Sermon Options: January 17, 2021

December 4th, 2020

Seeing the Vision

1 Samuel 3:1-10

As we move further into the 21st century, think back to the persons who made the most different in the way we live. Chances are, the list won’t include many politicians or political leaders. It would, however, include names like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Wilbur and Orville Wright, Jonas Salk. These were the visionaries—men and women who looked beyond their present to see what might be possible in the future.

In every area of life, visionaries help us look beyond where we are to where we might be. Average people see limits; visionaries see possibilities.

That is also true in the life of faith. God gives some people unique insights. An example of such visionaries in the Old Testament would be the prophets—those who received a word from the Lord and proclaimed it to the people. In the New Testament, Paul was a visionary, he envisioned a church that included both Jews and Gentiles. In our own generation, Mother Teresa has been a visionary, raising the awareness of all Christians to the plight of the poorest among us.

God’s visions come to people of authentic faith. Are you seeking to know God’s purpose and direction for your life, your family, your career? Do you need a vision from the Lord? Our text offers insight into the kind of faith that visionaries have.

I. God Gives Visions to Those with Obedient Hearts

One of the most poignant verses in all of Scripture is found in verse 1: “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Visions were rare because sin had corrupted the house of Eli, the chief priest. His sons were evil in their actions, but rather than control or even punish them, Eli stood by and allowed them to corrupt Israel with their sin. The result was that God did not give his visions to Eli—sin was the obstacle.

By contrast, young Samuel was dedicated to God’s service. Influenced by his godly mother, Hannah, Samuel was devoted to doing God’s will. And because he had a heart for the Lord, Samuel was able to receive the visions that Eli could not receive.

As you seek to know God’s vision for your own life, there is a critical lesson here: God will not give his visions where sin abounds. God’s visions are given to men and women whose hearts are obedient toward the Lord.

II. God Gives Visions to Those with Open Hearts

Recall the story in our text. Once Samuel knew God was calling, he was open to the message. God gives his visions to those who are willing to receive them.

A salesman called on a farmer one day and began making a presentation about a new book on farming. The salesman assured the farmer that the book contained a wealth of new techniques that would make him a better farmer.

“I don’t need any new book,” answered the farmer. “I already know more about farming than I’m willing to do now.”

Sometimes we say we want to know God’s will for our lives when the fact is we are not willing to follow through on what we already know. Our hearts are not truly open to God’s leadership.

It is as if God has given us part of a map and directed us to follow the designated path. “Where is the rest of the map?” we ask, and God responds, “I’ll give you that part when you get to the end of this part.”

Are you open to God’s leadership in your life? Are you willing to follow his vision—even before you know the whole story? If so, then God can use you as a visionary, to achieve new vistas of faith in his name. (Michael Duduit)

Precious Earthen Vessels

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Paul insisted on his freedom, through love’s higher calling, from the law. But then he had the ongoing challenge to constantly clarify that this is freedom to exceed the law’s limitations, not to violate them. Yes, he could do as he pleased. No, it did not please him to do any and all things—only what was to the glory of God.

Especially regarding the body, Paul wanted to be very clear that although humbly “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” ( 2 Cor. 4:7 NKJV), the vessels themselves are not to sneeze at. Indeed, the body is a most precious, if temporary, “temple of the Holy Spirit” (v. 19).

I. The Body Previously

Interestingly enough, the church has not always picked up on either the close link between the earthly and the spiritual or the respect for the proper care and feeding of the body to which Paul admonishes us. But the ancient Hebrews knew. In Genesis, the loss of perfection means first and foremost the loss of perfect unity with the body. Bodily shame—disruption of the natural state of perfect unity with one’s body—was the telltale sign to God that Adam and Eve had sinned.

The church has too often trivialized sin. Instead of the loss of perfection and paradise, sin becomes a few bad things we do—drinking, smoking, gambling—and we can eliminate sin by eliminating these types of behaviors. This view is just too simpleminded for the Hebrews and for Paul. Their guilt was not over a lie here or a theft there. It was a guilt that went to their heart of hearts, to their involvement in the loss of the potential they had seen for perfect realization of God’s whole creation.

It’s an endless battle to try to get rid of sin by cutting it out piece by piece. You cast out one demon and seven others enter the empty space. You stop biting your nails and you start smoking. You stop smoking and you start yelling at your kids, taking tranquilizers, and overeating. You can’t get rid of the bad until you find the good that it’s filling in for.

When we lose touch with the great goodness of our creation we are in pain and in sin. People in this country spend billions of dollars a year on alcohol to help forget this loss. So many of the things we do are the desperate, self-destructive acts of people trying to again feel something and forget a lot.

II. The Body Politic

God’s investment in material creation was costly from the start. And the “dust to dust” process does not mean that what is put into the stomach is not significant (v. 13). Furthermore, acts that defile the body have spiritual consequences (v. 18). Paul solemnly bows before the mysterious but awesome power and ramifications of the connection between body and spirit.

We don’t want to underestimate the insatiable destructive bent of those who have already betrayed their own bodies and spirits. For them, these things are without value. You don’t stop smoking or polluting or plundering unless the alternative is something very good. That’s why the fight of conservationists is endless. You can save the rain forests this year, but they’ll be on the market again next year because lots of people don’t know that their own lives really are more important than making money.

III. The Body Glorious

The kingdom of God, in which all “sins” become obsolete, was postponed because it was seen as coming from outside. Saint Augustine ruefully commented: “Too late I loved you! And behold, you were within me, and I out of myself, and there I searched for you” (Confessions, X, 27).

The kingdom of God is not simply in the future; we are to seek it here and now, even in our earthly bodies. We all are members of that glorious body, in, as well as out, of the flesh. (Kathleen Peterson)

Come and See

John 1:43-51

Fred Craddock has observed that the “biblical word central to the Season of Epiphany is ‘revelation, for this is the time we celebrate the revealing of the Son of God. But the companion word to revelation is ‘witness, for revelation in the biblical sense is never open and obvious to everyone, interested or not, believer or not.”

These words seem especially pertinent to the text for the day: Philip’s witness to Nathanael. Philip is unable to prove what he believed he had found in Jesus, but he is able to say at least: “Come and see.” What Philip sees moves him to help others to see—to want to help them, anyway, whether they do or do not see.

As Epiphany is the “moment” of God’s self-revelation to the world, the season following prompts us to ask: How will we witness? How will we reveal that which has been revealed to us? We are concerned here with the style and substance of our evangelism.

I. Witness Is Not Technique, but Touch

In our denominations these days there is much discussion about church growth. Much of the discussion is framed in such a way to make it sound evangelistic; but I must confess that most often it sounds more like marketing. Direct mailings, telephone blitzes, the packaging of worship in alternative forms—you know the routine. And it may be great stuff, really, for this age in which we live—quick, efficient, impersonal.

My fear, however, is that our media will affect our message. “The media is the message,” some will say, and more’s the pity if our sales pitch so shapes our “product” that the church and its ministries will themselves become too quick (saving souls is a long and laborious process), too efficient (grace seems to me to imply a certain inefficient extravagance), and too impersonal (when God in Christ is anything but).

My suspicion is that when the excitement over this latest trend of techniques fades, we will be left with the time-honored and tested example we have before us today. If we really want to be evangelistic, if we want to be real evangelists, we may need to get off the phone, find a friend or stranger, and say, “Come and see.”

II. Witness Is Faithfulness

This little vignette seems to radiate obscurity. Who is Nathanael that Philip, or Jesus, wants to have him along? After all, he seems somewhat bigoted, ready to condemn Jesus on account of his address and accent. And he isn’t listed in the other Gospels and Acts as one of the Twelve. So what’s the purpose of this story?

Perhaps it is a paradigm—a “go and do thou likewise” kind of story. Perhaps it is an exhortation to those of us who are believers to begin witnessing: not by coercing or arguing, lampooning or belittling. Rather, as Philip was called and then went calling, the text is a summons to us to witness, to invite, to speak the truth of our faith’s experience even to those for whom the invitation may sound strange. If we are faithful as Philip was faithful, God can claim the incredulous, even as Nathanael was claimed.

And perhaps it is a reminder, too, that even we who now believe once did not, that at one time we were no better off than Nathanael. But as he heard and believed, so others have heard and believed through him. So too will our faith be shared with others if we hear and believe.

III. Witness to the Overflow of Transformed Lives

Jesus called Philip, and Philip responded by witnessing to Nathanael. When we hear the authentic word of God, God’s summons to discipleship, we will want to take others with us. If we haven’t heard that first call, all the direct mail in the world won’t help. But if we have heard the word, then we will be not only like Philip, but also like Peter, James, and John, who in Acts 4:20 say, “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” When people ask us, “What’s going on with you people at the church?” we can answer, “Come and see.” (Thomas R. Steagald)

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