Sermons from San Diego

Ten Texts That Guide My Life

November 05, 2023 Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ
Ten Texts That Guide My Life
Sermons from San Diego
More Info
Sermons from San Diego
Ten Texts That Guide My Life
Nov 05, 2023
Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ

I tried to compile my top ten favorite Bible passages but could only limit myself to 106.  So I tried to identify my top ten themes.

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Show Notes Transcript

I tried to compile my top ten favorite Bible passages but could only limit myself to 106.  So I tried to identify my top ten themes.

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Sermons from Mission Hills UCC

San Diego, California


Rev. Dr. David Bahr


November 5, 2023


“Ten Texts That Shape My Life”

Some Bible texts change us when we hear them, at just the right time, and shape us to the core.  I came home from work one night during college very distressed.  It was probably midnight but before going to bed, I read this text and it changed my life.  I had been struggling with coming out and these words provided me with reassurance.  In a moment of recognition, I knew what I must do.  It’s been one of my favorites ever since.


·         Psalm 139:  O Lord, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up;  you discern my thoughts from far away.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.  Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?  

·         For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.  (NRSV)  


This past week I tried to compile a list of my 10 favorite Bible passages.  Ten texts that have shaped my life and faith.  It was a real challenge.  I could only get it down to 104.  After our discussion at Lunch and Lectionary, I had to change it to 106.  But perhaps I could find my top 10 themes in the Bible.  Here’s what I came up with.  Your list will likely be different.


#1 - It all starts with this:  Life is a gift from our Creator and God is the source of our very breath.  

·         One of my favorite verses is Genesis 2: 7-8 – The Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath in their nostrils and the human came to life.


Skipping all the way to the great escape from Egypt, we’ve been learning how God provided the Law as training for freedom that emphasized our relationship with God and how we are to treat our neighbors.  And so theme #2 - God’s hopes for us, especially how we treat people who are vulnerable:  like widows, orphans, and immigrants.  

·         Leviticus 19: 34 – Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens.  You must love them as yourself, because you were once immigrants in a strange land.  (this is just one of many times)

·         The hope of prophets like in Isaiah 2: 4 – Then they will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.

·         And I love this vision of peace.  Isaiah 11: 6, 9 – The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them.  They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.  

·         And a favorite for many:  Micah 6: 8 – O mortal, what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.


Theme #3 – God calls each of us to answer – or not.  We know a lot about Moses reluctantly saying yes.

·         1st Samuel 3: 10 – As he slept, the boy Samuel kept hearing his name being called.  Three times he woke up Eli who finally told him, when you hear the voice again, it’s God calling.  Reply, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  And he did.

·         Or as in Isaiah 6:8 – Here I am, send me. 

·         Esther 4: 14 – Faced with the totally improbable opportunity to save their people, her uncle said, “Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.”  And she was!

·         Jonah 1: 1-3 – The Lord called to Jonah, “Get up and go to Nineveh and warn them for their evil has come to my attention.  So, Jonah got up.  And fled [in the opposite direction]


A recurring theme in the Bible is encouragement.  Reassurance for the weary.  So, theme #4 – When we feel low and afraid, God provides strength, comfort, inspiration, and hope.  God may have repeatedly gotten really, really frustrated with humanity, but God never stopped loving.


·         Isaiah 43: 1-4b – But now, says the Lord – the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel:  Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and the flames won’t burn you.  I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your savior… Because you are precious in my eyes, you are honored, and I love you.

·         The Psalms are full of encouragement, and anger, but one of my favorites is “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46.


As we transition to the New Testament, theme #5 – Jesus was sent by God to build upon the Law and prophets and call us to change our hearts and lives.  


Jesus offered his life as a model of sacrificial love for all.  He invites us all to the Kingdom of God, the image of a feast that includes anyone who has ever felt like an outcast.  It’s a vision of a world shaped by love and equity among poor and rich.  For some reason, that really upset religious people – then and now.

·         Mark 2: 15b-16 – Many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples.  Indeed, many had become his followers.  When some of the legal experts from among the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why is he eating with sinners and tax collectors?”

·         But John 8: 7 – He said, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.”


Who was Jesus?  #6:  He was perfectly ordinary.  He got tired, irritated, hungry, and needed to be left alone – and yet, perhaps the most amazing thing of all, he always found a way to show compassion and offer a path to forgiveness when our actions hurt other people or ourselves.  But #6 is also – Jesus was extraordinary in ways we can’t explain.  I can only embrace the mystery of his touch as a healer.  His ability to work a miracle simply with words.  How, I don’t know.  I leave that to faith.  

·         Matthew 14: 13 – When Jesus heard about what happened to John (his head delivered on a platter), he tried to withdraw in a boat to a deserted place by himself.  But when the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities.  And he had compassion on them.

·         Luke 7: 50 – Jesus said to the woman, “It’s your faith that has saved you.  Go in peace.”  He didn’t make it about himself.


So, what happened?  Theme #7 – Jesus was executed by a toxic collaboration of religion and Empire.


Jesus dared to confront those in his own religious tradition to return to the best of their shared tradition.  

·         Luke 11: 46 – Jesus said, “How terrible it is for you legal experts.  You load people down with impossible burdens and you refuse to lift a single finger to help them.”

He called for God’s hopes in theme #2 and wasn’t subtle about calling out hypocrisy. 

·         Matthew 12: 14 – After Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees went out and met in order to find a way to destroy him.


But also understand, they lived under the stress of occupation by the violent Roman Empire and both sides were frightened of his message of inclusion and ability to heal and perform miracles and gather disciples.  So, together they preferred to enforce violence rather than practice justice.  

·         Mark 15: 11-15 – The chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas.  “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?”  They shouted back, “Crucify him!”  Pilate asked, “Why, what wrong has he done?”  They should even louder, “Crucify him.”

·         Matthew 27: 27-31 – The governor’s soldiers took Jesus and stripped him and put a red military coat on him.  They twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head.  They put a stick in his right hand and bowed down in front of him and mocked him, saying, “Hail! King of the Jews!”  After they finished mocking him, they stripped him and led him away to crucify him.  Or rather, kill him.  Or to be more exact, execute him.


But God had the final word that death does not win and so on the third day,

·         Matthew 28: 5 – the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid.  I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said.”


But he left them behind and in the aftermath, men, women, and children gathered new communities to continue the presence and ministry of Jesus, a new Body of Christ in the world, to bless it.  Theme #8 is how through the Holy Spirit, everyone – then and now – has a gift by which we contribute goodness to the world.  Two of my absolute favorite verses in the Bible:

·         James 2: 17, 22:  Faith without works is dead.  You must be doers of the word, not merely hearers.


Likewise, theme #9 is how the Spirit enacts unity and equality among people of all genders, races, nationalities, abilities, orientations, and anything and everything else that separates us.  Which, for whatever reason, also seems to upset some religious people.

·         Galatians 3: 28 – There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

·         1st Corinthians 12: 12 – We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.


In the end, #10 – it’s all about love.  Our love of God, God’s love for us.  Our love of neighbor, self, and enemy.  Love is the point of our faith.  And if it’s not, what’s the point?  They will know we are Christians by our love.  And without it, we will continue to watch people in America flee a Christianity that bears no resemblance to the kind of love Jesus practiced.  


Bottom line for us as Christians and as a church:

·         If we speak in the tongues of human beings and of angels but do not have love, we are a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal.  If we have the gift of prophecy and know all the mysteries and everything else, and even have such complete faith that we can move mountains but don’t have love, we’re nothing.  If we give away everything that we have and hand over our own bodies to feel good about what we’ve done but don’t have love, we receive no benefit whatsoever – 1st Corinthians 13: 1-3

·         Jesus made it simple in John 21: 15-17 – “Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord you know I love you.”  “Feed my lambs.”  A second time, Jesus asked, “do you love me?”  He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” “Take care of my sheep.”  Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?”  He replied, “Lord you know everything; you know I love you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”  


Are we clear?  Because without love, we are nothing but noise.  


So, my 10 themes:

#1 – Our very breath is a gift from God

#2 – Treat vulnerable people like God hopes we will

#3 – God calls you and I to personal responsibility

#4 – When we need it, God provides strength, comfort, inspiration, and hope

#5 – Jesus calls us to change our hearts and lives

#6 – Jesus was perfectly ordinary and extraordinary

#7 – The collaboration of religion and state is dangerous.  But God does not allow such evil scheming to win

#8 – The church exists to bless the world with gifts the Spirit gives each one of us

#9 – The Spirit establishes equality in the church even when that isn’t experienced in the world

#10 – The point of it all is love.  And without love, what’s the point?


And whenever necessary, return to theme #5 – Jesus calls us to change our hearts and lives.


What are your 10 favorite verses?  Or what are 10 themes from the Bible that shape your life?  Would you be willing to share just one?