Twenty years ago, I was on a Pastoral Search Committee, and one of the questions we asked the ten candidates we interviewed in the first round was to tell us their three favorite passages of scripture. I loved hearing the variety of verses quoted and even learned some that I didn’t know, such as the last line of one of this week’s lectionary passages:
2. Since my background is Mennonite, we go to the “canon within the canon” which is the Sermon on the Mount. I loved it even more when I studied the Greek word for “blessing” which actually means “to know the fullness of God”, rather than just “happy.” I particularly like the phrasing in The Message – don’t hate. It’s kind of good.
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are–no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being “carefull,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world–your mind and heart–put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
“Not only that–count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens–give a cheer, even!-for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
3. Psalm 145 contains a lot of really great stand-out verses & I love the whole thing. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” is a worship refrain that appears throughout the Old Testament. “Slow to anger” literally translates “slow to make a face or flare one’s nostrils” which is a great picture of facial disgust that God would have every right to show but does not. Another one I love in here is “The Lord is near to those who call on Him in truth.” It seems like a throwaway phrase, but it’s along the lines of being blessed, knowing God’s fullness in difficulty. It’s not easy to tell the truth to God because the answer may be scary. God promises nearness which is the very best we can hope for.
Praise. Of David.
1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendour of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
12 to make known to all people your* mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendour of your* kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.*
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name for ever and ever.
(at this point in our little exercise, I’m having a hard time narrowing it down to two more. I may have some bonuses.)
4. I preached sermon on 2 Samuel 24 because it was one of those rare moments when I found a story in the Bible I had never heard before, so naturally I needed to inflict it on others. While I’m not sure it’s a “favorite” in the warm fuzzy traditional sense, I am fascinated by the picture & meaning of the threshing floor in scripture. I’m also a little in awe that this is the spot that became the center for worship for the Jewish people & now is the site of a huge Mosque & is one of the most contended for pieces of land in the world.
2 Samuel 24
David’s Census of Israel and Judah
1 Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.” 2So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army,a who were with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know how many there are.” 3But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God increase the number of the people a hundredfold, while the eyes of my lord the king can still see it! But why does my lord the king want to do this?” 4But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to take a census of the people of Israel. 5They crossed the Jordan, and began fromb Aroer and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer. 6Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites;c and they came to Dan, and from Dand they went around to Sidon, 7and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beer-sheba. 8So when they had gone through all the land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. 9Joab reported to the king the number of those who had been recorded: in Israel there were eight hundred thousand soldiers able to draw the sword, and those of Judah were five hundred thousand.
Judgment on David’s Sin
10 But afterward, David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.”11When David rose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, 12“Go and say to David: Thus says the LORD: Three things I offereyou; choose one of them, and I will do it to you.” 13So Gad came to David and told him; he asked him, “Shall threef years of famine come to you on your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to the one who sent me.” 14Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands.”
15 So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from that morning until the appointed time; and seventy thousand of the people died, from Dan to Beer-sheba. 16But when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented concerning the evil, and said to the angel who was bringing destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” The angel of the LORD was then by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 17When David saw the angel who was destroying the people, he said to the LORD, “I alone have sinned, and I alone have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.”
David’s Altar on the Threshing Floor
18 That day Gad came to David and said to him, “Go up and erect an altar to the LORDon the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19Following Gad’s instructions, David went up, as the LORD had commanded. 20When Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming toward him; and Araunah went out and prostrated himself before the king with his face to the ground. 21Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you in order to build an altar to the LORD, so that the plague may be averted from the people.” 22Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him; here are the oxen for the burnt offering, and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. 23All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God respond favorably to you.”
24 But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy them from you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. 25David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being. So the LORD answered his supplication for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.
5. I’m going with an oldie but a goody here with Romans 8. This passage has anchored me during some very low times and to me it is like an old friend.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.w 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.