Missing the Mark, Improving the Aim

According to the marginal notes, Psalm 51 is a Psalm of David when the prophet Nathan came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.  You know the story. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, whom David took for himself, after seeing her taking a bath on the roof of her house. He failed to practice what St. Francis called, “Stewardship of the eyes,” and one sin led to another.  When Bathsheba got pregnant, and David could not coax her husband, Uriah, to sleep with her—because his troops were still on the field of battle; David had Uriah sent to the forefront of the battle against the Ammonites that he might cover up his sin, and have Bathsheba for himself.

In verse 3 David writes, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”

David made this confession not just because he had a bad conscience; but because Nathan the prophet confronted him, exposed his sin, and predicted all the misery that would come upon him because of it. Poor David. He started strong, and he was a man after God’s own heart, but he knew his share of self-induced tragedy.

In the Bible sin takes several forms: Continue reading

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Can We Get a Second Opinion?

Luke 14:25-33

25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,  26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.  27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?  29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,  30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’  31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?  32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.  33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

There are many hard texts in the Bible that send us to a commentary, looking for a second opinion, quicker than you can say, “Methuselah.” This particular passage contains not one such text, but four of them.
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Remembering the Prisoner

According to William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, the book of Hebrews  was written between two periods of persecution. The first persecution was undoubtedly the persecution by Nero which began in A.D. 64.  The second persecution was undoubtedly the persecution by Domitian which began in A.D. 85. Barclay says that we know this because it is clear from internal evidence that, at one time the leaders of the congregation had died for their faith. And it is clear from internal evidence that though members of the congregation itself had suffered, they had not yet suffered to the point of shedding their own blood. Never-the-less, at least some of them had already been put into prison, and/or suffered ill treatment and torture. No doubt every member of the congregation knew someone who was a prisoner; and every member of the congregation knew that—prison and torture was a very real possibility for themselves.

Therefore when the  author of the Hebrews found a ready and sympathetic audience when he exhorted his readers to:

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; (and) those who are being tortured, as though you were being tortured.

No doubt many people to first read and hear the Epistle to the Hebrews did go on to suffer prison and torture. Continue reading

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Changing our Habits

This sermon is based on a book by Charles Duhigg, entitled, “The Power of Habit.” Having read it, I would not want to be without it.  It is available from many sources. I did not base this sermon on any one text from the Bible. If you are a believer, as you read through it, you will think of many Biblical texts that apply. I will mention several of them in the final paragraph. Finally, as a result of dialogues I had with the congregation after delivering this sermon for the first time, I changed some of the wording slightly, notably abandoning the misleading “Rational Behaviors,” for the less demanding “Unique Behaviors.”  WNG

This morning we are talking about behavior. We are constantly acting out at least two kinds of behaviors in our lives, Unique Behaviors and Habitual Behaviors.

Unique behaviors require a decision on our part, and make up about 60 percent of all behaviors. Suppose you like Willie Nelson, and Willie is going to try another concert in Winston-Salem. Suppose your friend also likes Willie Nelson. You talk it over with them, and you make a rational decision to attend the concert. You get on line and buy tickets and go. Or suppose you have a friend in the hospital.  You don’t like hospitals because they remind you of your own fragility and mortality. Never the less you screw your courage to the sticking place, and make a decision to visit your friend in the hospital, because that is what friends do. Every day we make a number of decisions and act out a number of Unique Behaviors.

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John Hus Communion

There is a song that goes: 

Jesus love the little children,
All the children of the World.
Red and Yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His Sight.
Jesus loves the children of the world.

All little children belong to God, they are His by birth and by nature. Unfortunately, we all grow up, and the tendency to sin that we inherited from our parents and the whole human race flourishes, and we trade our innocence for guilt. We know that we have sinned and broken God’s law.  We know that we have failed to do the good that we might have done.

Jesus has a remedy for us. In Matthew 18:2 , he says that “unless (we) turn and become like children (again), (we) will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That is negative. To put it positively, “if we turn and become like children (again) we will enter the kingdom of heaven,” which is Matthew’s way of saying “the kingdom of God.” Continue reading

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