SERMON from 9-16-12: Bumper Sticker Theology: “Falling Down Doesn’t Make You a Failure; Staying Down Does”

 

*Based on a sermon series originally preached at First United Methodist Church in Mesa, AZ.

 

2 Samuel 11.2-4, 12.13

 

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house.

13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

 

Bumper Sticker Theology: Falling Down Doesn’t Make You a Failure; Staying Down Does

They don’t call them “bumper sticker slogans” for nothing.  This sermon series is going to do something that we do in this fast-paced world of instant information transmission.  Only, we are going to do it in reverse

Take, for example, the news.  In a world where even TV news is threatening to die off, there has been a disturbing trend–the sound byte.  Journalists look for the most scandalous or entertaining one.  Politicians are taught to speak so that they can get good ones on the news.  The ideas we hear about are so simple that they can easily fit on a…(ask “what?”)…bumper sticker.

However, bumper stickers aren’t bad.  In fact, they can be quite entertaining.  You can tell others how your kid is an honor student.  You can show your affiliation with a group, and you can insult an entire group of people.  Then, there are those bumper stickers that–while short and sweet–can still get us to think.

That’s what this sermon series is about.  Instead of taking complex ideas and shortening them to bumper sticker size, we are going to look at profound bumper stickers and see what we can learn about God from them.

I realized something as I was finishing up my sermon this week.  It was sort of serendipitous that this is the scripture lesson for this week.

We all have the scriptures we know; many of them just sort of float around in our collective consciousness.  Many of them are from the Old Testament.  Moses parts the Red Sea.  Job remains faithful when everything is taken from him and done to him.  Noah gathers two of every animal as God floods the earth.  Some also come from the New Testament and are mostly the things we like to say to our children to correct their behavior.  Turn the other cheek.  Love thy neighbor.  All you need is love.

The last one was from a different John and Paul, but you get what I mean.

The story of the trouble David gets himself into with Bathsheba is well known.  David sees a beautiful woman.  Based solely on that–forgetting the horrible lesson that is, in and of itself–he decides he needs to know her in the…ahem…biblical sense.  He sends for her, while not giving a second thought to ensuring she was available to be known.  David kills her husband, and they lose the child that was the product of their “knowing.”

If you didn’t know this was a story from the Bible, you might think it was already a movie starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

What sets this apart from what you might see in the theatre’s, is the way this story ends.  David is confronted by a friend.  Nathan, the friend, holds him to account for what he’s done.  David comes to the realization that not only what he has done is wrong, but it was a sin–and he’s forgiven.

Maybe it’s been a while since you considered it, but when was the last time you considered the fact that you sin?  This is important.  I’m not talking about the fact, that if you’re a Christian, you understand that there are things that we do wrong that displease God.  I am talking about sin.  As in, “The wages of sin is death.”  That’s what I’m talking about.  Sin.

To be clear, it does happen and you do do it.  Not only do you do it, but you need to know how you are going to act in the face of that reality.

Last week, I talked about the preachers who spout “fire and brimstone” in order that they might twist your arm.  I don’t do that.  And, there is a difference between preaching fire and brimstone and informing someone of their need of repentance.  Usually, the difference between the two is the mood each preacher’s particular “god” is in.  The God I preach about is one who has spent the duration of creation working to reconcile humanity to himself, and that reconciliation should include an understanding of the sin that we have perpetrated.

So, back to the question, how do we confront the reality of our sinfulness?  If we were to couch our sins in terms of their being failures, how do we confront our failures?

David understood the graveness of his actions–his sins–and repented by acknowledging his offense against God.  What about others?  How about Peter?  You remember Peter, don’t you?  Peter was adamant about his complete guiltlessness when it came to the point that Jesus said he would betray him.  Then, Jesus was taken away and tried before the Jewish court.  The rooster crowed and Peter realized the graveness of his failure.  Peter went on to lead the church in its early days.  Seeing thousands of people converted to his rabbi’s teachings.  Once his shame brought him to his knees, he realized he needed to get back up.

But what about Judas?  This is another one of those biblical stories we know, even if we haven’t been to church.  Judas was possessed and found himself in cahoots with the Jewish leaders to turn Jesus in.  With the kiss of a cheek, Judas gave Jesus into the hands of the Roman soldiers and took 30 pieces of silver for it.  When confronted with the graveness of his sin, Judas couldn’t take the pressure and hung himself.  The gravity of his transgressions kept him down.

Have you been confronted by the gravity of something you’ve done?  Hopefully, you have.  I don’t say this because I really wish something bad would happen to you, but I think it helps us to understand something extremely important.

Do you carry around guilt?  Do you feel yourself unworthy because of something you have done, or think you have done?  Do you feel like your failures are different than everyone else’s, and should be punished in a different or special way?

I’ve got some good news for you.  Your sins are not so special as to exempt you from God’s grace.  The only way your sins win out is if you let them stop you from completely embracing the love and grace God so freely extends to his children.  It’s called “amazing grace” for a reason.  It amazes him, but Christian singer Chris Tomlin describes it by saying, “Amazing love, how can it be?”  Right?

Honestly, I would bore you–and myself–if I went into a discussion of how the church has viewed God’s love and grace.  Also, honestly, isn’t it ever enough to just be in awe of something?

When was the last time you were ever in awe of something?  Was it looking up at the crystal-clear night sky?  Was is looking outside your airplane window?  Was it in the arms of the person you love?

We are always looking for answers, aren’t we?  It’s the reason that science exists.  It’s the reason the internet exists.  It’s the reason religion exists.  We all went off to our separate corners to believe what we choose because we wanted answers to questions we just couldn’t answer.  Funny enough, it’s also the reason people are now leaving the church.  There are just questions too tough for one person or entity to answer.  But, when do we get the opportunity to be in awe?  It’s not sitting on the couch, staring at the TV.  It’s not sitting at the computer and it’s certainly not going to happen as we are tapping away on our phone.

Take time to be in awe of that which surrounds you.  Take time for that which presents itself before you all the time.  God’s matchless grace and unending love.  We may not be able to understand it, but let’s take some time to realize what a gift it is.

After that, when we return to the real world and have to face our lives and the sin that exists within them, that’s the time when we take that which we have been in awe of and apply it to our lives.  You’ve sinned?  We all have.  God knows and is fully prepared to love and forgive you in spite of it.

The only true failure we face in our lives is not the sin itself, but our unwillingness to receive the forgiveness God offers and let it paralyze us.  We all fall down, but the true failure is if we stay down.  Because if we stay down, we won’t be able to experience God’s amazing grace.

AMEN.

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