Monday, February 27, 2017

Nahum: Vengeance Is Mine

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Nahum 1:1-9:

In his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner recounts an event early in his career when he was called on to help a couple whose only child, their 19-year-old daughter had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a burst blood vessel in her brain. He said that when he went over to their home he expected anger, grief, shock, but he didn’t expect the first words they said to him which was “You know, Rabbi, we didn’t fast last Yom Kippur.” Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement, the most important of the high holies in Judaism, a day in which people, even many non-observant Jews, will refrain from work and will fast and seek forgiveness for the sins they have committed in the past year, and committing not to do those sins again. When this couple was struck by tragedy, they reverted back to a basic belief that God punishes people for their sin, and thus the death of their daughter had to have been caused by their failure to participate in Yom Kippur six months earlier. If only they had done that, they thought, then their daughter would be alive.

When my brother was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 20, my father had the same thought. He believed that God was punishing him for the sin of pride, by striking out at my brother. My brother’s cancer was a lesson that God was trying to teach my father and to punish him for a perceived slight to God. These are not unique stories, because they happen all the time with people seeking to give some meaning, some reason, some purpose for something that has happened in their life, and often it comes to a belief that God has caused this to happen, which often comes with a statement like “everything happens for a reason” or more specifically “This is part of God’s plan even if we don’t understand what that plan is.”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Micah: What Does The Lord Require Of You?

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Micah 6:1-8:

This week I did a google search to find out what the most famous passages from the Bible were. The results I found were not necessarily the most famous, but they were the passages that were most looked up. At the top of the list were some passages you might expect like John 3:16 “for God so love the world that he gave us his only son,” and there was the 23rd Psalm “the Lord is my shepherd” and 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous statement about love, “Love is patient and kind, love is not boastful or envious.” And there were some that I was totally surprised by, like a passage from Zephaniah, who we will discuss in 3 weeks, saying “Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”  A nice passage, probably taken totally out of context, but not one I have ever found myself quoting. But the reason I wanted to look up what the most famous passage were was to see if any were included from the prophet Micah, because he has at least two with which most of us are familiar, and another we know although we don’t know that we know it.

The one we don’t probably know is that it is from Micah that we get a prophecy that the messiah will come from the town of Bethlehem. In the 5th chapter we hear “O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2) A more famous one is from the 4th chapter, where we hear “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 anymore.” Now that’s a phrase most of us are more familiar hearing from the prophet Isaiah, who was a contemporary of Micah, but it appears word for word in both books. But by far the more common passage, and one of my favorite scripture passages, is Micah 6:8, which we heard this morning, which the New Revised Standard Version translates as “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Monday, February 13, 2017

Jonah: God Loves Us Anyways

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Jonah 3:1-10:

Last week in our series on the 12 Minor Prophets, we heard from Obadiah, probably the least known, and definitely the least read of the minor prophets, and a reminder that the term minor here does not have anything to do with importance, but instead with the lengths of the books as compared to the Minor prophets. This week we move on to probably the best known of the minor prophets, Jonah. Even if we don’t have any idea what Jonah actually says, or what the book is about, at the very least we remember the story of Jonah and the whale, except that it’s not actually a whale. The book of Jonah is unique in many ways. The first is that he is the only minor prophet mentioned by Jesus. But more importantly, he is the only one of the minor prophets in which we are not really given any prophetic statements or oracles from God, but instead the book consists of a series of stories about Jonah.

At the beginning of the book, we are told that Jonah is the son of Amittai, which doesn’t tell us much now, nor is there any king listed to give us the time Jonah was living. But, in 2 Kings 14:25, we are told of a prophet by the name of Jonah, the son of Amatti, who was from the town of Gath-Hepher, which is a small town in Galilee, about 3 miles from Nazareth, and was prophesying under king Jeroboam of Israel. There are some problems with that dating, however, because Nineveh was not yet a “great city” as it is described in the book of Jonah, so there are arguments that take place amongst scholars about dating, but it’s not probably ultimately important, because the story can be told and interpreted without knowing fully what was going on at the time, or at least the minute details, because the overarching point is that is that Jonah is told to get up and go to Nineveh, which is the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the most important and powerful city in the ancient-near east at the height of Assyrian power, and he is to cry out against the city because, God says, “their wickedness has come before me.” What exactly this wickedness that God has taken notice of is never mentioned, but we can make some guesses because we do know that the Assyrians were hated by nearly everyone.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Obadiah: Turning Back Those In Need

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Obadiah 1:1-4, 10-17:

There is a Depeche Mode song from the 80’s that says “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumors, but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor and when I die I expect to find him laughing.” That’s how I feel sometimes about God when it comes to Sunday’s messages. I began planning this series on the 12 minor prophets last summer, long before we knew the results of the election and certainly long before I knew what that president would or would not be doing when we got to each of the individual prophets, but sometimes the scriptures just seem to match up with world events, especially when it comes to controversial events. Just once I would like the scripture to match up positively with something that’s happened in the world, but that doesn’t seem to happen nearly as much, if ever, as scripture calling us out as individuals and as a nation for some action we have undertaken, which, I think, is where we find ourselves today.

Now just by a show of hands, who here had ever heard of Obadiah either before today, or before you saw that Obadiah would be covered today? That’s about what I thought. The first time I heard about Obadiah, or at least could remember it was while I was in seminary, but it was not in class, instead it was through my wife Linda who came home and told me right at the beginning of the school year that she had a student named Obadiah, a girl by the way, and I was like “okay.” And so, she had to tell me why she thought this was important information for me to know because she was named after one of the prophets, and so then I had to go look it up. Obadiah is one of the few books that is not covered at all in the lectionary, and according to what, based on what verses and books people look up and read on their site, Obadiah is the least read book in the bible, and six of the top 10 least read books are all minor prophets. So, if you have never heard of Obadiah you’re in good company.