I don’t think that 2020 is a contender for the absolute worst year ever.  You’d have to stack it up against some pretty tough competition—years like 1348, the height of the Black Plague that killed over 200 million; or 1944, with its competing horrors of world-wide war and the systemic genocide of the Holocaust; or—just in the US—the year 1862, the darkest year of the Civil War.  Disease and destruction have haunted humanity for centuries, and some years are worse than others.  As bad as the last months have seemed, though, they may seem particularly troublesome just because the frustration is still fresh.  Give it a few decades, and we may have a different perspective.

In our Adult Bible Class this last Sunday, we were examining the second chapter of Romans.  In that chapter, Paul begins to debate with an imaginary opponent—a style of argumentation called a diatribe.  This imaginary opponent could be considered “The Moralist”—Paul indicates that they are “passing judgement” on others, yet do the very things they judge others of doing—the actions of someone who claims to have the moral high ground.  This section of Paul’s letter is heavy with meaning, and it takes a little thought and reflection to grasp Paul’s points.  But Paul thinks it’s important enough to put at the very beginning of his exposition of the gospel, so maybe we need to do the work to figure it out.  Just what is Paul saying about judging others?

In his book Moral Fragments and Moral Community, Larry Rasmussen argues that community is the antidote to the fractured moral landscape of the modern world, and that the church is uniquely poised to offer a corrective to moral relativism as it lives into its calling as the people of God.  But only if we can resist the pull of modernism’s corrosive effects on community.

Suppose I invited you to dinner, and as you sat down, you were handed a menu.  It wasn’t one like so many restaurants—with pages of choices.  It had only two options—you could have a nice steak dinner, or you could have a bowl of pine cones.  It would be nice if all our choices were that easy—between something we like, or at least can stomach, and something that we find inedible.  It would be an even easier choice if it were genuinely between good and evil—as if the choice was between the steak dinner and punching someone in the face.  But a lot of our choices are more like the choice between steak and chicken—both reasonable and good, but different.  And you can’t have both.

Humility is a signature virtue of the Christian faith.  Joy is its signature emotion.  Today, in the West at least, we love joy but are ambivalent about humility, partly because we suspect that humility cravenly elevates acquiescence to our own inadequacy and inferiority to the status of a virtue.  The theologian Miroslav Volf offers this reflection in a collection of essays on the connection between humility and joy.  After digging deep into the old Reformer Martin Luther’s writing, Volf comes to the conclusion that Philippians 2 offers us some insight.  If we are to be truly joyful, we must be humble.  But what is humility?