EXCERPT FROM BIBLE SERMON

Sunday I preached what might have been my favorite sermon in my DOUBT ABOUT series.  In the sermon I grouped our doubts about the Bible  into scholarly type of doubts, experiential doubts, and doubts which arise from misuse.  One part of the sermon was when I talked about the different types of doubt people have as to whether or not the Bible is authoritative and reliable; I grouped these loosely as “scholarly doubts” for lack of a better phrase.  I have included a couple of these in today’s blog.

Another scholarly type of doubt people often have about the Bible is that it is divine in origin.  In other words, folks might believe we really have the texts and we can understand the texts but they do not believe God had anything to do with it.  It is more, in their eyes, about myth, stories, and culture. 

There is not a whole lot a person can do to counter that, but let me try for a second.  If God was real (and he is, but for point of argument let’s start with that), and if God revealed himself to human beings over time and space and geography, and if people were literate and could write down what they had encountered, what would we expect to have?  Would we not expect the literature that was derived from that experience to look something like the Bible looks?  What we have is what one would expect. 

We do not believe the Bible was written by God himself.  What we believe is that human beings like me and you have recorded what God revealed and did and said.  That is why the Bible is more like a witness than it is a history.  It records the ups and downs of human beings in relationship with God. 

Okay, there is one more kind of scholarly doubt issue that can be lumped in here.  That is the phenomena of other so-called “holy books.”  We saw this acted out before us earlier this year when a moron burned a Koran in Florida.  This caused such a reaction in the Muslim world that innocent people were killed. 

But people have doubts about the Bible because, they say, what makes the Bible more important than the Koran, Bhagavad Gita, the Book of Mormon, or even The Iliad

Well, there is one obvious difference.  In all the other major sacred texts what I find is that the claim of being from God or being divine is usually transmuted in one encounter.  The Bhagavad Gita, as I understand it, is encounter between Krishna and Pandava just before a battle takes place.  The Koran, of course, is the writings which Muhammad said were given to him by Allah.  Almost the same thing can be said of the Book of Mormon which was invented by Joseph Smith. 

While I respect these different faith traditions and readily want them to have the freedom to practice their faith,  there is a radical difference in their claim to authenticity and the one of the Bible.  These individuals represent portals, perhaps bottlenecks of the information.  Muhammad, Krishna, and Smith might be thought of as filters for who can know what.  Compare that with the Bible.  The Bible is messy, splayed out over thousands of years, cultures, languages, and types of people.  When a person reads the Bible, one of the first things an inquiring eye will find is that much of the material in the text is clearly ‘unfiltered.’  The other “holy books” are dictatorial while the Bible is egalitarian.  The Scriptures have many human authors all encountering the same God.  For my taste, the messy account of God and human beings in the Bible is far more reliable than other cleaned up and neat, or filtered accounts.

SIPPING COFFEE, THINKING HARD

I had a missing-time experience this morning so I decided to take advantage of it.  No, not an alien abduction kind of missing time, but the other kind of missing-time.  Someone I was supposed to be seeing was suddenly unavailable and I had a hole in my schedule.  I took advantage of this hole and did something I used to do a lot but haven’t done in very long while.  I went to a local coffee bar, ordered my favorite caffeinated beverage (cinnamon dolce latte skinny extra hot), made small talk with the newbie barista—who did a great job, by the way on the drink—and sat at the little bar on the stool and worked in a very non-hurry-up-lets-go way.

It was great.

The first thing I did was finish the last few pages of my Sherlock Holmes novel.  It was nice.  Then I opened my laptop and wrote a whole long section for the sermon I’m preaching in three weeks on marriage.  It is a part of my sermon series on “doubt” and the theme is the doubts many people have today about marriage.  As a side note, I finished that sermon just a few moments ago, will edit it tomorrow and will officially be caught up in the sermonizing category.  For me caught up is three weeks ahead.

Then, I sat and daydreamed about what I would like to see happen in our church and ministry between now and the end of the year.  I used to daydream a lot about ‘how it could be’ but I’ve not lately.  There have been many reasons for this, but I know I need to do it more.  Creativity comes from contemplation.

As I thought I brainstormed such things as church plants in the area, increased presence in the community, how to improve our children’s ministry, and how I might want to tweak my sermonizing.  I also spent some time reflecting upon the Easter weekend.  Attendance on Sunday was very good.  Good Friday was a bust, though.  We had too many doughnuts leftover, but that might be because somehow they were far away from where the people were.

The coffee bar lounge was very crowded.  Almost every seat in the place was filled.  To my left sat a woman, about my age, who kept alternately reading a novel and writing notes in a spiral notebook.  She must be studying, but she looked far too old to be a student, and the book she was reading looked like something you pick up in line at the grocery store.  Maybe she is studying to be a writer? 

To my left were a father and mother with a little boy in between them.  That little boy must have been about 4.  He talked the entire time.  Non-stop.  It was a thing of beauty.  What made me sad was that all his questions were directed toward his father, not his mother.  Daddy answered all of his question with short, one syllable answers.  Daddy was more interested in his USA Today and his cell phone than he was his son.  Have I ever been that guy with my daughters?  Yes.  Lord forgive me. 

Behind me was two different tables filled with middle-aged women.  At both tables the main topic was church.  I got the definite impression it was not a small group or accountability group or a fellowship group.  It was a “these are the things we don’t like about our church” group.  At first I was thankful that these folks were not from my church, but then I realized two things.  First, since the body of Christ is so intrinsically connected, all believers are a part of ‘my church.’  Second, my church people were probably in another coffee place, or perhaps they would be here tomorrow.

These uncomfortable thoughts made me remember why I needed to spend time in the coffee bar more often.  It connects me to reality—to where people really are—foibles, faults, and phobias.  Somewhere in the gossiping church women, the neurotic note taking woman, and the coming adolescent son-father train wreck was where most of us live.  When I preach, these are the kinds of people who are hearing.

I opened my laptop and made some revisions to my sermon.

HEAVENLY DELIGHT

Last night I was searching for heaven.

To be more specific I was searching for heaven on my computer files.  I am preparing for a series of sermons on DOUBT that begins on Easter Sunday.  The second sermon is about heaven and I want to talk about doubts or questions people often have about heaven.  I am actually very excited about the series.  I want to start today, though, working on that second sermon—heaven.

One of the things I like to do before I preach something is find out what work I’ve done in the past on the subject or text before I boldly traipse off to work through the material.  So that is why I was searching for heaven last night.

What I discovered shocked me.  I don’t have a single sermon, in over 15 years of pastoral ministry and 20 years of preaching, on heaven as a topic or a singular text.  Not one.  I have to be careful as I write this because you might get the wrong idea.  It is not that I don’t preach about heaven—I do, as part of other sermons or other ideas.  It is not that I haven’t taught on heaven.  I have a thick file folder in my study at work on the subject.  But what I don’t have is even one sermon specifically dedicated to it.  What a glaring omission that is.  The same thing happened to me about five years ago.  I was working through my preaching schedule and discovered that I had never preached a sermon just about King David.  That was when I committed to preaching at least one a year, at least one sermon a year that was specifically fixed on the life of King David.

But back to heaven.  As I drifted off to sleep last night I began to psychoanalyze myself and wonder if there was something going on that might have caused me to avoid preaching directly on heaven all these years.  I came up with three possible answers.  One, I might be avoiding it because I save all my good heaven stuff for funerals.  Two, maybe I’ve heard so much preaching about heaven in my lifetime that I’m trying to balance the scale.  Three, perhaps my pastoral focus is to lead people into how to live here rather than daydream about heaven.

This morning though, as I write with the sun coming up over majestic Puget Sound and the birds chirping outside in expectation of a spring day (cue music), I think I’ve found a better answer.  For me, heaven is a major article of faith.  I simply affirm that I believe in heaven but can’t ever grasp how great it will be.  I take much of the language in the Bible about heaven to be metaphorical for “man, this is going to be great!” so that is all I’ve ever felt comfortable saying about it. 

But as I get ready to preach it now, I’m forced to think about how people doubt the reality of heaven and how I need to approach the topic from a skeptic’s perspective.  I don’t quite know how that is going to work out, but I think it will be fun.  I know it will push me beyond where I am normally comfortable, and that is a good thing.