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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
“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
You fashioned the
Can you create a
clean heart in me?
Faithful love is
Are you not their
Give me back the
joy that comes from salvation
Teach me to live
Make my broken
heart a new creation.
And I will lead
sinners to you.
And I will lead
sinners to you.