Unlimited Forgiveness

Posted by on April 25, 2010 under Sermons

Parables – part 4

Matthew 18:21-35

Whenever Jesus answers a question with a parable you can be sure that the question is not a good question.

  • Peter asks about the limit of forgiveness: “Seven times seven?”
  • Jesus is going to show that under God’s grace, it will be hard for a disciple not to be merciful.

The structure of the parable is simple:

  1. A man who served the king incurred an outrageous debt.
    1. Ten thousand is the largest number identifiable in ancient numerical systems. Other ways of describing numbers are required for larger sums. However, larger sums are not part of their common world.
    2. A talent is a measure of mass. When used with money, it refers to a “talent-weight” of gold or of silver. Since we do not know the metal or the going rate, it is hard to determine the exact value of 10,000 talents. Suffice to say that it is a lot!
    3. The amount is more of a debt than one person could incur. The man may be a debt collector who assumes the bad debts and sets out to collect them and covers his expenses with a percent of the collection. Of course he is liable for the debt if he doesn’t collect.
    4. Slavery (including his family) is the only option besides prison for this man.
  2. The response of the king is mercy.
    1. Mercy, or lack thereof, is the key virtue this parable.
    2. It is the theme of Matthew 18.
    3. It fits in Matthew’s gospel. See Matthew 9:13 and 12:7. Jesus believes it is important that the Pharisees understand the words “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
    4. The man is forgiven a debt he could never repay.
  3. The man goes out to collect a debt from someone who owes him.
    1. He does not show mercy to the man who owes him 100 denarii.
    2. A denarius is a Roman silver coin that was first minted in the 3rd century BC. It had the value of 10 assarion (a smaller bronze coin). So, the denarius is a sort of dime or ten dollar coin. It was the standard payment for a daily wage in the first century. Think of it as a sort of Roman “minimum wage.”
    3. The debt of 100 denarii could be reasonably paid off.
    4. The exchange rate between denarius and talent is hard to calculate since the talent is a measure of mass. Some estimate that the ratio of denarius to talent is 6000:1. Now multiply that by 10,000!
  4. The king reacts to the forgiven man’s lack of mercy. Why?
    1. The man’s lack of mercy shames the king’s mercy.
    2. Does he not reflect on the magnitude of grace that he has received?

Meaning: How can we limit forgiveness and mercy when we are aware of how much God has forgiven us and how merciful he has been? The parable pushes us to take seriously the outline of behavior explained in 18:15-20. Our goal should be reconciliation.

If Two of You on Earth Agree

Posted by on under Sermons

Doing Justice and Showing Mercy – The dilemma

Two Extremes – We are always trying to find the right spot on the scale

  1. Too Lenient – We want to be merciful and forgiving, but if we do not recognize how deadly and dangerous sin truly is, then it will destroy not only the sinner, but the body of believers too. It is like a virus or cancer. Being too lenient avoids the opportunity for growth and positive change.
  2. Too Judgmental – On the other hand, taking a tough stance against sin can cause us to lose mercy and we easily become too judgmental. We forget why must deal with sin: Instead, we confront sin because we just think we are supposed to and not to help others. We are fearful rather than hopeful. We are angry rather than humble. Remember that when we confront sin, we are also confronting sinners – real people with real problems. People that God loves. We are sinners helping other sinners.
  3. How do you do justice and show mercy at the same time? Which option is best, to err on the side of leniency or judgment? …

It’s not a good choice. It is a false difference because these extremes are not that different. They each tolerate a different set of sins.

On the side of leniency, the sins of indulgence, selfishness, lust, greed (just to give a few) are tolerated. “To each his own.”
On the side of judgment, the sins of arrogance, self-righteousness, dissension, gossip, hatred, prejudice are tolerated.

Both ends are rooted in earthly, non-spiritual ways of looking at the world. What we strive for is a higher, spiritual way of dealing with sin and with one another. That way of doing things would affirm the worth of others and the importance of community without avoiding the real problems of sinfulness and the danger that it can pose to ourselves, others, and the community. What does such a way look like?

Matthew 18:15-20 – Reading

In the middle of a sermon about life in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus describes a simple process that guides believers in managing and overcoming the sin that disrupts our lives and our life together.
We have been seeking clear statements from God about what we are supposed to do. If we would truly follow this simple teaching, then the church of God could overcome so many problems. We would win credibility among outsiders who notice how we handle sin and disputes.

The process is simple and has four steps. These steps have to be followed in order. Each step, if successful, is the last step – for the goal in every case is repentance and reconciliation.

Step 1 – A Private Conversation. Has a brother or sister sinned against you? Go and talk to them. Have you sinned against someone? Go and talk to them. [Hey, wait it says they have to come to me. That’s a misreading of the Bible. The intent is the same. If you KNOW you have offended someone then do something about it!] Do not run about gossiping to others or wounding the character of the other. Do you seek harm or good? What’s your goal? If you and the other person can come to an agreement and reconcile, then leave it with God. Christ is with you in this. If you agree, he agrees with you. The matter is settled. Sin has lost its power and you’ve tasted just a little of the kingdom of heaven.

Step 2 – A Few Wise Witnesses. Sometimes it is easy to achieve reconciliation. People do not always agree. But let’s not jump to step 4 like we usually do. We don’t need to begin writing letters and making denunciations at this point. No, we can seek help from those who are interesting in the same goals: agreement, reconciliation, peace, forgiveness, and overcoming sin. Who are these wise witnesses? They could be anyone. They are trusted people. Ideally, people who are respected by both parties. They can defend the interests of both parties and the community of believers. They recognize that the accused may be stubborn and reluctant to admit guilt. They also recognize that the accuser can be too harsh. These wise witnesses remain as partners in accountability. So, that when agreement is reached they are also part of the agreement and when the temptation to re-open the case comes along, the witnesses remind the parties that the matter is bound/or loosed – and that is also heaven’s ruling because Christ agreed with us too.

Step 3 – Inform the Church. Of course some problems can become quite large and complicated. This is when the church needs to be told. On one level, the church (the community of believers) needs to reach out to the sinner and work toward reconciliation. This is a work of love. All the members of the church are responding in prayer and outreach to affect the return of the lost brother or sister. On another level, this is the church’s defense against gossip and division. The wise witnesses have been involved at this point, so their testimony is a respected guide to the community. Still, the goal is to win back the one who has sinned.

Step 4 – Treat Like an Outsider. This is the only possible outcome is all else has failed. This is not excommunication. It is not “church discipline” in the sense of a public execution of one’s character. It isn’t “marking out the heretic.” The correct term is “shunning.” The community of believers has to treat the stubborn sinner as an outsider because the person is not interested in agreeing with Christ. This is much less informal than institutional options. Families sometimes have to do this when a member of the family is so dedicated to destruction because of addictions or violence that the family has to cut ties or they will suffer the same destruction. A church family may have to do the same. Even when the church shuns the person, the hope is that he or she will repent.

If we would follow this teaching, step by step, think about how healthy our churches could be. Think about how we could avoid so many problems and gain credibility among outsiders who are looking for a better way to build community. So why don’t we?

Because we are not interested in or don’t understand what Christ said when he said, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Christ promises to be with us at every stage of this process. But we abandon his promise to choose our own way:

  • When we want to win. When we want to be validated.
  • When we would rather be in control
  • When we choose to gossip
  • When we choose to be afraid, paranoid
  • When we would rather hold on to being wounded, offended
  • When we avoid the uphill work of reconciling. We think it is easier to just tell others, or to avoid conflict

Unfortunately, we haven’t done this …

But how has God treated us? I think that the teaching ends with a parable that reminds us how we live in God’s mercy so that we will both be just and show mercy. The realization of God’s grace keeps us humble.

Let’s take Christ at his word and start working out differences and helping each other overcome sin. God could be in our midst in every way if we will take this seriously.

When You Follow Jesus, Something Dies

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

There are many common mistakes when it comes to the concept of being a Christian. Some think it is nothing more than an affirmation. For some, it is a matter of adopting a vocabulary. For some, adopting a set of “dos and don’ts.” For some, adopting a personal routine. For some, adopting a specific cause. For some, adopting a specific church. For some, adopting a view of God.

The problem: all those fail to fulfill the New Testament concept of Christian. They all are important, but they all are partial. Those things, or any combination of them, are only a partial concept of the New Testament view of the meaning of being Christian.

Being Christian means something important dies. Paul, who wrote Colossians, said in Galatians 5:24 that death was a crucifixion. That means it was deliberate, as was Jesus’ death. It also means it was relatively slow. This death was not an accident that “just happened,” but was a deliberate act that the person knew was happening. He/she understood that the life of Jesus’ resurrection could not infuse the person unless this death occurred.

What death? The death to self-the death to the way one lived, acted, thought, and was motivated prior to meeting Jesus. Jesus literally would define who he/she was, how he/she thought, how he/she saw others, how he/she acted, how he/she used life, his/her involvements, his/her use of abilities, his/her motives, and how he/she defined and viewed right and wrong.

That is quite a death! It is a total remake job! It continues from birth into Jesus Christ until physical death in Jesus Christ! It obviously is a serious, life-changing commitment that is not for sissies! This death is evident in a person’s trust and behavior!

Do you have the courage, with the help of God’s grace, to be a Christian?

Lost Parables

Posted by on April 18, 2010 under Sermons

Parables – part 3

Context: Verses 1-2. The Pharisees muttering about Jesus’ acceptance of sinners.

Jesus gives a three set … About that which is Lost.

Setting: The Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating and drinking with sinners.

The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin

  • The shepherd will not accept one lost sheep though he has ninety-nine. He searches.
  • The woman will not accept one lost coin though she has nine. She searches.
  • But then, he gets into the scandal with “A Father has two sons …”

The Lost Son and the Older Brother

    The younger asks for his inheritance

    • Equals “I wish you were dead”
    • Father’s response should have been to stone the boy
    • By leaving, the boy no longer identifies himself with his father’s family. All of the family must consider him as good as dead.

    He lives the life of a prince but squanders his wealth on sinful pursuits.

    • A shameful waste of what his Father provided for him
    • He is reduced to working a most shameful job: feeding pigs
    • Unclean despised animals, he was a rich Jewish boy and now he works for a Gentile tending pigs!
    • He is starving so horribly that pig slop looks good to him right now.

    He decides to return home.

    • He knows that his Father will not receive him after he has shamed his so.
    • He knows his Father has disowned him and will likely slam the door in his face.
    • But he has no dignity left to preserve, so asking to be a slave in his father’s house is his only hope.

    The father is waiting.

    • Very uncharacteristic, he should have disowned his son completely according to the culture.
    • Upon seeing his son he runs to him. He hikes up his robe and runs. Truly undignified for a man of his standing!
    • He cuts his son off before his son completes a full statement of repentance and showers him with gifts.

    The father gives a banquet for the boy that is suited for dignitaries.

    • “For his son who was dead is now alive, he was lost and now he is found.”

    The older boy is in the field working and hears the celebration.

    • He should be at the banquet, for as the older son it is his place to serve the meal to the guest of honor!
    • But he disagrees with his father’s “weakness.” He is ashamed of his father and rebukes him!

    The father explains his action:

    • The older son has always been with the father and could have celebrated whenever he pleased.
    • But as for the younger brother: “He was dead but now he is alive, he was lost and now he is found.”

    Where’s the ending?

    • Does the older son attend the feast? Does he kill his father out of rage? Does he disown his father and brother? What would we do?

    Some need to see themselves as the younger son.

    • Doubting the Father’s love and his willingness to forgive.
    • No matter how far you’ve gone, the Father will welcome your return

    Some need to see themselves as the older brother.

    • We have been dutiful our whole lives.
    • We’ve been diligent trying to be obedient and follow God’s ways.
    • Admit it, we want these lost people to suffer just a little! We want them to grovel just a little.
    • We wonder why the Father makes it so easy on them.

    God is like the Father in the story.

    • He waits longing for the return of his lost children.
    • He may even seem weak because he is so gracious.
    • He rejoices when the lost are recovered, because God does not believe in acceptable losses.

Jesus tells a story that describes what it means to truly forgive and to be truly forgiven. It is a story about a man with two sons. The younger son was very disrespectful to his father. He was greedy and dishonorable. He asked his father for his share of his inheritance. Essentially, he was saying that he had no interest in continuing his life as his father’s son and wished his father were dead and that they were reading his will. The father had every right to beat this insulting child and throw him out of the house, but he does an strange thing. He gives him what he wants.

Now this dishonorable, greedy, insulting child leaves his father with his share of his inheritance. He takes the wealth that has been in his family for generations. He takes the money that his father has carefully saved and cautiously invested so that his son might have a future. He leaves the people who care about him and takes with him the riches that would save him in uncertain times ahead. He takes it and uses it to satisfy his basest desires. He pays for food and drink to make himself happy. He pays women to satisfy his lusts. He pays for others to be his friends. He pays for anything he wants, but when bad times come along he can keep nothing. And in no time at all his family fortune is gone.

So he takes work feeding another man’s swine. It sounds like honest labor, but it is the sort of labor that his family would find shameful. He’s not working for his family, he’s working for a wage among unclean animals. This isn’t the life he was meant to live. His father had provided for him to have a much better life than this – but that was before this son burned through half the family’s wealth. Back in his homeland where people had some sense of decency, someone might have taken him in and shown him some dignity, but in this faraway country no one wants to help him. And perhaps that’s because they know his story. They know what a reprobate he is. They know how shamefully he has treated his father and his family.

The son finally makes a decision to return to his father. He has hit bottom and he knows that even the hired hand at the lowest paygrade back on his family farm does better than he has done. He also knows that nothing can ever be the same between him and his father. He has brought such shame to his father. He has insulted his father and shamed his family. Everyone back home knows that he is a dishonorable, greedy, selfish person. Nevertheless, for the sake of survival he will confess his sin to his father and offer himself as a slave.

Now the father of this foolish child sees him approaching the house. Tradition and decorum dictates that the father should regard the son as “dead to him.” But the father does something truly unusual and truly unconventional. He throws decorum and propriety aside and runs to greet his returning son. Men of importance do not run. He could at least let the son stew in his shame and teach him a valuable lesson before offering him forgiveness, but he doesn’t. He lavishes love on the son who has hurt his family so horribly. It is such an overwhelming display of forgiveness it borders on being shameful. The man had two sons, and his older son is dumbfounded by his Father’s softness. It is one thing to accept the young man’s confession of guilt, but is it necessary to celebrate? That’s the older son’s question.

The father knows what it means to truly forgive. He isn’t just pardoning the son. He isn’t just erasing his debt or overlooking his shame. He is truly forgiving all the hurt and shame so that he can have his son back. He is truly forgiving the son so that he can maintain a relationship with him. And the father would be truly happy if his older son would truly forgive his brother. Because in that way they can all enjoy being family again. We aren’t told how the younger son felt about being truly forgiven. It is probably the last thing he ever expected. Does the new robe around his shoulders feel heavy? Does he twist the ring around his bony finger? Does he wiggle his toes in his sandals (when is the last time he wore shoes?). Does he rub his cheek where his father kissed him? This son doesn’t know what it feels like to be pardoned or to get out of jail free. He only knows what it is like to be truly forgiven – and it is something he will live with for the rest of his life.

Forgiveness is not as simple as a pardon or reprieve. Unlike pardon, forgiveness seeks to reconcile the relationship between offender and offended. Forgiveness strives for love and fellowship.

It is isn’t as simple as a truce or forgetting the past and ignoring what has been done. For if forgiveness is truly practiced, then the sins and injuries to be forgiven are on the table. Everyone shares in naming it, but they also share in the blessed work of renaming. The son confessed his sins and he named himself a slave. The father acknowledged his offense, but renamed him “son.”

That wasn’t easy. Forgiveness is costly and there is a good amount of time and effort that goes into the business of restoring relationship. That’s true of you and I when we forgive and reconcile. It is all the more true of our God who forgives us. He doesn’t simply announce a pardon or call a truce. God works through the cross and in our lives to forgive. And he works to overcome our very human resistance to forgiveness. Accepting forgiveness can make us anxious. We would rather deal with the comforting control of law or the neat simplicity of “Get Out Of Jail Free” cards. But God is forgiving us – He is truly forgiving us.

You are truly forgiven. We are truly forgiven. Can we accept that?

Stakeholders in Covenant

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Introduction – God plainly and honestly says “This is what I want you to do.”
Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly With Your God

Reflection 1
I have done a lot of weddings. Over the years, I have never used the phrase “If anyone can show just cause why these two should not be married.” I did that for the first time ever yesterday – just for a gag and to make a point about the couple’s history.

I have never used this phrase because it didn’t make sense to me. I realize it makes for a great dramatic moment in movies and television – what better time for the true love to make his entrance and stop the wedding. But that’s drama. In reality, I have always thought – if this priest and these people do not the reason the couple shouldn’t be married at this point, then they haven’t been paying attention!

I believe that the assembly gathered for the wedding ought to be the people who know every just cause as to why a couple should be married. In fact, they ought to know the reason why any of us are ever married and why we regard that with respect. If you are a guest at the weddings I “officiate” then I expect something of you. I expect you to be among the cloud of witnesses that testify to the covenants that God wants us to live by. I expect you to be there on the day the couple makes their vows and I want you to be there years later if they are struggling to keep those vows. [And you just thought you were supposed to bring a gift and enjoy some cake.]

Reflection 2
When I ask a couple to stand and be recognized for 50, 60 or 70 years of marriage I intentionally say – thank you for showing us the wisdom of God’s ways.

  • When we applaud them we are showing our respect for the covenants that God gave us to live by.
  • We know that we are all blessed because they have kept that covenant – even if we are single, divorced, remarried, or married.

What if we were all stakeholders in the Covenants God Gave us?
We are all stakeholders in these covenants – at every stage. It is not just married people who have an investment in marriage covenant. Young, old, single, divorce, re-married: we all hold a stake in these covenants. When it comes to the marriage covenants, we all want to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

  • God is pretty clear and plain about marriage and family relationships.
  • We have muddied the waters.

Text: Matthew 19:1-12

  1. God – Man and Woman. God puts it together, don’t tear it apart.
  2. Jesus – Married and Single. Quit justifying adultery by calling it divorce. (That’s what his critics were doing with their reading of Deuteronomy 24)
    1. Jesus was a stakeholder in the covenant of marriage.
    2. Jesus was single
    3. His parents held to the covenant of marriage even though it was scandalous and hard for them to do so at the start
    4. Jesus was not patient with the rule-keeping Pharisees who he claims were actually playing fast and loose with the covenant by their attempts to limit and restrict divorce.
  3. Paul – Works with these rules in applying them to the troubles and real-life situations of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7). Being single, being married, separated, divorced, remarried.


  • Live righteously in whatever situation you are in (Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God)
  • There are covenants that we are all invested in

A word about

    Being Single …

    • A word about families and being single – Sometimes we have made marriage the Golden Calf.
    • We talk about “fixing single people up” – I don’t know why, they aren’t broken. Being single doesn’t always mean the same thing: unmarried, divorced, widowed, widower. Singles Ministry has sometimes meant “The Not Married” ministry – and we wouldn’t do that if we would just all see ourselves as stakeholders in the covenants God gave us to live by. We need each other.
    • We forget that families sometimes have just one parent. We think of mom and dad and forget all the uncles and aunts and grandparents and cousins that play a role in raising a family. (We try to incorporate this in Baby Blessing)
    • Single parent, double parent or grandparent-parent: God’s expectations of family members and the covenants of family are clear.

    Being Divorced …

      There is a Tension Here:

        We want to invest in the covenant and uphold it, but we do not want to be na?ve or turn a blind eye to the messiness of human relationship.

      We can pray for God’s will since we know it so well, but let’s not be foolish or na?ve and pretend divorce does not happen. Not even God does that. He hates divorce. Why? Because it tears up the people he loves. If you have been divorced you know what I mean. I went through a divorce with good friends and all of us felt the pain of it. One day we were discussing Malachi 2:14. My friend spoke, “God says, I hate divorce. Well, I do too.” I don’t think there is any better way to understand this text.

      Where do we get the idea that God doesn’t recognize divorce? Of course he does. He hates it. Some institutional religions “do not recognize divorce” – and without an institution we can still do a fairly good job of ignoring divorce. Do we ignore cancer? Do we ignore serious ailments? Do we ignore grief? If we recognize that those are situations that call for God’s healing and ministry, then let us also recognize that when divorce happens we need to respond with prayer, ministry, healing and as appropriate, reconciliation. There is no biblical warrant for treating divorce as “an unforgivable sin.” If you are divorced and have felt that you have been shunned or shamed, then please let us reconcile with you. We want to walk humbly with you in what can be a difficult and painful process.

      We all rejoice when a marriage covenant is made, let us all grieve when one is dissolved. We all have a stake in this – for better or for worse. Of course in Jesus Christ the worst things are never the last things and we do have hope to share.

    Being Married (Better and Worse)

      The way that we have judged others has caused us to lose some marriages.
      If we could see ourselves as stakeholders, then there would be more helping of those who are struggling in marriage than shaming those who are struggling in marriage.
      A judgmental church culture causes people to “front” about their problems. They never seek help or benefit from the spiritual resources available to them as God’s children.
      The trap is more devious: Asking for support for oneself is hard enough – getting two to do the same is even harder. What do you do when one spouse is interested in improving but the other is not? And sometimes, the inability or reluctance of one spouse, encourages one spouse to blame the problems on the other. This is why others need to step-in.

      Every situation is different. If you are struggling, then go to those who have invested in the success and well-being of your relationship. Go to the shepherds and ministers of this congregation. Ask them to bless you in the name of Jesus Christ. Submit yourselves to the wisdom and counsel of others who will hold you accountable in a loving and gracious spirit.

      Ask for the resources that are available. This is why we contracted with ACT a few years ago. Thank God that he has blessed us to make this available. Thank God for those who have taken advantage of these resources. There has been healing for many of them. They may be the ones who will assist you.

      I am not going to propose or offer a simple plan or quick fix. If there was such a plan I would be worth a fortune if I could write the one book on it all. But I do know this: We are all stakeholders in the covenants of God – the covenants that he has given us to live by, and with his help we will all strive to do live by them.


Preaching this is difficult – it always is, but not preaching it is worse. I realize how difficult it can be for people to hear. That is because I am not preaching about general concepts, but I am preaching about the experiences and realities of people that I care about, people I know, people that I love.
But isn’t that what God is doing through his word. When God talks about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, he isn’t simply setting up policy or civic law. He isn’t establishing an institution of marriage, rather he is talking about and speaking to people that he cares about, people that he knows, people that he loves.

What I hope to accomplish is to model a way for us to speak openly, truthfully, and plainly about these realities that have to do with the covenants that we live by – God’s covenants. And I hope that we can do the same. I hope that concerning these matters: marriage, divorce, being single, being family, we will do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Could It Be That The Way To Become Something Is To Be Nothing?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

We are a very competitive society. Most everything is based on competition. We compete to get in schools. We compete in schools. We compete in athletics. We compete to get jobs and in jobs to advance. We even compete in lifestyles!

We want to be the best! If we are not the “best,” we want to have the best. In some way our personal significance is tied up in being able to say that in some way we are the best. If we cannot be the best in something, we feel that in some way we have failed It seems essential for us to be able to say (or at least to think), “I am better than you!”

Being “better than you” in some way makes us important. That attitude fuels significance and also fuels racism, classism, bullying others, oppressing people, and treating people as though they were things. It is an expression of arrogance that can justify almost anything-from the slavery form of prostitution to genocide. It says, “I have the right to treat you as I wish because I am better than you. Therefore you exist to serve my desires! I do not want to hear any complaints! Just serve my purposes well!”

If you are a Christian, the greatest person you know (Jesus Christ) DID NOT become the great one through competition. The eternal one at God’s right hand served people. He emptied himself. He became in form the created. He obeyed. He endured the shame and pain of a humiliating execution. He did not raise himself. He did not exalt himself. He did not position himself on God’s right hand. God highly exalted him!

He treated the lowly as important and God as superior. Today, by God the Father’s acts, Jesus is Lord. As Lord, he is our example. Through humility, he shows us the power of humility and the curse of arrogance.

Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:10

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Posted by on April 11, 2010 under Sermons

Parables – part 2

  1. Eschatology
    1. The purpose of this parable is not to define the cosmology of heaven and hell
    2. Jesus is using widely accepted categories of the afterlife to make his point.
    3. This isn’t to say that the world to come will not be like this, but using this text as a proof text to argue for a particular eschatology is special pleading.
    4. Our goal in this study is the meaning of the parable
  2. Context of the Parable
    1. The Pharisees have sneered at Jesus’ teaching
    2. According to Luke, they love money.
    3. Verses 14-18 set the context and themes for the parable
    4. First theme is the love of money. The parable will counter the notion that being rich means that one is righteous.
    5. Second theme is the persistence and witness of the Law and Prophets. Luke has a theme (that runs through Luke and Acts) which shows that the gospel and the church are consistent with the Law/Prophets and Israel
  3. Mechanics of the Parable
    1. This is a double-edged parable. It makes two points
    2. First Point is the reversal after death
    3. Second point is the Law and the Prophets (and the witness of one returned from the dead)
  4. Reversal After Death
    1. Common View of Hearers/Readers (First Century): God blesses his righteous ones. You are righteous, God will bless you. Turn it around: those who are financially blessed must be righteous. This is the notion of fortune and misfortune
    2. Likewise, if you are wicked, then you are not blessed. So, the poor must be wicked – or someone in their family is wicked. (Compare to John 8 and the misfortune of the Blind Man – “Who sinned?”)
    3. When Lazarus and Rich Man die, the truth is revealed: Lazarus (though poor) was the righteous one. The Rich Man (though blessed) was the wicked one. What was his sin? He ignored the suffering of his brother who was laid at his gate.
  5. The Request of the Rich Man
    1. Send someone to witness and warn my family (this is a not so subtle jab at the Pharisees who sneered)
    2. Abraham notes that the teaching of the Law and the Prophets should be sufficient
    3. The Rich Man wants the “Ebenezer Scrooge” effect – If one from the dead will warn them, then they will change their ways. Abraham disagrees: If they will not heed Moses, then a risen man will not convince them
    4. This is also a comment on Resurrection.

What Does God Want Us To Do?

Posted by on under Sermons

I am confident that we would all like to do whatever it is that pleases God.

  • We desperately want to do what is right even though we are tempted with what is wrong
  • Our heritage (Restoration, Churches of Christ) aimed at restoring the ancient order of things. The idea was that doing things the right way, we would not only be pleasing to God but we would also create a set of basic Christian practices that everyone could agree with. Later, some called these practices the identifying marks of the church – in other words, the church that gets it right.
  • I have been my the side of the dying and they want to know that they have done enough to please God – they want to know, “Did I do what I was supposed to?”
  • I have had people ask my advice about doing God’s will – they wanted to know, “What am I supposed to do?”
  • I have been a part of studies, especially on difficult Scriptures or controversial subjects, and inevitably someone says what we are all thinking: “Oh, I wish God had made this one plain as day! Just say right out – HERE IS WHAT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO!”

I would like to show you some of those “plain statements” over the next few weeks. But first, I want to make sure you hear it the right way:

  1. You can do nothing to save yourself – You are saved by God, through Christ Jesus.
  2. What we do is both a response to what God has done/is doing and putting our faith in practice.
  3. Through Christ we are justified and sanctified – We are saved and being saved (made holy) [You’re a saint!]

These practices are very reliable marks (characteristics) of God’s people – of Christians, of his church.

Micah 6 – Background and reading

  • God’s case against Israel
  • The people want in to worship God and ask: What shall we do? How can we enter your temple? Your sanctuary?
  • They bargain: They offer sacrifices of increasing seriousness. They have a fix it mentality. A pay-off mentality. A by the book, policy and procedure mentality. There’s only desperation and worry in this type of worship. They are mixing up the right antidote to keep the God-monster appeased and missing out on what God wants …

God asks of you the following –

  • It really isn’t that hard to figure out
  • It shouldn’t be a secret
  • It’s what God has always wanted
  • Here it is – plain as day – “HERE IS WHAT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO!”
  1. Do (Make) Justice.
    • We probably think of justice as something larger than ourselves. Something that has to be an integral part of our culture, our society, and our institutions.
    • So does this mean we all need to study law or become politicians?
    • What is justice? Genesis 18:17-19, “Should I hide my plan from Abraham?” the Lord asked. “For Abraham will certainly become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. Then I will do for Abraham all that I have promised.”
    • The verb here is important too. We are to do, or to make justice. This is much more “street-level” than writing laws or policies that are supposed to make our institutions just and right. Abraham precedes the law, but God sees the opportunity to work into Abraham the goal of the law

      Making Justice – Compare to Making Injustice:

      1. Getting rich by cheating the poor (6:10).
        1. Exhibit A – the home of the wicked who cheats the poor. Why is he wicked? Because he cheats the poor
        2. The poor are especially vulnerable to “cheating” because they don’t have as many options.
        3. Exhibit B – Dishonest measures: What sense does it make to increase the APR on someone who has trouble paying their bills? Consider the working poor. Calling them stupid and saying that they have made bad decisions is no help. Our bad decisions can follow us around forever.
      2. The rich have become wealthy through extortion and violence (6:12)
      3. Lying is common place – so much so that we cannot tell the truth (6:12) – We are saved by fine print.
      4. Don’t do injustice. Don’t take advantage of the poor, Don’t use means of violence or patronizing, Be Honest and Tell the Truth
      5. Justice is something that we DO. The powerful oppress the powerless. When power is not balanced, there is injustice. Workers are exploited. Courts are corrupt. Work for justice – especially those who are powerless.
  2. Love mercy: “Chesed” = loving kindness. Loyalty. Steadfast Love of the Lord. Showing Care. Hope and Healing.
    • Do we want this as much as God does. Do we love it like God does?
    • Do we love mercy as much as Christ does?
    • While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
    • On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
    • If we are more focused on “sacrifice” then we are going to condemn the innocent (Matthew 12). When we are so mechanical and duty-bound to keep the rules that we neglect mercy, the innocent are too often the sacrificed.
    • How merciful is sacrifice? Sacrifice allows us to ignore the need to be kind to others.
    • God wants you to learn what it means to desire mercy – loving kindness. Get this other commission right and the great commission will follow.
    • Too many people have left God’s way because we have loved sacrifice more than mercy!
  3. Walk humbly with your God.
    • Halakah is derived from the Hebrew halakh, which means “to walk” or “to go”; the best translation is not “law”, but rather “the way to go”.
    • Walking is ethics. It is how we live. We cannot separate belief and faith from the way we live. We live in response to what God has done for us and what he is doing through us
    • What were the disciples called in Acts? The Way!

Follow Jesus – Walk with Him.
Says God, “Of all those who have ever lived, no one does justice, loves kindness, and walks with me better than my son Jesus. I am very pleased with Him, so follow in His footsteps and you will do well.”
– (Credit for this Quote goes to an excellent sermon on this text by David Fleer at the Rochester Seminar for Preaching)

No Middle Ground

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The process of aging is a sobering reality! As people of age often say, “Old age is not for sissies!” The experience of going from capability to inability is unsettling!

When we are young and energetic with a multitude of options, we rarely think of that journey. When initially that journey becomes awareness, we tend to think we “have let ourselves go.” All we need is to “buckle down,” adopt a healthy routine, and recover what we lost. Alas, the time comes for all when we must accept that the form of the body, the strength of the muscles, and the former “crazy” schedule are things of the past-they are not coming back no matter what we do or how we do it!

Suddenly, Jesus’ resurrection by God is not a philosophical approach to life. It is either reality or a lie-there is no in between, no maybe. When you realize your death is not a maybe, at that same moment you also realize resurrection is not a maybe.

Paul told the Corinthian congregation almost 2,000 years ago that Jesus’ resurrection was not a maybe. There is life after death, or there is not. There is sinless existence through divine forgiveness, or not. There is hope based in reality, or wasted effort. Life is an investment in the eternal, or life is a journey into hopeless decline, but life is not a maybe.

Is belief in the resurrection a matter of faith? Yes, and it always will be! Every lifestyle involves an essential element of faith. Indulgence hurts others! Power tramples people as obstacles. Ambition becomes blind! Accumulation views people as things! Knowledge becomes arrogance! Success becomes self-centered! However, in Christ, I learn to live for others. Physical decline and death still come, but only in Jesus do we have hope after death! Jesus Christ’s resurrection is the Christian’s guiding beacon!

We seek Christ in the conviction that life is continuous and death is an interruption! We seek resurrection in Jesus Christ! Our journey does not end when physical death occurs!

Once and For All

Posted by on April 4, 2010 under Sermons

Slate magazine re-published an article from two years. The author, James Martin, was explaining why Easter has not succumbed to commercialization like Christmas and why, despite bunnies and chocolate eggs, it maintains its religious significance.

The Easter story is relentlessly disconcerting and, in a way, is the antithesis of the Christmas story. No matter how much you try to water down its particulars, Easter retains some of the shock it had for those who first participated in the events during the first century. The man who spent the final three years of his life preaching a message of love and forgiveness (and, along the way, healing the sick and raising the dead) is betrayed by one of his closest friends, turned over to the representatives of a brutal occupying power, and is tortured, mocked, and executed in the manner that Rome reserved for the worst of its criminals.

Martin continues by examining the meaning of the resurrection …
More shocking than the crucifixion is the resurrection. … Even the resurrection, the joyful end of the Easter story, resists domestication as it resists banalization. Unlike Christmas, it also resists a noncommittal response. Even agnostics and atheists who don’t accept Christ’s divinity can accept the general outlines of the Christmas story with little danger to their worldview. But Easter demands a response. It’s hard for a non-Christian believer to say, “Yes, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead.” That’s not something you can believe without some serious ramifications: If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, this has profound implications for your spiritual and religious life-really, for your whole life. If you believe the story, then you believe that Jesus is God, or at least God’s son. What he says about the world and the way we live in that world then has a real claim on you.
Easter (The cross and the resurrection) is an event that demands a “yes” or a “no.” There is no “whatever.”

We believe that Jesus was crucified once and for all.
We believe that his body was placed in the tomb.
We believe that God raised him from the dead and now he lives and rules.

But do we live in a “whatever” sort of way with that belief? Believing these things is not simply a matter of checking a true or false on an exam. If you believe this, you acknowledge a reality that changes everything. You must live it out, or reject it outright.

Read Hebrews 10

Four Ways the Cross/Resurrection Change Us and Certainly Cannot Be a “Whatever” Event

  1. The Sacrifice of Jesus is “Once and For All” – 10And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
    1. Sometimes we leave Jesus on the cross. Perhaps we want him to remain there so that he can take the punishment and we don’t have to. Maybe Jesus’ willingness to take our place allows us to get on with our own life.
    2. Once – Not again. The violence in our world is revealed. God has lifted the façade off of our twisted notions of civilization. There is no need to continually crucify Jesus
    3. For All – Too often we concern ourselves with who isn’t saved. We get caught up trying to find the limits. Let’s just leave it at “For All.” Keep yourself pure, God will purify the church.
  2. Gratitude, not Guilt is the Proper Response – 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
    1. The Risen Jesus has no need for us to be consumed with guilt. He died once for all so that we might be reconciled to God.
    2. Guilt is the proper response to our sins. Gratitude is the proper response to God’s Grace
    3. Too often we use guilt to control others or to excuse ourselves from right living. Don’t squander the blood of Christ on selfishness or self-doubt.
  3. Hold on to Hope, Let Go of Sin – 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
    1. The cross and the resurrection work together to expose the violence in the world and replace it with hope and love
    2. Hope is Trust in God’s justice – We have better and more lasting possessions than anything this world offers. We should not have a “whatever” attitude about this.
    3. Because Jesus died once for all we do not have to be angry anymore. We can live in love.
      1. Some of you have had some truly wicked things done to you. Real injustices not of your doing. Jesus is your friend. Look to him. He shares in your suffering. Lean on him and trust in God.
      2. But sometimes God’s people are the angriest people in the room. We are angry about our government We are angry about our work We are angry with school
      3. What right do you have to be so angry — did you go through what Jesus did?
      4. We get angry with one another. We are angry because the church is changing too fast. We are angry because it isn’t changing fast enough. We’re angry over worship styles. And if we don’t say angry we will say concerned.
      5. Look to Jesus. Look to the cross and try to hold on to your anger. Try to justify it. He chose love and God raised him from he dead. Thank God he loves and forgives.
    4. How can we not love others. How can we not forgive. Easter would be a good time for some of you to forgive someone. Forgive means let it go. Not to treat it lightly but to release it. Jesus trusted his life to god and god did right by him
  4. We Look Forward to His return – 35So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37For in just a very little while,
    “He who is coming will come and will not delay.

    1. We move forward
    2. We encourage one another until the Day comes
    3. We know that he is risen and alive

Jesus died once so that you don’t have to be angry anymore.
Jesus died once so that you can be free to love.
Jesus died once so that you can live forever.
Jesus died once so that you can live a life of freedom.