Sermon Options: September 10, 2017

August 1st, 2017

A Meal to Remember

Scripture: Exodus 12:1-14

It is customary for a people being delivered to celebrate their freedom. The quirky nature of the Exodus story is that it is surrounded by two such celebrative meals: this one, the fast-food version of Passover, eaten hurriedly, was the forerunner of a more elaborate Passover ritual still celebrated today.

This first meal was to be eaten on the night of the last plague (that of the death of the firstborn). While eating the meal, the men were to hold their walking sticks in hand, and everyone at the table was to have shoes on, as though in preparation to leave. The bread that accompanied the meal was to be unleavened, emphasizing the urgency of what was about to happen. This first ritual meal was to celebrate the Lord's Passover.

As directed, the ritual meal was perpetuated, and the story of deliverance was woven into the fabric of this celebration. The Passover following the deliverance of Israel from the house of bondage is more elaborate. There is less urgency—the family members recline on cushions instead of sitting as if to make a run for it. Perhaps we recall times when table fellowship in our own families was important.

Do you recall the movie Babette's Feast ? It is a beautiful film in which a poor French cook finds herself on a desolate peninsula. The townsfolk have been greatly influenced by their minister, who died some years before the arrival of Babette. Babette has been buying lottery tickets with the little money she makes, and eventually, word gets back to her that she has won the lottery, some ten thousand francs! The anniversary of the minister's death is about to be celebrated, and his daughters plan the celebration, which would have been a drab affair. However, Babette steps in and asks if she can fix the food for the feast. Until then, she was forced to make the minister's prescribed menu for the community: hard, crusty brown bread and fish soup. Now, Babette is going to fix a culinary masterpiece. She sends off for ingredients: turtles, all manner of edible fowl, vegetables, and specialty items that the villagers have long ago forgotten or have never seen.

Babette goes to work, and many of the townsfolk think she must be some sort of witch, with all the pots and kettles going. They decide that they will not enjoy the food of the feast. But Babette's cooking transforms the villagers. Never before have they tasted anything like what they eat. Their entire lives are changed by the meal. They will remember it for the rest of their lives! Imagine what Passover must have been like when Jesus took the bread and cup of this ritual feast and changed their meaning for all who follow him. The unleavened bread that reminded them of the manna in the wilderness was not the true food of eternal life. Take. Eat. This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

Imagine the wondering eyes of the disciples as Jesus might well have taken up the cup of wine reserved for the prophet Elijah during the Passover celebration, changing its meaning as well: Take. Drink. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you and others for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. Why is this meal different from all the others? Perhaps it is because in it we remember how Jesus really has passed over from death to life and how he has given us this life, too. (Eric Killinger)

Who Owns You?

Scripture: Romans 13:8-14

Few among us have not experienced indebtedness. Even if all of our bills are paid, we owe a debt of gratitude to persons who have given freely of themselves to help us along the journey. Another kind of debt is more familiar, and more burdensome, in our economic society: financial indebtedness. Financially, most of us owe something to someone, from the mortgage on our homes to the financing of our automobiles. Today's text is a wake-up call regarding the burdens of life, financial and otherwise. It should sound an alarm within us regarding the debts and burdens that we allow to come between us and God.

I. The Sin Is Not the Debt

Owing on a mortgage or a car or a college loan is not, of itself, sinful. Sinfulness lies in our attitude and behavior. When we think and act like something (or someone) is more important than God, we have given ourselves over to idolatry. It is not a sin to be in debt, but it is a sin to be bound by something other than God.

When I was a young pastor, I decided I needed a new car. There was nothing wrong with the one I had; I was simply tired of it. I spent countless hours reading about, looking at, and test-driving new vehicles. Having a new car became so important to me that I lost my perspective. I did not need the car; I coveted having the car. When I finally selected, secured a loan for, and purchased the car I desired, I felt guilty for owning it. The car became a symbol of my avarice and selfishness.

II. We Are Free to Love When We Are Not Bound by Things

The Christian life is lived with the mind of Christ. Christians put mission before money, people before possessions, Christ before credit cards. When the apostle Paul says in verse 8, "Owe no one anything, except to love one another," he is calling us all to a higher order of living.

The command to "love your neighbor as yourself" (v. 9) is about a life of grace that values all human life as sacred. It is impossible to treat as objects those whom we see as persons of sacred worth. The homeless persons we pass on the streets, the impoverished children through whose neighborhood we drive, the victims of war whose faces we see on the news, are brothers and sisters to whom we owe our love and service. When we view life with the mind of Christ, consumers become stewards, possessions become opportunities, money becomes an instrument of service, and people become our priority.

III. To What Are We Truly Committed?

What owns our allegiance? What takes most of our time and energy? We may spend more than forty hours per week earning a living, but what is our true motivation? Is lifestyle, income, personal accomplishment, family, or God our driving force?

A church board was discussing the proposed budget for the ensuing year. The finance committee had recommended a 10 percent increase. The discussion was building into a crescendo of voices calling for cutbacks and budget reductions. "We cannot afford this!" one board member exclaimed. "This is asking too much of our members," another cajoled.

One of the older saints of the church asked to speak. He slowly rose to his feet, and in a calm and quiet voice he said, "This church can afford what it chooses to afford. I drive through the neighborhoods where our members live and see new cars in the driveway and boats in the yard. I hear of European vacations and ocean cruises. It is not a matter of having enough; it is a matter of being a good steward with what we have."

For Christians, the love of Christ has called us to a life of grace. We respond to that call by reordering our lives. Our priorities change. Through prayer and self-discipline, we strive to move from our human desire to God's desire. We begin this process when we ask ourselves the vital question, "What owns you?" (Gary G. Kindley)

The Remarkable Importance of Relationships

Scripture: Matthew 18:15-20

Relationships are important. Oh, we may minimize them and say, "It really doesn't matter how I relate to the person sitting next to me in the church pew or the one sitting at the desk next to mine at work." All that matters, we think, is that we do the job well, get home, feed the kids supper, help with homework, and then go to bed to start the day all over again tomorrow. Low on the list of priorities is the bitter relationship that seems to never get mended at the office. Who has time to ponder the harsh words that were said between you and a fellow church member that resulted in a cold, awkward silence between you both? We have too much to do to stop and consider relationships—or do we?

I. Relationships Matter to Us

Relationships are so important to Matthew, the evangelist, and to the congregation centered in Matthew's Gospel that detailed instructions are given in the event a relationship turns sour. If someone sins against you or treats you unjustly, you are instructed to go and confront the person. If there can be a hearing, then you have gained a true friendship. If, however, the brother or sister who has offended you will not listen to you, then go again, taking one or two others as witnesses. And if the offender refuses to listen to them, then tell it to the church. And if the offender refuses to listen to the church, then let it rest. Let the offender be to you as "a Gentile or a tax collector" (two groups of people a good Jew would try to avoid).

II. Relationships Matter to God

What work! What energy! Why not just consider those who have wronged you as Gentiles and tax collectors from the beginning and bypass all of this running around? Why go to all this effort? Because Jesus says that relationships are very important—that how we live together in this life has eternal consequences. Now, that puts a new dimension on the office squabble or the recent church disagreement, doesn't it?

According to the teachings of Christ, we cannot leave them alone. The principles are clear: confront the person, over and over again until the air is clear, wounds are healed, and the relationship has opportunity to build again.

III. Relationships Matter Ultimately

And the mystery of all of this is that "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (v. 18). I must confess that I do not know exactly what this verse means. Does it mean that the friend you have on earth will be the one you have in heaven, and likewise the earthly enemy will be your heavenly one? I don't think so. Looking at the passage in context gives us interpretive help. In verses 23-35 of chapter 18, the parable of the unforgiving servant is told to give us a vivid illustration of binding and loosing. Forgiveness releases and results in freedom. Unforgiveness binds and results in prison.

Could it be that forgiving relationships have so much redemptive value that one's eternal destiny could be changed? Could the attention given to mending broken relationships actually result in someone, either an observer or the offender, being introduced to Kingdom life? Could the releasing of human hurt and pain incurred in earthly relationships actually prepare one to receive the heavenly forgiveness and redemption of God? I think so.

If so, then the opposite is also true. Lack of attention to those relationships can cause binding—a kind of imprisonment to self, to others, and to God. Little things have eternal consequences. Life is not really made by giving all our attention to the so-called big things, like job promotions, salary increases, and new houses. The good life, the life that matters, pays attention to the so-called little things—our relations with one another. For it is there that we can see the power of God and find redemption. (Linda McKinnish Bridges)

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