Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The King Who Had It All

Week 13: The Story
Welcome back to The Story.
Of course we never left it, these last few weeks,
we just jumped ahead to the story of Jesus birth.

Today is a Sunday when the Gospel reading is often the story from Matthew,
the story of King Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents, when he ordered the killing of all baby boys near Bethlehem.

It’s a hard reading right after Christmas, but it reflects the reality that we live in a broken world
a world in which tyrants like Herod still  carry out evil plans.  And it’s into the darkness of this world that God came to shine the one true light.

Back in Chapter 13, of The Story, where we find ourselves today,
God’s plan of salvation had not yet been fully revealed.

Going back a few chapters, we remember that God acted to counter the evils of this world and to administer justice by sending the people of Israel “judges.”
When the people turned their hearts away from God, God sent these spirit- filled leaders to call them to repentance, and God rescued them, and restored them.

But time and time again, the people did what they thought was right in their own eyes.

And finally, instead of recognizing God as their one true King,
they asked God for an earthly king,  so that they could be like their neighbors.
God first gave them Saul, who ended up turning his heart away from God.
And so God gave them David, and even though David also proved to very human
he repented, and served God faithfully,  and the people prospered.

After David had ruled for 40 years, he gave the crown to his son Solomon.
As David passes the leadership baton to Solomon, Israel is in great shape.
Financially, they are strong and prosperous, and they are at peace. 
If ever there was a good time to be king of Israel, this was it.

That’s when God appeared to Solomon in a dream, and said,
“Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Can you imagine that?
God, who can provide anything, comes and says,
"Whatever you want is yours. No boundaries. No rules. Ask for anything, and I'll give it to you."

Be honest.  If you could ask for anything, what you would you ask for?
Wouldn't the temptation be pretty strong, to think about material things?

And yet Solomon, asks for wisdom.
That’s it.     

He wants to have the wisdom to govern wisely, to distinguish between right and wrong
Wouldn't it be great of our leaders today, asked for wisdom? 

God honors Solomon's request and it doesn't take long for the new king to put his gift from God to work. One of the duties of a king is to resolve disputes, and shortly after Solomon becomes king, two women come to him with a baby.  Both claim to be the mother of the baby, and it is Solomon's job to decide what to do.

How do you settle something like that?

They didn't have DNA tests, back then,
so with both women standing before him, Solomon asks one of his attendants to cut the baby in half and give each mother half of the baby.

The first mother thinks this is a great idea, but the second mother is horrified and rescinds her claim on the child.  Knowing that the real mother of the baby never allow this,
Solomon gives the baby to the second mother.

One dad tried this trick, with his sons and it didn't work out.
You see the boys had been fighting over who had the rights to a Hot Wheels car, each trying to clutch the tiny red Camaro.  Seeing a Solomon sized teaching moment, the Dad asked them to go get a hacksaw so he could cut it in two.
To which they both yelled, "Cool, Dad! Awesome' let’s do it!

Not quite what he had in mind.

It takes wisdom to know how to use wisdom.
Not only did Solomon desire wisdom for himself so he would lead God's nation well,
but he wanted every citizen to have wisdom and apply it to their everyday lives.  So he wrote down hundreds of wise sayings that are included in the Bible in the book called Proverbs.
These short, simple instructions offer practical guidance to help everyone live well and follow God’s ways.

I met a young man a couple years ago who told me that the first book in the Bible, that he read was the book of Proverbs.  For him, it was a good place to start.

It whet his appetite to know more about God
because he had grown up with friend who did a lot of foolish things.
They were constantly making messes of their lives. Hurting themselves,  and hurting others.
And he didn't want to live like a fool.  He wanted to be smarter than that.
And so he looked to the Bible for wisdom.
But here’s where the story of Solomon begins to take a turn.

Yes, Solomon faithfully built a temple in Jerusalem, a temple that was so beautiful that it
reminded people of the majestic God they served.

And yes, this temple could serve as a witness to God’s glory
as we saw when the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon.
She was so impressed with Jerusalem and the temple that she told Solomon,

"Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel.”

But, even with all these blessings, and all the evidence of God’s hand in Solomon’s life,
even with all the wisdom God so freely gave him,
Solomon’s heart began to take a turn.

He forgot that God does not need temples and places of worship,
temples and places of worship need God.

As Paul reminds us in the New Testament, that you and I, are temples of the Holy Spirit.
We belong to God.
We are created to praise God – to love God with all our heart, mind and strength.
No exceptions.

But just like the people in the time of the judges,
Solomon didn't follow God’s wisdom.

In Proverbs 3:5-6,   Solomon wrote:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him,
    and He will make your paths straight.

Solomon’s downfall was that he didn’t trust God with all his heart.
like the people in the time of the judges, he did what he thought was right in his own eyes.

The first step in his downward spiral
was that he left a little wiggle room in his commitment to God.

Did you catch that right at the beginning of Chapter 13?
On p. 176 there was this one line that jumped out at me.

Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

Did you catch that?  
He loved God, and kept his commandment, except
he still offered sacrifices in the high places.

Those high places, were the ceremonial places on the hills,
where the people still burned incense to the gods of the Ammonites, and Edomites, and
Sidonians, and Hittites.

That would be like a husband sending his wife an Anniversary card that said, “Honey, I love you
with my whole heart,
except, for the times I love  Alice, and Betty,  and Veronica.”

That wouldn’t work very well, would it?

But the heart can easily be led astray can’t it?
And that’s what happened to Solomon.

God has warned the people of Israel through Moses, that a king should not accumulate large
amounts of silver and gold. 
And a king should not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.
But as Solomon grew old, he thought he was an exception to the rule.

Have you ever said to yourself
“it would be unwise for those people over there to do this thing
but I can handle it.  
I won’t get tripped up and fall, like they might.”

Be careful, because if you do, you too will fall.

The second thing Solomon did, that led to his downfall,
was that he failed to deal with his predisposed weaknesses.

Along with the crown, and the power of the crown, came many temptations.

You and I don’t have the power Solomon had, but we each have our own weaknesses.
With God’s help, we can become aware of our weaknesses, 
and we can learn to stay away from situations and from people that make us vulnerable.

Keep yourself accountable. 
Be transparent at all times.  Don’t kept secrets.
Sin loves the darkness.   So live your life in the light of Jesus.

And finally, don’t ignore words of warning or correction.
God will use people who know you best, to warn you.

In one way or another, they will tell you if you are playing with matches and dry kindling.

Solomon ignored God’s counsel.
He thought he was above it all.
And in his old age, his heart turned after other gods, and was not fully devoted to the Lord his
God, as the heart of David his father had been.

And when he sinned, he did not repent like David did.
He did not turn his heart back to the Lord.

If you’ve been there.
If you identify with Solomon on any level – either in the beginning stages of his life, when he
started to make little compromises, or further down the road, when he made life-altering
compromises if you can identify with Solomon,
then listen to God’s Word this morning.

Listen to God’s call to faithfulness.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
     in all your ways acknowledge Him,
    and He will make your paths straight.

 God wants to bless you.  

God wants to fill your life with joy!

If you've messed up already,  
remember that God  is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.
Jesus has forgiven all our sins, past, present, and future.

And Jesus came that we might have life!  

Follow Him and you will experience that abundant life!   Amen.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve 2014
“What if”
How many of you like to watch the really good TV commercials?
I know there are some bad ones, but how about the clever ones, the ones that make you laugh,
the ones you can still remember years later?  

I can still picture a commercial I saw years ago. It was one that made you really think.
It started out with a dedicated employee, trying to relax at home
but it’s obvious from the look on her face, that she is still trying to solve a problem from work.
All of a sudden, you can see her face light up, and she’s got it.

And off she dashes, to get the job done while a voice over announces:
“Here at HP, we never stop thinking about how we can solve your business problems.”
we’re always asking, “What if?”

You see, the image they wanted to leave you with was simple.
They were promising to work harder, to keep thinking “outside the box”
until they found a solution to your problem. 

Now, what if you had someone, who dedicated every waking hour to solving your biggest worries and problems.

What if, instead of losing sleep at night,  or popping TUMS or Rolaids,
you could just lay your head on the pillow, and be at peace
knowing that someone else had it under control.

There’s a big market out there for problem solvers.
And not just for business problems.

Think about all the different people on TV or radio who specialize in solving people problems.
There’s Dr. Phil,  and Oprah who created Dr. Phil’s program, 
and Dr. OZ  and the list goes on and on.

But you didn’t come here tonight for a self-help sermon, did you?
That’s not what Christmas Eve is all about.
And that’s not what I’m here to proclaim tonight.

God has a different message for us.
And it’s the biggest “outside the box” message you will ever hear.

You see this world is constantly trying to cut God down to size
…to limit God’s power and potential in your life.

The world would love to put God in a small little box…
one so small that you wouldn’t even notice it.

The world wants you to believe that God can’t make any real difference in your life.

For example:  
The little box the world would like to put God in is something I call the Christmas morning box.

You see if God is in a Christmas box, then all you have
is a little story about a cuddly baby,   that you take out once a year.
It might make you feel warm inside, but it limits God.

And the Christmas box,   wants to keep Jesus in a manger.
But what if, the story of Jesus’ birth is more than that…
more than a baby born in a manger.

What if it’s true !

What if it’s a story that changes the world?

There’s a story about Jane Fonda meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury.
And the Archbishop says to Jane Fonda, “Jesus is the Son of God you know.”
And Jane Fonda says, “Well, he may be the Son of God to you, but he’s not for me.”
And the Archbishop says, “Jane, he either is, or he isn’t, there is no “for me” about it.”

What if it’s true that the Creator of the Universe, the God who made the whole earth and everything in it,
what if God himself entered this world,  and took on human flesh,
and then walked where we walk, and suffered like we suffer?

How’s that for exploding the limits of the Christmas box?

Think about that…
How does that change the way you look at your own life,
your own struggles and your hurts
to know that the Creator of the Universe has entered your world and wants to know you and be known by you?

What if God is not some distant, impersonal God 
but a God who dearly loves you ?

What if He cares about you in spite of your shortcomings
in spite of your sins, and failures ?

What if his purpose in coming to earth was to serve you and save you?
Not to give us another self-help book or video, 
but to bring us from death to life!

John 3:16  proclaims:   “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,”
And God not only gave us his beloved Son, through his birth in Bethlehem
But God gave His beloved Son, to die for us, so that we might have life.

John 3:16 says, God gave His beloved Son that whoever believes in Him, might not die, but have eternal life.”

That’s my question for you tonight.

Do you believe that?
Do you believe that God has the power to deal with any of the burdens you carry?
Do believe God can forgive any sin, in your life?

Not only can he, He does!

Thirty years after His humble birth Jesus stood before his home congregation in Nazareth.
And slowly He unrolled the scroll from the prophet Isaiah, and read these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor…
to proclaim release to the captives,
to set free those who are downtrodden…”

Jesus then turned the scroll back and announced,
        “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I am here to proclaim to you tonight
that “Tonight, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus has set you free.

Jesus has come to forgive you, and heal you, and lift you up.

Jesus loves you more than you could ever know.

That’s why He was born.  That’s why He died on the cross and rose again.
And nothing in this world can limit the power of God in your life. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lifting Us Out of Darkness

Third Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11  1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

This Sunday and next Sunday, we are going to take a couple of weeks to focus on Advent and Christmas and so we take a pause from   reading through the chapters of The Story.

But as I was preparing this sermon, I reflected on the fact that every Sunday, we can see connections between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament and the New Testament are one story. And we can see that clearly in the three readings selected for today.

There is a theme running through all three of them. And so this morning, what I’d like you to do, is to take out your bulletin because we’re going to look at several verses,
first the Old Testament passage from Isaiah,
and then from the passage in  1 Thessalonians.

So first of all let’s look at the passage from Isaiah, chapter 61
and we’re going to start by looking at the first two verses.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
            because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
            to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn”

Where else have you heard these words?
Where else in Scripture do we find these exact words?   Anyone remember?
Jesus! spoke these words.

In fact, when Jesus stood up to speak in his home synagogue in Nazareth,
the scroll Isaiah was handed to him.  And Jesus read from, and interpreted these words,
because He was the fulfillment of this prophecy.
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” Jesus said.

So, what we have here is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, speaking through the prophets to the people of Israel through Jesus, to the people of Nazareth and now to us today, through God’s Word.

God was speaking to the people of Israel because they needed a word of hope
They had just come through a period of 40 years of exile, 40 years of captivity.
And the prophets had been prophesying, that God would return His people to Jerusalem, to their home.  But here, what we have at the end of Isaiah, is that the people have returned home and find that Jerusalem has been absolutely devastated.

It’d be like returning to the worst sections of New Orleans, after Katrina
or like returning to your home after a wildfire had just burned it down, leaving only ashes.

Just picture what a conquering army would do to a city.
because that’s what they found when they got back to Jerusalem.

All their hope and their longing to return to their homes, had been met with bitter disappointment. And they needed to hear a word of hope.  And so the Holy Spirit speaking through the prophet Isaiah brings them these words of hope in verse 3:

“The Lord will provide for those who mourn in Zion…in Israel –
to give them the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise, instead of a faint spirit.”

This morning in the children’s sermon I talked about what it’s like when you only see darkness.
And the time when we need hope, the most is when we can’t see any light.  At these times we may be looking, but we have been blinded by a tragedy or a loss, and we can’t see any evidence of God’s light.

It’s kind of like something I experienced on a bike trail in southern Wisconsin.
We were visiting my folks, and we spent a day on a real nice bike trail, built on an abandoned railway.

And this railway, included some tunnels that you walk your bike through.
You have to walk it through, because, the tunnels are so long,
that when you enter them,  you can’t see any light at the other end.

Now sometimes we go through a period of trial that is relatively short,
and we have hope, because we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

But this bike path reminded me that sometimes, we go far enough into a trial,
that even the light from behind us begins to grow dim.
And when you can’t see any light behind you or in front of you, and you can’t see any light behind you, that’s when we’re tempted to lose hope.

Maybe that’s what the people of Israel felt like.
Returning to Jerusalem was their light at the end of the tunnel.  That was their hope.
And yet when they got there all they found was more darkness.

And sometimes our lives are like that.
Some years are like that.  We can see that right here in our own congregation every week when we remember friends and family members in our prayers.

Sometimes it’s the darkness of cancer, or illness, or injury,
Other times, it might be the darkness of conflict in a family, or a situation at work, that makes facing each Monday like entering a dark tunnel.

Here we are in a season that brings such a mixture of feelings for so many people.
As the days grow shorter and colder, many are filled with the grief of lost loved ones.

So it’s precisely into situations like these that the prophet Isaiah, brings a word of hope this morning. Let’s look at verse 8 together:
In verse 8, the Spirit of God speaks through Isaiah and proclaims:

“For I the Lord, love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense… their reward,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.”

The promise that God gave to Abraham will continue through the people of Israel
and He promises that
“their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; and all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.”

So what we have in the Old Testament, is not just the Creation story, and the 10 commandments,
time and time again we have God’s promises given to Israel.

And now in response to God’s promise we hear the people responding in verse 10:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
            my whole being shall exult in my God.”

“For he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”

So, their response to God’s promises and God’s faithfulness is rejoicing, their response is worship. 
In spite of their circumstances God fills their hearts with righteousness and praise.

And that’s the connection to our 2nd Reading from Thessalonians.
Paul is writing to a people who are also experiencing a period of darkness.
Some are being persecuted for their faith.
Some who had hoped to see Christ return in their own lifetime were losing hope.
And so Paul, brings them this word of encouragement:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

You might be wondering, “Does Paul really mean for us to rejoice, in all circumstances?
Even when we’re in the middle of a long tunnel, and we can’t see any light?

The key for Paul, and remember he was a man who saw plenty of darkness in his own life,
the key for Paul comes in verses 23 and 24.

“May the God of peace himself, sanctify you entirely and may your spirit
and soul and body be kept sound and blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And here’s the promise: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do this.”

Our efforts to climb our way out of darkness…
our efforts to be more like Christ will ultimately fall short
but the Lord Himself will do this!    Jesus living in you will do this!

Isn’t that an amazing promise?
The Holy Spirit is speaking through the prophets in Old Testament and through Paul in the New Testament, and John the Baptist, all pointing us to the light of Christ.

Who will lift us out of the darkness?   The One who is faithful will surely do this!  Amen.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Trials of a King

Week 12: The Story
There’s a story from many years ago, about a little boy who lived in out the country, on a farm in the Midwest.  Now this was back in the days before indoor plumbing and so his family had to use an outhouse. And if you’ve never seen one, picture a porta-potty made of wood.

Well this boy hated it. 
He hated it because it was hot in the summer, and cold in the winter, and it stunk all the time.

The outhouse sat on the bank of a creek and the boy sometimes contemplated pushing their outhouse over the edge and into the creek.  Well, one afternoon, after a hard spring rain, the little creek had become so swollen, that the boy decided it was his perfect chance to get rid of the much hated outhouse.  So he got an old two-by-four from the barn and he used it as a giant crowbar, prying and pushing until the outhouse toppled into the creek and floated away.

The boy wondered how long it would be before the “outhouse hit the fan,” so to speak and it didn’t take long.

That evening his dad told him they were going to have a talk after supper.
Weighing his options, the boy decided to play innocent and asked why?

His father replied, “Someone pushed the outhouse into the creed today and I think it was you.

The boy thought for a moment, switched strategies, and decided to confess, “Yes, dad it was me,”

After a quiet pause, he continued. “Dad, I read in school last week that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and didn’t get into trouble because he told the truth.”

His dad replied, “Well, son, George Washington’s father wasn’t in that cherry tree!”

While you may never have pushed an outhouse into a creek with your dad in it,
all of us can identify with that story in at least three ways:

First, there is something inside us that wants to do things our own way, no matter what the consequences.  The Bible refers to this as the realm of our “sinful nature” or “our flesh.”

Second, our lack obedience to God, affects other people, not just us.  We know that’s true because most of us have been in a few outhouses that have been pushed over by other people.
Finally, none of us get away with keeping our sinful acts secret.
In fact, we often end up sinning more when we try to lie and cover up our bad choices.

When David became King, initially everything seemed to go his way. Under his leadership, Israel began to win victories over neighboring armies, including twice defeating the Philistines
and freeing Jerusalem from the iron hand of the Jebusites.  After an impressive victory over the Arameans, all the other kings who supported the Arameans surrendered and make peace with Israel.

But David is more than a great military and diplomatic leader.
Remember he was chosen as king because of his heart for God.
And it is his tender heart that allows David to lead his people spiritually as well.

Under his leadership, the ark of the covenant is returned to Jerusalem.
And do you remember David’s joy as he danced as the ark entered Jerusalem?
He was so full of love for God that he was completely uninhibited in his dancing.

Now Jerusalem becomes not only the capital of Israel but its spiritual capital as well.
All because of David’s heart is for God.

David had come a long way since his days as a shepherd boy.
That is until he decided to topple the outhouse.

For reasons we can only speculate about, David stayed home one spring when his army went off to war.  And he decided to take a stroll on the palace roof overlooking the city.  And he sees a beautiful woman named, Bathsheba, and gives in to his lust.

Sin always involves at least three things:

1.      Temptation

2.      Opportunity

3.      And weakness.

And the reality is, that every day we all face temptations. And sometimes when we haven’t guarded our heart, we leave ourselves open to opportunities.  Unguarded moments, in places we should never be.

And on top of that, is our human weakness.
There is not a one of us, who can make ourselves strong.

When we are honest and humble enough to admit it, given the right circumstances, we can rationalize, and justify, and talk ourselves into almost anything.

Sometimes that’s a long road,
a road, that may include a time when we have been hurt in the past and we didn’t know what to do with our pain.  Or we made bad choices after we were hurt.

Sometimes we bury that pain,  and we don’t find a health outlet or we don’t seek healing.
Other times, we create the pain with our own sense of entitlement.
“I deserve this” we convince ourselves.

I won’t presume to know what David was thinking,
but in all my years as a pastor, I’ve never met anyone who jumped into a pot of boiling water.

I’ve never met anyone who woke up one morning and declared to himself or herself, “I’m going to ruin my marriage today.”

“I’ve never met a businessman or woman who just out of the blue decided to embezzle money from their company.

I’ve never met anyone who decided that addiction to drugs or alcohol looked like a good choice.

But sadly, I’ve met people who have lost their marriages their businesses, and their sobriety. 
And in talking to them, they would say, “I didn’t see it coming. The water didn’t seem too hot at first.”

In our Lower Story lives, it can seem like something is innocent.
It can seem like God’s commandments can be bent a little here and a little there, and if no one finds out, what is the harm?

God gives us a conscience,
but our conscience is malleable.

It can be informed by the Holy Spirit or it can be shaped by messages we pick up from this world around us.  If you watch enough primetime TV or cable, or you just listen to enough bad advice from friends, all of us can end up with a warped sense of right and wrong.

You see, our conscience is like a GPS device for navigation. It can be programmed with good information or bad.  And if we just go by our inner GPS, our feelings, well… they can lead us astray.

But God doesn’t leave us at the mercy of our feelings.

God speaks to us.

Just like God spoke to David.

David’s sin may be different from your sin or mine.
But all sin has the same source.

Everything that divides us from God, starts with one thing.
It starts with a heart that is worshipping something other than God.

Martin Luther said our heart is an “idol factory.”  We are very easily tempted to worship things other than God.
That’s our human nature. 

So when temptation meets opportunity AND our human weakness
look out… it’s only a matter of time before the outhouse will be toppled.

But remember God doesn’t leave us at the mercy of our feelings.

God speaks to us.

And during this Advent season God speaks to us through these words from Scripture:


“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”[1]

When we watch and listen to God, and pray, God will strength us to resist temptation.

Keep awake 

So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.[2]

Remember then what you received and heard; treasure the Gospel, and repent.
If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.[3]

In the same way, the Holy Spirit spoke to David through the prophet Nathan.

He said to David:
There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

And what did David say?

He burned with anger against this heartless rich man, didn’t he?
He could see the injustice.
He could feel the pain of the poor man who lost his beloved lamb

When I was in middle school and High School, our family had a dog named Lady.
Lady would do everything with me.
I would throw her a tennis ball in the yard, and she would bring it right back.
In fact, she always wanted to play that game until my arm was tired.
She would go along with me on my paper route and she would sleep on my bed.

We loved Lady.

And if someone had come and taken Lady from me and killed her I would have been just as angry as David.

But just when David, wanted to take justice into his own hands Nathan said the words that cut to his heart:

David, “you are the man!”

You are the one who has sinned against God.

You are the one who deserves the punishment you would impose on others.

As I was preparing this sermon and reflecting on the story this week,
it struck me very clearly that not one of us truly understands this story
unless we realize God is speaking to us, and saying “You…you are the one who has sinned against me.”

In big and small ways every one of us has sinned and fall short of the glory of God.[4]

And whenever we start to feel self-righteous
and we start looking down on someone else and their sin,
remember how Jesus spoke to the Pharisees who were hypocritical and loved to judge others.  Jesus always saved his harshest words of judgment for them.

And remember the saying, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

What are the key words in the center of that phrase?

“But for the Grace of God!

When temptation meets opportunity and our weakness, what do we need?

We need God!   We need God’s strength.   We need God’s wisdom!
We need Christian friends who strengthen us.

Friends who will speak truth into our lives.  Not friends who encourage us in our sin.

Friends who speak like Paul spoke to the Corinthians, when he said:

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that they stand take heed lest they fall. 
 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to all. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”[5]

When David heard Nathan’s prophetic word, “You are the man”
David’s heart was pierced.
And we heard his poignant prayer of confession in Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right[b] spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit.
And God did restore David just as he restores us. God does not cast us away.
God is in the healing and mending business.
God does not scorn us with shame,   but lifts us up in hope.
Hope for a new day.
Hope for a redeemed future.
Hope that overflows into the lives of others
    when we make amends for the past
    repenting and seeking their forgiveness.

And hope that motivates us to reach out to help restore the lives of others.
remembering Jesus’ words:  ”the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little,
but the one who is forgiven much, shows great love.”[6]

Thankful for God’s forgiveness in our own lives
Let us show great love.      Amen

[5]  1 Corinthians 10:12-13

[6]  Luke 7:46