Sermon - 14 Pentecost
In the Name...
There was once a barber who became a born-again Christian and couldn’t wait to share his new-found faith. So, one Monday, holding his Bible and razor, the barber approached his first customer and asked, “Good morning. Are you ready to meet Jesus?”
The summer is usually a slow period for news. Reporters have to search for interesting stories. Well, this past summer there was no shortage of headlines. But, buried away under them was a little story about a preacher in Virginia who wanted our government to assassinate a certain foreign leader.
Now, a preacher who advocated drive-by shootings on the streets of our cities would be quickly denounced by all, but, the positive response from some quarters to his remarks illustrates a disconnect between what we expect of individual behaviour and what we accept as the behaviour of government. At its root, is the convenient morality of society which picks and chooses what is right and what is wrong.
Now, the Bible seems to say that morality and ethics cannot be divided into public and private sectors. How we live in the privacy of our homes must be consistent with how we live in the public arena and vice versa. After all, the prophets warned that observing religious rituals did not excuse corrupt business practices and even King David found that his bedroom activities had repercussions in the throne room.
Today, we have heard from St. Paul's letter to the Romans. Now, when Paul wrote this passage he was addressing this very thing, his point being that belief must always impact behaviour. "This is what I believe,” has to equate to "and this is how I live.” For him, creed and conduct had to be consistent.
And implied in this consistency is the idea that the Christian life is based upon a theological foundation. That is, being a Christian is more than just being a nice person. Christians are not polite to others simply because we learned it in kindergarten. We do not share our toys just so others will admire us. Everything we do or do not do should be based upon the nature and character of God as revealed in the pages of Scripture. That is, we should have a Biblical rationale for everything we do. After all, even pagans can be humanitarians.
But, to have a Biblical rationale we need to know the Bible and that may be why there is such a disconnect in our society because so many really don’t.
Oh, yes, some 90% of American households say they own one, but, by the same token, it seems folks are a bit vague as to what's actually in it. A few years ago the Pew Research Centre conducted a survey asking 32 questions about the Bible. Catholics got the lowest scores with an average of 14 questions right. Mainline Protestants got 16. Conservative Protestants, as you might imagine, got the highest scores – but it was only 18 out of 32. And these weren't trick questions like, "Who was the fifth king of Israel?" or anything like that. It was things like, “Name the four Gospels.” “Is the Lord’s Prayer in the Old or New Testament?” Fortunately, everybody knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but, I suspect that's more the influence of Christmas carols than Bible reading.
And, this ignorance has impacted our churches. Back in Texas, I knew a Baptist pastor who used to lament that, despite his church having the words “Bible-believing” on the sign out front, his members seemed to get their theology from the National Enquirer because people would always come to him in distress after reading the latest claim that Jesus had children who became the kings of France or that Moses was from outer space.
Actually, back when all that Moses being from outer space was having its fifteen minutes of fame, a rabbi on a talk show said if this was true we didn't have to worry about an alien invasion because aliens have no sense of direction. After all, the rabbi said, Moses led the Jews to the only spot in the entire Middle East with no oil.
No, if we’re going to get any sense of spiritual direction in our lives, we need to know the story.
For example, without knowing the story of Eden we cannot understand why God sent Jesus. Without knowing the story of the Exodus we cannot understand why and how the sacrament of Baptism is important. Without knowing the story of Job, we cannot understand how we can rely on God in times of suffering.
Christianity, you see, is not something based upon our ever changing feelings. It's grounded upon the unchanged and written story from Genesis to Revelation.
There are so many questions that God answers for us in Scripture. Is there purpose to life? Is there life after death? Why do I struggle to do good? And, in addition to these "big" questions, there is practical advice in areas such as: How can I be a good friend? What is success and how do I achieve it? And today, in our Lessons, we heard how it is that we are to live and love within the Christian community when, not if, things go wrong, because things do go wrong all the time.
Actually, the Bible is unique among so-called "holy" books of religions because it's not filled with mythologies of distant gods high up and far away on some Mt. Olympus. It's rooted in real life, in human experience. Abraham's hopelessly dysfunctional family in 2000 B.C. with its rebellious children, cheating spouses, and unwed mothers may not seem very "holy", but it's real. So, in a strange way, we can be assured that God's Word is accurate when it discusses spiritual life because it shows itself accurate in the life we experience every day.
And, we should read and study the Bible because there are a lot of non-Biblical attitudes in the world, just as there were in St. Paul's time. Convenient morality is nothing new and we need to be able to recognize it when we see it. God’s directive, “Love your neighbour as yourself” is always opposed by the Pharisee’s challenge, “Ah, but who is my neighbour?” In other words, who can I exclude from being my neighbour? Well, if we’re going to counter that, then we need to know how and why.
Indeed, if all we do with the Bible is occasionally flip through the pages that’s like someone mining for gold by kicking the ground with their shoe. All they get is dust and, maybe, a few flakes. But, if we get out a pick and shovel, we’ll strike the Mother Lode.
So, may we mine God’s Word; enjoy the riches; and discover the best way to live as we believe.
In the Name...