Sermon Options: October 23, 2011

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The Call to Ministry: Pain or Promise?

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

A common misunderstanding of baptism is that baptism is the end of a Christian's search for God. To walk the "sawdust trail" and surrender to God's call during a tent revival or an emotional moment is about as far as some persons get in their faith journey. If one equates the call to ministry with the rite or sacrament of baptism, however, then baptism becomes a beginning—and not an end—for ministry.

Deuteronomy 34 is a synopsis of Moses' ministry. The book's final words describe the end of Moses' prophetic ministry given to Yahweh and Israel. Moses' call to ministry may prove instructive for us as we follow our own call, understanding it in the light of baptism as Christians who identify ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Like Moses, we see from the perspective of our relationship with God.

I. We Live in Utter Dependence on God

Through the many experiences of his life—from his miraculous rescue as an infant, to his call at the burning bush, to the divine leadership of the exodus from Egypt—Moses had learned to place his absolute trust in God. The baptismal ritual helps Christians confess the source of life. Baptism helps us establish life around the principle that we are human creatures and God is the absolute ruler of life—the Sovereign of creation. Baptism reminds us that every time we participate in the sacrament's liturgy, we do so as absolutely and completely dependent children of God—no matter our chronological age. This is both a confession and an affirmation of faith. Jesus knew his own baptism was necessary, saying to John that it was "to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15). The word ministry is derived from the Latin root ministerium, which means "the service of a greater by a lesser." Surely, this is what we acknowledge at baptism, as it surely was what Moses acknowledged with his life. We serve a God who not only gives us life but also takes it for divine purposes. Moses' life testifies to this fact.

II. We Look Back with Thanksgiving

When Moses was on Mount Nebo, he undoubtedly reflected on his call to Yahweh's service. From the perspective of Midian, we know that Moses was skeptical about Yahweh's confidence in calling him. However, like any human activity, the call is best measured from twenty-twenty hindsight provided by the panorama from Mount Nebo: "And the LORD showed him the whole land" (v. 1). Here is a clear measurement of Moses' success.

Moses' call to ministry can prove instructive for our own baptismal calls to the service of our Lord. Most of us would hold as commonplace the notion that God calls unlikely persons into the service of divinity—after all, most of us are unlikely candidates for nearly everything we undertake. God used Moses—a hothead and a murderer—to do his work.

Moses could look back on a life in which God had allowed him to be used in remarkable ways. How has God used you to minister to others? Will you be able to look back at the end of your life and see "the whole land" of your faithful service?

III. We Look Forward in Faith

Rarely do we have a second chance at opportunities for service to God. There are always forks in the road; the taking of one fork precludes the opportunity the other fork might have afforded. We will never pass this way again, nor will we repeat the moments before us. It is equally certain that no one has ever ventured alone into tomorrow; we will get there along with everyone else. We are unlikely persons to be called by God, and God calls each of us to tasks faced by no other disciple. Moses had his unique tasks; so do we. And we move forward in faith into the future only God knows. We, like Moses, have our stock set of excuses and questions for resisting God's call: Why? Why me? Why now? Why this? Why not someone else? Whatever the method by which we came to Christ, it does not matter! "Just do it," as our young people would say. And if you are truly blessed, perhaps you, too, can look out from your own Mount Nebo before you die. (David Neil Mosser)

The Anatomy of a Servant

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

First Thessalonians 1 is a portrait of an ideal church; chapter 2 provides a picture of an ideal servant: Paul. In chapter 2, Paul outlines his follow-up program, which formed the basis of the Thessalonian converts' loyalty to the Lord and growth in Christ. Our texts suggests four aspects of the anatomy of a servant.

I. A Suffering Servant (v. 2)

Paul and Silas had been beaten, imprisoned, and literally escorted out of Philippi prior to coming to Thessalonica. Suffering did not make Paul bitter; it made him better. He was better equipped to proclaim the gospel. Too much of modern Christianity focuses on the glory of servant-hood instead of the gory reality of suffering as a Christian. For Paul, a crossless religion results in a crownless reality. Paul reminds believers that if they suffer with Christ, they will reign with Christ.

II. A Courageous Servant (v. 2)

Paul experienced a variety of physical afflictions and verbal insults throughout his ministerial career. He felt the pain of the rod across his back; the discomfort of his limbs in stocks; the pangs of his stomach from hunger; the brokenness of his heart because of friends who abandoned him and enemies who verbally accosted him. However, Paul was emboldened by God and could not be silenced by threat or attack. Like the prophet Jeremiah of old, he had fire in his bones (Jer. 20:9) and could not hold his peace. Like Simon Peter of his generation, he had the "can't help it's" and was energized to relate the things he had seen and heard.

III. An Authentic Servant (vv. 3, 5-6)

Aware of the prevalence of religious racketeers, roaming peddlers, and swindling sorcerers, Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians of his authentic ministry in their midst. His ministry was emblematic of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he introduces the marks of a genuine ministry with the words "for our exhortation" (v. 3 KJV). The Greek word for "exhortation" is the word used for the Holy Spirit—paraklesis . Paul sees his ministry as an extension of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, unlike the contemporary false prophets of his day, his message was one of truth and not deceit, impurity, insincerity, adulteration, or flattery. Paul did not seek human approval. His message reverberated with "to God be the glory."

IV. A Nurturing Servant (vv. 7-8)

Paul has been misconstrued as being a male chauvinist. In verse 7, he depicts himself in the light of possessing a feminine quality. He pictures his ministry among the Thessalonian Christians in terms of a mother nursing her children through breast-feeding. This is an intriguing image and one of the most beautiful portraits of Christian nurture in the New Testament. Paul had been nurtured by God through Ananias, Barnabas, and others. He shares with these believers the "sincere milk" of the gospel that had been imparted to him. He also bares his heart and enters into Christian fellowship with them.

What do I have to do? One has to be willing to suffer for Christ's sake.

What do I have to say? One has to be courageous in proclaiming Christ's message in the face of opposition. Tell me what does it cost if I carry the cross? One has to be authentic in handling and communicating the word of Christ and self-giving in nurturing the people of Christ. (Robert Smith, Jr.)

Loving God and Neighbor

Matthew 22:34-46

What a relief to hear a scientist distill his lengthy research to the most important component! Jurors appreciate gifted lawyers capable of succinctly bringing an involved case to the crucial decision point. An expert in the Old Testament law, who probably had his own carefully constructed thesis, challenged Jesus to state "the greatest commandment." Jesus provides the bottom line of our spiritual life: "Love the Lord your God ... love your neighbor." This is the marrow of authentic Christian living. Life for now and all eternity hangs on loving God and neighbor.

I. How Do You Spell Love?

My four-year-old daughter yelled from the back door, "Daddy, how do you spell love?" I stopped my yard work and gave her the four letters. Later at a birthday celebration, her handmade card was printed with "I Love You." How do you spell love? We really spell it as we live it and express love in relationships. In that way, love may be the most misspelled word in the vocabulary of our lives. Jesus spelled love with unreserved commitment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (v. 37). Helmut Thielicke said, "We always put God off with installment payments and only give him piece by piece a bit of something from us, but never ourselves." Real love trusts the whole person to God, surrenders the will to God's way, and allows the mind to be guided by the mind of Christ.

Jesus rejected popular usages of love, erotic and friendship, and focused on agape to describe an authentic relationship with God and others. Agape love sacrifices self for the best interest of others. Agape love deliberately chooses the highest good. Lesser love fluctuates with emotions.

II. How Do You Practice Love?

Agape love acts. Jesus placed the second commandment on par with the first: "Love your neighbor as yourself." In 1991, racial bias prompted 60 percent of the nation's hate crimes, and religious bias accounted for about half of the remaining incidents. "Whoever says, 'I am in the light,' while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness" (1 John 2:9) . The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) radically expands the limits of our love.

III. How Can You Love?

Jesus' response silenced the Pharisees. They found it easier to talk about love than to practice it. While they regrouped for a rebuttal, Jesus threw them a question: "What do you think of the Christ?" (v. 42). Craig Blomberg observes, "This is the topic they really should be talking about." The possibility of agape love hangs on Jesus: "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19) . As Son of David, he understands our difficulty with love. As Lord, he sacrificed himself to free us from sin and provide the power to love. All of life hangs on love because Love hung on the cross. What do you think about Jesus? What will you do with Jesus?

You may only want to debate with Jesus about love. He says "Follow me," and start loving God and neighbor. (Bill Whittaker)

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