Sermon Options: July 21, 2024

May 1st, 2021

Steps to Greatness

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

The best-selling book genre today is how-to books. These books are written to describe how you can successfully accomplish something: how to organize your life, become a millionaire in twelve months, start a successful home business, and on and on. Second Samuel 7 reveals how to become spiritually great in three simple steps.

This passage has been called the theological crux, the most important writing in the Samuel materials, and the summit of Deuteronomistic history. It confronts mistaken churchmanship with Yahweh’s magnificent Lordship. Through reflection, King David decided to construct a house for the ark of God that would be more appropriate than a tent. Nathan, the palace prophet, initially agreed that David had a good idea. Suddenly, however, the text calls David to a greater purpose. Three spiritual principles define God’s greater purpose and how you can find that purpose in your own life.

I. Accept the Call to a Greater Vision

The king desired to do something that was impossible. Yahweh’s question in verse 5 implies that David could not possibly build a house to contain God. The word “you” takes the emphasis away from the person and places it on the action. The king also desired something that Yahweh never desired, never requested. Yahweh made his position clear in verse 7; he had always walked with his people and had never asked for a dwelling place.

The destruction of the temple in later years may have occurred because it had not been required by God in the first place. Notice, however, that the house of David survived! This greater vision calls the people of God to walk with him dynamically; with holy lives in daily practice.

II. Accept the Call to a Greater Mission

Verses 8-10 describe David’s greatness in terms of what Yahweh had accomplished through him. Construction of the temple would have been a symbol of David’s ability and power: temporary, decaying, limited. God’s mission transcended human comprehension and ability.

Three statements in verses 9-10 detail Yahweh’s greater mission. Israel would experience the establishment of God’s abiding and guiding presence. David’s name would also be made great by the establishment of the Davidic dynasty through a long line of descendants. Those two elements would result in Israel’s being granted peace from her enemies.

A mission that transcends the physical and visible in programs, buildings, and budgets positions the church for a greater purpose. Called to become partners in God’s mission, the church has a global purpose with unfathomable possibilities.

III. Accept the Call to a Greater Blessing

What David knew God deserved, God would provide for himself: “Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house” (v. 11). The house of God was to be a place where the people of God would gather to celebrate the glory of God. In the meantime, David was privileged to experience the Lord in a personal, daily relationship.

Today’s church gathers, regularly but periodically, to corporately celebrate God’s presence. The greater blessing of the church throughout the age, however, is the indwelling presence of God. That presence is permanent, not periodic; dynamic, not symbolic. The greater blessing provides you and me with the privilege of God’s personalized presence.

As a result of the greater purposes of God, the people would come to celebrate in later years Yahweh’s leadership (v. 12) because of a greater vision; his adequacy (v. 13) because of a greater mission; and his mercy (v. 14) because of a greater blessing. Adopt these steps to greatness and move beyond a less than fulfilling spiritual experience. (Barry J. Beames)

Nothing but Gift

Ephesians 2:11-22

We live in something of an antiauthority age. Authority figures tend to be belittled, and even the very idea of authority finds little acceptance among many people in our day. Tell folks what they “should” do or “ought” to do, and you are likely to receive a questioning look, followed by a cynical, “Why?” While an earlier age could find some moral bearings in such exhortations, the loss of authority has cost many in our day their sense of moral identity. How do we know how to live?

We will not find easy material for oughts and shoulds in this corner of Ephesians. In fact, there is not an exhortation for miles around! Trying to get moral imperatives from these verses is like a dog trying to bite a basketball. Nevertheless, Paul wants us to understand that it is possible to find a moral compass. We can know how to live!

I. We Can Recognize What We Are

Paul wants us to understand that there is no need for “oughts” and “shoulds” when we truly recognize what we are and live true to our identity. Instead of telling us what we ought to be, this text announces what, by the grace of God, we are! In fact, the first three chapters of Ephesians are filled with such announcements of our identity: we are redeemed, we are adopted, we are forgiven; we are given revelation, inheritance, the Holy Spirit, aliveness, grace, kindness, peace, salvation, God’s indwelling.

II. We Can Remember What We Are

No exhortation for miles around? I was wrong. There is one, if you can call it an exhortation. It is this: Remember (v. 11). Remember who you are—and who you used to be (v. 12). The way the word remember comes together in Greek tells us something about how remembering works for the Christian. An-amnesis literally means “against-amnesia.” In other words, “avoid forgetting.”

In a culture that tends to borrow resources more from the future than from the past, we often place little value on the avoidance of forgetting, on remembering who we are and who we used to be. A poster on the wall at a local recreation center says it all. A young boy decked out with sunglasses leans against a beautiful European sports car, his arms folded in self-assurance. The caption reads: “I’ve worked hard all my life for this.”

Arms loaded down with every spiritual blessing, we are asked only one thing, seemingly a modest request: to remember from whom all of these blessings flow.

III. We Can Realize Whose We Are

God’s action in Christ of reconciliation, of peacemaking, of building and growing, leads to a culmination: that your life is “a dwelling place for God” (v. 22). A mystical image, perhaps hard to picture concretely, the idea hints at the very best part of the whole range of gifts enumerated here: God’s life with us.

So if we haven’t read it between the lines so far, the author makes it all clear now: the bestower of all these wonderful gifts has one further purpose in mind—to live with us forever! In such a way, the Giver becomes the ultimate, consummate Gift.

Ever hear anyone say, “I’m trying to get in touch with my true feelings”? God has taken us one step beyond. He has made it possible for us to get in touch with who we really are. And as we see ourselves for who we are, we will see God for who he is—and for all he has done for us! (Paul R. Escamilla)

Renewal, Believing, and Wholeness

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Have you noticed how people want instantaneous miracles these days? Ours is an instant-gratification culture. We want not just miracles, but instantaneous miracles. We want illnesses cured, and we pray for them to be cured now. We want financial difficulties relieved, and we buy lottery tickets in hope that all our difficulties will be relieved instantly. We want to lose weight, so we go on another miracle diet that promises us quick and permanent weight loss. We want what we want, and we want it now! Moreover, we want what we want to be bestowed on us with little or no effort on our own part.

These reflections on our instant-gratification society may seem a long way from the text about Jesus retreat to a lonely place and his response to people who came to him for healing. But the distance is much less than it seems. The text is divided into two sections. Together they tell us two important things about wholeness.

First, we see that Jesus understood the need for regular replenishment and renewal. When the disciples tell Jesus about their travels and teachings, they report that they were surrounded by crowds of people who wanted to be near them and to hear their words. Jesus knew the wear and tear of constantly being available to people. As important as such ministry is, even Jesus could not keep it up without time for renewal and replenishment. So he said to the disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Throughout my ministry, I have struggled with my need to take time off. It is easy for us to reason that the ministry of the church, or the work at the office, or the volunteer program, or the community project will not get done if we take time off. Have we ever stopped to think that such a view of our indispensability is idolatrous—that we are so important that everything depends on us? And when we try to fulfill the impossible expectations we end up frustrated, or angry, or depressed, or disillusioned. Only then do we realize that we simply cannot meet all the expectations and care for all the needs.

If Jesus knew that he needed time for renewal, prayer, meditation, and refreshment, who are we to think we can continue to minister in his name without replenishment? We are, remember, the culture that has coined the term “workaholic.” How desperately we need to recover the practice of retreat, replenishment, spiritual nurture, and care of our souls. That’s the first thing this text tells us about wholeness: that we need to replenish the springs of our souls.

And the second thing is this: wholeness is not so much “dropped” on us out of the blue as it is a gift of God to those who believe that God can give it. The text tells us that once people recognized Jesus, they brought their sick to him to be made well. They believed that they would be made whole if they could simply touch the fringe of his cloak. And, “all who touched it were healed.”

Think of “healing” in as broad a sense as possible—as physical healing to be sure, but also as a restoration to wholeness. Think of it in terms of healing body, mind, and spirit, which represents wholeness. Think of it as healing the past, which frees persons from captivity to guilt and sin. Think of it as healing the psyche, which releases one from anxiety and restores one to a life of trust and confidence. Then ponder the faith of those who anticipated and expected healing if they could simply touch the fringe of Jesus cloak.

In the New Testament there is close correlation among the words healing, wholeness,and salvation. To be healed—physically, mentally, spiritually—is tantamount to being made whole; it is tantamount to being saved. And Christ is the giver of such healing, wholeness, and salvation to those who believe. But believing is not some kind of magical method of getting what we want from God. Rather, it is faith that Christ is the key that can open the door to allow the healing of mind, body, and spirit to come into our lives.

With such a strong connection among healing, wholeness, and salvation in the New Testament, we do well to remember that healing may not always be what we hope for. We may hope for physical healing, but the healing that comes may be strength of spirit and confidence of will to sustain us and see us through the difficulty of a physical illness.

In my first pastorate thirty-four years ago, there was a woman who suffered from severe physical injuries. She had been in a automobile accident years before, in which her husband had been killed and she had been critically injured. Many of her broken bones never knit back together again. She had to be lifted in and out of bed each day. In her last hospitalization, shortly before her death, I was praying with her, and I prayed that we would always know that God is present with us, whatever the circumstances. As I said “Amen,” she said, “He is! He is!” Physically she was never restored. But in every other way she was as whole a person as I ever knew.

I believe that Jesus knew something important about the ministry of wholeness, healing, and salvation. He knew that the caregiver must from time to time be replenished. And he knew that wholeness comes to those who, in faith, both expect it and leave its shape to God. If Jesus knew both these things about renewal, believing and wholeness, shouldn’t we take a cue from him? (J. Lawrence McCleskey)

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