This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on May 24, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
Romans 8:1-6 (Contemporary English Version)
If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won’t be punished. The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death. The Law of Moses cannot do this, because our selfish desires make the Law weak. But God set you free when he sent his own Son to be like us sinners and to be a sacrifice for our sin. God used Christ’s body to condemn sin. He did this, so that we would do what the Law commands by obeying the Spirit instead of our own desires.
People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace.
This passage in Romans is differentiating between the Law of Moses and the Law of God. The writer, who is believed to be Paul, is writing to the Romans, helping them to understand the differences between the two. We have two choices, he says. We can focus our lives around the physical law, that Law of Moses. This means focusing on the desires that serve oneself. Or, the second option is focusing on God’s law, or the spirit. This model, the two choices, it helps to put in perspective what really matters, where the true strength we seek can be found.
Our movie, Hercules, follows the life of the title character, Hercules, as he navigates what it means to be a hero. What is the meaning of a true hero?
What words come to mind when you hear ‘hero’?
Hercules was born, son of Gods Zeus and Hera, with a gift of physical strength. At the beginning of the movie, we see Hercules hurl a lightning bolt so hard that it knocks a pillar over. One day, Hercules is taken away by Hades, God of the underworld, who hatched an evil plan to rule over Zeus one day. After drinking a potion that made him mortal, Hercules is found by a human couple, who adopts Hercules, and raises him as a human too. But because he didn’t drink the last drop of the potion, Hercules continued growing stronger and stronger.
Eventually, Hercules learned who his birth parents are, and he learns that in order to be a God again, Hercules would need to prove he was a true hero. He tries to do this by using his gift of physical strength, battling countless giants and saving people from danger. But still, he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t a true hero yet.
Hercules learns at the end, that the true strength, the true test of a hero is following one’s heart. So like the Romans, Hercules had two choices, following the outer strength, the physical world, or, he could follow the inner strength, the wisdom of God, the wisdom of the heart.
The word hero comes from the Greek word heros, which means protector. Hercules finds out that being a protector is a heart issue.
We have two choices as well. According to Romans, we can either live our lives according to the physical law, or according to God’s law. Now, in our context, that language doesn’t really work for us. We do kind of have an obligation to follow the law most of the time. We can’t just claim ‘God’s law!’ when we’re pulled over for speeding. But there is a call for us to respond according to God, respond by listening for a call or a pull towards what Jesus would do. And sometimes, that does mean physical law has to come second.
Can you think of any examples of this? When perhaps God’s law takes precedence over the law of the state?
My last year of seminary, I took a travel seminar to the Arizona-Mexico border, where my classmates and I studied border theology, meeting with various people groups, such as migrants, guides, and even border patrol. We went to court proceedings, where hundreds of folx who had been taken by border patrol were crammed into benches and given a few moments with a court appointed lawyer before being deported.
I talked with several migrants throughout the week there, all with different stories, each one more heartbreaking than the next. For those who had unsuccessfully crossed already, I asked them if they’d try again. Over and over, the response was yes. Because they had to help their family. There was no other option.
Maybe you agree with me in this specific case, and maybe you don’t, but either way, don’t lose me. There’s a certain kind of justice that comes when we follow God’s law, when we take ‘love God and love neighbor’ seriously. That is where our true strength comes from.
Over the weekend, the President declared churches to be ‘essential’, which is something we have always known deep down. We know how important God and God’s people are, in community. And, God teaches us and shows us that we are to love God AND love neighbor. If we aren’t loving neighbor, meaning caring for our safety as people of faith, of being cautious and realistic about how we are capable and how we are limited to maintain safety, then we are not doing our job as people of faith.
Our Bishop sent out a notice to clergy this weekend, stating this same idea, that the safety of our people, our pastors, our members, our neighbors, that is the most important thing. And so even when the state or county says we can open churches, know that we, as leaders here at Mission Hills UMC, will choose to follow God’s law, discerning the most loving action for us as a congregation.
That is where our true strength comes from.
Hercules may not have put on quite a show when he realized his true strength had little to do with the amount of muscle mass he had. But the weight he lifted off of the shoulders of the most vulnerable, that carries quite a message too. Hercules learns that the true strength of a hero, it comes from within.
When we harness our inner strength, our true hero can come out in beautiful ways. If a hero means protector, then our call as heroes is to use our true strength to speak out for the most vulnerable, to serve our neighbors, and to also accept other people’s reflections of true strength towards us. That last one is often the hardest.
So as we leave today, may we never doubt the power of our inner strength. May we look first to God’s law, creating space for the earth to look more and more like God’s kindom. And may we grow as true heroes, protecting and leading and loving, just as Jesus would. Amen.