Sunday, July 26, 2009


2 Samuel 11:1-15

One of my all-time favorite films, “Rain” – from Somerset Maugham’s story of the same title, starring Joan Crawford as a women of questionable reputation – and her fellow passengers stuck on a dumpy island in the Pacific because of cholera.
With all the usual suspects.
In the bar, one evening, some unpleasant conversation about the woman … but the bartender says, “We’ve all crossed thresholds we’re not proud of.”

Who hasn’t?
Who doesn’t have a closet full of junk; a shoebox full of shame?

Maybe that’s why Jesus said to the mob with stones in their hands, Let the one without sin cast the first stone.
How we love the feel of the stone in our hand; eager to throw it, hard and fast, at someone caught, relieved that it’s them, not us!
But the Bible cautions us … and tells us stories about the great and the not so great, and the travails of life … no one has it easy … we can all stand against one another (that’s the easy choice), or we can stand with one another in the fellowship of grace.

Teaching an adult Bible one Sunday morning, I told the story of David and Bathsheba.
Before I finished, a class member slapped her hand hard onto the table and shouted, “Where did you get that filthy story about David?”

This is the kind of stuff we don’t learn in 5th grade Sunday School.
And that’s okay for 5th graders …
There’s plenty of stuff for children to learn … but what we learn in Sunday School is only a small part of the biggest story every told … stretching all the way from creation to the new heaven and the new earth … a story of greatness and sadness … the best and the brightest; the worst and the ugliest … all the thresholds we’ve crossed … and then some.

We all love little Davy defeating Goliath; but we need to pay attention to the whole story – even the nasty stuff.

The text begins simply enough, though with a clear wink of humor – it’s spring time – hehe …
When kings flex their muscles and set their eyes on fields of battle.
David is no different.
After a long drizzly winter, as the sun stretches broader on the horizon, the smell of wild flowers in the air, David says, Let’s go to war.

Does this make sense?
Of course not.
It’s not supposed to make any sense.

So off to war they go.
Not David, of course.
He’s too much of a king now.
He only gives the orders.
His generals go to war.
And the young men who do the fighting.
Does it ever change?

And late one afternoon – I love the image … when the sun is setting … everything golden … the magic hour if you have a camera in hand – every color brighter, richer … the end of the day … a stroll on the roof of the palace – a mighty man surveying his mighty city …

I wonder how often David strolled the ramparts.

I wonder, how often Bathsheba noticed the king … this powerful man … and what did Kissenger say, “power is an aphrodisiac”?

So David surveys his kingdom.
Maybe a little bored.
After all, his men are out looting and pillaging, ravaging the land … having all the fun, and David is stuck at home.

Lethargic, board … daydreaming …
Dozing all afternoon.
What’s a great and powerful king to do with so much time on his hands?
But lay around.
Take a nap.
A man of leisure.
Finally he rises …

I have this image … stretching, yawning, rubbing his eyes … What’s next? Solitaire? Maybe some dancers? Eat a little goat stew?

I know what I’ll do.
I’ll go to the roof …
Always something to see … who knows what I’ll see today.

In that fateful moment, in that rooftop stroll, he sees a woman bathing … leisurely, languorously, here an arm, there a leg … ah, look at the marvelous hair …
Anything more needed?
And maybe it could have ended there.
This man, after God’s own heart, might have just turned away.
But he’s a powerful man.
He sees what he wants, and he wants what he sees.
Who is she? He wonders.
Might she be available?

David sends someone to find out.
Powerful people do that.
Hey, servant-boy, run over to that neighboring house will ya? Find out who owns those arms and legs.

So the report comes back.
It’s Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam,
Wife of Uriah the Hittite.

It might have ended then and there.
But it didn’t.
Things like this rarely end when they should.

David doesn’t waste any time.
He sends for her.

And what’s a loyal subject to do, but accept the king’s invitation?
And it might have ended then and there.
But it didn’t.

The text gives the impression of royal prerogative.
No pleasantries.
Not courting.
No jokes.
Not even a drink.

The text is otherwise full of rich detail in the rest of the story, but not here.
No conversation, no caring, not a shred of tenderness.
No love … just desire.
Right into bed.
And when it’s done, it’s done.
She leaves.

Well, that’s that.
Or so we would hope.

But things like this are never neat and clean.
The word comes to David, I’m pregnant.

Those fateful words have changed human history a few times, haven’t they?

Now what?
Even a powerful king like David wants to cover things up.

So David sends orders to his commander, Send Uriah to me.

Uriah comes home from the front.
He and David engage in a little manly-man talk – about soldiering and looting and who was winning.

Uriah, you’re a good man.
Loyal soldier that you are.
Why don’t ya’ head on home for a little R & R with your wife, why don’t you wash your feet … wink, wink.
A couple of guys … some barroom banter …
“Wash your feet” – I think all of you can figure that one out – a euphemism for something a bit more … and maybe no one will raise the question of paternity.

But Uriah the Hittite, the foreigner, the mercenary, refuses.
How can I go home to enjoy the pleasures of life,
When my buddies are out in the field, taking risks,
Terrible risks …
For a war they didn’t make,
For a king they dearly love.
I can’t do that.

So Uriah camps out by David’s front door.

The next day, David invites Uriah in for a drink.
Just a couple of guys.
Just a few beers.
A little more banter, some bawdy jokes.
A few more beers.
Losen things up.
A few more beers.
Let’s get drunk.

But Uriah refuses to go home.
This guy can’t be bought for love or money!

The next morning, David writes a letter to his commander in the field – no words minced:
Put Uriah on point.
When the fighting gets rough,
Pull back; beat a hasty retreat.
Leave Uriah there; alone.
And he’ll be struck down and die.

This is a mean and nasty story about a powerful man who uses his power to get what he wants, destroying those who could blow his cover.
The kind of story we might well see on the evening news.

The kind of story we know all too well.

So what’s it doing in the Bible?
What’s the point?

Should we just shake our heads, cluck our tongues at such outrageous behavior.
Look down our nose and congratulate ourselves for “never having done anything like that”?
Or maybe we’re just glad we were never caught, or if we were, we breath a sigh of relief that we scraped through it like David did.

What’s the point? Why this wretched story about King David?

It’s life … life pure, plain and simple … when life isn’t pure, and never plain and hardly simple.
Who can choose life in bits and pieces?
Who can choose only the sunny side of the street?
Sometimes we walk on the dark side of things.
Ply our trade in the dark materials.
Sometimes we’re leading the way.
Sometimes we’re caught up in someone else’s maelstrom, like Uriah was …

The Bible tells us that life is life.
There are thresholds we’ve crossed we’re not proud of.
Stories we’d just as soon forget.
There’s no picking and choosing the chapters.

It’s just life.
In all of its glory and all of its grittiness.
Thick and thin.
Sick and sin.

The Bible reminds us:
No need to pretend.
And pretending has long been a part of the Christian story … from the tales of the saints to all of those glorious conversion stories told by TV evangelists.

But we all know it’s not true.
It’s just hard to wade through the hype.
The church in America is particularly susceptible to pretending.
Pews are full of people who could never tell their story, for fear of being thrown out on their ear, and they’re right. They’d be thrown out.
Conversionist Christianity has been particularly cruel at this point – “now that I have Jesus, it’s all sunshine and roses. I used to do and I used to be” … fill in the blanks with all the dirt and grime of life, the sin of the month, “but Jesus came into my life, and now my bad complexion cleared up, I got a million-dollar job, and I live in a fine home. All because of Jesus.”
Sure, I’m exaggerating.
But the point is this: American Christianity loves success and victory and power and overcoming and all things made new.
There is something to all of that, God be praised.
The Holy Spirit is real.
The love of Christ makes a difference.
A life soaked in the love of Christ, a life devoted to things of God, a life filled with faith, hope and love is a life categorically different than a life live in anger and greed, fear and lust, the relentless self-interest that only the Spirit of God can challenge and defeat in our lives.
But sin never goes away.
Life has its roses, but the bloom can quickly fad.
Life has its sunshine, but the night is just a stroke of the clock away.
Like the sea in Holland – the dikes and canals keep the water at bay, but the threat is always there.

Scripture reminds us:
God has saved us.
Again and again.
God builds all kinds of dikes and canals to keep the deluge away …
But everyone in Holland knows that a 100-year storm might do it … that a failure in all the complicated controls might do it … that the angry waters of the cold Atlantic might one day breech the defenses.

They know that.
So they’re prepared.
They’re vigilant.
They’re ready.
They’re on guard.

Maybe that’s the point.
Be mindful of your own soul.
Be careful and prayerful.

Jesus said it well:
Pay attention to the log in your own eye before you mess around with the speck in your neighbor’s eye.

Be kind to one another.
Because some of us are not running too swiftly.
Some of us are just limping along right now.

Maybe we’re the man beset by robbers and left for dead beside the road.
Maybe we’re the priest or Levite – good and decent folk, but unsure of getting involved …
And maybe we’re the good Samaritan today – our heart is full of kindness, and we do the right thing.

Maybe we’re David.
Maybe we’re Bathsheba.
Maybe we’re Uriah.
Maybe we’re the messenger.
Maybe we’re the commander.
Maybe all of them, and then some.

Good and bad, bad and good.
Moment by moment.

And through it all, grace.
God’s grace, twisting and turning the story for a better ending … like clay in a potter’s hand.
A remarkable God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
God never gives up on the human project.

And if God doesn’t give up,
Why should we?

Don’t give up hope.
Don’t stop trying.

Forgive big time – seven times seventy.
And for heaven’s sake, forgive yourself.

Don’t get caught up in pretending.
Life is tough enough.

Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.
And you’ll be healed, says James.
Maybe he’s talking about honesty.
Plain old honesty.
Because honesty heals.

The Bible says:
Tell the truth.
And if the truth hurts, tell it carefully.
Maybe no one needs to know, but you … and God.
But tell the truth to yourself, for sure.
And let others tell the truth, too.
Life is tough enough for everyone.

Love welcomes the truth, even when the truth is sad!
That’s the heart of the story.
Love bears all things … Love never fails.

Amen and Amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Politics and Religion" - July 19, 2009

2 Samuel 7:1-17

Did ya’ hear about the man who planted a light bulb in his garden?
He was hoping to grow a power plant!

Power … as Spock would say, “Fascinating.”
Power of all kinds fascinates us …
Thunder storms and lightening …
Crashing waves …
An F-16 roaring off the deck of an aircraft carrier …
The mushroom cloud …
And the power of powerful women and men …

Power is a strange thing …
In the right place, the right hands, power works miracles …
Power is a dangerous thing …
There is no soul more damaged than a soul damaged by power.

It was Lord Acton who said:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It was Henry Kissenger who noted: power is an aphrodisiac.

Power seduces the powerful and beguiles them with the illusion of invincibility … powerful people are tempted to think more highly of themselves, and to value their opinions over others, simply because they have power.
Power is easily translated into moral confirmation and political privilege.
A friend of mine was pastor a very wealthy congregation – he constantly noted how difficult it was – the captains of industry rarely learned; what they were good at was giving orders!
Sure, these are simple human sins – we all play one-upsmanship, and “my ideas are bigger and better than your ideas” …
But power and wealth have a way of magnifying the sins.

Which is why Jesus offers a chilling reminder: It’s easier for a camel to slip through the eye of a needle than a person of wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven.

King David is a powerful man …
A string of victories as long as your arm …
Troubadours sing of his valor …

David is the quintessential philosopher king …
A visionary and a leader …
A warrior and a poet …

Power gravitates to people like David.
Power flows all the more to powerful people.
Sort of like the rich get richer.
The powerful accrue more power.
Power goes to people like David …

Maybe you know powerful people …
Maybe you’re powerful …

We’re all powerful with someone …
But with David, we’re dealing with power of another kind …
The power of kings and queens, popes and potentates …
Boardroom power …
Vested power …
The power of wealth and influence …
Power exponential …
Power of the highest kind …

Power from God …
All power comes from God …
Pilate says to Jesus: Do you not know that I have power … power to release you, and power to crucify you?
Jesus says: You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above [John 19:10-11]
All power comes from God!

David wants to build a palace for God.
David has a fine palace, so now it’s time for God to have one.
The crowning touch for David’s rise to power.

A city conquered.
A nation consolidated.
The Ark of the Covenant safe and secure.
David has it all.
David’s the king.

And now, to finish the deal, a palace for God.
A temple.
A fitting touch to an amazing journey.
To God be the glory.

David’s spiritual advisor says, Go for it.”
It’s a good idea.
A fine thing.
Just do it.

Ever notice how powerful people like to have spiritual advisors?
David and Nathan.
Nixon and Graham.
President Bush and Rick Warren.
Powerful people recognize the need for spiritual advice.

But it’s tough being a Nathan.
Did you notice Nathan’s first response?
Sure, go ahead. Do what you think best!
The LORD is with you.

But God has another idea.
That very night, God speaks to Nathan.
It’s not what David can do for me.
It’s what I will do for David.
God will David a house …

Verse 17 says it all: In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

I wonder if it was hard for Nathan to say No! to David.
I suspect it was.
Power is not easily challenged!
But powerful people need powerful people to challenge their power …
Without challenge, power becomes madness.
Without restraint, power, like a fire without a fireplace, burns the house down.
Power challenged is power chastened …
Power challenged is power cleansed …
We learn from Billy Graham, and from others who’ve been Nathans to the powerful:
Spiritual advisors are tempted to be toadies.
Perks and privileges.
Country clubs and yachts.
You bet, Mr. King, it’s a good idea! You’re da man!

But God had something else in mind.
God wanted David to sit back for a moment.
To consider the whole story, the rest of the story.
David, relax.
I don’t need a palace, I don’t need a temple.
I’m content with a tent!

This says a whole lot about God.
A humble God!
Modest and gracious.
Every Christmas, we celebrate the humility of God.
Born of Mary, in a stable, not a palace.
Born of Mary, in Bethlehem, neither in Rome nor in Jerusalem.
Born of Mary, not in the company of kings and queens, but in the company of shepherds and wise men.
Not power, but peace.
Not glory, but grace.
Modest and gracious is the LORD God Almighty.

God says to David:
I have been with you wherever you went!
In thick and thin,
In sick and sin.
I have been with you.

David, you’ve done a lot.
But it’s been my power at work in all things for good.
I took you from the pasture …
From following the sheep …
To be the prince over my people.
I cut off your enemies.
And I will make your name great.
And I will make you a house.

The greatest lesson powerful people can learn:
It’s God’s power.
When I was an associate pastor at Fox Chapel in Pittsburgh, Donna and I got to know Jim and Kathy Lee – Jim was head of Gulf Oil, then headquartered in Pittsburgh – Jim and Kathy were amazing Christians – they had learned well the lessons of godly power – they had given their lives to Christ, and practiced a Christ-centered life.
Godly power - power received from God and given back to god.
With godly power, God does even more!

There will be a temple, David.
But it’ll be built by someone else.

Another lesson the powerful need to learn: mortality.
Who can finish all the work that needs to be done?
David’s accomplishments were awesome.
But not even David could or should do it all.

It was Paul the Apostle who wrote:
I planted,
Apollos watered
But God gave the growth.
So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
[1 Corinthians 3:6-7].

Even the greatest of us is but a link in the long chain of history.
No one can do it all.
No one should even try.
We do our share, and then pass it on.

And God be praised, there will be others …
To take up the dream …
To gather the reigns as they slip from our hands.
Men and women of vision
Who will carry on, and finish the work.

In this remarkable story, God challenges a powerful man.
To teach David some powerful lessons:
God give us power.
God gives great power to some.
Great power is always a great temptation.
As if the power were ours.
As if the power were mine, to do as I please.

Like the rich man in the parable …
Rich indeed … powerful … everything he puts his hand to becomes gold …

He had more than he knew how to spend.
He says to himself,
I know what I’ll do, I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my good. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’.

But God has another idea.
God says:
You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?
Jesus says: So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.

David was on the verge of becoming poor toward God.
This is the temptation of wealth and power.

The blessing of God can go to our heads.
We assume we’re in charge.
And before we know it, we’re rich in the things of the world, and poor in the things of God, and we have lost our soul. What good does it do, asks Jesus, to gain the whole world if we lose our soul?

I learned a little mantra many years ago:
Power is from God.
Power becomes arrogant.
God brings power down.

David had to be challenged to hear the full promise of God!
Nathan had to say No! to David, so David could hear the Yes! of God!

I will build you a house.
Your family.
Your destiny.

God blesses.
God challenges, chastens and cleanses.
God adds to the blessing all the more.

In the story that follows,
David accepts the challenge of God,
With humility and grace.
David comes and sits before the LORD.
Neither falling on his face,
Nor standing up.
Just sits.
Friend-to-friend …

David responds with humility …
Who am I, O LORD God? asks David,
And what is my house that you have brought me thus far?

David is a man after God’s own heart …

The simple realities of the story:
Religion and politics.

Religion at its worst: intimidated by power, religion is tempted to give its imprimatur to the plans of the powerful.

But God helps Nathan.
So Nathan can help David.
Because God loves David.
And God wants David’s power to remain clean and good.

David is politics; Nathan is religion.
David is the state; Nathan is the church.

Nathan couldn’t have figured this one out on his own.
But with God’s word, Nathan gains insight.
Religion at its best.
Guided by God’s word.
Willing to say no to even the biggest of dreams.
Powerful people need to be saved from the power God gives to them … to learn anew the lessons of humility …

God be praised.
In the nick of time, Nathan speaks to David.
Religion speaks truth to power!
And God be praised, all the more,
David learns the lessons of power.
All power is from God.
All power is for God.
And to God be the glory.

Amen and Amen.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

July 5, 2009 - "Power"

2 Samuel 5:1-10

I love to read biography … to peer into the soul of another human being …
The times in which they lived;
Families they came from;
Schools they attended;
Teachers and preachers who shaped their spirit;
Struggles of conscience and soul;
Failures and sorrows;
Love given and love received.
Everything that makes a person tick …

I’m reading a biography of Carl Sandburg poet, journalist, social activist, a dreamer and a doer.

When I read the life of another human being, I learn about grace …
Everyone struggles, who doesn’t?
Everyone hopes and dreams, and fails and falls, and succeeds and wins … a grand mix of joy and tears.

A strange mix, aren’t we?
Self-absorbed on Tuesday, and on
Wednesday, we’re giving ourselves away to great causes.
We have greatness in our bones,
And we have sin in our sinews.

When I read of others, I learn how important everyone is … for everyone to be all that they can be … to strive for fullness of life and maturity of character … to give yourself a break now and then, and to give others the same generous tolerance …
We rise about our failures – we forgive, and we’re forgiven … we live and we learn …

I love to read biography.
And that’s what we’ve been doing the last few weeks here at Covenant … David’s biography.
The shepherd boy … the court musician …
The poet and the warrior.
A man after God’s own heart, says the Bible.
But still a man …

Our chapter today in David’s life – he takes the city of Jerusalem – in the highlands of southern Canaan … a wise political move.
A king needs a capital.
Jerusalem had little strategic or economic value.
Isolated in the highlands.
Trade and commerce went around it.
But David needed a clean start!
David needed a city.
Something brand new for a brand new time.

Sort of like our own Washington, D.C.
A new capital city.
Neither New York nor Philadelphia.
Neither Charleston nor Richmond.
Neither North nor South.
A new capital for a new nation for a new day.

That’s what David did.
David used his power to create a new chapter in Israel’s story.

But … and there’s always a “but,” isn’t there?
A “but” to every story.
As much as we would like to eliminate the “but’s” from our stories, we can’t, and never will.
Not as long as there’s sin in the story … and there’s plenty of sin to go around for everyone.
Everyone has a few “but’s” thrown into the mix.
David has his “but’s” …
And David’s biographer doesn’t shy away from it.
This great man.
This man after God’s own heart,
Can be mean-spirited and intemperate.

That’s the way life is, isn’t it?
Like a home, we have a living room, bright and cheery, and when guests arrive, to the living room we go – we’re proud of it, and we’re glad to welcome folks to our living room.
“Here, sit down. Want a drink? I’ll get it for you.”

But with … there’s a “but” here … we have other rooms, don’t we?
Closets and attics and basements.
Crammed with junk … dirty and unkempt …
And we’d never show them to our guests.
Our family knows.
Maybe a few close friends.
And maybe only you and I know.
The dark places of the soul.

David used his power to build a kingdom.
David abused his power to satisfy his anger and pride.

In one of the strangest twists of the story, the Jebusites thought their city to be safe – We’re so safe, they said, even the blind and the lame could defeat David.
When the dust settles, David takes it out on the blind and the lame … in some bizarre symbolic gesture, he says, There will never be a place here for you … never! For as long as I’m king, the blind and the lame will never enter the palace.

This part of the story hits me hard … this abuse of power … the power to shut the door.
The story of the church in too many instances:
The Medieval Church excommunicated folks left and right, and if you were excommunicated from the church, barred from the Sacraments, you were going to hell when you died.
And how about the Inquisition? Anyone who dared to think out of the box was tried and tortured … all in the name of Jesus.
Even our good friend John Calvin used the power of the church to imprison and punish Anabaptists, and, sadly, he gave approval to the burning of Servetus, a theologian who had questions about the Trinity.
In 17th century Scotland, you were barred from communion if you couldn’t produce a communion token received the week before at a preparatory service.
You were barred from white churches in America if you were a person of color.
Women were barred from the pulpt.
And who else are we barring?

Roman Catholics keep the door closed to Protestants.
Pentecostals exclude those who don’t speak in tongues.
Fundamentalists lift their noses at those who’ve not had a dramatic late-night conversion in the parking lot of a seedy bar.
Evangelicals of various sorts turn away from those who fail to pass a theological test on the atonement.
Hardcore fundamentalists bar those who are soft on abortion and are open to civil rights for gays and lesbians.
Conservative Presbyterians exclude me from the kingdom of God – I’m a servant of Satan, deluded in my vanities; I’ve abandoned Scripture and the hallowed traditions of the church, they say … and when they can’t get rid of the likes of me, they go off and form their own denomination, because they’re better and purer than we are.

Why do we do this to one another?
Because we can.
It feels good, doesn’t it, to exclude.
Oh come on now, we all do it.
It’s a function of power.
Power gone bad.

Just like David.
The power to create a kingdom.
And the power to bar the door to the blind and to the lame.

It’s all about power …
I’m the king and I’m the crown.
I’m the priest, I’m the pastor.
I’m the pope, I’m the bishop.
I’m powerful … I can do this, if I want.

But it’s more than just a big story about kings and popes … it’s a small story, too.

I knew a family whose son married a young lady from Japan, and Mom and Dad were so displeased, they stopped talking with them – when I got to know the family, they and their son hadn’t talked in years – They’ve seen the grandchildren only twice in ten years.
When we bar the door to someone, who becomes the prisoner?

I know a retired pastor who has a gay son.
He never ever talks about what that means for the family.
And to this day, he remains opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians.
He calls himself an evangelical.
I call him a prisoner!

When we bar the door to someone, who becomes the prisoner?

I’ve counseled with families over the years …
I’ve learned something mighty important:
Never sacrifice a person for a principle … never burn a bridge that you might have to cross someday… never bar the door, because you alone will be the prisoner.

The mother and father who disowned their son denied themselves much pleasure - the son and his family felt a sadness, but they lived their lives just fine; it was Mom and Dad who paid the greater price.

The evangelical pastor has denied himself the fullness of life that a father and a son could enjoy.
The pastor puts principle over the personhood of his son.
The son lives a good and productive life … it’s the father who pays the greater price, because he has to say one thing to his evangelical audience, and then try to say to his son, “I love you, because you’re my son.”

When we bar the door to someone, who becomes the prisoner?
But let’s move on.
There’s more to the story.

David used his power to build a kingdom.
David abused his power when he barred the door.
But here’s another “but” …
David fused his power with God as David learned more about grace and leaned on God’s mercy! It was David who wrote, The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want …

To use power is one thing …
To abuse power is common …
To fuse power with God, now that’s a Christian life.

I turn to the New Testament, to another hero of mine, the Apostle Paul.
A powerful man.
Who used and abused his power.
And then, on the Damascus Road, Paul fused his power with the love and mercy of God.

I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me, writes Paul.

I’ve worked harder than anyone else, he writes, but it wasn’t me, it was grace.

Paul’s power fused with God’s love.

To fuse our power with the love of God … so that we can be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, as Jesus said.

I end with some reflections on our nation’s power.
The power of America.
With our power, we’ve built a kingdom.
But let’s ask the “but” question: Has our power ever gone wrong?
Whom have we excluded?

As Christians within a powerful nation, we have to be careful … careful that we’re not mesmerized by power …
I thrill at a flight of F-18s overhead.
I get emotional when I see the Stars and Stripes held high.
I get choked up when I sing, “America the Beautiful.”

But as a Christian, I have to be careful, just because I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus …
To look at Christ, tunnel vision disappears.
I see the nations of the world … all the peoples.
I have a dual citizenship – I’m a citizen of America, and I am a citizen of the kingdom of God … for America, I have a passport; for the kingdom of God, I have a certificate of baptism … and the love of Christ sealed on my heart by the Holy Spirit … and so do you!

Too many Christians fuse their power with the power of the nation rather than the love of Christ.
Too many Christians wrap the cross of Christ in patriotic bunting … too many Christians fuse their hopes and dreams with America’s destiny.
Too many Christians fuse their pride with the strength of our military forces and too many Christians support the dreams of some politicians to dominate the world and consume earth’s natural resources.

Power is mesmerizing.
Power, said Henry Kissenger, is a great aphrodisiac …
Beguiling and seducing …

When Christians fuse their power too closely to a nation, bad things happen …
Nazi Germany, where millions of Christians – pastor, priest and parishioner - pledged loyalty to the Fatherland, to Der Fuehrer and to Germany’s national aspirations for expansion and racial purity.
As witnessed with Japan and its emperor – religion and state fused together …
In radical Islamic states … nation and faith are one …
A dangerous mix – the fusion of religion and state.

As Christians in a powerful nation, we must be careful.
Alert and aware.
Above all else, global in our thoughts and prayers:
For God so loved the world, and for that world, so large and grand, so strange and fierce, God gave the only beloved son, to reconcile the world to God, to welcome the blind and the lame into the place, to bring release to the captives and hope to all of God’s creation – including dogs and whales and cows and pigs and you and me!
For God so loved the world …

Christians can never simply say of their nation, “America First” or “Germany First, or “Britain First”
When we sing, “God Bless America” we must also sing, “God Bless All the Nations of the World,” and all creatures, great and small.
As Christians in a powerful nation, we have to be careful.

To fuse our power with the love of Jesus Christ.
Then we will be the best citizens of our land.
To serve our nation best of all, when we serve Christ first of all!

Christ first in all things.
Christ above all the other powers.
Christ on the cross and Christ in the tomb,
Christ raised on the third day …
And ascended into heaven …
Christ coming again to finish the work …

To fuse our power with the love of Christ.
And use our power to build God’s kingdom on earth … thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen and Amen!