Monday, September 26, 2011

The Sword - Richard R. Crocker

The Sword
Richard Crocker
Dartmouth College Chapel
September 25, 2011
Matthew 10:34 and Matthew 26:47-56

In keeping with the chapel theme for this term, “The Bible and the newspaper”, I have chosen to talk about state-sanctioned killing. This subject has been much in the newspaper this week because of the controversy surrounding two executions: one in Georgia of Troy Davis, and the other in Texas of Lawrence Russell Brewer. The state traditionally has claimed the right to kill in two situations: when there has been an egregious crime, and in war. We are also, of course, engaged in three wars at the moment. The rationale for killing in both cases – capital punishment and war - is that sometime the state has to end life in order to save lives.

Our scripture passages tonight give something of a background for approaching this question from a Christian perspective. Both passages are from Matthew. One reports that Jesus said, “I have come not to bring peace but a sword.” The other tells the story of Jesus’ betrayal, when Judas brought the Roman soldiers to his secret location. To defend Jesus, one of his disciples (John’s gospel says it was Peter) took a sword and attacked the soldiers, cutting off one of their ears. Jesus rebuked the disciple and said “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”, or “all who take the sword shall die by the sword.” Now these two stories, from the same gospel, demonstrate the ambivalence that Christians have long displayed about state-sanctioned killing.

I say state-sanctioned because I don’t think there’s any question among Christians, or indeed among people in general, that killing other persons is wrong. We are not permitted to do that, under any circumstances except, some would say, in self-defense. But when the state orders us to kill – well, most Christians seem to think that’s OK.

It has not always been that way. The Christian faith arose out of an execution. Jesus was executed, after a trial by the Roman government. His execution was not unique: two others were executed on that day, and, indeed, if you have seen the movie Spartacus, you know that executions by crucifixion were not at all unusual. Any act of perceived rebellion merited crucifixion. Now, since Christian faith has at its heart, and on its altars, the cross, the image of execution, one would think Christians would think about the subject carefully, and that we would be predisposed to oppose it.

But alas, throughout our history, and indeed up to the present day, a majority of Christians, especially in our country, seem to think that execution is OK.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Convocation Prayer - Richard R. Crocker

Opening Convocation
Dartmouth College
September 21, 2011
Richard R. Crocker, College Chaplain

God of all hope and truth:

In a world where there is much suffering, we need compassion.

In a world where there is much fear, we need courage.

In a world full of false promises and easy answers, we need the challenge of clear thinking.

Grant, O God, that we, gathered in this place dedicated to the pursuit of truth, may find and cultivate these gifts --- compassion, courage, and the challenge of clear thinking – in our common life.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Bible & the Newspaper - Kurt Nelson

Dartmouth College Chapel
Matthew 25: 34 - 45

There are, you may have noticed,
bible stories out there that are hard to relate to.
Strange stories that make you work for their affection,
Wading through arcane language and context and theology.
If we can muster the energy to deal with them at all.

And then there are passages like today's.
Passages that smack us in the face with truth,
Both timeless and contemporary.
I can't count the number of times
I've heard today’s passage read or quoted.
I've even preached on it a number of times.
And still it can surprise and convict me.

"Just as you do to the least of these…you do to me."
"Just as you do not do to the least of these…you do not do to me."

It doesn't get much more direct.
And those words, I suspect, haven't lost an ounce of their power
in the thousands of years since they were spoken,
and then written.