Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church
Sabbath, July 12, 2014.
Psalm 1:1-3 Blessed is the person who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. NIV
Psalm 119:11. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Psalm 119:105. Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. NLT
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devilfn came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Matthew 4:1-4, NLT
Words matter. They can connect us with one another and with God. They are tools for expanding knowledge, expressing affection, and offering encouragement. The words of the Bible are the foundation for our understanding of God. Over the past couple hundred years, the leading voices of justice and peace have found in the words of the Bible their most powerful rhetoric. If we are participating in God 's mission in this world, the Bible offers wisdom and encouragement. Further, Bible reading feeds us personally, connecting us with God and giving us hope and guidance.
On First Avenue across the street from the United Nations there is a curving granite wall. The words carved into granite read:
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
For six decades these words from the Bible have voiced the highest, noblest dreams of the best people working in the buildings across the street.
Sabbath, March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address. The nation was wracked by a horrific civil war. It was a dark time. After a brief introduction and summary statement about the situation, Mr. Lincoln said,
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. . . . Each looked for an easier triumph, . . . Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Mr. Lincoln's vision of peace did not come from his surroundings. It did not come from newspapers or his associates. He looked away from the world that was obvious and immediate to the unseen world portrayed in the words of the Bible. A world of justice and peace. A world free from malice and bitter memories. A world where people made plowshares instead of swords. A world where the brightest minds and strongest arms created beauty instead of war.
Mr. Lincoln's magnanimous words of peace and reconciliation flowed from the language of the Bible.
Over the past two hundred years, repeatedly, those who have dreamed of a better world have found inspiration for their highest rhetoric in the words of the Bible.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. In front of him were 250,000 people, hungry for hope, angry at oppression and injustice, impatient for change.
Near the end of Dr. King's speech comes the famous lines:
I have a dream
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." [Isaiah 40:4-5]
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
In the face of centuries of slavery—often justified by Bible-toting preachers—Dr. King dared to dream of a better world. It was a dream inspired by and articulated by the words of the Bible.
Astonishingly, the world did change. Yes, we have a long way to go to reach God's dream voiced by the Prophet Isaiah. Still, the words of God's dream as voiced by Dr. King moved the nation. And still move us. Because his words, echoing the Bible gave voice to the dreams of God.
This is the power of the Bible.
Today, we honored our graduates, students who have passed milestones in their education. As a denomination and as a congregation, we give special honor to education. We value intellectual culture and accomplishment. We take great delight in our bright children and do everything we can to encourage them to excel, to achieve.
As we celebrate the accomplishments of our kids today, I want to also challenge us to make sure that all our children—our little kids, our high school students, our college and grad students—are aware of the value of educating their minds and hearts through familiarity with the words of the Bible.
I hope that our students will win Nobel prizes in chemistry and physics. I hope they will earn world fame as mathematicians and physicians, as musicians and visual artists. Yes. Yes.
And I hope that all this accomplishment will fueled by their own dreams to be part of God's work of turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. I hope they will join in God's mission of creating hope and healing, beauty and happiness, holiness and strength.
Young people, God has great dreams for you.
Parents, do you hope your children will join in God's mission of justice and peace? Teach them the words of the Bible.
In the home I grew up in, every night before we went to bed, each of us kids recited the memory verse of the week—the verse featured in the Sabbath School lesson. To this day, those words run in my brain. When we get into the second half of life it is far more difficult to memorize. So I encourage you to give your children the gift of good words in their memory bank. Wouldn't it be wonderful if one of our children was the next Lincoln or King? When you're working with God to make the world better, you need every possible advantage, and a deep familiarity with the words of the Bible is a major advantage.
Students, school is a busy time. Don't let it own your life, at least not all of it. Spend a few minutes every day, either before you start your day or at the end of the day. Take a few minutes to read and consider some words from the Bible. This practice will set you up for a greatness and success beyond the reach of mere money, intellectual prowess, academic credentials or beauty.
[Here are a couple of stories that will not be included in my verbal presentation at church
Some years ago, a guy named started attending the North Hill Church. For awhile, every time he showed up, he was stoned. He later explained to me that going to church was so scary that the only way he could deal with the anxiety was to smoke a joint or two before he headed out on Sabbath morning. Aaron was a meth addict. He had been living on the streets for most of 15 years, using. Meth. Heroin. And other stuff.
He had been in and out of rehab several times. It didn't work.
At some point after he had been attending church for awhile, he went to rehab again. And finally it took. He managed to stay off the drugs. He faithfully attended NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings. He read his Bible daily.
A year or two later, looking back at those crucial months when he finally managed to leave the drugs behind, he identified his daily Bible reading as one of the key elements of his sobriety. I remember him telling me of conversations with people who were skeptical of the Bible. His response was fairly simple: Do you know any treatment for meth that works? Reading the Bible helped me.
Aaron went to college, finished a degree in geology and eventually moved into the work force. Aaron is not a fundamentalist. He does not believe in 6000 years, but if you asked him for secrets to living well, he will confidently point you to the Bible. It saved his life. He's confident it will bless your life as well.
Brian was an atheist. He had grown up Christian, then lost his faith when his dad died in spite of his fervent childhood prayers. In college he had tried Buddhism, but when I met him he was a backsliding Buddhist. When we met for breakfast, he was embarrassed to realize I was a veggie and there he was eating bacon. We met occasionally to talk religion and life. I never contradicted his beliefs. When he spoke of values and ideals that lined up with something Jesus had said, I would just point out the parallel. After awhile he said, “You know, maybe I should read the gospels for myself. Just to check them out.”
I laughed and warned him. “Be careful. The gospel is a dangerous book.”
I was right.
After reading through the gospels, Brian found his faith rekindled. He found again a sense of connection with God. He found a living hope. That's the power of the Bible.]
Early in his ministry, Jesus visited his home town of Nazareth and on Sabbath preached in the synagogue where he had grown up.
He read the grand words of Isaiah 61.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me,
for the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the LORD’s favor has come
Then he told his audience. Now is the time. This is what I am doing!
It is still time. This is what we are called to do. We are partners with God in working to bring hope and healing and joy to the world. Let's fill our own minds and the minds of our children and friends with glorious visions voiced by the Bible prophets. Then let us go forth to make them real.