Sermon Options: October 4, 2020

August 1st, 2020

Stop and Listen

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

It is to laugh. My father is being dragged—kicking and screaming—into the information age. The kicking and screaming part is over learning how to use his new computer. He was quite happy working an old, out-of-date computer, but now he's coming to grips with a faster and better machine. He watches in awe as my brother and I work more or less nimbly in Windows and resolve conflicts without breaking into a sweat. But Dad is slow to catch on to anything newfangled. Soon, I am to instruct him in the art of using his new toy, and I can well imagine the conversation. "You, son, can show me how to use it. But all these bells and whistles terrify me, and I am not ready to make the jump into future relationship with this machine." As we hear these stories of a people's initiation to relationship with God, do you get the feeling that they (and we) are undergoing a certain amount of intense preparation? We should. God is checking out Israel from stem to stern, restructuring and fine-tuning their lives to see if this people really can fit into the designs and rhythm of life the Lord has in mind.

The people needed conditioning, toughening up. Let them suffer enough so they won't turn away from the Lord once problems were resolved. They needed to learn thankfulness and order. They needed a framework for living in the land flowing with milk and honey, all outlined for them in these Ten Commandments. There is a trouble spot, though. After the tablets are engraved with the ten words, after all the thunder and lightning, after the blaring of the trumpet, the people are frightened out of their wits. "You speak to us, Moses, and we'll listen. But don't let God speak to us, or we shall surely die!" The people run the risk of not hearing.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz observes, "The mighty voice on Sinai did not stop." He mentions that later writings repeat this same idea, that the voice of God did not stop. In fact, it is still giving the Law forever and ever. "The thing that has changed," laments Steinsaltz, "is that we are no longer listening." Were the Israelites afraid the power of heaven might come crashing down on them? Had the writer of Hebrews been around, they might have seen that God's discipline was for their own good and ours, so they and we may share in the Lord's holiness. We are reminded: "Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:11) .

Therefore, we are to endure for the sake of discipline, as the Israelites had to learn to do. Athletes undergo rigorous training to discipline themselves to play the game well. Olympic athletes don't reach such levels of achievement just because of luck. Hours of practice go into every movement. There are painful muscles, bruised joints, and instruction from the coach to do better. But the athletes persevere, enduring the hardship and discipline of the coach. God chooses us to participate in an extraordinary life relationship with the holy. Let us do so with intensity and fearlessness of spirit. Above all, let us listen and not be afraid, for the Lord is only preparing us for the kingdom of God. (Eric Killinger)

When Loss is Gain

Philippians 3:4b-14

It is difficult to communicate to persons with twenty-first century understanding that establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing that can happen to them in their lives. The empirical mindset of many modern people looks for facts that can be measured, seen, and touched. Cynics or skeptics, when considering such a proposition, may ask, "How can you have a relationship with Someone who is dead and gone?" (Or if they have enough faith to believe in the Resurrection, if not dead, at least gone.) Others may query, "Wealth is power and influence in today's world, so how can the mystical idea of a Savior be more important than the security of money, possessions, and power?"

Contrast this with what the apostle Paul said: "Look at what I have, yet it is nothing compared to knowing Jesus Christ" (v. 7, paraphrase). Consider these two ideas reflected in Paul's writings:

I. We Are Saved Only by Grace

We can say that with our lips and write that in our doctrine, but are we living as if we believe it? Read again what Paul says in today's text: "I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith" (vv. 8-9, emphasis added).

We are not saved by the church we attend, the money we tithe, or the persons we have invited to worship. We are saved only by grace through faith in Christ! God's grace is not "cheap grace," as Dietrich Bonhoeffer so well describes in his book The Cost of Discipleship. Our response to God's grace is a life of Christian service. Good works, however noble, are still only a response to what God has done.

When on some final day we are called before our Maker, it will not be our good works that save us. What ultimately will save us will be God's mercy. It is all grace!

II. Jesus Christ Is the Ultimate Truth

Knowing the God revealed through Christ brings meaning, purpose, and fulfillment to our lives. When we know whose we are, we have a new perspective on who we are and how special and sacred is life (vv. 10-14). A man was preparing to shave one morning when he noticed blood streaming down his cheek. He looked at the razor in his hand that had not yet touched his face, looked back in the mirror at his bleeding face, and was stunned. He made an appointment that same day with a dermatologist. The dermatologist removed a lesion from his face and said, rather matter-of-factly, "It's probably cancer," and walked out of the room.

The man's whole life flashed before his eyes. Consider how you might respond to such news! He was fortunate. There was no spreading malignancy, and he was cured by that one surgical procedure. What do we do when we are faced with the reality of death or dread disease? Hope that our resources will buy a cure? Search for a solution through dubious alternative medicine? The first thing that many people do is pray to God because we turn to the one relationship that ultimately matters. Many foxhole conversions and deathbed affirmations of faith have been made because of this truth. It is within the soul to seek out the One who is greater than ourselves, the God who makes sense of the chaos and brings purpose to our existence.

When is loss gain? When we surrender our control and our search for security in tangible things, and we discover that trusting in God and God's design is ultimately more satisfying. (Gary G. Kindley)

Being Fruitful

Matthew 21:33-46

On a recent trip to Washington D.C., I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It was brought to my attention that hairline cracks have developed in the marbled stone wall that bears the names of the soldiers who died in the war. It seems the stone slabs were cut too thin, and they were damaged by the dramatic temperature changes of the winter of 1994. Some experts predict the monument will have to be completely replaced. In a way, though, a broken memorial is a fitting monument to Vietnam. The cracks are hauntingly reminiscent of the shattered lives that the war left behind.

In this text, Jesus quotes to the chief priests and elders from Psalm 118, describing how a stone that builders rejected becomes the Lord's cornerstone. Jesus uses this verse to signify his own tragic rejection and to foretell the coming of God's kingdom. Jesus warns that the kingdom of God will be taken away and given to a people who produce fruit. Jesus makes it clear that the people of God are to have fruit. But what is fruit, and how does one produce it?

I. What Is Fruit?

The Gospel writer Matthew uses fruit as a symbol for the works of the people of God. Jesus preaches that one should produce fruit in keeping with repentance (3:8); the tree that bears bad fruit should be cut down (3:10); every good tree bears good fruit and every bad tree produces bad fruit (7:17); and the tree is known by its fruit (12:33).

II. How Do We Produce Fruit?

Ultimately, God is the source of fruit in a Christian's life, but we can do some things to increase the harvest. Fruit is really the by-product of a healthy plant. Likewise, fruit for the Christian is a by-product of right living through God's grace. God will produce fruit in our lives if we honor him in the garden of the soul. We can do this by remembering to:

Seed the garden. Before a plant can grow and produce fruit, a seed must be planted. This planting of seed refers not only to the initial beginning of one's journey with Christ. God wants to plant orchards in new fields of our lives. In each of us, there are new gifts waiting to be discovered. Are there times in your life when you have consciously made an effort to cultivate a new talent for the purpose of giving it to others? What new area of your life have you committed to God in the last six months? What have you done for God lately? Weed the garden. Every gardener spends time weeding the garden. The weeds of bad habits can sprout and quickly creep up the wall of our lives. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin tells of his efforts to eliminate the bad habits that plagued him. Franklin concentrated on twelve bad habits in his life and charted his progress, focusing on a different habit each week in a twelve-week cycle. He returned to this cycle at different times in his life, attempting to keep his garden weed free.

Feed the garden. We all need to spend time with God if we are to produce fruit. We are fed through activities such as corporate worship, Bible study, and quiet time with God in reflection and meditation. If we work at keeping our garden in order, the tremendous resources God has given us can produce abundantly more than we ever dreamed. (Scott Salsman)

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