Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

Two Kings – Two Dreams


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 26 August 2012 by the Rev. Ewing W. [Bud] Carroll, Jr. The scriptures reading that day were John 6:56-69; I Kings 8 and Ephesians 6:10-20.


King Solomon was SO………happy with God’s reply to his request.  He’d asked God to give him an understanding mind to rule Israel and to tell good from evil.  God’s answer?  “I’ll not only make you very wise but I’ll give you what you didn’t ask for – both riches and honor all your life.”

And then King Solomon woke up!  He had been dreaming. That was nearly 3,000 years ago.   Forty-nine years ago this week, another King had a dream.  Not the ruler of a nation; not someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth; not someone who wielded great power.  No, It was Martin Luther King, Jr. the son of a Baptist preacher. Standing that day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, the capitol of The United States, Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech.

The contrast between the two kings is wider than the Pacific Ocean.  It stretches farther than from London to Shanghai.  Solomon, favorite son of King David, was born into wealth, prestige, power and position.  I Kings tells us Solomon’s wealth was ‘greater than all the people of the east and all the people of Egypt.’  In other words, He was filthy rich.  His storehouses were crammed with goods of all kinds, including food, wine and precious gold and silver jewelry.

MLK, Jr. was born into a world he described as ‘sadly crippled by the handcuffs of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”  Solomon dreamed about rule, power and wealth.  MLK, Jr. dreamed about “riches of freedom and the security of justice.”  Solomon was a popular king.  MLK, Jr. was seen as a troublemaker.  Many white people said, “Stick to preaching and praying; stay out of politics and daily life.  Don’t rock the boat.” 

Fortunately, Dr. King kept dreaming and working to realize his dream that one day, he and Coretta Scott King’s four children would live in a country where they would be judged “Not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  He dreamed that one day, “all of God’s children, black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, would be able to join hands and sing, ‘Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’

What do you dream for?  When all is said and done, what would you most like to have and or to become?  To be with family and friends; a better job; better health; more money; a bigger house; a partner for life?   Today, I want us to consider two kinds of dreams.  We could name many more, but these two fit closely with today’s Bible readings.

The first dream:  greater understanding.  Recall the words from St. Francis great prayer:  “Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand…”  In today’s Gospel reading, some of Jesus’ followers couldn’t understand what he meant about being the “Bread of Heaven.”  So they left him.

In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus – from a prison cell.  His wrists are chained to a Roman soldier.  And so he writes about the armor of God.  What it means to be a soldier of Christ.  And that begins with understanding: not Who we are, but Whose we are.  We belong to Christ.  And they way we think, speak and act should be as followers of Christ.  In both dress and action – soldiers of Christ.

The story is told about a navy ship that was sailing along the N.E. coast of America.  It was a stormy and dangerous night. Suddenly, the radar officer told the captain, “Sir, there’s a dangerous object directly ahead.”  Three times the Captain told him to notify the dangerous object to immediately change its course to avoid hitting the ship.  No answer.  Finally, in great frustration, the Captain sent this message:  “Do you know that you are talking with an Admiral in the U.S. Navy?  Change your course now.”  Quickly the message came back, “Sir, do you know that you are talking to a lighthouse sitting on top of a huge rock that hasn’t moved for a thousand years.  Change your course immediately or your ship will sink.”

Proverbs says, “To get wisdom is to love oneself; to keep understanding is to become rich.”  King Solomon was full of wisdom.  But he was also full of himself.  MLK, Jr. prospered – not with jewels and a large bank account; rather rich with understanding:  understanding of the problems and possibilities of his nation, society, church and culture.  Knowing the difference between a lighthouse sitting on a rock and a ship – that’s understanding.

The second dream is the capacity to care.  A doctor friend once said, “The greatest love in all the world is the capacity to care.”  I like that.  To care is to love.  Is this not the meaning of John 3:16 – God so loved; God so cared for the world that God gave us Jesus Christ.  The wise person replies, “I see.” The understanding person replies, “I care.”

The 1960’s were a stormy time in many countries across the world.   Many former African colonies gained their independence.  China was aflame with the so-called Great Cultural Revolution; Fiji and the Philippines were filled with political and military disruptions; harsh rule in South Korea brought death and destruction to many; the U.S. invasion of Vietnam caused the death of countless millions.  Like Jesus, MLK, Jr. taught and practiced a life of non-violence.  “Turning the other cheek,”  Like the Apostle Paul, wearing the armor of God didn't’ mean killing people – whether with swords, guns, rockets or wagging tongues and pointing fingers.

Why did Jesus say if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other?  Well, no Jewish person would ever use his or her left hand to hit someone. Like some parts of Southern Asia, the left hand was used instead of toilet paper.  You cant’ slap someone’s right cheek unless you are left-handed.  And in Jesus’ time, there were probably very few left-handed people. If you “backhanded” someone, that meant they were your equals.  .  So Jesus urged his followers to “turn the other cheek.”  A way of saying to people of power and violence, “…It won’t work. You can beat me down; you can even kill me.  But my spirit will live on.” 

Standing that day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King spoke not only to America, but also to the whole world.  “Drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred is useless. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline…not…physical violence.” For MLK Jr., the capacity to care demanded meeting physical force with spiritual force.  Turning the other cheek – saying to the unjust and cruel  “You can’t beat me down.  I’ll just keep turning my other cheek.”  Or as Paul wrote, wearing the armor of God.

Do dream my friends.  Dream long; dream big; dream in black and white;  Technicolor; three-dimension. dream of new days for yourself; your loved ones and friends; for this church.  Dream of a better and happier life.  But let your dreams be clothed in the armor of God.  That includes understanding; understanding of the nature and power of God’s love; Let your dreams also be clothed in care.  Yes, care for ourselves, but also equal care for others.  Then with MLK, Jr. .we too can say ”Free at last.”  Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”  Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Tuesday, August 28, 2012

 

"Create Me Again"


A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 5 August 2012 by the Rev. Judy Chan. The scripture readings that day were 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a and Psalm 51:1-13.


This morning we heard the Scripture reading from 2 Samuel. It’s the story of King David and his confrontation with the prophet Nathan. Actually this is Part 2 of the most tragic story in David’s life. Part 1 started with his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers. It results in her unexpected pregnancy and David trying to cover up the deed by bringing her husband home early from war. Uriah, however, refuses to sleep with his wife out of loyalty to his comrades on the frontlines. So David becomes desperate and arranges Uriah’s death on the battlefield, making it look like an accident. Finally David takes the widow Bathsheba as his wife, and in due course, she bears him a son.

Bible scholars are amazed that this story is even told in the first place. After all, David is a hero – the shepherd boy picked by God ahead of his older brothers, the brave warrior who defeated Goliath, the one who brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem to build the Temple, the Psalmist described as a man after God’s own heart, the king who is promised that his throne would be established forever. Can this possibly be the same David who steals another man’s wife, murders her husband and lies to everyone, including himself?

Yes, it is. And the fact that the Bible gives us all the slimy details of David’s many sins prepares us for the showdown between the King of Israel and the prophet sent to deliver the truth. The truth that the Lord was not pleased with what David had done. That may sound like the understatement of the year, but actually it’s quite profound. The Lord was not pleased with what David had done. That means no matter how we justify our own behavior and actions, we are all ultimately accountable to someone higher. No matter who we are or how much power we wield, we are still accountable to God from the beginning to the end.

Of all people, David should have known that. But David had become so blind to sin in his life, that it would take a tale of another man’s gross injustice to make him see his own. Some commentators say that Nathan was maybe afraid of David’s anger. That’s why he goes at it sideways with a story about a rich man taking away the one lamb of a poor man. It was safer than directly accusing the King. However, I don’t sense any fear in Nathan.

I think he sized up the situation quite accurately. He realized the goal was not just to make David confess his sin. The goal was to bring David back to a right relationship with God. And the only way that was going to happen was for David to see himself with new eyes, to see himself as God saw him.

As Barbara Brown Taylor said, “If David could pronounce judgment on himself, the impact would be a 100 times greater than if Nathan did it for him.” And she’s right. The encounter with Nathan did bring about the desired results – a broken heart willing to be changed and a broken spirit willing to receive anew the love and mercy of God.

Psalm 51, our other SS reading, is one of the most beautiful psalms in the Bible, and it’s attributed to David at this moment after he confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Some people are puzzled though why David says he has sinned only against God. What about Bathsheba who lost her husband? What about Uriah and the other men killed along with him? What about the whole kingdom of Israel who had to put up with a failure of a spiritual leader? Well, of course, they are all injured parties in this situation, because there is no such thing as private sins that don’t affect anyone else.

Yet OT Professor James Mays makes a crucial distinction. He says sin is not so much a moral category but rather a religious experience. Sin arises and is meaningful only in the context of the knowledge of God. When the psalmist says, ‘Against you – you alone have I sinned,’ it means, if you weren’t there, God, I wouldn’t be called a sinner. It is God and God alone who judges human acts and reveals them as sin. A confession of sin then only makes sense to those who believe their life is lived in the presence of God, is a gift of God, and is summoned and measured by the One who is the maker of heaven and earth.

That’s why the confession of sin is a regular part of our Sunday liturgy, near the beginning after a song of praise. The practice comes from the Old Testament, and Psalm 51 was especially important during the exile, when the people of Israel were forced to leave their homeland and live in foreign captivity. The confession of sin is an acknowledgement of the righteous judgment of God over our lives and over the world.

That said, many people have confided to me over the years that they don’t really like the prayer of confession in worship. They’re uncomfortable with it, because it’s so negative, and the words printed there that we have to recite together sometimes have no connection with what’s really going on in their lives. It makes them feel like criminals.

Take Psalm 51 for example where David says he’s always conscious of his sins, that he’s been evil from the day he was born. OK, maybe that was true for him, but we in the 21st century don’t think or talk like that, do we? In fact, for some people it could be downright dangerous or spiritually abusive.

So why does the church insist on having a confession of sin in every service? Would it be such a great loss just to leave it out? I used to think we could do without it from time to time, but now I believe I’m mistaken. More and more I am convinced that it is an essential part of worship. Why? Because… without confession, we cannot come into God’s presence with integrity. It would be to pretend that nothing is wrong with us and we have done nothing wrong all week. Without true confession of sin, we deserve every accusation by outsiders that we are a bunch of hypocrites. However, when we confess out loud that we are sinful and desperately in need of cleansing grace, we put ourselves in the place of healing, we yield ourselves to be used, and we commend God’s grace rather than ourselves to those who do not yet know Christ.[1]

Yes, Psalm 51 is a powerful, heart-wrenching confession of sin, but even more it is a cry for help. It is a humble plea for mercy, confident that God hears and answers our prayer in Jesus Christ. I was surprised to read that the most important words spoken in the whole worship may not be the sermon (much as I’d like it to be). One minister says, “There is no more significant act in worship than the assurance to the congregation “Your sins are forgiven.” Your sins are forgiven. Those words should never be said casually. If they really are true, then they have the capacity to turn the trauma of sin into the healing of redemption, the desperation of one convicted, into the hope of one released.

Let me tell a story to illustrate. It was told that Frederick II, an 18th century king of Prussia, went on an inspection of a Berlin prison. There he was greeted with cries of prisoners who fell on their knees, protesting their unjust imprisonment. Frederick listened patiently to all these pleas of innocence, but then he noticed a solitary figure in the corner, a prisoner not paying attention to any of the commotion. The king called the man to come over to him.
“Why are you here?” Frederick asked him.
“Armed robbery, Your Majesty.”
“Were you guilty?” the king asked.
“Oh, yes indeed, Your Majesty. I entirely deserved my punishment.” At that the King summoned the jailer. “Release this guilty man at once,” he said. “I will not have him kept in this prison where he will corrupt all the fine innocent people who occupy it.”

Who are we before God this morning? Are we the fine innocent people who have no business being in this place? Or are we a people who bow before the Lord knowing we have fallen short of the glory of God? It’s been said that a sinner is simply someone who needs the grace of God. That’s everyone, isn’t it? And thanks be to God that through the covenant and the cross, our sins, however enormous, will never be greater than God’s grace.

I would like to close this morning with the words of one of my favorite versions of Psalm 51. It’s called “Create Me Again” by pastoral musician Rory Cooney. He said the notes to Psalm 51 in the New Jerusalem Bible note that the verb ‘create’ in verse 10 never has a subject in the Scripture except for God. This insight along with the story of David, Bathsheba and Nathan inspired him to compose these words:

You fashioned the heavens,
You gathered the seas:
Can you create a clean heart in me?
God of compassion,
Your servant has sinned.
Breathe out your spirit.
Create me again.

You are God, you alone,
Faithful love is your name.
Let your rivers of mercy
Wash me of my shame.
Lies and betrayals
Haunt me like my grave.
Are you not their master?
Can you not save?

Give me back the joy that comes from salvation
Teach me to live life anew.
Make my broken heart a new creation.
And I will lead sinners to you.
And I will lead sinners to you.

Amen.


[1] http://media.firstpresaugusta.org/2010/08/confession-of-sin/

# posted by Heddy Ha : Wednesday, August 08, 2012

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