Sermon Options: September 13, 2020

August 1st, 2020

Right of Passage

Exodus 14:19-31

It's hard to forget the cartoons of Mad magazine that depicted Moses as a kid. There was one of Moses in the bathtub. The water formed walls on either side, and his little rubber duck sat on the dry patch in the middle of the tub. Out in the hall, his mother exclaimed that she couldn't understand why Moses never got clean. Another cartoon depicted Moses parting the broth of his chicken soup so he could eat the noodles first. Again, his mother chastised him, that time for playing with his food. In their way, the cartoons portrayed rites of passage in Moses' life. He was running what the later biblical writers would call a race, being chosen by God to share in an extraordinary life with God. And all of Israel was picked to share in this venture, the rite of passage. I toyed with the idea of adding a subtitle to this sermon brief so it read, "Right of Passage: God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise," because several things were going on in the trip through the sea. It was by right that Israel was able to pass through on dry ground. God had chosen Israel to be his people. Nothing was able to get in the way of this choosing—not Pharaoh, not an assault on the rear flank, not even a natural obstacle.

This is not to say that a passage with God is a piece of cake. On the contrary, the Israelites had to prove themselves worthy of relationship with God as they would soon discover in the wilderness. Besides, this walk through the sea marked a transitional period in their lives, not always a simple and painless process. The Israelite army was caught in what Victor Turner would call a liminal state: a situation in which one stands between what is dead or no longer of any value and what is not yet born (or unknown). This is a fearful place to be.

Yet it was the will of God that the Israelites should be spared and given the chance to prove themselves true to relationship. God had heard their cries and sent Moses to bring them to the holy mountain. It was a great (and gracious!) work. The people were in awe of God's grace and believed in the Lord and his servant Moses. So grateful were they that Moses led them in singing a song to the Lord (Exod. 15:1).

The right of passage became a rite of passage, a celebration that accompanies a change in the life of an individual, a community or, as in the case of Israel, a nation. I read somewhere recently that when the great explorers began navigating their way through the great seas of our world, their mapmakers invariably drew dragons and other great seabeasts in the areas where ships failed to venture.

Some seafarers thought the strange creatures actually lurked in the deep to devour unsuspecting sailors if they entered the waters. Others, who refused to be put off, made history with their tremendous discoveries of new worlds. They, too, were caught between old ideas of no value and the unknown, which had yet to be born in their lives. Their rights of passage became rites of passage. Their rites have become ours, as well. We celebrate with Israel and with Columbus and Magellan; we rejoice at the accomplishments of Jonas Salk and Helen Keller and Albert Einstein—in fact, all explorers who stand at the threshold of new experiences of the grace of God, who gives us life in the unknown. (Eric Killinger)

Judged and Found Wanting

Romans 14:1-12

The idea of judging another individual has such a heavy and powerful connotation to it. One of the most liberating things about the gospel is that it is based on grace and mercy, not judgment and condemnation. This is important to remember, despite the emphasis some preachers (and church members) place on the latter while ignoring the former.

Certainly, we must make prudent choices and decisions in life. We need good judgment in how we conduct our spiritual, personal, and business affairs. This is not the same as judging other human beings by viewing them with condemnation or rejection. Christ's love compels us to love others, even those who hold us in contempt.

I. When We Judge Others, We Limit God

Scripture clearly tells us that God is at work in our lives (Rom. 8:28 ; Phil. 2:13) . God's Spirit and re-creating power are alive and at work in human life, redeeming, reconciling, and making new. We do not give God room to be at work in life when we judge others. Human beings were not meant to be categorized, boxed, or limited in any way since change is a constant of life. Imposing our prejudice, or our own personal standards on others, is sinful and therefore impairs our relationship with them and with God. If each has sinned and fallen short of God's glory, then only human conceit would measure others' lives by our own standard.

II. Judgment Limits Our Ability to Love

Discipleship, following Christ's life and teachings, involves teaching others by example. Judgmental attitudes and a condemning spirit limit our ability to love our neighbors as ourselves. We limit our ability to teach others by closing ourselves to God's Spirit, which is at work in and through us. A churchman was vehemently outspoken against persons who had contracted AIDS. His words taught hatred, revulsion, and prejudice. That changed when his adult son came home to die from AIDS. God's Spirit was at work in the heart of that father. His contempt turned to compassion. His words of rejection became words of reconciliation, calling other men and women in his church to see beyond illness and lifestyle to the humanity of the persons with the disease. Paul says it eloquently, "We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves...Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (vv. 7-8b ). Just as God has welcomed and claimed us, God welcomes and claims those whose opinions, appearance, and lifestyles may be very different from our own. God's ways are not our ways, and God's love, grace, and mercy are beyond what we deserve. We need to remember that when we tend to judge and condemn others.

III. Surrendering to Christ Is a Sign of Christian Maturity

Christ is in control. We need not feel that we must control all of life. We cannot do it. Life's diversity, serendipity, and spontaneity are beyond our capacity to control. When we yield our desire to be in control to Christ, we experience a freedom that unfetters us from the chains of human sinfulness.

Paul reminds the church at Rome, and those of us who read their mail, that "each of us will be accountable to God" (v. 12). God demands our obedience and worship in response to God's marvelous grace. We dare not strive for anything less, or the day might come when we may be the ones judged and found wanting. (Gary G. Kindley)

The Forgiveness Principle

Matthew 18:21-35

"Seventy times seven" is a lot of forgiveness. Once is tough enough. Twice, almost unreasonable. Remember the adage: "Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me." "Seventy times seven?" Mother Teresa would have trouble with that! Yet that is precisely what Jesus advised in his dialogue with Simon Peter. Keep on forgiving, he counseled, even when forgiveness seems illogical. For often forgiveness is more of a gift we give ourselves than a favor we bestow on others.

I. Unforgiveness Carries a Heavy Cost

Jesus illustrated that principle with the story of a servant who owed the king a bundle. "Ten thousand talents," to be exact—several years wages. No way possible he could ever pay up! But his pleading for mercy touched a tender chord in the beneficent king, and the servant was forgiven. His account was marked "paid in full."

However, the servant soon met another man who owed him a mere handful of denarii—several days wages. The debtor pleaded for mercy but received a sentence to debtors' prison instead. The king, upon hearing of the first servant's refusal to forgive, rescinded his former offer, and the servant wound up on the locked side of a prison cell "until he would pay his entire debt" (v. 34). His refusal to forgive was his undoing. So it usually goes. The most seriously depressed person I ever met was like that. He was trapped by grief over the loss of an older brother. The brother had swindled him in a land deal nineteen years earlier. Apologies and offers of restoration had been rejected, and at last the older brother died. After the funeral, reality set in on the remaining brother—reality that he had forsaken family in order to nurture a grudge. He had been inflexible too long, and it was too late. His depression resulted from his refusal to forgive.

Current medical research indicates that persons who are unforgiving are more susceptible to a variety of illnesses than are their more tolerant counterparts. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that type A personalities (long thought to be particularly prone to cardiovascular illness) are no more likely than anyone else to suffer heart attack or stroke. The culprit, researchers say now, is anger. Type A persons are in danger only if they carry around unresolved hostility. It is anger, not activity, that places a person at risk.

Forgive seventy times seven? Jesus knew it was for our own good. People who refuse to forgive rarely do significant damage to the other person but can seriously jeopardize their own well-being.

II. Our Forgiveness Is Linked to God's Forgiveness

There is, of course, a keenly spiritual dimension to the forgiveness principle. It is an awareness of God's love for all. A woman who disliked a singularly obnoxious neighbor was put in a bad mood every morning when, while standing at her sink fixing breakfast, she would see him driving off to work. Finally, one morning she watched him drive away, and as the familiar feelings of resentment began to rise, she whispered, "He is a person for whom Christ died." That morsel of theological insight was the antidote to her resentment. If Jesus loves others enough to die for them, perhaps our refusal to forgive them is spiritually inappropriate.

A final thought: God's willingness to forgive us is somehow linked to our willingness to forgive others. So said Jesus, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive..." That alone is all I need to know to "forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven." As Wilford Brimley says, "It's the right thing to do." (Michael B. Brown)

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