Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, February 24, 2012

“Look, God!”

Genesis 9:8-17; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15
February 26, 2012
© 2012
I. Lauren Winner, who teaches at Duke Divinity School, writes in her book Still: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis that for as long as she can remember anxiety has been her close companion. One year she gave up cheese for Lent. Last year she gave up anxiety. Before Lent she was sitting at the island in the kitchen of her friends Brandon and Lynette, complaining that she didn’t know what quasi-fast to take up for Lent. “Maybe I should give up gummi bears,” she said, popping a green one into her mouth. Lauren confessed she always passes up the small bowls of healthy things like almonds, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries Lynette keeps on her counter to go for the gummi bears: palest yellow, pineapple ones first, then the green ones. Brandon suggests, “Maybe you should give up anxiety.” Though Lauren thinks he’s probably joking, he seemed serious. It seemed exactly right. “Brandon,” she said, “you’re an angel. I’ll give up anxiety for Lent.” (Christian Century, February 8, 2012, p. 32)
A. What kind of anxiety could appropriately be surrendered for Lent? The mid-faith crisis that prompted her to write this book came from an awareness that the enthusiasms of her conversion had worn off. For whole stretches in the ten years since her baptism she said, “My belief has faltered, my sense of God’s closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone. Once upon a time, I thought I had arrived. Now I have arrived at a middle.” (Christianity Today.com, January 23, 2012)
B. If we are honest, all of us have experienced these spiritual doldrums, seasons when our enthusiasm for faith and our awareness of God’s presence has faded. Each year’s winter may be a metaphor for our anxiety. Advent anticipation and Christmas festivity are dim memories. Even a mild Texas winter seems an extended gray chill. Though we know Easter joy awaits, Lenten discipline does not stir the expectancy of Advent. Not only have we lost sight of God, we fear God may have lost sight of us.
C. Very early in the Church’s history, before the shape of the liturgical year took a shape we would recognize, long before the celebration of Christmas, new converts prepared for forty day to be baptized on Easter Sunday. Returning to our baptismal roots during Lent is deeply embedded in the rhythm of the Church’s year.
D. God remembers your baptism. This Lent reclaim, renew and refresh your baptism.
II. Just for Lent, we will include all three Scripture lessons from the lectionary in our worship: Hebrew Scripture, Epistle, Gospel. They are intricately interlinked. I hope you will be stimulated to keep exploring the insights of these connections through the week. I’ve also asked our worship leaders to put them in a somewhat more formal setting than we’re used to prompting your response at the end as a way to jolt our attention. This is just for five Sundays until the festive celebrations of Palm Sunday and Easter.
A. The Hebrew prophets are constantly reminding the people of Israel to remember their covenant with the Lord. But did you notice that in Genesis 9:15-16 God says that when God sees the rainbow, God will remember the covenant with all humanity and with all creation? Doesn’t that seem curious to you? It sounds like the rainbow is to remind God not to flood the earth again.
1. Most of the covenants God makes with people have conditions the people are expected to fulfill. We’ll see some of that in the Hebrew Scriptures we’ll be reading through Lent. But God puts no conditions on Noah and his descendants nor on the rest of creation. God is the only one with responsibility to keep this covenant, of which the rainbow is the sign.
2. Notice, too, that this is a universal covenant, not just for Abraham’s descendants, or for David’s heirs, or for the followers of Jesus. This covenant is not even limited to people; it is for all creation. Universal!
3. Of course, God isn’t the only one looking at rainbows. We never get tired of looking at them: complete arcs and circles, doubles, brilliant and pale. Beside the delicate beauty, I think part of our fascination is that rainbows assure us about our anxieties. Storms will pass. God will remember us!
B. The paragraphs of 1 Peter 3:18-22 are some of the most puzzling and difficult to interpret in all the New Testament. They illuminate the significance of Noah’s flood. They raise fascinating questions about when and what Jesus proclaimed to the spirits in prison, whoever they were. I won’t take time to examine all of that this morning, but those who are interested can pick up a paper I wrote about it on the shelf in the hallway.
1. Do notice that 1 Peter 3:20 compares baptism to God’s rescue of Noah through the water of the flood. We tend to think of baptism as something we do to confess our faith in Jesus. As true as that is, this connection to Noah tells us that baptism is something God does for us. It is God’s assurance that God remembers us, forgives our sin and saves us for the resurrection to eternal life through Jesus.
2. Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience. Like Noah’s rainbow, baptism is a sign God sees and remembers that we have been redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
C. The account of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:9-15 also sheds light on the significance of our baptisms. In a couple of places the New Testament distinguishes the baptism of John that Jesus received from Christian baptism in the name of Jesus. Nevertheless, the way Mark tells it connects with this idea that God the Father sees Jesus’ baptism and claims him as the Beloved Son.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
1. In contrast to Matthew where the voice of the Father from heaven is addressed to those witnessing Jesus’ baptism, Mark reports that the Father spoke directly to Jesus. “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” (v. 11)
2. Your baptism identifies you with Jesus, marks you as one of Jesus’ people. So when God sees your baptism, God remembers that you belong to Jesus, the Beloved Son.
III. Are you anxious about your spiritual doldrums – present, past or future? About a mid-faith crisis when enthusiasm for faith and awareness of God’s presence has faded? Are you anxious that not only have you lost sight of God but fear God may have lost sight of you?
A. Be at peace. God remembers your baptism. This Lent reclaim, renew and refresh your baptism. Let your baptism wash away your anxiety.
B. Like the Lord’s Supper, baptism is at once simple and profoundly expansive. We can receive it with joy, grasping the wonder of having our sin washed away, and we can invest a lifetime contemplating baptism without ever exhausting its meaning. So I will highlight only a couple of key aspects of baptism this morning.
1. Strictly speaking, baptism is not a personal or private act. It involves the whole Church. When you were baptized your identification with Jesus made you part of the community of the Beloved, and the community welcomed you as one of them.
2. Baptism is unrepeatable. You may feel that your faith or the faith of those around you at your baptism was deficient. You may feel you’ve been deficient since your baptism. Jesus is not deficient and claims you as his own. Rather than being baptized again, you only need to reclaim, renew and refresh your baptism at the Lord’s Table. Baptism is like being born. It happens once. Communion is like eating every day. You do it over and over again.
3. The tradition of baptizing new believers on Easter Sunday goes back to the earliest days of the Church. If you or someone in your family who has not been baptized is ready, please talk to me very soon so we can get ready to celebrate baptism on Easter Sunday, April 8. As the Church has done for almost 20 centuries, anyone who wants to be baptized can prepare during Lent.
IV. As baptismal candidates prepare and make their confessions of faith during Lent, the rest of us have the opportunity to reclaim, renew and refresh our own baptisms. Jesus’ words when he came to Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God are appropriate for us as well during this season. “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”
A. Forty is a special number in the Bible. Get a concordance or go to an on-line Bible and check it out. The forty days of Lent (not counting Sundays) are modeled after Jesus’ forty days being tested in the wilderness. Matthew and Luke write that Jesus was tempted by the devil, but Mark writes that he was tempted or tested by Satan. While referring to the same spiritual enemy, devil and Satan have different meanings. Satan is the adversary, the accuser. By using Satan, Mark is suggesting that Jesus’ temptation was not so much about trying to get Jesus to commit a sin, but testing and probing him to try to find a way to disqualify him from the redemptive mission on which the Father had sent him. With that in mind, our Lenten disciplines are not about establishing our spiritual stature but are about so fully identifying ourselves with Jesus that we know that we are God’s beloved children.
B. We tend to avoid repentance thinking that it means owning up to and regretting everything that might disqualify us from sharing in the community of God’s Beloved. But notice, Jesus did not say, “Repent and wallow in guilt and shame.” No! Jesus said, “Repent and believe in the Good News!” Jesus remembers your baptism and claims you as his own in the company of the beloved of the Father.
C. We reclaim, renew and refresh our baptisms together as a community. That is an essential function of sharing in the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Sometimes in one of those seasons of doldrums when our faith is wavering, we hear the words of institution and taste the cup and the bread, assured that God has a grip on us, even when we feel far away. Our weekly confession of sin and our annual Lenten disciplines are an opportunity to embrace the Good News all over again.
D. I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I believe praying is the most important thing I do for you and that you can do for each other and for your church. Those who experienced Prayer Triads this winter had a great time. As your pastor I encourage you as strongly and positively as I know how to participate in a Prayer Triad as a Lenten discipline this year. We’re not going to have sign ups this time. Those who did it this winter and Elders are looking for people to form new Prayer Triads. Don’t wait to be asked. You ask someone to join you, and between you invite a third person in. Brief instructions are in this week’s newsletter, and I can give you complete directions. Just ask. While we can pray alone, something about praying together unleashes great spiritual power. I believe it is the key to the future of First Christian Church of Duncanville.
E. God remembers your baptism. This Lent reclaim, renew and refresh your baptism.

Friday, February 10, 2012

You Can Choose

1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45
February 12, 2012
© 2012

I. The story of Jesus cleansing the man with leprosy in Mark 1:40-45 makes me wonder if we’re going about evangelism backwards by encouraging people to tell others about Jesus. Would reverse psychology work better? Maybe we should tell people to say nothing about Jesus to anyone, and then they’d go out a spread the word.
A leper came to [Jesus] begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
A. Just before this in verses 38-39 Jesus said, “‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message.” But after the man Jesus cleansed of leprosy spread the word, Jesus stayed out in the country and people came to him from every quarter. That sounds a lot more efficient to me. Instead of traveling from town to town to go to the people, Jesus could stay put and the people came to him. So whether Jesus really wanted the man to keep quite or not, maybe he did Jesus a favor by ignoring what Jesus told him when he went out and spread the word.
B. This man was so overwhelmed that Jesus had cleansed him from his leprosy that he couldn’t help himself. He had to tell everyone what had happened to him. Can you think of something Jesus has done for you that is so compelling that you had to tell everyone you could, even if they didn’t want to hear it? even if Jesus himself had told you to keep it quiet?
C. Jesus chose to make you clean. You can choose to spread the word while watching him work.
II. This man who suffered with leprosy said to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” He had seen or heard enough that he had no question about Jesus’ power, only his willingness. He wanted freedom not only from his physical pain but also his social and spiritual contamination.
A. Our general familiarity with the Gospel stories has so informed our presuppositions that we can’t imagine why anyone would think Jesus wouldn’t want to heal someone who was suffering. This came very early in Jesus’ ministry, just as he was starting to tour the towns of Galilee. People were just getting to know Jesus and did not know how he worked.
1. This man’s leprosy made him a social outcast who had learned not to expect anything good for himself.
2. He may well have thought that Jesus would not have considered him important enough for a miracle.
3. Even though he knew in his head that Jesus had healed other people, in his heart he may have doubted Jesus will and compassion.
B. In ancient Israel leprosy was a metaphor for sin and spiritual contamination. His disease reminded him of his sin, and he may have thought he didn’t deserve healing.
1. People with leprosy were labeled “unclean.” Leviticus 13:45-46 explains how they had to wear ragged clothes, leave their hair disheveled and live alone outside of town. The man who disrupted the synagogue service in Mark 1:23-27 was described as having an unclean spirit. Leprosy was religiously related to demon possession.
2. When the man said to Jesus, “You can make me clean,” he was not just asking to be cured of his disease. He wanted to be made kosher, to be religiously clean to not only be welcomed back into society but to the community of God’s people.
3. When Jesus said “Be made clean” to him, he was pronouncing pardon for sin, not just curing a disease.
C. Just as like this man, Jesus chose to make you clean. You can choose to spread the word while watching him work.
III. We know that Jesus got angry when he ran the merchants out of the Temple, and we know he sometimes used strong language with self-righteous people and his pious critics. But we expect Jesus to be gentle with those he heals. Jesus certainly seems compassionate when he stretched out his hand to touch the man with leprosy. However, where verse 41 says Jesus was “moved with pity,” the oldest and best manuscripts say Jesus was moved with anger. Scholars guess that somewhere along the line one or more scribes thought that was too harsh and changed anger to pity or compassion. People at Jesus’ time would have been equally shocked that Jesus touched the man with leprosy before healing him. Through the centuries people have wondered why here and several other places Jesus tells people to keep their healing secret just when he is working to proclaim the Gospel.
A. When Jesus sternly warned the man to say nothing to anyone (v. 43), the language is strong, like anger (v. 41). The word comes from the snorting of a horse. Mark 14:5 used it again for the scolding given to the woman who anointed Jesus just before his crucifixion. John 11:38 used it for Jesus’ angry weeping at Lazarus’ tomb.
1. Some think Jesus may have been directing his anger at the man with leprosy for doubting his compassion or in anticipation of his disobedience by spreading the word about being cleansed. For Jesus to be angry as the man for something he had not done yet makes no sense. And Jesus’ compassionate touch contradicts any suggestion that Jesus was angry at the man.
2. I think we get a much better insight into Jesus’ anger from his weeping at Lazarus’ tomb in John 11:38. Jesus was angry at how suffering debilitates the human will and spirit. Just as Jesus was angry at the pain of death in John, he was angry at the spiritual as well as social, emotional and physical pain the man with leprosy had endured in his life.
B. People at Jesus time feared leprosy. They feared religious contamination that identified them with sin and excluded them not only from daily society but from all religious life. In much of the world today people still fear catching this crippling, contagious disease.
1. John Calvin observed that Jesus could have cured the man with a word. He did not need to touch him, but that touch conveyed deep compassion and liberation from social isolation. Imagine the wondrous warmth of the first human touch this man had felt in years!
2. By touching the man before cleansing him, technically, Jesus became ceremonially unclean. What a powerful way for Jesus to demonstrate the priority of compassion over ritual and regulation!
C. If Jesus went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message (v. 39), why was he so adamant about telling the man he had just cleansed of leprosy to say nothing to anyone? The result of people coming from every quarter to see Jesus out in the country would seem to have helped with his mission.
1. Saying nothing to anyone is directly linked with showing himself to the priest and offering for his cleansing what Moses commanded. Could Jesus have intended him to keep quiet until he got these things taken care of?
a) This way the authenticity of his healing would have been verified by an independent source.
b) For the Priests, Jesus might have been able to cure the man, but only a Priest could declare him clean, welcome to return to society and to the religious community. But Mark wrote that he was made clean, not just cured.
c) In the very next episode in Mark 2, the healing of the paralytic let down through the roof, Jesus began a string of conflicts and confrontations with the religious leaders when he told the paralyzed man his sins were forgiven before he healed him. Perhaps sending the man cleansed of leprosy to the Priest was Jesus’ way of insuring that these inevitable conflicts were about his messianic identity and mission.
2. If seen as the first of many such prohibitions on telling about healings, this may have more to do with trying to keep people from coming to him for the wrong reasons.
a) Jesus certainly did not want to entertain people with spectacular charlatan’s tricks.
b) Jesus did not want people to come to him to satisfy an immediate desire but to be encountered by the eternal redemption for which he came.
c) I rather doubt Jesus was using reverse psychology, telling the man to say nothing to anyone, knowing that would get him to spread the word. In today’s thinking, to go viral.
D. Like this man, Jesus chose to make you clean. You can choose to spread the word while watching him work.
IV. This sermon is not just an excursion through the story of a man who met Jesus when he was starting his public ministry. This is my story and your story. Can you think of something Jesus has done for you that is so compelling that you had to tell everyone you could, even if they didn’t want to hear it? even if Jesus himself had told you to keep it quiet?
A. In John 13:10 and 15:3 Jesus told his disciples they had been made clean by his word. While we wouldn’t claim to be sinless, plenty of us who have been in the church for a long time don’t feel too dirty. We’re a long way from having just stepped out of the spiritual shower with the filth of wallowing in the sump of sin washed down the drain. Others of us so are obsessed with the dust on our feet that we don’t realize Jesus has made us clean.
B. I want to invite you to choose to claim Jesus clean-up for yourself. That’s what 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is about. We choose the spiritual disciplines of daily Scripture and prayer, and weekly worship to receive Jesus’ regular clean-up. Paul ends the paragraph with a concern that he not be disqualified after having preached to others. I don’t think that means losing his salvation. I think it means losing the joy and exhilaration of Jesus’ clean-up.
C. Being told that we have an obligation to tell people about Jesus and invite them to church is a demotivating guilt trip. But if you are exhilarated by Jesus’ spiritual shower, you will not be able to stop yourself from spreading the word, not by people who don’t want to hear it, not even if Jesus himself told you to be quiet.
In our Illinois church, before I joined their pastoral team, we were having an evening to introduce people to small group ministry. A young couple who had recently come were there, and the wife was in the same circle with me. We were each to find something in our wallet or purse that represented a personal treasure. This young woman pulled out a folded, handwritten letter as she told her story. As a teen what little attention she had gotten from her divorced parents was negative. She wanted something better for herself but didn’t know how to get it. She met a young man who had grown up in Brazil with missionary parents and was now going to school in the U.S. As she got to know him, she came to believe life with him would open the door to a positive future for her. She consciously planned to get him to marry her by taking advantage of his loneliness, seducing him and getting pregnant. She was successful. Of course, his parents could not come from Brazil for a hasty wedding, but the letter from her purse was from her mother-in-law, welcoming her to the family with grace and joy. That letter opened her to lay claim to the grace of Jesus for herself as well. In that circle that night she told us that while she was sure Jesus neither organized nor approved of her plan, he did clean her and set her free.That couple are grandparents now, and Candy and I still hear from them a couple of times a year through a round robin letter. Their life and raising their children has not always been easy, but she had never hesitated to tell anyone who would listen that Jesus rescued her from a far worse fate.