planned a school shooting. The program “when you see something, say something” FBI tip-line didn’t work. We are hearing how gun sales are not wrong, laws are not wrong, law enforcement didn’t do anything wrong. But they didn’t do anything right either!

These are the heroes who did the right thing. Aaron Feis, Assistant Football Coach and security guard, selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot. He died a hero. Scott Beigel was a Geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Beigel was murdered after letting students take shelter in his classroom and got in the way of the shooter as he tried to enter the class. Beigel saved many lives. An unnamed janitor ushered students into a culinary classroom as a safe escape, essentially saving 40 lives. Teacher Melissa Falkowski hid 19 students in a closet, while culinary teacher Ashley Kurth hid about 65 students in the storage area of her office. We honor these heroes. They are the keepers of the Sabbath.

When I consider what real power, I think of mercy, grace and love. There is no power shown by keeping love to yourself. Don’t ever hold back. Give love to those nearest and dearest to you. Showing mercy empowers other people to overcome adversity. All who receive mercy from you will freely admit that you are greater than they are because you used that power to transform and encourage them. Being gracious is more endearing to those receive it than what people get from those who enforce laws and make rules and requirements to control or diminish others.

We are all sinners. The Law or Ten Commandments do not give us salvation. We are saved by one thing and one thing only, our covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. We have a covenant made by God in Jesus Christ, sealed by the sacraments, and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. And he is Lord of the Sabbath. How do we keep the Sabbath holy?

We are a Sabbath keeping community because Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. The Kingdom of God is near. “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath and he is close at hand. We will make it right. We show mercy, give mercy – and we will not break God’s law. We will fulfill it.


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