God Will Give Strength to His King

Posted by on March 22, 2009 under Sermons

Books of Samuel

  • 1 and 2 Samuel are two parts of one book
  • With 1 and 2 Kings they are a two volume set
  • 1, 2, 3, 4 Kings – the Book of Kingdoms

    Written during the exile of the 6th century.
    Compilation of earlier sources and documents.

Four Stories

  • Hannah [1 Samuel 1-2]
  • Samuel [1 Samuel 3-12]
  • Saul [1 Samuel 13-16]
  • David [1 Samuel 17 – 2 Samuel]

    The stories are reflecting a transitional time as Israel moves from tribalism to a kingdom.


  • Politics – Judges, Prophets, Kings
  • Social – Rural, Tribal, Urban
  • Technology – Weaponry, Architecture
  • Wealth – Accumulating Land, Trade
  • Threats – Other Nations

God’s Story

  • God is always present in the stories. He is active and present in history.
  • God is revealed to and through his servants and leaders.
  • God has a personality – covenant, relationship, compassion, intent.

Israel is tribal. They are shifting into a kingdom. 1 and 2 Samuel describe the transition that takes place between Judges and 1 Kings.


  • Sarah, Elizabeth
  • Barren woman who devotes herself to God
  • Mary sings her song (Luke 1)

    The country is a mess. The culture is a mess. The heroic past events of the exodus, Sinai, the wandering and the conquest under Joshua are almost forgotten. Things have collapsed in the Promised Land.
    Dark Days when everyone does what seems right in their own eyes.


  • Similar Time
  • Tough situation
  • Great-Grandmother of King David

Too Late For Lazarus?

Posted by on under Sermons

Read John 11:1-33, 34-44, 45.

The Message from Bethany:
Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, is sick. The sisters send for Jesus. They know he has the power to heal. They know about the crippled man and the blind man. If Jesus will come there, then he can heal Lazarus. They believe it.

Jesus has escaped Jerusalem where a mob attempted to stone him for blasphemy. Now he is working on the other side of the Jordan where the climate is less heated. Jesus receives the message about Lazarus. He says: “This will not end in death. This is happening for the glory of God.” There is no rush to action. Jesus waits for two days.
His disciples probably assume that this is caution and discretion. Jesus is a marked man in Judea, so it is best that he stay away. After all, Bethany is only a few miles from Jerusalem. Jesus is playing it safe, they think.

That changes when Jesus says, “Let’s go to Judea.” Jesus explains that there’s daylight and that’s when it’s safe. [v. 14-15] – Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe.
Do they really believe? Thomas seems to think they are marching off to their deaths.

The Return to Bethany:
Martha hears that Jesus is coming and she meets him outside the village. “If you had been here my brother would not have died!”
Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again! I am the resurrection! He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

Martha knows this and affirms her belief in the resurrection at the last day. Martha believes that Jesus is the Christ. Does she believe the connection between the Christ and the Resurrection?
Mary tells Jesus the same thing “”If you had been here my brother would not have died!” She believes it. Doesn’t she?

They believe that Jesus could have saved Lazarus from death. “Could Have.”

They say they believe Jesus is the Christ. They say they believe in the resurrection. Yet, they are clothed in black and have gathered everyone to mourn and wail. They are still weeping. Do they really believe?

Jesus is “deeply moved in the spirit and troubled.” [What does this mean?] It seems like he is angry and upset. Why would he be angry?

  1. He is irritated with those who say they believe, but their belief hasn’t made any difference.
  2. Jesus sees a people more consumed with being safe and being on time. “Should we really go back there? They want to kill us?” So ask the disciples. “If you had been here …,” say Mary and Martha.
  3. He hears the “comforters” talking: “Oh see how he loved him.” “Oh, he opened the eyes of the blind man, surely he could have kept this man from dying.” They are consumed with sentimentality and doubt – but not true belief.

When Jesus instructs them to move the stone, Martha interrupts — she is so concerned about details and decorum, “Lord he’s been in there four days and the stench …”

Martha and Mary delivered their “if” statement to Jesus. Now he delivers his: “Didn’t I tell you that you would see the glory of God, if you believed?”

Jesus said this wouldn’t end in death, so Lazarus’ death is not the end of the story. What happens next is the part where God is glorified. On one level the challenge is between life and death. On another level it is between “If only you had” and “If you believe.”

It begins with Jesus praying. I always heard that we should pray to God and not make commentary to each other when we pray. Jesus must have missed that lesson. He preaches it plain in his prayer and he intends everyone to eavesdrop [v. 41-42] … “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

There it is – that they will believe. Do they believe? If they did, then why the could have’s, the funeral clothes, and the mourners?

Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out here!” And Lazarus is revived. He isn’t carried out and given CPR. He walks out on his own wrapped up in his funeral clothes. Jesus has one more command, “Unwrap him and let him go!” You can imagine that Jesus said this in such a way that Lazarus wasn’t the only one set free from the trappings of death.

Some of those who saw this believed. They really believed. But some didn’t. They couldn’t deny what they saw, but belief didn’t change anything. They reported it to the Pharisees and they discussed it. Rather than believe in life, they plotted and planned death. Now who’s wrapped up in death?

Do We Believe? Do We Really Believe?

Do we believe? Do we believe in life? Do we believe that Jesus gives us life – even now? Do we believe he is the Christ? Do we believe in the resurrection? Do we believe in the connection between the Christ and the resurrection?

If we say we do, then why do we get caught up in the trappings of death? Why do we wrap ourselves and our church up in the colors of death and mourning?

  • I’m not asking why we have funerals. That’s normal. Grief is to be expected.
  • Rather, I want to know why we too often lack faith in Jesus’ power. Why do we limit the Christ with “could have’s” and choose to be cautious rather than trusting?

The spiritual garb of death comes in colors such as grief, guilt, regret, disbelief. When we wear this garb we fail to see that the daylight of God shines even in the dark evening of death. He is not limited; there is no place beyond his authority – not even the finality of death.

When we come together and worship do we really believe that Jesus can revive us? Do we really believe that he can order us to be unwrapped and let go. I think some people were invested in Lazarus’ funeral that day. They had planned a funeral and Jesus ruined it.

Sometimes we are invested in ways of death and decline. Church literature and church talk right now weeps and wails over the loss of the church in the society. We wonder if Jesus will get here in time to save the church as we know it. We are not like we used to be. We lament and wail and weep.

We get anxious and start worrying. Like Mary and Martha we are concerned about the stench of death and the concerns of the neighbors. Like the disciples, we work hard to protect and preserve our own expectations.

What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do if we walked into our midst and found us worrying and wailing because our expectation and dreams have died? What would Jesus do is he found us nervously worrying because the church seems to be bringing in people who don’t look like us and live like us? What would Jesus do if he found us wailing on each other because we are worried that our congregation is going to die and the great ones of the past have died? What would Jesus do if he found us wailing and lamenting because we are wasting away and we don’t feel like we are as great as we were back in the day?

What would Jesus do? I think he would be “deeply moved in the spirit and troubled.” He would draw us up straight and ask us “Do you believe?” Or do we believe it is too late to matter.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels-a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.

Following Christ Produces A Humble Mind

Posted by on March 19, 2009 under Bulletin Articles

The world we live in is constantly attacking us. No matter what front of life we examine, there is stress-not “run-of-the-mill” inconvenience, but hard, gut-wrenching, attacking self-worth stress! Whether it is maintaining relationships, keeping the “roof over our head,” having a job, producing a lifestyle, or struggling to “keep it together,” it often seems there are more problems than there are answers.

In an attacking existence, we are prone to be distrustful, resentful, and filled with self-pity. If we react to the stresses in our lives by going in these directions, we become very “me” centered, very self-centered in our considerations. The more “me” centered we become, the less Christ-centered we are. The less Christ-centered we are, the less people-centered we are. We grow more into “existence” than into “helping.” The end result: we do not attract those who are interested in Jesus because we are more concerned about “us” than we are concerned about representing Jesus.

People who represent Jesus are known for humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance. “But these are not the days for humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance!” Correct–or so it seems. Neither were Jesus’ death and resurrection a time for humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance. However, His attitudes prevailed and still exist 2000 years later!

Christians do not do things because what they do is a “fix.” They do what represents Jesus’ objectives-fix it or not! Christians do good because it is the righteous, godly thing to do, not because of the time’s influence or the stresses endured.

Christians are committed to Christ’s mind. The humble mind is Jesus Christ’s mind. The humble mind endures both good times and bad. The prideful mind becomes increasingly selfish, resentful, and “turf” centered.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)

Accept One Another

Posted by on March 15, 2009 under Sermons

bounded set
bounded set
centered set
centered set

see morning sermon for discussion of illustrations

Jew-Gentile Dilemma

  • How do Jews and Gentiles maintain unity when there is real cultural offense that takes place?
  • Dietary laws
  • Sabbaths/pagan holidays

Romans 14

  • Who are the weak and strong?
  • What is the real problem?
  • What does Paul instruct [see vs. 13, 19]?

Weak and Strong

    “Not convinced in
    their own minds”
    “Convinced in
    their own minds”
    Attitude of
    judgment and
    Attitude of scorn
    and contempt

    The weak in faith have no self-confidence. They depend on the external boundaries and the strict observance of rules. They are not differentiated from others so that the actions of others threatens their own faith. They depend on precedent.
    The strong are more flexible and creative.

The Real Problem

  1. Quarreling and prejudice.
  2. Disagreement without respect and forbearance.
  3. Refusal to see how God has accepted others.
  4. Presuming to judge for God.

    Who are you to judge another man’s servant? It is inappropriate. James 4:11-12, Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you-who are you to judge your neighbor?

The Stumbling Block (14:13)

  • Causing another to act contrary to his/her conscience is the stumbling block
  • The strong limit the practice of their convictions for the sake of weak

    There’s a difference.

Meaning for Us

  • Do not take advantage of being “the weak.”
  • Weak not allowed to judge others
  • Scandal is real not imagined – not borrowed trouble
  • Not about “what others will think”

    Paul would never imagine a situation in which someone actually took advantage of being the weaker party. No one would admit to that. Whenever we can articulate our weakness to a situation we have actually proven ourselves strong enough to be convinced in our own mind. There’s a difference between making my brother stumble and making my brother grumble.
    It is not right to assume that those who are further right are okay and those who diverge from a more conservative stance are okay. We can always fellowship to the right is not a sound principle. It is based on the notion that the more exclusionary and limiting that you are, the more righteous you are. That’s Pharisaical game-playing.
    We cannot avoid growth and fellowship because of imagined or hypothetical stumbling blocks. There is no end to imaging the problem of appearances and what others think. Jesus encountered the problem of perceptions – Matthew 11

Building Up or Tearing Down

  • Peace and Mutual Edification – a positive principle to guide us
  • Will we destroy God’s work for the sake of purity or personal opinion?
  • Jesus was crucified because he was judged

    Paul is giving us a positive principle to guide us. Instead of worrying about what not to do, we can focus on what we should do. Replace the watchdog mentality with an inspirational mentality. We can kill the weeds or we can make the grass grow.

Romans 15:1-13

  1. The strong should strive to be righteous and not just right
  2. They should help the weak grow stronger
  3. Christ is the model of behavior for all
    – Did not please himself
    – Accepted you

Romans 16:25-27

All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ, precisely as revealed in the mystery kept secret for so long but now an open book through the prophetic Scriptures. All the nations of the world can now know the truth and be brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all this started, down to the very last letter.
All our praise is focused through Jesus on this incomparably wise God! Amen!

The Gate and the Shepherd

Posted by on under Sermons

Read John 10:1-18.

Maybe its time that Jesus drew some firm lines. One could say that he’s been sort of soft with this talk of coming to save rather than condemn. At first it seems like this is a teaching that defines who’s on the inside and who’s on the outside. Isn’t there some point when we must define “us” against “them”? Isn’t there a point when we say that you are either with us or against us?

1) What’s this talk of other sheep about?
At first it seems that Jesus is talking about leading his sheep out and separating them out. But then he seems to switch his emphasis and say that he’s going to gather up all these other sheep that we don’t even know about and we’ll all be one.
Is Jesus saying that there are many paths to God?
Has Jesus gone all fuzzy and mushy?

It’s sort of alarming to hear about other sheep. Sometimes it would be nice to really be the only sinner that Jesus died for, because then I wouldn’t have to put up with all those other sinners!

Just when we think we’ve sorted out our own flock, Jesus tells us there are more out there. That’s like a really big family reunion: Sometimes, it’s tough enough to go there and deal with the relatives you know you have. But then you have to go and deal with some you’ve never met!

Here’s one of the more challenging aspects of following Jesus: He’s always flocking his people together. There’s this nice idea that we can just follow Jesus in our hearts and have a one-on-one personal relationship. Love Jesus, forget the church. After all, Jesus is fine, but church? Those are the others and that’s where we have the problem.

As long as Jesus is going to be drawing all these other sheep in, someone needs to be around to sort them out and tag them, right. Let’s be sure he hasn’t put some sheep in the wrong pen after all. Let’s be sure a goat hasn’t snuck in. We can do that for Jesus right?

No. We cannot. Because Jesus doesn’t want any hired hands. The hired hand isn’t the same as the shepherd. Hired hands are not committed to sheep. They are committed to their own connection to a flock. And when that connection is a threat, they leave it all behind.

Jesus is perfectly capable of gathering his flock and owning each and every sheep. We are not hired hands. We are just sheep.

But who “manages” this flock? This probably isn’t the right question to ask. But as they say, Jesus is the Answer.

2) Gate and shepherd. Center and circumference. Something very important is being said by Jesus that should determine how we understand ourselves as church. How we should understand the boundaries and limits of our fellowship. It is a teaching that plainly indicates that Jesus is both the center and the circumference of our flock …

In lesson on shepherding Jesus makes two simple, but extremely important statements:

  • I am the gate.
  • I am the Good Shepherd.

3) Centered Set and Bounded Set

The Bounded Set is a fenced off group. We can draw a boundary and clearly define who’s in and who’s out. This works. But it begs the question: Who draws the line and who determines who is inside the fence and outside the fence?

  • We sometimes think of church and membership this way. With congregational membership it’s easy enough. But when we talk about being a member of the body of Christ, then that becomes a much more intimidating task. Are any of us truly qualified to draw that boundary definitively? Probably not if we’re honest. There will always be some cases that test us.
bounded set
centered set
The Centered Set is another way of understanding how we group and organize. Think of how animals in the wild or in the free range gather around a watering hole. It’s a source of life. Your cattle and sheep might gather there, but so do other little animals. A flock and herd form as sheep move closer to the center. The center is a source of life. All these animals gathering together haven’t been caught and caged, they are coming together for a common purpose – water and life.

  • Is it possible to have any limits then? Is there a point at which a sheep or goat just isn’t in the set? Sure. But in Jesus’ language, he says that the same center sets the boundary. Shepherd and Gate

The Shepherd – Jesus is saying that he is the shepherd. His sheep know his voice. The sheep know Jesus’ voice. Those who recognize the truth and salvation in Jesus’ word are drawn to him. They follow. We follow. [Lynn Anderson once described how sheep follow their shepherd. He described the scene of three shepherds coming over a hill. The three parted company and went in different directions. They each called for their sheep and the sheep went in the direction of the call of their shepherd.]

The Gate – We cannot tell the shepherd how to enter thru the gate, or how to open the gate. He is messiah and the criteria that define messiah. We cannot define the role of messiah and then fit Jesus into it.
Jesus is the entry to life and salvation. Jesus is not saying that we get to draw the boundary. He is the gate, not us! We are sheep, not gatekeepers.
Exclusive and Inclusive – Jesus is the only way, but it is a way that is open to all. Jesus stands at the gate. And if you want to get to sin and death, Jesus is standing in the way.

So how do we know him? The sheep know his voice.

The question is not “Who is with us?” The first question is “Are we with Jesus?”

  • Luke 9:49-50 – “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” – “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
  • Luke 11:23 – He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.

Jesus knows his sheep. We can spend a lot of time trying to figure out which sheep are Jesus’ sheep. Or, we can just follow Jesus voice and those heading in the same direction to the source of life we can safely assume are his sheep. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep. Do you know the Good Shepherd? Are you following his voice?

The good shepherd knows his sheep. He knows their name. We are not forgotten overlooked or missed.
God came down and dwelled amongst us smelly sheep. He’s not a hired hand who’s paid to take care of us. He’s the Good Shepherd who paid to save us.
The question is, are you in Christ? Are you following the voice of the shepherd? Are we?

1 Corinthians 8:2-3 … The one who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the one who loves God is known by God.

The Precious Gift of Commitment

Posted by on March 12, 2009 under Bulletin Articles

The above passage is about the Jewish Christian Barnabas. Before Acts 10, evangelistic work concerning Jesus Christ was done among Jewish people. The Jerusalem congregation was the first congregation of Christians, so it, with its leadership, was considered the “source” congregation. When new developments occurred, the first question was, “What does the church in Jerusalem think about this?”

In Acts 11 the first gentile congregations were formed (that we of today know about). Not all Jewish Christians approved of Peter’s work with Cornelius and his friends in Acts 10. The hot issue: was Christianity a Jewish reform movement only for Jews and proselytes, or was Christianity a movement that included non-proselyte gentiles as well? To recognize that this decision was a pivotal moment in Christianity is an understatement!

A truly special Jewish Christian must be sent to the gentile congregation in Antioch. He must observe and encourage. He must not alienate or judge; he must not be hostile; and he must not say the wrong things. There were more Jewish Christians NOT equipped for this delicate task than Jewish Christians equipped for this challenge.

Who was sent? Barnabas. Why? He was capable of rejoicing when he witnessed God’s grace working among the gentiles-he did not feel threatened for Judaism or question gentile commitment. He could encourage gentile Christians to remain committed to the Lord-he understood the difference between faith in a Savior and faith in a system. How could he have this understanding? He was a good man who was full of the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus. He could be committed to Christ instead of defensive for Judaism.

Because Barnabas was committed to Jesus when many Jewish Christians were hostile, in a few years there were more gentile Christians than Jewish Christians. A problem became opportunity. The majority of the Roman Empire had opportunity to respond to Jesus because a Jewish Christian was committed to the Lord rather than his heritage.

Can God use you fully in delicate situations because of your commitment to Jesus Christ? Are you better as a spouse, a parent, a child, a worker, a citizen, and in a congregation because you grasp God’s meaning of Christian commitment?

Civic Responsibility

Posted by on March 8, 2009 under Sermons

Romans 12

  1. Serving God/gifts (12:1-8)
  2. Practicing love within the church (12:9-13)
  3. Practicing love toward those who persecute the church (12:14-21)

Romans 13

  1. Be subject to the authorities
  2. Pay tribute and honor
  3. Love your neighbor
  4. Love is fulfillment of the law


  • Rome in the mid-50’s
    – A young and ambitious leader
    – October 13, 54
    – Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
    – Nero
    Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (15 December 37 – 9 June 68), born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, also called Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus, was the fifth and final Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Nero was adopted by his great uncle Claudius to become heir to the throne. As Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, he succeeded to the throne on 13 October, 54, following Claudius’ death.
    Nero ruled from 54 to 68, focusing much of his attention on diplomacy, trade, and increasing the cultural capital of the empire. He ordered the building of theatres and promoted athletic games. His reign included a successful war and negotiated peace with the Parthian Empire (58-63), the suppression of the British revolt (60-61) and improving relations with Greece. The First Roman-Jewish War (66-70) started during his reign. In 68 a military coup drove Nero from the throne. Facing execution, he committed suicide.

    There are few surviving sources on Caligula’s reign, and although he is described as a noble and moderate ruler during the first two years of his rule, after this the sources focus upon his cruelty, extravagance, and sexual perversity, presenting him as an insane tyrant. While the reliability of these sources has been difficult to assess, what is known is that during his brief reign, Caligula worked to increase the authority of the Principate, but struggled to maintain his position in the face of several conspiracies to overthrow him. He focused much of his attention on ambitious construction projects, annexed Mauretania, and campaigned against Britain, but was unable to conquer it.
    On 24 January 41, Caligula was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy involving members of his own bodyguard and the Roman Senate. The conspirators’ attempt to use the opportunity to restore the Roman Republic was thwarted, as the same day the Praetorian Guard declared Caligula’s uncle Claudius emperor in his place.

    Despite his lack of political experience, Claudius proved to be an able administrator and a great builder of public works. His reign saw an expansion of the empire, including the conquest of Britain. He took a personal interest in the law, presided at public trials, and issued up to twenty edicts a day; however, he was seen as vulnerable throughout his rule, particularly by the nobility. Claudius was constantly forced to shore up his position-resulting in the deaths of many senators. Friend of Herod Agrippa …

Why So Hopeful?

  1. Caligula claimed he was a god and put his statue in the Jerusalem Temple
  2. Claudius had expelled Jews from Rome (Acts 18)
  3. Only 16, Nero was tutored and advised by sensible men

    Nero became emperor at 16, the youngest emperor up until that time. Ancient historians describe Nero’s early reign as being strongly influenced by his mother Agrippina, his tutor Lucius Annaeus Seneca, and the Praetorian Prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus, especially in the first year. Other tutors were less often mentioned, such as Alexander of Aegae.
    Very early in Nero’s rule, problems arose from competition for influence between Agrippina and Nero’s two main advisers, Seneca and Burrus.
    In 54, Agrippina tried to sit down next to Nero while he met with an Armenian envoy, but Seneca stopped her and prevented a scandalous scene.

    In 49 AD, Claudius’ new wife Agrippina had Seneca recalled to Rome to tutor her son, then 12 years old, who was to become the emperor Nero. On Claudius’ death in 54 AD, Agrippina secured the recognition of Nero as emperor over Claudius’ son, Britannicus.
    From 54 – 62 AD, Seneca acted as Nero’s advisor, together with the praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus. Seneca’s influence was said to be especially strong in the first year. Many historians consider Nero’s early rule with Seneca and Burrus to be quite competent. Over time, Seneca and Burrus lost their influence over Nero. In 59 AD they had to reluctantly agree to Agrippina’s murder, and afterwards Seneca wrote a dishonest exculpation of Nero to the Senate. With the death of Burrus in 62 AD and accusations of embezzlement, Seneca retired and devoted his time to more study and writing.

Jew and Gentile in Rome

  • Jewish Christians returning from exile
  • Possible tensions
  • Jew and Gentile heritage linked (Romans 9-11)
  • Love and the mind of Christ (Romans 12:1-2)

Paul’s Worldview

Paul – Ancients

  • Social Order is natural
  • It does not change
  • It is divinely instituted
  • Can be good or bad
Moderns – Us

  • Social Order is reasonable
  • It is changeable
  • It answers to the governed
  • Should be good

Politics Now and Then


  • Submission and not Rebellion
  • Ruler is God’s Servant
  • Empire

  • Our nation is founded on civil dissent
  • Godly critique of rulers
  • Nations

Principles vs Rules

  1. Respect and Honor
  2. Righteousness in Civic Affairs
  3. Judgment and Future

The Testimony of the Blind Man

Posted by on under Sermons

Read John 9.

Most people have never bothered to know my name. For most of my life I was know as the blind man, or the blind beggar. The most compassion I was ever shown was the sound of coins falling on the ground in front of me. People have always felt sorry for me, but few cared enough to know my name. I was just the blind man.

Of course to some I was less than that. To them, I was a sinner. “Blind since birth,” they would comment. “That is truly judgment from God!” Some assumed that my parents had committed some great sin, and I was the punishment for their sin. I confess that there were days I even believed that myself.

I had been the object lesson for many a Rabbi before. Teachers of the Scripture would wander by and point me out and I would hear them discuss the severity of sin and the justice of God. If I hadn’t been dependent on their compassion I would have screamed out at them for treating me like a case study instead of a human being.

It was fairly typical the day I heard a group coming my way and one of them asked his teacher “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” I wasn’t surprised by those sort of questions. I just waited to hear one of the standard replies and then the familiar clink of coins falling into my pan.

“Suffering is a sign of iniquity, my children – show mercy to this poor sinner for God’s sake! Plink, Plink!”Or … “The consequences of sin are visited upon the children unto the fourth generation. Give thanks my children that you are not as this one! Plink, Plink.”

But on that day, I heard an answer I never heard before. To that same old question about who had sinned the man replied, “Neither!” I was always listening in my world of sound, but when that Rabbi said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” I really listened. Then the Rabbi said, “This man is blind so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

I was so amazed by that teaching. It was the first time I ever thought of my blindness as anything but a curse from God. I didn’t care anything about coins. All I cared about was seeing that light of the world. Living in darkness all my life, I couldn’t even imagine what light was. I stopped thinking about it because I knew I would never experience it. But now I felt differently.

I was really unprepared for what happened next. The Rabbi touched my eyes. At least I think it was the Rabbi, but his hands weren’t like the average Rabbi. This teacher’s hands were rough. His touch was cold, and then I realized that it was mud. He had put mud on my eyes. I remember when I was little, my parents used to take me to healers and they would put all sorts of stuff on my eyes – spit, mud, smelly ointments. I got used to it, and I also got used to the disappointment, but this time I felt differently, maybe it was what the Rabbi had said. When he pulled his hands away he said to me, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” Then I heard them leave.

I sat there for a moment just stunned. My eyes were wet; the mud had started to cake. And then his words sunk in – “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” I knew I had to do what he said; after all he said that I was blind so that the work of God might be displayed in my life. No one had ever said such a thing about me.

I cried out for help to get to the pool of Siloam. When I was there I washed my face. I splashed water on my face and rubbed my eyes. And then suddenly – I saw light. I didn’t know what it was then, but now I know it was light. And I kept washing and then I saw water. For all my life water had meant wet. But now I saw ripples and drops and then my reflection. It took me a moment to figure out that my reflection wasn’t just the way water looked. It took me even longer to figure out that the reflection was my face. For the first time ever I could see my face.

I could see. I could see and it was because of what this Rabbi, this Jesus of Nazareth had said. Most of my life I felt like God frowned on me. But thanks to Jesus I finally knew what it was like to think that God might be smiling.

Of course I had to tell everyone about this. And I didn’t have to try hard. I mean as soon as my neighbors and people who knew me saw me walking around and matching their stares, they instantly knew something had happened. I couldn’t help staring. “So those are noses,” I thought. “What a variety!” It was so strange to see me staring and walking without a guide that some people said it wasn’t me, just someone who looked like me.

I remember how old Eli, our neighbor, came up to me and said, “You must be a demon.” “No, Eli!” I smiled, “It’s me.” “If it’s you,” he asked, “then how are you able to see?” By this time everyone in the neighborhood had gathered around. I spoke up, “A teacher, a healer, put mud on my eyes. He told me to wash in the pool of Siloam. I did and then the next thing I knew, I could see.” I heard everyone whispering; I had heard whispers before but now I could “see” people whisper. I noticed the way they glanced aside at me and covered their mouth as they muttered to their friends. Finally, Eli spoke up “Where is this man now?” I didn’t know. I wanted to know, but for different reasons than my neighbors. You see, even though some of our neighbors were kind, they too believed that I was blind because of sin. It didn’t make sense to them that I could suddenly see – how could the punishment of sins just be removed so quickly. They were amazed, but they wanted to know what this meant. If they could have found the Rabbi, I think they would have asked him. But since we didn’t know his whereabouts, they decided to ask the experts – the Pharisees.

The next day I told the Pharisees all that happened. I didn’t mind telling anyone what had happened. Not just because I could see, but because I felt, for the first time, that God was pleased with me. I noticed the whispering again. But this time it was different. As I told my story some of them scowled and shook their head. Before I finished one of them spoke up and said, “When did this take place?” “Uhm, yesterday.” “And wasn’t yesterday the Sabbath?” he asked. Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it. You see, the Sabbath didn’t mean much to me. Not that I don’t respect it, I do. But on the Sabbath one isn’t supposed to work. Well, when your only career is begging, I suppose everyday is the Sabbath – I was blind, I couldn’t ever work!

At the mention of the Sabbath, the Pharisees sort of forgot about me and started arguing to one another. I remember one of them saying that kneading was a forbidden activity on the Sabbath and if this Rabbi made mud then he kneaded. Someone suggested that if this Rabbi really respected God’s Word then it would not have mattered if he had waited a day for me to be healed. I sort of resented that. I bet he had never been blind – and I was blind my whole life.

At first I didn’t get it, but then it dawned on me that they were accusing this Rabbi who had helped me of sinning. That seemed to make some of them nervous. I remember one of them, a short stocky one (I never noticed such features before), saying “But if this man is a sinner, then how did he heal, for healing only comes from God?” I thought for a moment this man was defending the Rabbi, but then his tall friend replied “Hmmm, an interesting dilemma. How can a sinner heal?”The debate went on and I was ready to leave when one of the men stood up and shouted at me, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened, yes?”

What did I think? No one had ever asked me that before. I always heard what people thought about me, but no one ever asked me what I thought. I had told everyone what he did. I knew he was a Rabbi, but what sort of Rabbi has the power to heal? All I could think of was the stories I had heard as a child. Stories about Moses and Elijah – great prophets. So, I answered the Pharisees, “He’s a prophet.” No one had suggested that. I thought it was a good answer. There was a silence. Then someone from the back said, “Why are we asking him?” Another one from the side said, “He was probably never even blind. This is all a lie.”

My mouth dropped open. A lie? Did they really think I pretended to be blind all those years? Did they really think I enjoyed receiving pity all those years? Did they really think I wanted to be labeled the punishment of parent’s sins my whole life? Something great had happened to me and these so-called experts were making a mockery of it. One of them suggested summoning my parents to give testimony. I never imagined it would go this far.

I’m not mad that my parents were scared that day. My father is old and I have no brothers. He and my mother have known for years that they would one day have to rely on the benevolence of the synagogue. After all, their only son was born blind and he couldn’t support them. It also took them a little longer to make sense of my restored sight. Like me, they lived with a feeling that God was angry. They too were getting their sight restored. They were just beginning to see that God could be pleased with them as well.

My parents weren’t there when Jesus restored my sight. They testified that I was their son and I had been born blind. “If your son was born blind then how is it that he is able to see?” asked an old gray-bearded Pharisee. “We don’t know,” said my father. My mother nodded. “If you want to know,” said my father, “ask him. He’s of legal age.” Of course I had already told them how it happened. But they were technically right. It was proper to ask me. After all I was the “eyewitness” to the event (no pun intended — well okay maybe). I suppose I was disappointed that mother and father feared expulsion from the synagogue if they acknowledged what Jesus had done. But I was more disappointed that the rulers of God’s people were so, so – blind!

They called me back in and asked me to swear – to “give glory to God” and tell the truth. They wanted me to confess. But I had no idea what they wanted me to confess. Were they accusing me of being a liar? Were they trying to intimidate me too and get me to confess against the Rabbi? One of them said, “We know this man is a sinner.” So, they had made up their mind. It really didn’t matter what I said.

“I don’t know,” I said. I suppose it was obvious I was a little annoyed. “I don’t know if this man is a sinner or not. But here’s what I do know. I was blind. From the day I was born I was blind, and right now I can look into all of your faces. I can see!”

The short fat Pharisee interrupted, “What did he do to you? Exactly how did he open your eyes?”

I shot back, “I’ve already told you that! Weren’t you listening? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

Something I’m not used to when it comes to seeing is reading faces. When I said that I saw their faces get really twisted. And I never imagined a face could turn red, but of course colors were a new concept.

They shouted insults at me, but I was used to that. They said I had revealed myself as one of the Rabbi’s disciples. It wasn’t true, but if the Rabbi would have me I would be proud to be his disciple. “We know God spoke to Moses,” they said, “but as for this man, we don’t even know where he came from.”

Now that amazed me. I seem to remember a Scripture that spoke of God restoring sight to the blind in the age to come. God certainly wouldn’t listen to some sinful charlatan or pagan miracle man. It was right there before them but they refused to believe it. What experts! I told them this. I said, “If the Rabbi (or Prophet or whatever he is) was not from God, then I would not be able to see.”

The Pharisees started shouting at me and swearing to God. Some of them tore their clothes (but not very much). Then the old gray bearded Pharisee stood up and said, “You were steeped in sin at birth! How dare you lecture us! Get out!” That was odd … First they tried to accuse me of lying about my blindness from birth. Now they were certain of it. Nothing they said made sense. I was glad to be away from their confusion, but then it dawned on me that I would never be welcome into the synagogue. I was an outcast when I was blind, but now I was an outcast because I could see.

A few days later I was looking for work. I couldn’t beg, but I didn’t have many skills. I was willing to learn, but some people were afraid to have anything to do with me after what happened. So I was surprised when a man approached me one day in the marketplace and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Did I believe in the Son of Man? The judge who would come and make everything right? Sure I did. As I thought about it, the Rabbi that I called a prophet just might be the Son of Man. Maybe he was the Messiah. I answered the man, “Who is the Son of Man, sir? Tell me, I want to believe in him.” That’s when I recognized the man’s voice. It was the Rabbi. This was the first time I saw him. He said “You see him right now, in fact he is the one speaking with you.”

And I thought – I do see him. I can see. I fell down at his feet. I said, “Lord, I believe.” I worshipped the Messiah, the Christ, and I was ready to become his disciple. Now I was certain that God could be pleased with me. It was as though I gained my sight all over again. For this time I saw not ordinary light, but I saw the light of the world, the Christ.

As I walked with him through the marketplace I asked him why some people didn’t realize who he was. He said it was about judgment. Not that he came to judge people, but their acceptance or denial of him and the truth was their own self-imposed judgment. Jesus was the light of the world. His light brought sight to the blind, but those who thought they could see without his light actually became blind.

When he said all this there was a crowd that had gathered. I looked into the crowd and there was the short Pharisee and the tall one, and the gray-bearded one. I looked over at Christ and he was looking right back at them. The gray-bearded man asked Christ, “So? Are we blind too?”

The Rabbi turned to the Pharisees and said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but since you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

That’s when it all came together for me. That’s when I understood that self-righteousness is sin and blindness. I thought about what Jesus said: He said that the work of a loving God would be revealed in me. If were to lose my sight again, I would still be able to see. Not with my eyes, but with my spirit. For in all my days of blindness I wasn’t as blind as those who cannot, who will not, see the Light of the world.

I thought physical blindness was a curse. Now I know that the real curse is refusing to believe in Jesus. You may have perfect vision, but still be blind. Or maybe you feel like you live with curse. Maybe you think, like I once did, that God could never smile on you. Wash your spirit in the pool of Siloam. When you “see” Jesus, and hear his words, then you’ll know that God can smile on you.


Posted by on March 5, 2009 under Bulletin Articles

Most people have experienced THAT moment. What moment? The “Why in the world did you do THAT?” moment. Every parent has experienced it. Good neighbors have experienced it. Dear friends who witness a married couple with marital problems have experienced it. Employers and employees have experienced it. Sports fans have experienced it as have team members. In fact, who has not experienced that moment?

Sometimes it is called by other names. Like what? “What were you thinking?” or “Did you really do that?” or “What did you expect?” or “Duh” moments. This moment involves such obvious consequences that you wonder why the person did not see the obvious downside. Did the person simply not think? Was the person too stubborn to know he (she) would hurt self? The confused observer mutters, “How would you NOT see that coming?”

All of us are guilty of doing stupid things and making silly decisions. The victim later asks, “Why did I do that? What was I thinking? That was a classic ?DUH’ moment!”

Paul experienced that moment when the gentile Christians at Galatia allowed Jewish teachers to convince them that God’s gifts in Jesus Christ were unavailable to them. “We are physically descended from Abraham. We are special-consider what God did for us in Egypt, at the Red Sea, in the wilderness, and in Canaan. God gave us the Law, scripture, and the prophets-what has He given you? Listen to us; we understand God! We have answers-you don’t! We know your shortcomings! All you need to know now is how desperately you need us! Without our knowledge you cannot possibly understand Jesus Christ! If you are serious about understanding God’s accomplishments in Jesus Christ, listen to us and follow our instructions.”

Paul was deeply confused and anguished. Galatian Christians understood what God did for them in Jesus Christ at their conversion. What happened? Why now put their confidence in human acts instead of divine achievements? Why now think the key to relationship with God was found in human acts instead of divine achievements?

Wonder how often God looks at us and says “DUH!” The key to grasping how much God loves you is found in understanding Jesus Christ. The key to understanding how much God wants salvation for you is found in understanding what God did in Jesus Christ. The key to knowing relationship with God is found in understanding what God did in Jesus Christ. Avoid “DUH” moments by understanding Jesus Christ!

Put Down the Stones

Posted by on March 1, 2009 under Sermons

Read John 8:1-11.

What happens (the mechanics of the trap): This woman is a test. She is not the real issue. They have asked Jesus, the Rabbi, for a ruling. They want him to be the judge and they will execute the sentence. They think they have him in a no-win. They aren’t interested in condemning the woman as much as they want to condemn Jesus (who threatens them).

  • If he ignores the sin, then how can he truly preach righteousness? Think of how she has hurt the families of the men who have been with her. If Jesus says let her go, then he says righteousness doesn’t matter.
  • But if Jesus lets her go, then he really isn’t here to save rather than condemn. He is being inconsistent.

They’ve asked Jesus to rule so he does. His rule is this: Execute her according to the law. You do it. But here’s the one condition – You have to be without sin and perfect to throw the sin. You have to be perfectly righteous. You must be like God to throw the stone.

Are we that good? Maybe not perfect, but might be better than some.

The woman caught in adultery is a sympathetic figure. It’s fairly easy to say that we are not any different than her. ” There but for the grace of God go I.” We can feel for her.

But what about unsympathetic characters?

  • Bernie Madoff? Greedy CEO’s and Posturing Politicians. Enron. Anyone who has caused us to lose money and stolen our savings. Their sins have caused the harm and hurt of all of us.
  • What about the child molester who has hurt children forever.
  • Can we cast that stone?

Are we that good? Maybe not perfect, but might be better than _________________.

I must confess that I think I might be able to pick up that stone. Even if I didn’t throw to kill, I would like to throw to hurt. Just something to balance the scales. Isn’t that justice? There is a moral outrage at people whose inability and inconsiderate sense of boundaries (compulsions) hurt all of us or the innocents.

Yes, some of them are hurt and have been hurt. Some are victims, but how do we tell them to stop. How do we tell them that if they do not stop then the community is going to punish you. The law was meant to put boundaries on society. There has to be boundaries. If we don’t, then we will just destroy each other.

Does the Scripture really say that all sins are just alike? If we can make a distinction, then why can’t God? It does no good to read this text and hear, “That when I jaywalk or tell a white lie, then I am just as bad as greedy corporate thief, the murderer, or the child molester. We recognize the difference between misdemeanor and felony. Doesn’t God? I just don’t think it makes sense to level out all sins so that one is just the same as the other. I would rather you jaywalk than steal my retirement. I would rather you tell me a white lie than hurt my family.

This scripture is not about flattening out sin (misreading). This scripture does not communicate the message that one sin is as bad as another. This scripture says what Paul said in Rom 3 – all have sinned. This teaching is saying that there has to be a different way that saying, “We’re not perfect, but we are better than _________________.”

  • We ought to be outraged at sin and we ought to name it and deal with it. Jesus is not turning a blind eye to sin. He isn’t excusing it. Not just the sin of the woman, but the sin of the accusers who have defined their righteousness as being better than others and confidence in their own correctness. (This is why they are trying to trap Jesus).
  • Righteousness is supposed to exalt a people, but it will not when the definition of righteousness is “We’re sinners, but just a little bit better than those” I’m not a murdered. I’m no child molester.
  • Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to say this is a bad as that. Too often this text has been used as an excuse not to deal with our own brokenness. We turn on others and say “Ye without sin cast the first stone.” The woman didn’t say that. Jesus did.

Jesus is confronting all of us with the reality that each of us must be born from above. We have to convert to an entirely different way of living and not just a religion that adapts to our view of the world.

The no-win situation is not Jesus’ trap. The no-win situation is our condition when we are without God. Everyone wonders what Jesus drew in the dirt. I wonder if he drew a line. His line was a false boundary and what he intended was for those who thought they had the sufficient righteousness to judge to stand on one side of the line and execute all those who didn’t meet up. (You must be this righteous to throw a stone.)
Jesus is showing us our inattention to redemption and our mixed up definition of righteousness. If that’s the way we encourage righteousness then we will end up with two people ready to throw huge rocks at each other. We are bad judges.

This text has had an impact on society. The fact that we have some sympathy for this woman is evidence of this. We are gracious with those who are judged and tagged with a scarlet A.
But how much more does this text need to shape us?

  • Is this liberalism? If we are lenient and not ready to enact capital punishment, then does that mean Christianity is liberal? Terms like liberal and conservative are recent terms and if we try to squeeze the text into that frame we will find it doesn’t fit.

Two ways to hear the text.

  1. Are you burdened with a sin so detestable that you cannot even stand it? You might be so immersed and trapped in it that it has become a way of life. I doubt this woman intended to be a prostitute and adulterer. No one ever intends to do that. Structures and circumstances lead to it. But that’s not an excuse. Go your way and sin no more. Legend has it that this woman was Mary Magdalene. That’s probably not true, but why is that legend so captivating. Probably because we want some closure. We want to know that this woman that Jesus saved lived out that salvation. That would be a good end to the story.
  2. For others, the word is, put the rocks down. What are we defending? What are we threatened by? Those who came to him for a ruling didn’t really want it. They just wanted to assert their way of the world and their definition of righteousness. They are threatened by the implications of his honest truth. Let the judge of all the earth do right.

But that means that unjust people are going to get way with their sin. Right, and that’s always been the case. The only thing guaranteed is that there will be justice at the end of time.
Let’s strive for redemption.

Put down the stones, go, and sin no more.