Sermon Options: September 30, 2018

July 30th, 2018

THE HUMBLE HEROINE

ESTHER 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

This text is surrounded by a truly captivating story: God’s people are living in exile, yet God is present with them, directing the affairs that affect them and protecting them. As believers, we may not find ourselves in the greatest circumstances; we may even be threatened by our adversary. However, we can trust in our God of deliverance to be faithful and make a way out for us.

Haman had created a scheme to destroy the Jews. Our text demonstrates his humiliation and ultimately his fate for transgressing against God’s people.

I. God’s Placement (7:1-6)

The rise of Queen Esther to the throne is a drama of its own. Here, however, we consider that God placed her in a position to work for the good of those he loves. Haman’s plot to annihilate the Jews could have been successful, but God had placed Esther (the heroine of the story) in a place to frustrate Haman’s plan. Esther wisely and humbly requests of her king her life and the lives of her people.

Our society seems to think that shouting will gain the hearing needed to bring justice. This story indicates that prayer and fasting (4:1-3) working through God’s placement of the circumstances accomplished more than any sort of demonstration. Faith and prayer to a sovereign God moved through the circumstances to avert an evil plan.

II. God’s Judgment (7:9-10)

Haman’s evil plan becomes his own undoing. He was blinded by his own agenda and arrogance (cf. 6:6), and the consequences were as severe as his intentions toward the Jews. Haman is hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai. His brand of evil is not ancient history. The evil of a self-absorbed spirit is present in today’s world.

In chapter 6 Haman is humbled, but in chapter 7 he is accountable for his decisions. Today’s world does not want to hear of a God of justice. Yet without a sense of conviction there can be no relief of condemnation through redemption. This text demonstrates there are consequences for taking a stand against God’s people.

III. Sorrow Turned to Joy (9:20-22)

These verses comprise one of the primary purposes of the book of Esther: to explain the institution of the annual festival of Purim. The Jews were on the verge of being annihilated, but God rescued his people and relieved them from their enemies. This was cause for generous celebration with feasting and gift-giving.

Christians greatest enemy has truly been defeated, and we should pause to consider that the appropriate response to God is one of worshipful celebration and generous living. God is faithful to deliver his children! (Joseph Byrd)

PRAYER: OUR LIFELINE TO GOD

JAMES 5:13-20

Prayer is a mystery. To the Christian, prayer is a truth revealed but not fully apprehended. Like the words trinity and sacrament, prayer helps us talk about how we experience God. John Wesley boldly proclaimed, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” But what is prayer?

Prayer is our talking to God and God talking to us. Prayer is communication and communion with God. Prayer assumes there is a God. The Christian knows that God not only is there, but he is good and his will is ever directed toward his children’s good. When we pray, we recognize the sovereignty of God.

Prayer, like life itself, is a gift from God. It is only possible because he reveals himself to us that we may converse with him.

I. Prayer Is Our Response to Life

Prayer comes in as many forms as there are circumstances. It ranges from the “Oh, my God” type of prayer when believers are in crisis situations, to the lovely “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer of a child preparing for bed. James urges us to bathe all of life in prayer. He focuses on four general areas common to us all: trouble, happiness, illness, and sin.

II. Prayer Is Our Response to God

When James says to pray “in the name of the Lord,” he is pressing us to remember that we are not living in a powerless, lonely state. We are living in Christ’s ruling presence. We pray in response to our Savior’s presence and involvement in life with us, praying not from a position of “rights” but from a position of reception of his grace. We know a God of superlatives; omniscient, omnipotent, and also omnipresent.

III. In Prayer We Hear God’s Response

James declares: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (NIV). God responds to those who know him, who humble themselves to be his servants. Such a servant was Elijah. James summarizes the Old Testament story about Elijah and the rain. But just in case we misunderstand, James assures us that Elijah was a human being, just as we are. It was Elijah’s righteousness that made him able to communicate with God.

The fifth century Talmud records a story about righteous Elijah and the power of prayer. The story says that Elijah would frequently visit a certain rabbi. One day the rabbi waited but Elijah did not come. The next day, when Elijah did arrive, the rabbi asked him, “Why didn’t you come?”

Elijah replied, “I had to wake up Abraham, wash his hands, wait while he prayed, then make him lie down again. Likewise I had to wake up Isaac and Jacob, wash their hands, wait until they prayed, and make them lie down again, each in his turn.”

“But why didn’t you awaken them all at the same time?”

“Oh, no,” Elijah replied. “I know that if they prayed together, their prayers would be so powerful that they would bring the Messiah before his time.”

The Talmud’s story and our text in James both press us to know that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. James then projects: if all of life is to be held before God in prayer, is it not logical that if someone does wander from the truth, he can be brought back? Even a multitude of sins will be covered. The sinner will escape eternal death, thus receiving the greatest benefit of healing from the prayer of faith. (Carolyn Volentine)

WHO IS ON OUR SIDE?

MARK 9:38-50

A man ran a newspaper ad for a system “guaranteed to cut any and all of your bills in half.” The system cost only $29.95. Upon investigation, authorities discovered that for the $29.95 plus postage and handling, the man would send people a three-dollar pair of scissors. He was subsequently arrested for mail fraud.

All around we see a world out of control. It’s a world where no one says no; where success, money, and self-gratification mean everything; where betrayal is easy and family and commitment finish last; where integrity is just a word. When will it end? We want to shout, “That’s enough. Everybody back to square one. Let’s start all over again.”

I. Christ Set the Example We Need

The Son of God came as one of us, tempted in every way like us, but he did not give in. He gives us the chance to start over, to be transformed through forgiveness. He gives us the chance for reconciliation through grace. He also came to show us what faith, discipleship, love, and obedience are all about. He showed us what courage and integrity are by taking up his cross and bearing our sins. He calls us to follow him and to live by kingdom standards.

II. Christ Gave the Direction We Need

Who is on our side? That’s the question the disciples bring to Jesus. During the history of the church there have been times when that has been a very important question. Are they for us or against us? Today there are so many groups who claim to be followers, how do you tell them apart? How do you tell who are the real players and who are only playing at this thing called faith? Is it the creed they espouse? Is it the amount of Scripture they can quote?

Jesus says the secret is to have salt in ourselves. We’re called to live our faith in such a way that there is no doubt who we follow. Jesus speaks of not putting stumbling blocks in the way of others. He speaks of living a life that is not offensive to others or to the values of God’s kingdom—a life that doesn’t lead another astray.

III. Christ Provided the Vision We Need

Turning the other cheek; loving our enemy; forgiving those who sin against us; showing no partiality; being honest; living with integrity and faithfulness; bearing our cross—these are not options for the followers of Christ. Nor are they unattainable ideals. They are the order of the day—the minimum daily requirement, the standard by which we live and breathe and relate to people both inside and outside the faith.

The story is told that one day General Robert E. Lee was speaking in the highest terms of another officer, when one of the men interrupted him: “General, do you know that man is one of your biggest enemies, and misses no opportunity to ridicule you?”

“Yes,” Lee replied. “But I was asked to give my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”

The Son of God calls us to act with the same integrity, no matter what is going on in the world. How we act reflects upon Christ. Christ is on our side helping us to live our faith. Bishop Woodie White said, “No matter how bad the bad news gets—the final word is always the good news of Jesus Christ.” We are called to remember that and seek to glorify God with our lives. (Billy D. Strayhorn)

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