When Legal is Wrong

“When Legal is Wrong”

August 27, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10                   Romans 12:1-8                                   Matthew 16:13-20

 

 

Have you ever watched your local, state, or federal government, your employer, or some big business, do something that just didn’t seem right?  Of course they assured the public that everything they were doing was perfectly legal, but regardless of its legality, it just smelled bad and people grumbled because what they were doing seemed wrong.

 

Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean that it’s right.  It is fairly common for us to open the newspaper or turn on the news and find a story about a district court, or appellate court, or even the Supreme Court overturning a law because it is unconstitutional.  But sometimes, even laws that are constitutional are still wrong.  In 1793, the federal government passed the Fugitive Slave Act as an enforcement tool of Article 4 Section 2 of the United States Constitution which required the return of runaway slaves.

 

Did you hear that?

 

The US Constitution required that fugitive slaves, even if they were found in free states, be returned to their masters.  The thing is, a great many people in northern states completely ignored this provision as well as the requirements of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Some state and local governments passed laws that prohibited their law enforcement agencies from enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act.  However, by the mid 1800’s this defiance of the law on the part of many in the north caused so many slaves in border states to attempt escape, that the entire institution of slavery was close to collapse and southern slave holding states were angered at their northern neighbors’ failure to uphold the law.

 

And so, the southern states went to Congress and attempted to fix their problem.  In their eyes, the problem was that the northern states were acting in defiance of the United States Constitution and if their compliance could not be enforced, then secession would become a serious possibility.  As such, a new Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850 that would penalize government or law enforcement officials who refused to arrest runaway slaves, even those who were accused, without proof of being runaway slaves.  Further, any person who aided a runaway slave “by providing food or shelter was subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.”[1]  And, although a $1,000 fine doesn’t sound too bad, if we adjust for inflation, this becomes almost $30,000 in 2017 dollars.  Accused slaves had no right to speak for themselves in court, no proof or documentation was required, and only the word of the accuser was needed to take someone into slavery.  In fact, in this way, a great many free blacks were taken illegally into slavery simply by a slave holder, or fugitive slave hunter, claiming that they belonged to them.

 

But still, many people, even at the risk of losing their homes, their businesses, and all that they owned, refused to comply with the law.  It was not only the Underground Railroad, but many people who harbored, protected, and transported fugitive slaves, as well as free blacks, in defiance of the law because they knew that the law was unjust and wrong.

 

We have similar discussions today about a number of subjects, but this is the core of the story that we hear in Exodus 1:8 – 2:10.  We rejoin the story of the people of Israel several generations after Joseph has died, and now, no one remembers, or cares, who he was or what he did for Egypt.

 

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly.14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”


2:1 
Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

 

The Egyptians are worried that there are now so many of them, the Israelites might rise up and attack.  And so, the solution that the Pharaoh decided upon was to kill every Israelite male child at the moment of his birth.  But since there wasn’t a soldier in the household of every pregnant woman, they instead commanded the midwives to do their dirty work for them.

 

And here is the heart of the story for today.  The midwives are faced with this moral and ethical dilemma: Do you obey the law, murder an innocent newborn, or disobey the law, and risk imprisonment, beating, and death?  The midwives knew that the law was unjust and wrong, and they knew that obeying the law would be immoral, unethical, and evil.  Despite the risk of significant physical and emotional harm to themselves, they lied, and disobeyed the law in order to honor God.

 

Moses’ mother was forced to make the same moral judgement because although the midwives could lie and refuse to murder newborn baby boys, eventually those baby boys would be discovered by, or be reported to, soldiers who had no moral or ethical problems with obeying the commands of the Pharaoh of Egypt.  Moses’ mother hid him for three months, but at that point it became too difficult to keep his existence a secret.  Babies make noises, and they create smells, and other evidence that people will eventually notice.  And so, Moses’ mother made a deliberate choice to disobey the law and trust God rather than take the risk of him being discovered and murdered by an Egyptian soldier.  Instead of keeping him at home, she built Moses a basket made of papyrus reeds  that was waterproof enough to act like a boat (interestingly, in ancient times, it was common for boats to be built with bundles of papyrus reeds tied together and we also find that the original language for “basket” might also be translated as “ark”).  For her, risking that Moses might be carried out to sea, or drown, or eaten by wild animals, was better than the almost certain death that he faced if she kept him at home.

 

But all of that brings us to Romans 12:1-8, where the Apostle Paul describes what living the life of a follower of God looks like.


12:1 
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

Paul says that we should live as if we were daily sacrificing ourselves to God.  Paul understood that most of us will, thankfully, never be called upon to die for the sake of God, so instead of giving our lives in one dramatic moment, we called instead to give and to live each moment that we have as a gift to God.  Instead of living our lives in the way that others in our culture do, instead of living in order to gratify our desires, we are called to be transformed by studying and learning about God, and becoming the kind of people that God wants us to be.

 

In the end, the message for today leaves us with two difficult lessons.  First, although it might be unlikely, it is possible, that we might one day be faced with the choice of obeying the law and thereby doing something that we feel is morally and ethically wrong, or disobeying that law and facing whatever consequences might befall us because of that choice.  The midwives fully understood that they might be imprisoned or killed because of the choice that they made and our disobedience will likewise force us to risk whatever punishment there is for breaking that particular law.  We don’t have the time to discuss the specifics of the various people in our modern times that have done so, but the seriousness of this matter adds compellingly to Paul’s encouragement for us to be in regular study because when it happens to you, you had better be very sure of what it is that God wants.

 

The second lesson is even harder than the first.  Whether or not we are not asked to disobey the law in some dramatic fashion, every morning we are called to sacrifice that day to God.  We are called to live that day in a way that honors God.  The old saying, “What would Jesus do?” is just a start.  Every day we should live as Jesus would ask us to live.  At the end of every day we should ask ourselves if we have represented God, as ambassadors of his kingdom, in ways that would please God.

 

This is what it means when we say that we are called to be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.

 

This is what it means for us to worship God daily.

 

Are you prepared to do the will of God… every day?

 

 

 

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[1] Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugitive_Slave_Act_of_1850
U You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Disobedience, Tears, and Death

“Disobedience, Tears, and Death”
August 09, 2015

By John Partridge

Scripture: 2 Samuel 18:5-15, 31-33                         Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2                   John 6:35, 41-51

Close your eyes.

Do you remember when you were a young person and you did stupid stuff that got your parents to yell at you? Now remember when you did something worse, not everyone has that moment but many of us have, when you did something so bad or so unexpected, that your parents didn’t… couldn’t yell, or even speak. Remember how your heart broke when you noticed that this thing you had done or said, made them sit, with nothing to say to you… and weep. Some parents have hidden that moment simply by saying things like, “Go to your room,” or “I’m so angry I don’t even want to see you right now.” But you heard them talking from your room and later you noticed (although they wouldn’t admit it) that they had unusually red eyes like they had been crying.

Maybe you were a good kid and that didn’t happen to you, but maybe your children did it to you as a parent. Or maybe it happened to a friend, or someone from church, but I want you to hold on to that idea, that moment when the words or the actions of another individual, a person you love, are so disastrous, so hurtful, that you, yourself are brought to tears from the pain that you feel on their behalf.

Open your eyes but hold on to that feeling in your memory.

It is moments like these that we will be reading about, and talking about this morning. Once again rejoining the story of King David, now as his son Absalom has dethroned him, run him out of Jerusalem, taken everything that he had, slept with his wives, and now is literally at war with David, we begin in 2 Samuel 18:5-15, 31-33.

5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

6 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

10 When one of the men saw what had happened, he told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.”

11 Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt.”

12 But the man replied, “Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lay a hand on the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.’ 13 And if I had put my life in jeopardy—and nothing is hidden from the king—you would have kept your distance from me.”

14 Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. 15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.

—-

31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

David has been attacked by his own son. Absalom has taken David’s throne, been crowned as king, and driven David into the countryside. But as David’s loyal friends, soldiers, and others rally to his side and he begins to fight back, David, even though he is now at war with his own child, still loves Absalom and orders that he should not be harmed, and in fact, that he should be treated gently.

But as David’s commanding general finds Absalom, he disobeys David’s explicit orders and kills the young man on the spot as he hangs, helplessly, from a low-hanging branch, by his hair.

And when David hears the news that his son is dead, David weeps.

David had every reason to be happy. His throne, his power, his wealth and everything else had been returned to him. The rebellion had been crushed. But David, despite the betrayal, despite the disobedience, despite the pain, still loved his son. And David went to a quiet place and wept.

The next passage of scripture doesn’t sound like it is related to the story of David that we just read, at least at first. But with a little thought and reflection, everything starts to fall into place. (John 6:35, 41-51)

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Jesus said, “I am the living bread.” And then, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” From this, and all of the gospel stories, we know that Jesus is the bread, which was given by God, so that the whole world could be rescued and given life. The gift of eternal life, the gift of Jesus, was given as a gift of forgiveness, a gift of wholeness.

The gift of Jesus was a gift of sacrifice.

And it was given because God witnessed our betrayal and disobedience. We have all done the very things that God knew would destroy us. We have done the things that God commanded us not to do. We knew that God was the king of the universe, but we chose to overthrow him. We wanted to sit on the throne. We wanted to make the rules. We wanted to do whatever we wanted.

And our betrayal and disobedience caused God so much pain that he wept.

But even in the face of our betrayal and disobedience, even in the face of his pain and sorrow, God never stopped loving us. In fact, just as David ordered his men to be gentle with Absalom, God still wanted to rescue us from our own mess. God knew that the penalty for our sin and betrayal was death.

But instead of making us pay, God chose instead to sacrifice his own son in our place.

Jesus came to earth to rescue us from the problems and pain that we created for ourselves. Jesus came to become the bread of life and said, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

That is an enormous responsibility.

We owe God a great debt.

But what can we do? How can we even begin to repay what God has done for us? What can we do to show God that we are grateful?

And in Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, Paul answers us by saying…

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Paul says that we are all members of one body, which to me is another way of saying that we all belong to the same family, but, more than that, it is, just what Paul said, that we are part of the same body. Some of us are hands, others feet, and so on, but anything that harms one of us, harms all of us. And so, Paul’s instructions are to speak the truth and to make sure that we don’t do foolish things when we are angry. We all know that when we get mad enough, something inside of us wants to react, to lash out at the thing that hurt or angered us, but in Paul’s mind, that action gives our enemy a grip on us. Instead of lashing out, we need to be thoughtful and loving like David. We need to offer second chances. We need to put aside all sorts of wrongdoing, like stealing. We need to use our speech to lift people up and not to tear them down. Our speech should bring glory to God instead of making dirty jokes, talking about Desperate Housewives, and other unwholesome talk. Unwholesome talk encourages sin. Paul says that all these things “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”

These are the things that make God weep.

Instead, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Instead of living lives of betrayal and rebellion, let us live lives that are dedicated to helping one another, loving one another, forgiving one another, encouraging one another, and offering our lives, and everything that we do, as an offering, a sacrifice, to God.