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Sermon - Pentecost 15

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. Congress adjourns. Movers and shakers head to the mountains or beach. Reporters have to search for interesting stories. And this past summer someone dug up 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 this preacher's remarks illustrates a societal 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 the rich 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 issue which is why he began this section by encouraging the people of faith not to be conformed to the world, but rather, to be transformed to Christ by the renewing of their minds, Paul's 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 we really don’t.

Oh, yes, we live in a society in which the Bible is venerated. Some 90% of American households say they own one, but by the same token, it seems that not so many know 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. Only 3/4 of respondents could name all four gospels. Nearly half thought the Lord's Prayer was in the Old Testament. And 1/3 attributed to Jesus a quote of Ben Franklin. Fortunately, 100% 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 or that Moses was an alien from outer space.

Actually, back when all that about Moses being from another planet 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 alien invasion because aliens have no sense of direction. After all, the rabbi said, Moses managed to lead the Jews to the only spot in the Middle East with no oil.

So, 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 why we need to rely on God to help us in times of suffering. And without knowing all of the above, and more, we cannot grasp the power of the Gospel to free us from sin and restore us to union with the God who created and loves us.

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: What do I look for in a mate? 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 other religions because it's not filled with tales of distant gods on some Mt. Olympus in mythic times. It's rooted in real life, in human experience, in history.

Abraham's hopelessly dysfunctional family in 2023 B.C. with its rebellious children, cheating spouses, and unwed mothers may not seem very "holy", but it's as real as any family in 2023 A.D. 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 word, “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 why.

Last week, we heard Moses say that the Promised Land was a place where God’s people would be free to work for themselves and, among other things, mine copper to make tools to improve our lives. Today, I’d like to add an analogy about Bible study. 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, then; enjoy the riches; and discover how to live as we believe.

In the Name...

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