Preached at First United Methodist Church of Valparaiso, Ind., by Jacob Williams
This eight-part series takes a closer look at some of Jesus’ most startling teachings and is ideal for sparking the interest of people unsure about or bored with Christianity as they know it. Recent articles reveal the growing number of people saying that they are not affiliated with a traditional religious denomination. “Despite their nickname,” reported Michelle Boorstein in The Washington Post (October 08, 2012), “the ‘Nones’ are far from godless. Many pray, believe in God and have regular spiritual routines.” I believe that people want answers to their difficult questions even when they know that the answers are themselves difficult. The Sunday school version will not work; the “Nones” are searching for a way to authentically grapple with these very important issues facing us.
This series is grounded with strong exegesis seeking to understand the context or the matrix in which Jesus lived and died, putting Jesus back in his own world with a clear understanding that everything (class-culture-religion-social setting-values-past and current history, is all interactive.
1. Be Anxious for Nothing—Luke 12: 22-34
Approximately 90 percent of the people in Jesus’ first century context were poor and living in abject poverty. Life was difficult, and life expectancy was very low in comparison to modern times. In that context, Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life.” Jesus was not being flippant or naïve, but affirming that focusing on the possibilities of God in your life can quiet your fears. As Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you” (NLT).
2. Sell All Your Things and Give to the Poor—Mark 10:17-31
Jesus knew that the “rich young man” had a problem with possessions. Being rich had actually become a hindrance to his spiritual growth. Being rich in a community of the visibly poor, it would be easy to think you were “special” because of your money, that all you’d need is to follow a moral code of conduct to be completely safe. Jesus knew that this young man did all the “right things,” but in a spirit of arrogance. Jesus wants us to serve in a spirit of humility.
3. Become a Servant—Mark 9:33-37
Like many of us today, Jesus’ disciples strived to be the first, the best, the greatest. But Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and the servant of all.” Being an intentional servant is a spiritually strong position. A servant is someone who understands their role in life and finds comfort serving others. The altruistic nature in humans is the highest, most evolved state of being.
4. Deny Yourself and Follow Me—Mark 8:34-38
Jesus asks people to pick up their cross and follow him. The image of the cross in those days was not a pretty religious symbol, but a ghastly instrument of torture; people saw many horrible scenes of people hanging on crosses. So, the fact that Jesus used these words to motivate people to follow meant that he had deeper intentions. He was saying that life can be difficult when you choose to follow him. Commitment to follow Jesus involves choosing to substitute our own needs to follow a call beyond ourselves.
5. Not Everybody Enters the Kingdom—Matthew 7:21-23
“Don’t look for shortcuts to God,” Jesus says (v. 13-14 MSG) “The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.” Jesus was angry because people were using his name for their own glory. Hypocrisy was the name of the game. Jesus warns that it is not enough to claim his name—we must live as his followers. To use John Wesley’s terms, we are passively justified by the saving acts of Jesus Christ, but we are sanctified by how we respond to the saving acts of Christ. We grow in grace and service by practicing our faith; it is not only “talking the talk” but also “walking the walk.”
6. Love Your Enemies—Luke 6:27-36
For first-century Jews living under Roman imperial rule, this pronouncement of Jesus’ had to be very disappointing. But Jesus was lifting up a standard of ethical agape love as opposed to philia (friendship) or eros (romantic) love. This radical saying is as relevant and challenging today as it was in the days of Jesus. The question today is how we love those who have killed innocent people (the 9/11 tragedy) and those who continue to find ways to kill anyone who seeks to find peace.
Listen to the original eight-part series at http://www.valpofumc.org/sermons