June 4, 1989
Worship: Priority, Place, and People
(1 Kings 8:22-26, 41-43)
One of Solomon’s major accomplishments was the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. The words in 1 Kings 8:23-24, 41-43 were spoken by Solomon at the dedication of the Temple when it was ready to be used as the permanent place of worship by the Hebrew people. The text offers insight into the priority, place, and people of worship.
I. The Priority of Worship
Solomon highlighted the personal dimension of Israel’s worship. He stood in front of the altar, facing the altar with his back to the congregation, lifting his open arms toward the sky. This was the most common position for prayer in ancient Judaism. The position signified the importance of openness and receptivity on the part of the worshipper. In Solomon’s case, he was representing the entire community.
Solomon helped people to focus their understanding of worship to be personal communion with a personal God. Worship develops a rhythm in which God comes to us as we respond to God. This can result in what Thomas Kelly called a God intoxication which permeates all our actions and relations with other people.
Worship is a bit like a planned dive in a submarine. The Captain leans forward to the hatch and shouts down the one word, “Dive!” Before the Captain can quite get to his feet, the ship is down 110 feet. Next, the periscope is ordered up for a look around.
This illustrates two facets of worship: be willing to dive in (launch out into the deep) but keep up your periscopes to know where you are, to gain perspective, and to determine direction for life.
II. The Place for Worship
Solomon focused on the priority of worship for his people and emphasized the value of a permanent place for worship. The Israelites identified strongly with the Temple.
The Temple represented God permanently dwelling with them. It represented the reality that no people had become a people, that nobodies had become somebodies, that they were putting down roots and becoming established as a community of faith. They were becoming an established people who were going to be around for awhile and provide a place of refuge for those who were being oppressed.
A building in which we worship is a significant place to us because of memories and expectations. We associate many of God’s encounters with us with a place like this.
It was here that the words of a hymn brought a focus for our lives. Here we heard a passage of Scripture in a new way. Here is where we celebrated an important wedding and felt the joy of others on that day. Here is where we mourned the death of a vital person in our lives, and we experienced the empathy and support of family and friends in that difficult time.
Through our worship on Christmas Eve, Maundy Thursday, or Easter, we gained a clearer vision of the presence of God than we had ever known. The place of worship challenges us to remember.
Expectations also draw us to the place of worship. We don’t know what God is going to do in the future. But if the past is any indication, then we keep coming to the place of worship because of the exciting expectation of how, when, and in what way God will surprise us again.
III. The People Who Worship
In the context of worship, Solomon became aware of the community that developed when people worshiped together. A cohesiveness and unity developed among the people, and they became more sensitive to the needs of others.
Solomon’s prayer (vv. 41-43) shows his growing concern for foreigners who come to the Temple. We cannot come to worship seeking to be attuned to God without soon becoming concerned about others. The prayers that focus on “I, me, and my” soon become “we, our, and ours.”
Through our corporate worship we often are confronted with approaches to life that run contrary to the culture. The culture says take but the church says give. The culture says get even but the church says do not return evil for evil, rather overcome evil with good.
Abraham Lincoln was once accused of being too kind and courteous towards his opponents; it was his duty, he was told, to destroy them. He replied, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon demonstrated an enlarging religious understanding. He revealed that who or what we worship shapes the priorities of our lives. He indicated that the place where we worship causes us to remember God’s involvement with us in the past and to expect God to surprise us with guidance, protection, and deliverance in the future. (HWR)
June 11, 1989
When the Dead Live
(1 Kings 17:17-24)
How close have you come to dying? Isn’t it amazing how the reality of death shifts priorities instantly? Once we acknowledge death as an imminent possibility, we see life through different lenses. Colors become more distinct; relationships are more important; how time is spent is more precious.
A man woke up at five o’clock one morning and had the intelligence to know he was experiencing the onset of a heart attack. His wife battled the winter roads and snow to get him to the hospital. As she drove up outside the emergency entrance, his heart stopped.
He was fortunate to be there; fortunate because the hospital personnel were trained in what to do; fortunate there was a country doctor there who had had some experience. The man described someone virtually sitting on his chest and pounding it. After five minutes, the man came back to life. He described some of his experiences and his thoughts and visions.
“Now I am recovering on my farm. Most certainly, I was born again. The morning sun looks brighter. The spring season is thrilling and people who had been uninteresting to me now have new value, and I have been born again into a new awareness of life.”
Elijah was able to do for the son of the widow of Zarephath what hospital staff did for this man who suffered a heart attack. There is a great need for Elijahs today; that is part of our calling.
People all around us are dying — or maybe have never lived — because no one has cared about them or loved them. The spark of life, if it were ever there, has flickered and is about to be extinguished. They need someone like you or me to throw our lives around theirs so that the warmth of our care for them can revive them and bring them back to life.
There was a poignant story in the Journal of the National Education Association a few years ago called, “Cipher in the Snow.” It was the actual account, as told by a teacher, of a boy who stepped off a school bus on the way to school one cold February morning and suddenly collapsed and died in a snowbank.
The teacher who wrote the article was asked by the school principal to write an obituary on the boy for the school paper. The article is primarily the teacher’s recollections of the boy whom he or anyone else scarcely knew. Here are some excerpts from the article:
“I could see him in my mind’s eye alright, sitting back there in the last seat in my room by himself and left by himself. ‘Cliff Evans,’ I muttered to myself, ‘a boy who never talked…’
“Cliff Evans had silently come in the school door in the mornings and gone out the school door in the evenings, and that was all. He had never held an office. As far as I could tell, he had never done one happy, noisy, kid thing. He had never been anybody at all….
“How do you go about making a boy into a zero? … I could guess how many times he had been chosen last to play sides in a game, how many whispered child conversations had excluded him, how many times he hadn’t been asked. I could see and hear the faces and voices that had said over and over again, ‘You’re dumb! You’re dumb! You’re a nothing, Cliff Evans.’
“A child is a believing creature. Cliff undoubtedly believed them. Suddenly it was clear to me: when finally there was nothing left at all for Cliff Evans, he collapsed in a snowbank and went away. The doctor might list ‘heart failure’ as the cause of death, but that wouldn’t change my mind….
“We couldn’t find ten students in the school who had known Cliff well enough to attend the funeral as his friends. So the student body officers and a committee from the Junior Class went as a group to the church, being politely sad. I attended the services with them and sat through it with a lump of cold lead in my chest and the thought of the real tragedy of Cliff Evans was not that the boy died — the tragedy was that he never lived.”
Examining our biblical text can help us discover where we have denied the presence and power of death in our lives, when and why we have been angry at the way life has gone for us, and ways that, with God’s help, life can be injected into our lifeless forms.
We may also discover how we can be Elijahs to others, wrapping our lives around the lives of others with tender loving care. By so doing we breathe life back into their lives; they discover meaning and purpose for their lives, and may exclaim “I’m being born!” (HWR)
June 18, 1989
The Grace of Faithfulness
The awareness of conflict and arguments among people like Peter, James, Paul, and Barnabas usually shocks the novice and the naive. But boldly and clearly Paul wrote that he and Peter had a major disagreement. Paul told Peter that Peter was wrong. Maybe if Paul had known he was writing Scripture he would have toned down his remarks!
In any case, the apparent reason for Paul reporting this incident was to help the Christians in Galatia experience the grace of God and be agents of grace to others.
When some leaders from the Jerusalem church came to see Peter about the issue of eating with Gen-tiles, Peter was intimidated and changed his position. Several others followed Peter’s lead. Paul was upset with Peter and told Peter to his face he was wrong. Whether or not it was really wise of Paul to make a public spectacle of Peter’s actions is open for debate.
Some anonymous person gave some sound advice for every minister. Sin, like any sore, needs to be exposed. But preachers don’t need to do it with a broad axe; usually just a pin prick in the right place does the trick.
Paul’s action was a bit like a broad axe. But he knew from personal experience the dead end to which legalism led. Through his encounter with Christ, Paul had been transformed from a strict adherent to the letter of religious rules to a person basking in the freedom of grace.
Paul was concerned that the movement would take a giant step backwards into legalism. He was fearful that people would start thinking that their relationship with God was dependent on works of the law — which characterizes any religious system whose hope for acceptance by God rests upon obeying rules.
Paul had discovered through Christ that God wants to relate, love, and care for people just because that is God’s nature. Not only are people not obligated to earn God’s love and favor, but it is impossible to do so. If relating to God were based on merit, no one would ever relate to God.
What Paul discovered was grace.
What he saw Peter reverting to was religious rule-keeping. That approach nullifies everything God sought to accomplish theough the total event of Christ’s life.
Too often, as far as we are concerned, Christ lived for no purpose, died for no purpose, and was resurrected for no purpose because His life makes no difference in our living. But God took the chance anyway, hoping we would open ourselves to His graceful love and acceptance.
Paul stated clearly in his letter to the Galatian Christians that God’s grace is shining to give light and to rescue all who will respond. To ignore God’s grace is to nullify the grace of God.
Karl Barth said that every sermon should begin by speaking of grace. Only after grace is experienced can one be open enough to God to do any genuine repenting. Too often we reverse the sequence, holding back grace as if it were a bit of candy offered to a child only after the child takes the bad-tasting medicine of repentance.
Either pride or resentment can get in the way of our being graceful and forgiving toward others. What we refuse to give to others, we are unable to receive from God.
There is a moving dialogue in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun. The plot concerns a poor black family. The father has died and the family is awaiting the $10,000 from the life insurance policy. The mother gives the money to the son to put in the bank, but he gives the money to an acquaintance to invest in a liquor store. The acquaintance skips town with the money.
After a heated argument with her mother, the daughter replies: “Be on my side for once! You saw what he did … Wasn’t it you who taught me to despise any man who would do that?” The mother answers: “Yes — I taught you that. Me and your daddy. But I thought I taught you something else too … I thought I taught you to love him.”
“Love him,” the daughter screams “There’s nothing left to love.”
Then the mother utters these memorable lines: “There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing. Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family ’cause we lost the money. I mean for him; what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning — because that ain’t the time at all.
“It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ’cause the world done whipped him so. When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”
In our situations, God always takes into account the hills and valleys we’ve come through to get wherever we are. That is the grace of God’s faithfulness to us. (HWR)
June 25, 1989
What Are You Doing Here?
(1 Kings 19:9-14)
In 1985, under the coaching of Rollie Massimino, Villanova University upset the Georgetown Hoyas for the national collegiate basketball championship. It was the kind of drama everyone, except Hoya fans, loved.
More drama followed the championship, but only people in New York City paid much attention. Massimino was offered the head coaching job of the New York Nets professional basketball team.
It was a golden opportunity, and everyone in New York assumed Massimino would take the job. Why shouldn’t he? It was a natural step up for him from college to professional coaching. But he turned down the glittering offer and stayed at Villanova.
Why? Rollie Massimino said, “It’s just a case of keeping things in perspective — of knowing who you really are and, then, where you should be.”
Keeping life in perspective often arises in the form of two questions: “Who am I?” and “What am I doing here?” What you are doing here, wherever here is, has a great deal to do with who you are. Identity and purpose are intricately related.
Our struggle with purpose usually leads to a struggle with identity and vice versa. It matters not which question comes first. Wherever one of these questions arises, the other is in the neighborhood. A rather routine encounter or a major accomplishment may cause persons to search and reflect on who they are and what they are doing here.
In 1 Kings 19 we are told that the word of the Lord came to Elijah as a question, “What are you doing here?”
How did Elijah respond to the question? He wallowed around in self-pity. He pointed out to God that he was the only Israelite who had remained faithful to God, and they were out to get him.
Listen to Elijah’s words: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10 REV).
What arrogance! What made Elijah think he was the only person who was being faithful to God?
Two things supported Elijah’s opinion. Nobody was serving God the way Elijah was serving God and everybody was out to get him. How easy it seems to be for people to conclude that if others aren’t approaching life the same way they are, then others are doing things wrong.
When others aren’t in church as often as we are, we may conclude they aren’t as faithful to God. If others don’t pray like we do, read the Bible like we do, do the same ministry the same way we do it, then they must not be serving God, at least not as much as they could and certainly not as much as we are.
Notice that in this line of reasoning, the standard of measurement is what we are doing. This was Elijah’s approach and one of the things he thought supported his view that he was the only faithful person God had left.
The second bit of evidence to which Elijah clung as support for his faithfulness was that others were out to get him, to destroy him. We are so like Elijah. Too quickly we decide that if people oppose us, we must be right. The more they oppose us, the more right we are. Part of the cause of this is that we become the center of the universe, living as though the whole world revolved around us.
Once we think the world revolves around us, it is not uncommon for us to think that God is at our beck and call. We expect God to display great power on demand, and the power display will confirm how special and important we are to God.
Elijah moved out from the cave where he was hiding to a mountain where he had a better view. From his mountain perch, Elijah saw a terrible wind storm that broke rocks in two, witnessed an earthquake, and then he saw a fire, but no message from God came through any of these.
Then, Elijah got the surprise of his life. The presence of God came to him through a still, small voice. How undramatic! How drab! How unHollywood! How like God to approach in a whisper rather than in thunder, to come in the stillness rather than in the grand movements of nature!
Elijah’s question is your question and mine. “What are you doing here?” Probably each of us would prefer to hear and respond to this question without struggle or difficulty, but it cannot be. We do not need to seek or desire struggle and difficulty in life in order to help us grow strong and mature.
There will be enough experiences that happen naturally in life that ask the question, “What are you doing here?” Manufacturing such experiences is unnecessary. When we search for an answer to “What are you doing here?” we also are usually clarifying our answer to the question, “Who are you?”
The Bible is a helpful resource for us in our grappling because the Bible’s questions become our questions, and our questions are found in the Bible. As we allow the Bible’s questions to become our questions, we will be translating the written word of God into the living word of God. Thus the word of God will come to us as it came to Elijah. As the word of God comes to us, it is passed on to another generation. (HWR)
July 2, 1989
What Kind of Freedom?
(Galatians 5:11, 13-25)
It would be almost unforgivable for us to worship just two days prior to Independence Day, July 4th, and to ignore that reality.
If we wish to be applauded by some of our listeners we are tempted to make the focus on patriotism, love of country, the spirit of divine intervention in our history. If we prefer to have the reputation of being a prophetic congregation, then we have a temptation to reproof, to warn, to examine the errors as we see them in our national life.
More often than not, the conscience of the preacher is not the conscience of the congregation. The result is a conflict between pastor and people, not on some issue but on views of that issue.
It is accidental, although it may be inspired, that the lectionary text from Galatians has these words in it: “For you were called to freedom; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another” (Galatians 5:13, RSV).
I feel the same frustration expressed by Robert Kennedy when he was Attorney General during the Presidency of his brother, John F. Kennedy. At a particular speech, Robert was attempting to quote from his brother’s inaugural address. Rather than quote it — “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country” — Robert was mixing it up. The audience evidenced dismay, and there were a few snickers. Finally, Robert said, “Well, you can see why my brother is President, and I am not.”
My recollection of my attempts to preach an Independence Day theme have sometimes left me just as unsatisfied.
If we examine this 13th verse, we discover three themes in it.
There is the statement about the source of our freedom. We are “called” to freedom. In the biblical image, God is the one who calls, and we are the ones who respond to His call. If there is freedom in the Christian life, it comes from God. Any one of us could tell of the lifted burden of life which comes with the presence of God. Any one of us could relate the feelings of being released from some slavery because of God’s saving power. We have been set free!
There is a warning about the use of that new freedom. Like the children of Israel in the desert, when we are free, how tempted we are to create our own gods, our own golden calves. Yet the freedom which comes in Christ is freedom, not license. There are limits to our freedom. Someone long ago said that one cannot be free to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
There is in this verse an image of the future to which the freedom from God brings us. The goal, the object, of freedom is the service of others, the living of God’s love in the midst of human life. It is the latter verses of this reading that list the fruits of the Spirit, fruits of freedom — love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Rather than to march behind the drum and bugle corp, or to be taunting spectators along the route, let us be Christ’s people whose liberty is the freedom of the Christian person. (HCP)
July 9, 1989
Motivation for Mission
Paul warns the Galatians about their boastful attitude. He does not hesitate to point out their self-serving attitude. At the conclusion of the letter in these verses, he returns to an emphasis on boasting. The Apostle provides not only an emphasis on humility, but focuses on the proper object for any boasting.
So much human boasting is fruitless. A boy boasted to another, as only boys can do, “My Dad can beat up your Dad!” The second youngster replied, “That’s nothing. My Mom can beat up my Dad.”
Paul refers to the possibility of his own boasting in 2 Corinthians 11:21f and in Philippians 3:4-6. These are all things about which Paul might have boasted before his conversion. And he puts them aside in the cause of Christ. To boast of such things would be to focus on self-reliance, self-assurance, and independence from God.
Rather, Paul is prepared to boast in the cross. That is something no one would boast of in the Roman culture. The cross was the ultimate symbol of shame. The word itself was not acceptable in polite society. Such a writer as Cicero follows the custom of his day and refers to the cross in his writing with the euphemism, “Hang him on the unlucky tree.”
In Christ, the values which have been dear before are transvalued. The reality of Christ turns all human values upside down and inside out.
John Newton thrived as a slavetrader. At his conversion to Christ, what had been acceptable became abominable to him. The values of the world, the realm of human life apart from God, are surrendered through Christ.
J. E. Powell, after quoting verse 14, indicated that for Christians this is surely true, that life is no longer defined as opinion or judgment but, through the will and purpose of God, to redeem and transform the world.
Recognizing that the cross, once an emblem of shame, is the glorious emblem for Christ’s people, we can proclaim with Isaac Watts the eternal truths of his hymn, “When I survey the wondrous cross ….” (HCP)
July 16, 1989
The Torch is Passed
(2 Kings 2:1, 6-14)
We are always in the process of passing on to others the mantle of responsibility and the torch of leadership. Sometimes we pass on that role to another because we are nearing the end of our life.
Just this past week, I gathered with nearly one hundred of our fellow members and friends from the community to offer our common prayers at the graveside of one of the active members of this church for so many years. The story of her life was the story of involvement in the community. As I looked around that circle of mourners, I realized so clearly that the mantle of leadership and involvement had been passed to a new generation.
I remembered those words from the first inaugural address of John F. Kennedy, “Let the word go forth to friend and foe alike that the torch has been passed to a new generation ….” The Apostle Paul understood the necessity of this passing on of leadership. It was to the Corinthians that he wrote, “I have handed over to you what was handed over to me, that on the night he died, our Lord was handed over ….” There is surely a constant progression of that passing of a mantle of leadership and the torch of responsibility.
Here in the story of Elijah and Elisha we can discover those images that might inform each of us as we pass on and as we receive the tasks of leadership in the church.
We have to seek that power which comes with responsibility.
Elisha turned to Elijah and asked, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” Elisha knew the heavy burden of being the successor of that great prophet and leader. Elisha knew the temptation to say only what the kings might wish to hear. Elisha knew the frustration of seeing the people ignore the messages from God. Elisha understood his own inadequacy for the tasks before him.
We are tempted to refuse the gift of power that is so essential for the gift of responsibility, for we know that without the power, we do not have to assume the continuing work. A teacher was once having some trouble with one of the students in her classroom. She communicated with the mother and pleaded for some advice on the bestway to discipline the child. The mother wrote a note to the teacher, “Dear Teacher. My Johnny is a very sensitive child. If you have trouble with him, slap the child next to him. That always gets his attention.”
How often we wish our neighbor to benefit from the power and presence of God so that we can have some rub off on us, but never have to receive that mantle of power ourselves. “Change my in-laws, but don’t get too close to me, Lord!” “Give my child the challenge of faith, and I will find life easier for me, but don’t expect as much of me as I do of my child.”
Instead we need to become like Elisha and seek that double portion of strength and power from God. In the Covenant Service which John Wesley commended to his followers is that prayer: “I am no longer my own, but thine, Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for thee, or laid aside for thee; exalted for thee or brought low for thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing.”
In the gift of power we discover that it is God alone who determines who shall be the future leaders.
Elijah did not have a contest to see which of the sons of the prophets or which member of the prophets’ guild would be his successor. It was the Lord God who spoke and selected the new leader, “Let it be Elisha.”
Even when Elisha had been named by God, and was faithfully following his mentor, Elijah, the power did not come from the older prophet. Elijah said, “It is impossible for me to guarantee that you will have the power. Someone else is in charge of that department. If you see me ascending to God, then you will know that you have the blessing of God and His power.”
It is God who distributes the gifts of strength and power. It is God who passes out the tasks of service for His church and for the world.
We cannot attempt to reshape our own gift — nor the gift of another — so it will fit into some task we determine. It may appear that those who are gifted by God are unlikely candidates for service, but God Himself has chosen them and gifted them with the skills and abilities which God needs in His church.
If we have accepted the gift and power which comes from God, the work God has begun in His world and in His church continues without interruption.
In the midst of his grief, Elisha picked up the mantle, the cloak, of Elijah and returned to the river. He rolled up the cloak, just as he had earlier seen Elijah do. He struck the water, just as he had witnessed his mentor Elijah strike. He cried out for God, as he had heard from the mouth of the older prophet. And the water parted for him, just as it had done for Elijah.
The younger man, the successor, stepped across the river on dry land. This time he was alone, except for God. There was just one prophet, but two persons — Elisha and God.
So, the tasks continue and the work goes on. A few years ago, there was a small book, titled The Endless Line of Splendor. It was an apt description for the Methodist denominational history, but the phrase is descriptive for all of the Christian community.
In the progression of the Kingdom of God, you and I stand in the train of a mighty band of God-gifted leaders. All who have gone before us are our examples. John Wesley, Martin Luther, St. Francis, Pope John the 23rd — we do indeed follow each of them in our service of God. When we have been gifted by God, given His power, we continue to provide to all the world that love and care which comes from God Himself.
A torch is being passed. The mantle is handed over. You and I are standing near the end of that line before us. You and I can take hold of that mantle, that gift, or we can drop it with a shrug of dreary doubt.
Like Elisha, let us seek a double portion of the power we have seen in those who have gone before us. Like Elisha, let us seek the commissioning of God Himself. In that gift of power, let us continue the labor, repeat the sacrifice, give ourselves in total and complete service to our God. (HCP)
July 23, 1989
What do we Preach?
Upon the death of my father, I had the responsibility of sorting through many of the pictures, mementos, notes, and sermons accumulated during his fifty-five years of ministry. I expected to discover many of the items I found. I was surprised, however, to discover a series of lectures which he had obviously given to several gatherings of preachers about the work of ministry. Among them was one titled The Crisis in Preaching.
I was struck with the forcefulness of my father’s words. Although the lecture had been written almost twenty years before I read them, I found them to be applicable to the present. Pastors struggle with their preaching, attempting to make it fit their congregations. The church as a whole struggles with the place and the importance of preaching. Congregations sometimes wonder if other means of communication might not be more effective in our media-saturated world.
Yet there is an unchanging quality about the reality of preaching and the importance of preaching. Paul has captured some basic realities which we need always to remember when we reflect on the message and the method of telling our story.
There is the content of preaching: “Him we proclaim.” Christ is the focus of preaching. No preacher can simply share opinions. No preacher can simply lecture about religious knowledge. We tell the story of Christ again and again.
Fred Craddock once posed a thoughtful point with a group of us. He mused about why people attend church in such numbers at Christmas and Easter. Then he observed that he believed it was because they knew what they would be hearing about on those occasion — about the birth, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There is that story about a preacher describing a squirrel during a children’s sermon, and asking if anyone could name what he was talking about — something up in a tree with a bushy tail. One lad all but shouted “Jesus!” After the service, the father reprimanded the boy for such an embarrassing observation. The boy responded, “I knew he was talking about a squirrel, but he should have been talking about Jesus.”
There is the context of preaching: “warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom.” There is a double significance here. In almost poetical fashion, Paul might have been using “warning” and “teaching” as synonymous phrases.
Yet he could have just as easily been thinking of two distinct types of preaching. One is the preaching to the unbeliever, the outsider; the other is preaching to the believer.
There is the conclusion of preaching: “that we may present every man mature in Christ.” Perhaps our preaching has been too often without purpose or point. There should be one clear one — to bring persons to a clearer understanding and commitment to Jesus Christ.
One of the phrases my father used in his lecture was “the urgency of preaching.” He referred to one of the great preachers of the southwest of two generations ago who always concluded his preaching with calls to decision, using the phrases “today” and “now” repeatedly toward the conclusion of the sermon.
Preaching is entrusted to human vessels. Yet, we can never see preaching as a merely human endeavor. It is the medium of God’s continuing revelation of Himself to persons. What a humbling reality! What a challenging reality! (HCP)
July 30, 1989
“What’s new?” This slang expression is one that is used as a greeting among some people. As much as we like the familiar, most of us want to hear about the newest experiences of our friends. We do not like to hear the same story over and over again. “What’s new?”
The Christian gospel was something new in the first century. We know we can trace many teachings of Jesus to similar passages in the Old Testament. The early Christians found prophecies of His ministry and reported them frequently. Yet in Jesus Christ those ideas did become new.
When the Gospel leaped into the Roman world, as much as the culture knew about Judaism the Christians were a new experience for them. When people responded to the story of God’s presence in Jesus of Nazareth, they were changed persons.
Much of the New Testament can be viewed as explaining this transformation of persons; verses 11-13 form such a passage. Paul has experienced for himself the transforming reality of Christ. Paul has witnessed that transforming power in the lives of others. Now he attempts to describe that change. The Apostle uses contrasts to help the Colossians grasp the significance of the transformations.
The first is a contrast between a physical circumcision and a spiritual circumcision. In the Old Covenant, the rite of circumcision excised a part of human flesh. In the New Covenant, the spiritual circumcision separates the believer from the world, from the flesh — that sphere which is opposed to God.
The second contrast is found in baptism. As one was buried in the waters of baptism, one is raised to a new life. The contrast is between being buried and being raised. We can think of the raising of Jairus’ child, of the raising of Lazarus, of the resurrection of Christ Himself.
The third contrast is between death and life. Life in the world, apart from God, is itself death. David Napier’s poetic collection, Come, Sweet Death, is one expression that comes to mind. In contrast, life with God, in the spirit of Christ, is life truly.
Life in Christ is a life that has been changed. And our recognition leads us to reaffirm, “I’m not what I should be, and I’m not what I shall be, but I am not what I used to be.” (HCP)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by Howard W. Roberts, Pastor of Broadview Baptist Church, Temple Hills, MD; and Harold C. Perdue, Development Officer with the Texas Methodist Foundation.
Sermon briefs offer ideas for preaching
June 4, 1989