Sermon Options: July 15, 2012

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An Essential Proposal

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

David’s attempt to restore worship, which had been in decline since Eli’s death, sought to involve the whole nation in spiritual renewal. The ark narrative described the process of renewal as a national movement from disaster to blessing by eliminating inappropriate attitudes and adopting appropriate attitudes toward God. The proposal was essential if a sacred focus was to be revived.

I. Spiritual Renewal Is Interrupted by Inappropriate Attitudes

I have been challenged numerous times by the statement, “You know, we are all trying to go to the same place.” While heaven and eternal life may be a common desire, not every route or lifestyle will guide you to that destiny. More precisely, Christians who live with inappropriate attitudes experience a frustrated and fractured journey. God proposed that spiritual renewal could be Israel’s experience if the ark, the symbolic presence of God, was returned. But a series of inappropriate attitudes retarded the awakening.

First, the men of Israel set the ark on a new cart (v. 3). With the conviction that Yahweh deserved the very best, or in an attempt to devise a more efficient mode of transportation, the cart served to impede their renewal. Why? God’s instructions in Numbers 7:9 required that the ark be carried. Carrying the ark implied specific obligations necessary for a right relationship with God, such as purification. Any time we circumvent God’s directions, God’s purposes are abandoned.

Verse 5 suggests another important and inappropriate attitude. Although this act of worship appears to be a correct response, close examination reveals something is missing. In the list of instruments there is no mention of the wind instruments. While it is only my conjecture, “wind” is a common symbol for the Spirit of God throughout scripture. Spiritual renewal requires one’s recognition of and submission to the Spirit of God.

Another inappropriate attitude is found in verse 10, when David left the ark at the house of Obededom out of fear. David became afraid of God following Uzzah’s death when he touched the ark. Granted, Uzzah spontaneously tried to protect the ark from destruction. But the action was a breach of God’s instruction. Now David was confused and afraid, and left the ark in the care of a Gentile rather than taking it to his city.

All is not lost because we have had inappropriate attitudes about God. Regardless of those developments renewal was possible. Verses 12-19 guide us to understand that.

II. Spiritual Renewal Is Engraved by an Inverted Attitude

During the ensuing three months, observers noticed that the house of Obededom was blessed. Remember this principle: the presence of God is the blessing of God. What took place to secure God’s blessing for Israel?

David personally retrieved the ark (v. 12). This change of attitude is evidenced by the gladness that replaced his fear. Spiritual growth is contagious. Others accompanied David in bringing the ark home.

The people became obedient. This time they carried the ark (v. 13). They would not make the same mistake again.

David led another worship service (vv. 15-19). Now their worship reflected a sacred privilege rather than the celebration of a military conquest.

Not everyone was impressed with the renewal experience. Saul’s daughter, Michal, “despised [David] in her heart” (v. 16). She had an inappropriate attitude. But for those who, with David, personally identified their lives with the presence of Yahweh, obeyed the word of God, and worshiped God in sacred abandon, there was a new blessing “in the name of the LORD of hosts” (v. 18). (Barry J. Beames)

The Longest Blessing

Ephesians 1:3-14

Reading through the first chapter of Ephesians is much like looking through an old family scrapbook that has been sitting on the shelf for years. As we turn each musty page, we are reminded of people, places, events that we had long since forgotten.

Verses 3-14 are like a scrapbook for the church, tracing the history of our relationship with God to its beginnings, and even before its beginnings, to the foundation of the world. This scrapbook then goes on to show us the future of God’s relationship with us.

I. The Grand Basics

In these verses we find the basics of our faith expressed, except that they turn out to be very grand basics. On a time line, the description stretches from before time to the fullness of time. On a graph, it encompasses everything—things in heaven and things on earth. On a scale, the lavishness of the plan would break the springs. The writer gives us a sense of the size and scope of these ingredients of our faith with a fascinating literary device: in the original Greek text, verses 3-14 are one continuous sentence—a rather expansive blessing!

We often speak casually about blessings. Ephesians would have us understand that we don’t know the half of it. We are blessed in ways that are literally of cosmic dimensions.

II. The Greatness of God’s Blessing

God’s blessing toward us is expressed in three ways. First, God chooses us: “. . . just as he chose us in Christ. . . . He destined us for adoption” (vv. 4, 5). We are blessed because we have been chosen, adopted, and incorporated into both God’s earthly and cosmic families.

Second, God redeems us: “In him we have redemption . . . forgiveness” (v. 7). We are, by the riches of God’s grace, fashioned into new creatures, our past sin and brokenness left behind. Whatever we may have been before—however we may have sinned, however we may have failed God and others—is put behind us, covered by his redemptive grace.

Finally, God unites us. Indeed, God brings unity to all things in his creation: God “has made known to us the mystery of his will, . . . to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (vv. 9, 10).

From this elaborate, extravagant blessing streams a single consequence: the blessing of God (v. 3). We are destined, as recipients of all the spiritual riches elaborated in the “long sentence” before us, to “live for the praise of his glory” (v. 12). In a beautiful literary symmetry, this long, flowing “hymn” concludes the same way it opens, with the benediction of God (v. 14).

God is glorified in our blessedness. In God’s glorification is our human odyssey—the long, long story of our blessedness in God—made complete. (Paul R. Escamilla)

Be Careful What You Promise!

Mark 6:14-29

To be perfectly honest, I would not have chosen this text. We lectionary preachers find that most of the time the lectionary texts are good starting places for a sermon. I have found over the years that lectionary-based preaching has provided a more well-rounded fare for my congregations than would have been the case if I simply chose my own text and topic week after week. But occasionally, I come to a lectionary reading and wonder why, under heaven, it is there. This is one of those texts.

It’s a story about a paranoid ruler, about a prophet who condemned the ruler for his lust, about a resentful and vengeful woman, about a daughter-in-law’s seductive dance before her father-in-law, about a foolish promise, about a spiteful request, and about an unjust and gruesome murder. It’s hardly a story that invites quiet reflection on this midsummer Sunday morning! And although I would not have chosen this text, it is in the lectionary, so I have thought about it at a deeper level—beyond the unattractive nature of the story itself.

My wife and I are season ticket holders to Opera Carolina, and last year one of the operas was Richard Strauss’s Salome. It is Strauss’s dramatic and memorable telling of this tale of John the Baptizer, Herod, Herodias, and Herodias daughter, Salome. The music was dreadfully mournful. The presentation was haunting. The set and props were terrifying—from the wailing cries of John in the well where he was held prisoner to Salome’s presentation of John’s head on a platter. Did I like it? No! Have I remembered it? Absolutely!

Herod had married his brother’s wife, Herodias. John had told Herod that such a marriage was not right. Herodias wanted John dead, but Herod was afraid of John because Herod knew John was a righteous man. But Herod made two grave mistakes. First, he gave himself a birthday party, and Herodias daughter danced for Herod—an entrancing dance. Though it is not in the biblical text, the “Dance of the Seven Veils” is presented in a seductive and compelling way.

Then Herod made his second mistake. Pleased by the dance of Herodias daughter, Herod promised her whatever she wanted. He made the promise publicly. And when the girl went to her mother and asked what she should request, the deed was done: “The head of John the baptizer,” said her mother. Because Herod did not want to renege on a promise he made publicly, he had John beheaded and the head was delivered to the girl on a platter. She gave it to her mother. And that’s it!

Have you ever, in the excitement or enthusiasm or sensation or enticement of a moment, made a promise that you wished later you had not made? Have you ever been lured by the seductive attraction of evil to make a commitment that you wished later you had not made? Have you ever let your lesser emotions and base nature gain power over your clearer thought and your more noble intentions and devoted yourself to a course of action that you later regretted?

We are not told what became of Herod or Herodias or Herodias daughter. But I can tell you this much: outside Jericho archaeologists are now excavating the ruins of Herod’s palace. We know that he lived opulently, but he has no lasting place of nobility or goodness in history. On the other hand, the Jordan River, which flows by Jericho, is remembered as the water in which John baptized Jesus; John is remembered as the voice in the wilderness who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah; and John is remembered as a teacher of righteousness. John uttered truth as he understood it—and he paid a high price for his integrity. Herod made a promise under the influence of seduction—and he paid a high price for his foolishness. John died. Herod lived, knowing that once he made a foolish promise he had to make good on it, even though it meant he did evil he had not wished to do.

Given those choices, I hope I would choose John’s integrity! (J. Lawrence McCleskey)

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