Proper 9 (C)
Sunday July 5, 1998
Messiah Motivated Mission
Luke 10:1-11; 16-20
We had finished our Bible study on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, the story of Jesus sending out His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God. It was Sunday afternoon and we were about to canvas our neighborhood with an invitation and information about our church. We set out in pairs and agreed to return after two hours for a time of worship.
By 5:15 pm, all of the paired evangelists had gathered in the sanctuary. Some were filled with excitement; while others seemed disappointed and even angry. “One man shut the door in our face and told us to get lost,” she said tearfully. “We didn’t expect that kind of response and so we left,” said her partner. “Boy we’re glad that didn’t happen to us,” the young couple said. “As a matter of fact, we were invited in for coffee and cake. They said they would come and visit with us this Sunday.” “We hit every house on our street,” chimed the teenage brothers. “Even though no one told us they were interested, we left them our materials.
“Do you remember how we emphasized that the major theme of our Bible Study was Messiah Motivated Mission?” asked the Pastor. “Jesus reminded his disciples that mission could be dangerous and disappointing. The disciples were like sheep among the wolves.”
Someone else in the room said that’s the way they felt when another person slammed the door in their face. “So what did you do?” asked the Pastor. “We stood there a moment and then we prayed” came the answer. “What a wonderful thing to do” said another affirming evangelist. “After all, Jesus told his disciples to give the same message to every town; even the ones who rejected them. The message is the same for everyone: The Kingdom of God is here.”
“I was surprised at how many people are unchurched,” said the oldest lady on another team. “Even at 71, I can still be shocked at the dire need to evangelize around our own neighborhood.” Her partner added how good it was that they had worked in pairs so they could support and discuss these events as they traveled through the community. “Sometimes we forget about the urgency of God’s message,” said the Pastor. “When Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs, they traveled light and quickly. There is still an urgent need to spread the Gospel even in our age of televisions and computers.
“Yes, true,” growled a grumpy voice, “but how many people did we convert?” “How many people got a Yes to come to church. I want to see some hands?” The room got quiet and the young couple raised their hand. “Two? That’s it?” snarled the grumpy voice again. “Why bother?” An air of despondency filled the room.
After a few moments of quiet, the Pastor responded. “Being a disciple of Jesus can be difficult. It is especially hard when we carry the burden of success or of failure on our shoulders alone. But Jesus made it clear in our Bible study that our joy is not found in success nor is our grief found in our failures. Rather, we are joyous in our obedience to Christ. Our greatest joy and hope is because our names are written in heaven. Remember this is Messiah Motivated Mission. It is prayer and trust in God’s action that will produce the harvest. It is the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit that will move and change a heart. We are simply the messengers on a mission with a message: “The kingdom of God is here in Jesus Christ. Won’t you come and be a part? You have an open invitation!” With these closing words, the church evangelists stood and prayed on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, but returned home as Messiah Motivated Missionaries. (Dennis Bolton)
Proper 10 (C)
Sunday, July 12, 1998
When Jesus Names Your Neighbor
Luke 10:25-37
The flyer came in the mailbox. It announced an emergency neighborhood meeting to oppose the building of some low-income apartments near the community. The meeting was to be held in a church. What does it mean for Jesus to name my neighbor?
Across town, another neighborhood was in an uproar. The local mental health agency had purchased a house to use as a transition home for the mentally retarded. The neighborhood captain said that they were for helping the mentally retarded but not in their community. What does it mean for Jesus to name my neighbor?
He stands up and asks Jesus a loaded question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The question seems simple and direct but it is very complex. After all, it’s a lawyer’s question being used to test Jesus. Now Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with his own question, “What is written in the law?”
The lawyer gave the correct answer, “‘Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Jesus agrees with him and tells him if he does this he will inherit eternal life. The lawyer has answered his own question with the approval of Jesus. So what’s wrong? Well, the lawyer wants to be confident in his position and seek the minimum requirement for obedience. He demands that Jesus define a neighbor so that he can be sure to define a “non-neighbor.”
Jesus tells the parable about a man who is beaten and robbed and left for dead. He is lying along the side of the road that runs between Jerusalem and Jericho. The first person to come upon the scene is a priest. He sees the man and passes by on the other side. There is no motive given for his harsh reaction.
Following close behind is the second man, a Levite. The Levite’s action suggests that he takes a closer look than the priest, but he too passes by the man. Again, there is no motive given in the text. Many suggestions have been offered: the priest and the Levite, who work in the temple, cannot touch a dead body if they thought the man was dead; or they are fearful to help someone who is a sinner; or they are afraid that the man is a decoy used to set up more robberies.
We do not know the motive for not helping. Perhaps we should not be so hard on these two fellows. After all, they were caught between duties: the duty to perform the rituals in the temple as spelled out by the Law or the duty to risk becoming unclean by helping the wounded man. The priest and the Levite are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Jesus presents a third traveler: the opposite of the lawyer, priest, and Levite. The Samaritan is a hated outcast, unclean and an outsider in first century Judaism. Yet he is the one who stops and helps the wounded man. He delays his travels, takes the man to a safe place; binds his wounds, spends his own money on the wounded man and risks his own life.
At this point, Jesus asks the lawyer to redefine the term neighbor; “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer cannot bring himself to say “the Samaritan”; instead, he carefully words his answer, ‘the one who showed mercy.” To be a neighbor in the eyes of Jesus is to be one who shows mercy.
Proper 11 (C)
Sunday, July 19, 1998
But Only One Thing Is Needed
Luke 10:38-42
In every Christian group there are three types of people. The Marthas are busy getting things done. The Marys are busy soaking up the Word of God. The ambivalent are busy not being busy. Which kind of service is best? Obviously the ambivalent can be eliminated. Herschel Hobbs told of an interview in which a businessman was asked, “How many employees work here?” He replied, “Very few!”1
Luke weaves a tapestry of stories about Christian service. Like all tapestries, this one has contrasting colors. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan the Jesus tells the lawyer to use what he knows in service. In the story of Mary and Martha, service (Martha) is the result of discipleship (Mary).2 Both are important, but one thing is needed.
Jesus is visiting in the home of women. Luke weaves into his tapestry some interesting threads that are not necessarily part of the main pattern. In this case, Jesus was not afraid to teach women. Although not forbidden by the Torah, it was rare for a rabbi to allow women to sit at his feet.3 Jesus visited in the home of a woman and allowed another woman listen to his teachings. Jesus demonstrated his convictions in a real life situation.
Martha is distracted and complains to Jesus. Martha received Jesus and extended the hospitality of her home and a meal. Martha’s hospitality placed her in line for the blessing of those who received Jesus and His disciples. Yet Martha became frustrated by the work. She was preparing an elaborate meal for Jesus. Her sister Mary was sitting in the “living room” with Jesus leaving Martha to do all the work. She complained to Jesus. Tell Her to Help Me!
Martha! Martha! You are worried about many things. One can almost see the twinkle in Jesus’ eye. It is certain that Jesus did not chuckle. In this very human situation, Martha’s feelings of frustration would have sent her through the roof. Martha was trying to be the proper hostess but her “distraction” was her undoing. Instead of blessing, she received a gentle rebuke.
Only one thing is needed. Let us not chastise Martha harshly. Jesus certainly did not. He did not degrade her service. It was simply a matter of getting things in order. Jesus was concerned about His mission not his rights as a guest of Mary and Martha. “Don’t let ordinary dinners spoil your appetite for the real dinner.”4 In the preparation of a large meal, many dishes are prepared for the guests. However, to satisfy hunger, one dish is sufficient. Religious busyness often distracts Christians from the word of Christ upon which all effective service rests.5 We can fill our plates with religious things, but the pursuit of the Word of God is the main course. Few things are needed and this one is essential.
Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her. The power of the Word is applied in life and it cannot be taken away. Understanding this security is a comfort because so many things we do in life are temporary. We can enjoy a nice supper, but the next morning the whole process starts again with breakfast.
We can enjoy being busy with church work and activity but there is always more to do. The Word of God has a permanent and life changing effect. Discipleship will lead us to service in the Kingdom of God.
John A. Broadus was one of the founders, professors, and later president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In those days it was customary for guests to place their shoes outside their bedroom door at night to be picked up and polished by a servant. A guest in Broadus’ home who followed this custom, never failed to find his shoes freshly polished each morning. One night, when he heard someone come for the shoes outside the door, the guest decided to express is gratitude. When he opened the door, a man was stooping over to pick up the shoes. The guest discovered that the servant was none other than Dr. Broadus! The great man had caught the spirit of Christ and had become as one who serves.6
In the tapestry of your life, you need both “colors,” discipleship and service. If Jesus were to be asked which example, the Good Samaritan or Martha and Mary, applies to us, He would probably answer, “Yes.”7
Recently, advertisers for Nike athletic shoes changed their slogan from “Just Do It” to “I Can.” Discipleship will make “I Can” possible for you.
To a lawyer who asked a question, Jesus said, “Go and do.” To Martha, distracted by her busyness, Jesus said, “Sit down. Listen and learn.” There is a time to go and do. There is a time to sit down, listen and learn. Knowing the difference grows out of discipleship. Every church has Marthas and Marys. If you are a Martha, move over to Mary’s position and you will grow into an effective and realistic servant of the living Lord. (Randall Rich)
1Herschel Hobbs, My Favorite Illustrations (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1990) p. 237
2E. Earle Ellis, The Gospel of Luke in The New Century Bible Commentary, Matthew Black, Editor, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981) p. 162
3Fred Craddock, Luke in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, J.L.Mays Editor (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990) p. 151
4Ellis p. 162
6Hobbs p. 173
7Craddock p. 162
Proper 12 (C)
Sunday, July 26, 1998
An Unusual Conversation
Genesis 18:20-32
Potter Steward, the former Supreme Court justice, defined ethics as, “Knowing the difference between what you have the right to do and what is the right thing to do.”8 In the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham brings this question to bear upon a plan of God. The audacity of the patriarch frightens us as Abraham persists in asking God to “rethink” His position. God certainly had the right to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin. Abraham’s question, “Is it the right thing to do?”
I. Abraham’s Pivotal Question
“Far be it from you to do such a thing — to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” God answered the pivotal question. He would not destroy the righteous with the wicked. There is more here than the answer to a pivotal question. We meet God who is “more ready to celebrate, acknowledge, and credit for all the right-relatedness of a few.”9 God is not a tyrannical and unreasonable judge.
Abraham questioned the justice of God but received a lesson in mercy. Abraham demonstrated the depth of his character by standing before God as a good man pleading for a city full of bad. The only problem was that Abraham was asking the wrong question. Perhaps he could have asked, “What are you going to do about the righteous you find in Sodom and Gomorrah?” God demonstrated the depth of his character by teaching Abraham that his mercy and his justice go hand in hand. God never allows sin to go without retribution but his mercy is just as firm.
II. The Righteousness of People Is in the Sight of God.
The most memorable events in the histories of human conflict are those involving the “innocent.” Places like My Lai, Hiroshima, and Auschwitz are burned into memory. War is a distinct human and faulty endeavor created to make things right. Innocent people always suffer from war. Abraham’s human question did not consider the magnitude of God’s grace. God is not human. Even humans have learned that only by the merciful hand can the cruelty of war be healed.10 Abraham learned on our behalf that the human endeavor is not the guide for God’s righteousness.
There was a third alternative in the mercy of God that Abraham did not see. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah but rescued the righteous (Lot and his family).
III. This Is Essence of the Gospel.
From the laughter of Sarah learning of her impending pregnancy in old age to the stunning quiet of the aftermath of raining fire and brimstone, God is the champion of righteousness. From the new beginning, God would build a nation of people to honor him and display for the rest of the world his way. From the devastation of the end of Sodom and Gomorrah, God would announce his intention to destroy evil. From that beginning and ending Jesus came, the author and finisher of our faith.11 A new world would be born where righteousness is described as “Love your enemies.” This love was taught and demonstrated by Jesus in life, in death, and in his resurrection. God made a way for the righteous to be an influence and then to escape.
This third alternative applies to the faithful today. We are to be the influence of good in the world. Then God provides a means of escape, the cross of Jesus Christ. This is attainable only from the merciful hand of a just God.
A glimmer of the majesty of God is revealed. He is big enough to hear our questions, resolve our confusions, and still do what is right. God patiently listened to and responded to Abraham’s questions. He then handed out justice in the only way possible, providing a means of escape for Lot and his family. Abraham learned a lesson in mercy.
Walter Brueggemann contends that the hinge in the story is the same as in other Genesis passages. God remembered Noah (8:1). God remembered Abraham (19:29). God remembered Rachel (30:22). God remembers us. We are neither guilty by association nor righteous by association. “God is not an indifferent or tyrannical distributor of rewards and punishments. Rather, God actively seeks a way out of death for us all.”12 The cross of Jesus Christ is our rescue. It is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy.
So go ahead and ask The Compassionate Father on behalf of others. It may be an unusual conversation, but he hears intercessory prayers. You can be assured that he will do the right thing and perhaps teach you a lesson in mercy as well. (Randall Rich)
8Joe Taylor Ford, Sourcebook of Wit and Wisdom (Canton: Communication Resources, 1996), p. 34.
9Walter Brueggemann, Genesis in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, James Luther Mays et. al. editor (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), p. 172.
10 John Hersey, Hiroshima (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), quoted by Walter Russell Bowie Genesis-Exposition, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. I G.A. Buttrick, et. al. editor (New York: Abingdon Press, 1952), p. 623.
11Hebrews 12:2 KJV.
12Brueggeman p. 175.
Proper 13 (C)
Sunday, August 2, 1998
Investing in Your Soul
Luke 12:13-21
It has been said that a person’s true measure may be seen in their checkbook register. There is no better indication of the things that a person values than the things for which she is willing to “lay out the cash.” Jesus had it right when He said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” This is not to condemn proper concern for making sure that your material needs are met. We are to be responsible stewards of our financial means.
That being the case, you could say it’s legitimate to want to make sure you get everything that’s coming to you. In today’s story a man who is involved in an inheritance dispute with his brother wants Jesus to fulfill a legitimate rabbinic function in mediating the dispute. One would expect that Jesus would listen to both sides of the case, look to the real heart of the matter and then render a fair ruling. After all, if Jesus wanted to enhance His standing as a rabbi, He would do things that a rabbi did. It’s interesting that that was not His real agenda here.
That’s not Jesus’ real agenda at all, however. As usual, Jesus saw to the real heart of the issue and determined that the real problem lie in the man’s greed which caused him to be willing to fight and sue his own brother to make sure he got what was his.
As usual, Jesus told a story to help folks see the real issues involved.
A man had a business and the business did quite well. So far, so good. Nothing wrong with that. What happened though was, the man became rather full of himself. Inventory became a real problem for him. He did what a wise business person would do, he built a bigger warehouse for his product — in this case, grain.
It is at this point that the man’s life begins to unravel. Like many of us his hour of greatest challenge comes not when he’s at low ebb but when his barns are full. How will he handle prosperity? There’s nothing wrong with prosperity, in and of itself. The issue comes in deciding how we will handle prosperity. This is where the protagonist of Jesus’ story fails the test. Rather than looking through godly eyes and asking how his newfound affluence could be a blessing to others, he decided to live a life of self-indulgence.
He said, “I have it made. I’ll take it easy. I’ll build bigger barns for my grain.” He reveals a very self-centered orientation to his life. He’s managed his business to suit himself and for his own gratification and now he seems to think that he has the final say over his soul. He believes that he can be an entity unto himself. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works in God’s kingdom.
He neglected to think of his soul. Proper thought of the soul involves far more than a one-time decision to invite Christ into your life. It involves your total outlook and the way you view others. It involves the stewardship of all of the blessings — material and otherwise — that God blesses us with and having a heart for others. It’s more than just a system of rewards and punishments, it’s a question of what kind of character or soul are you shaping?
Jesus calls the man a fool — pretty strong language — to indicate a person whose decisions about the present do not take into consideration the possibilities of the future. The man who thought he had the world by the tail has his life snatched from him in an instant. He stands before God without having made adequate preparation because he was not rich toward God. His life didn’t evidence the kind of transformation that valued people over possessions, relationships over revenue, and compassion over conquest.
How do you become rich toward God? You invest in those who matter the most to Him. (Mark A. Johnson)
Proper 14 (C)
Sunday, August 9, 1998
Right with God
Genesis 15:1-6
There is no more intriguing figure in Old Testament patriarchal history than Abraham. At an age when he would have been entitled to put his feet up and relax, out of a pagan environment, he heard the voice of God and obeyed. The motto of his life has been described as “tent and altar”. He travelled in a tent to a destinations unknown and upon arrival worshiped God and sacrificed to him. He is rightly known as the father of the faithful. Yet, Abraham’s life enables us to see what faith really is.
I. Faith Sometimes Has Doubts and Anxieties.
There is a remarkable line in Matthew’s account of the resurrection. As the disciples are worshipping the resurrected Christ who is right there before their very eyes, the scripture says, “… but some doubted.” Abraham also helps us to see that although faith is confident in God, it does not mean a life that is free of anxiety as to how God will fulfill His plan.
Abraham has received the promise of God. He has obeyed and has been told that his offspring will be like the dust of the earth. (Gen. 13:16) He runs into military conflict in chapter 14 and now, after the battle, the Lord came to Abram again and said, “I’m your shield, your very great reward.”
We can ask the question as to what Abram was afraid of. Perhaps he had lingering fears over the battles that he had encountered. What compounds that fear is his lingering anxiety over the fulfillment of God’s promise. How can God make an elderly, barren couple into the parents of a great nation?
God addresses Abram with military terminology appropriate to the great battles he has just experienced. He assures him, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” You may have some plunder from battle and restored fellowship with Lot and his family but God is his great reward.
Abraham had lived long enough to know that God would supply all of his needs. Yet, there was lingering discouragement over the fulfillment of the promise. He had been promised that a nation would come through him but all he could think of was that perhaps he would have to help God along by willing his estate to Eliezer of Damascus, his servant.
II. Faith Believes the Incredible.
God took Abraham outside and introduced him to a radical paradigm shift. Aged, barren couples don’t give birth … unless God says, “I want them to give birth.” And it was in God’s plan that Abram and Sarai not build a nation through a household servant, but through their own offspring — something so incredible that the child’s name would mean he laughs. Abram’s off-spring would then be as numerous as the stars.
Throughout his life, Abraham acted on what appeared to be incredible news — leaving a settled life in Ur at an advanced age, trusting in God’s protection in some difficult places, and believing that God would use this aged man to be the father of a nation.
III. Faith Is a Relationship
Abraham’s belief was credited to him as righteousness. That implies a state of being in right relationship more than a state of moral rectitude. God says that when we believe Him with a total trust that is willing to act, we can have a right relationship with Him. (Mark A. Johnson)
Proper 15 (C)
Sunday, August 16, 1998
Luke 12:49-56
The most egregious error in judgement of the 20th Century came when Neville Chamberlain returned from meeting with Adolph Hitler and proclaimed, “We have peace in our time.” You know the rest of the story. Hitler paid no attention to any so called “agreement”. Chamberlain wanted “peace at any price.” That’s a misconcep-tion many people have about Jesus as well. Surely the Prince of Peace came to bring peace, didn’t He? In this age in dire need of “family values” wouldn’t Jesus seek to bring peace to families? While, ultimately He does bring peace, that’s not His immediate objective.
I. Fire
Jesus has been teaching about the necessity of being prepared for His return. In a cryptic statement, He says, “I’ve come to bring fire on the earth.” While this is often associated with judgment, it is entirely possible that Jesus is speaking about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He tells his disciples elsewhere that the Spirit cannot come until He goes away and on the day of Pentecost, tongues of fire descend on the disciples.
It would make sense for Jesus to long for the day when the Holy Spirit fills His church. It would mean that His passion was behind Him, people would have the possibility of enjoying the salvation He died to give. Not only that, they would have the Spirit of Jesus Himself living within them filling them power to remain watchful.
II. Division
Another compelling reason to believe that Jesus spoke of the coming of the Spirit is that he speaks wistfully here of the day when His passion will be behind Him. He knows that will be unpleasant for Him but it will also foreshadow the suffering that will fall to each of His followers. Part of the suffering will be the pain of division from family members. The one who came to fulfill the commandments — including “Honor your father and your mother” — also says that loyalty to Him must be greater than loyalty even to our family.
Fred Craddock has lamented, “When God calls a young man or woman into the ministry, He doesn’t do it loud enough for the family to hear.” Even when the family professes faith in Christ, they may have a variety of reasons to question their loved one’s call to ministry.
Maybe they’re too familiar with the “warts and all” of someone they’ve seen at their worst. Maybe they’ve seen clergy persons who have been “used and abused” by their churches and they don’t want the young preacher to go through the heartache that sometimes is part and parcel of pastoral ministry. Maybe the family doesn’t share faith in Christ and they are afraid of having a “religious fanatic” in the family.
Jesus doesn’t usually tell the person upon whom He has placed His hand, “Let’s just wait a while until your family comes around.” Nor does He say, “Well since your parents are opposed to you entering My service, I’ll just find someone else.” It is more likely that He will ask us, “Am I more important to you than even your family?”
He doesn’t just ask that of people entering “the professional ministry”. Since every believer is a minister, the question is asked of everyone who would consider following Jesus. “Are you willing to endure division from your family for my sake?” I won’t bring you “peace at any price.”
III. Signs
Jesus then challenges His disciples to learn how to interpret the signs of the times. Everyone loves to talk about the weather even if we are powerless to do anything about it. In the same way that we look at a blackening sky and know that a storm is coming, and we feel a south wind know that it’s about to get warmer, Jesus said we ought to be able to interpret the times. It ought to be that obvious to us.
It’s interesting that Jesus is speaking pre-Calvary and pre-Pentecost. In light of having the Spirit of the Risen Christ living within us, shouldn’t we be even more aware than even the folks in Jesus’ day of the “signs of times”?
Jesus is telling us of the urgency of His kingdom’s work. What price are you willing to pay to be involved? (Mark A. Johnson)
Proper 16(C)
Sunday, August 23, 1998
Genuine Worship
Isaiah 58:9b-14
God invites people to worship Him. The invitation draws his worshipers into the heart of God. This drawing power resonates with changing power, calling people to listen to God’s voice. As worshipers listen, they hear God speak. God’s words? As we practice outward rituals of worship, we practice faith which changes us inwardly — which causes us to live holy lives in awe of God.
Genuine worshipers of God sense His awesomeness: rolling waves on the shore; towering mountains; His thundering call; His still small voice. Worship no longer becomes boring, but alerts us to the awesome power of the Almighty. R. C. Sproul in The Holiness Of God says, “The complaint that church is boring is never made by people in awe.” Genuine worshipers of God, find inspiration in God’s amazing grace. Worship is never boring regardless of the worship place or style, if you stand in awe of God.
God’s people lost the excitement of worshiping Him. Their trips to the temple became burdensome, carrying backpacks of boredom to the temple steps with agonizing moans of I’ve got to do this again. Ugh! Worship became routine like driving to work each morning. All the while they were missing the signs, taking detours and side roads from God’s path. So what did Isaiah do?
He invited God’s people to return to worship. He called them to allow God to fill their emptiness. He challenged God’s people to quit going through the mundane motions of worship and experience the spring-water-like fullness of God’s spirit. What happens in genuine worship?
Worship Reforms Your Heart (vv. 9-10).
Worship causes you to open your heart to God. The result? You strip away the yoke of oppression from your life. You stop pointing fingers at others. You open your heart to God and call him by name. Then God answers, “Here I am.” You open your heart and God reforms you. You lift others up, rather than tear them down. Reform impacts your attitude, even your words.
God’s reformation opens heart to God which causes you to then open your hand because of God. Rather than push people away, you pick them up. You stretch your soul to feed the hungry. You care for the afflicted and pained soul. Light washes over your life and onto others. Worship causes us to care for God and care for others. Reformation changes us.
Worship Refreshes Your Spirit (vv. 11-12).
Apart from genuine soul-changing worship God’s people wander. They drift. They live empty lives. Weakness grabs them. A wilderness parches the soul. Vitality is drained like a pond.
Worship, though, refreshes. God replaces wandering with a clear path to travel. God replaces emptiness with his fullness. Weakness surrenders to God’s strength. The parched wilderness suddenly gives way to fresh springs, bubbling springs and luscious gardens. The decay of days past passes with the coming of vitality and life.
Isaiah indicates how the land once destroyed and ransacked will spring up with new buildings and new life. When God refreshes your spirit vitality blossoms in the heart. Others note the new landscape of life and soul, too.
Worship Redirects Your Steps (Vv. 13-14).
God’s people went to worship dragging their feet, unexcited and uninterested in God’s true work. Sin resulted. Now he warns them to step into God’s pleasure; to refuse their own selfish pleasure. God sets us on high, beautiful, holy hills. An awe of God is restored. No longer is worship boring, but exciting. Your begin to walk, step by step, with God. And gloriously, all is well with the soul! (John D. Duncan)
Proper 17 (C)
Sunday, August 30, 1998
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
An average day in America reveals many faces: familiar faces; a stranger’s face; a prisoner’s face flashed on the television screen as he leave court; the strained faces of married couples; faces of greed; the faces of leaders; cheerful faces of love.
Ancient words from a thirteenth century poet speak of the face and to the many faces: “A lovely face is the solace of wounded hearts and the key of locked-up gates.”
The writer of Hebrews challenges the believer to shine a Christ-like face. Keep on remaining in brotherly love. Amid the stained faces of sin, amid angry faces ridiculing God, and amid the hard faces of the unrepentant, maintain the face of Christ. It is a face of love, the heart to place supreme value on others even as God placed supreme value upon us by sending his Son. Continue to love, although the faces of hate surround you.
The writer warns us to remember special faces. He invokes the Christian to wear a lovely face; to heal wounded hearts; to set hearts in bondage free with God’s love. But how? To whom?
Remember everyday faces (vv. 1-6).
As you see faces, do not forget to show hospitality to strangers. You might entertain angels without knowing it. Remember the faces of those in prison, the faces lined with hardship (v. 2). A face of empathy and sympathy reaches to the wounded heart (v. 3).
The writer appears to insert an off-hand comment about marriage. It appears to slow the word flow of faces to remember. But experience tells us that pain or happiness shows on the faces of married couples. Where marriage is honored, God’s way, this puts a smile on the face of God. As God looks at everyday faces, he frowns, even grieves over sexual impurity and marital unfaithfulness. Such sin wounds God’s heart. It saddens his face.
The writer of Hebrews then shifts back to the face of the Christian (v. 5). Our conduct should be free from the love of money. Contentment flows from the heart to the face. God’s word, His presence gives security. We know God never leaves his people. God ministers to us in time of need (vv. 5-6). The face reflects God’s glory. Your face in everyday places becomes the face of God to a wounded world.
Remember the faces of Christian leaders (vv. 7-8).
We recognize the faces of leaders; political; spiritual; corporate; educational; community; sports. Christian leaders ought to be mimicked (v. 7). The word comes from our word mime. It indicates that we are to scope out quality Christian leaders and mime their conduct. Their brotherly loves serves as a model for us to imitate. Is your leadership worthy of imitation? If a young person in your church saw you, would your conduct serve as a good example?
Remember the face of Jesus (vv. 8, 15-16).
Jesus serves as our model. He is the same at all times. As we remember Jesus’ face, we praise him. His loves flows through the heart to the face and through the lips of his saints. The face gives off God’s light, the result of peering into Jesus’ face. Fruitful lips produce grace, the grace of gratitude flowing like a pleasant, gentle spring. God’s grace widens and deepens, producing kind service to others and special gifts to wounded souls.
The face of Jesus is solace to wounded hearts and the key of locked-up gates. His love heals. His love sets the captive free. (John D. Duncan)
Sermon Briefs are written by: Dennis Bolton, Pastor, Mt. Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church, West Columbia, SC; Randall Rich, Pastor, Prentiss Baptist Church, Prentiss, MS; Mark A. Johnson, Preaching, Jackson, TN; John Duncan, Pastor, Lakeside Baptist Church, Granbury, TX

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