Sermon Options: January 23, 2022

September 2nd, 2021


NEHEMIAH 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

The bungled break-in at the Watergate Hotel in the summer of 1972 ultimately brought down the Presidency of Richard Nixon and changed forever the lives of many who were part of that administration. In fact, a whole new vocabulary was introduced into our political dictionary. Any potential scandal is now quickly identified by the suffix "gate"—such as Iran-gate or Whitewater-gate.

Did you know that another important event is associated with the Water Gate? This story is found in the Old Testament, in the book of Nehemiah. A remnant had returned from exile. The wall around the city of Jerusalem had been restored. Now moral and spiritual rebuilding had to take place. The remnant must come to see themselves as people of God.

Ezra, the scribe, is the key figure. The Instruction (Torah) from Moses is the key document. The people of God are active participants. The Spirit of God is the empowering agent. What are the lessons learned from this experience?

I. We Must Hear the Word (vv. 1-3)
Abraham believed the word that came from God and thus began one of the greatest pilgrimages of faith. The psalmist asked, "How can young people keep their paths pure?" and answers "By guarding them according to what you have saud. . . . I keep your word close, in my heart, so I won't sin against you" Ps. 119:9, 11 CEB).

Paul reminds us that "faith comes from listening, but it's listening by means of Christ's message" Rom. 10:17 CEB).

Before the Word of God can be believed, remembered, or appropriated, it must be heard. Karl Barth referred to the Word of God in its threefold form: written, living, and preached. The importance of the preached Word in the context of worship should not be underestimated. Just as the men and women of Israel were willing to stand for hours listening to the Word of God, so we, too, must be willing to invest the time, effort, and energy necessary to hear God's Word. Jesus said, "Let him who has ears to hear, hear."

II. We Must Respond to the Word (vv. 5-6)
Kierkegaard once observed that in worship God is the audience, we are the participants. As Ezra read the Law, the people of God responded with praise and assent. Our hearts are made alive by faith and through the working of the Holy Spirit. We are liberated from sin and self that we might live to the praise and glory of God. Jesus said that the true worshipers of God do so "in spirit and in truth." The objective side of faith is the truth of God revealed in Christ. The subjective side of faith is in our personal appropriation of that truth through the response of commitment.

III. We Must Grow to More Fully Understand God's Word (vv. 8-10)
St. Augustine said, "I believe that I may understand." Often we encounter would-be believers who say, "if I could only be sure that I could live the Christian life, I would believe." Just as a person cannot learn to swim apart from getting into the pool, so we cannot live the Christian life at a purely theoretical level. Faith precedes understanding. Once we commit to God, we then will spend the rest of our lives coming to more fully understand the nature and will of God.

We are to make disciples, baptize them, and then teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. We must hear and respond to the Word of God in order that we might grow to more fully understand that word. (L. Joseph Rosas, III)


1 CORINTHIANS 12:12-31a

A discovery has been made that when the roots of trees touch, there is a substance present that reduces competition. This unknown fungus helps link roots of various trees, including dissimilar species. A whole forest may be incorporated together in this manner. If one tree has access to nutrients, another to water, and a third to sunlight, the trees have the means to cooperate with one another to live.

Multiple analyses are made to show a need for cooperation and support for one another. The tree illustration is one way to analyze the situation, while Paul in his letter to the Corinthians uses the body as a symbol of cooperation.

I. Cooperation with the Head: Christ (vv. 12-13)
Paul pictures Jesus in the Corinthian text as the head of the church. Christ is the unifying power that keeps the body together. In this role he helps, thinks, guides, and directs the body.

A university professor performed an experiment in his classes that awed him every time he did it. On an oak table he placed a pile of horseshoe nails and in one corner of the same room was a powerful dynamo. When the electric current was flipped on and the poles of the battery were brought up under the table, immediately there was constituted about the table a field of magnetic force. As long as the field of force was maintained the loose horseshoe nails could be built up into various forms, like a cube, a square, or an arch. As long as the current was on, the nails would stay in exactly the form placed as if they had been soldered together. But the moment the current was cut off the nails would fall into a shapeless mass.

Christ's unifying power is to Christians as the field of magnetic force was to the nails. If we do not allow him to be the head of life or the church, there will be a great collapse of morals, ethics, and spirit.

II. Cooperation with the Body: Church (vv. 14-27)
As Christ is the example of cooperation with God for the individual, he is also an example for the rest of the body. On a blank leaf of a grandmother's Bible was drawn a circle with several radii converging to the center, which was named Christ. On the radii were written the names of different denominations of Christians. Underneath the circle she had written, "The nearer the center, the nearer to one another." In 1998 we need to be nearer the center!

III. Cooperation with a Purpose: Service (vv. 28-31a)
Paul teaches that each Christian has a distinct contribution to give for the benefit of the whole. It comes by way of service to others. Martin Luther said that a Christian person is the most free of any other, Lord of all, and subject to none; but that person is also the most dutiful servant to all and subject to everybody. Serving others is certainly the Christian's responsibility as Christ demonstrated. Let it be as Robin McGregor has written: "Put a world in my heart, Lord Jesus. Give me lips to tell the Good News." (Derl G. Keefer)


LUKE 4:14-21

I saw a card on a restaurant table recently that stated the company's mission. Accrediting agencies determine if a college fulfills its stated mission. A national bestseller declares individual effectiveness will only come to those who struggle to draft a personal mission statement.

In the hometown synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus used a section of Isaiah's prophecy for his mission statement. Since the church is the Body of Christ, are we true to his mission? Here is a standard by which we can assess the effectiveness of our life and work as the people of God.

I. The Church Works by the Spirit
Luke emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in the mission of Jesus (1:35; 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18). The book of Acts focuses on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. Fulfilling the commission of the church depends on the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:7) .

Power can be unleashed or harnessed. The energy in ten gallons of gasoline can be released explosively with a lighted match. Or it can be channeled through a car engine and used to transport a person 350 miles.

The Holy Spirit works both ways. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit exploded on the scene. Thousands were affected by one burst of God's power. But the Spirit also works through the church. Through worship, fellowship, and service Christians tap into lasting power.

II. The Church Proclaims the Good News
Jesus chose a text with three references to proclamation. The Holy Spirit anoints the church to "preach good news." When the early church faced opposition, they prayed for the Lord to "enable your servants to speak your word with complete confidence" Acts 4:29 CEB). Boldly proclaim because of what the good news can bring to the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. The Lord promises freedom, sight, and release.

I presented my bill to the restaurant cashier. She looked at my check and asked who I was. "Oh, you're a preacher." Without other customers in line we had the opportunity to talk and I inquired about her church. "Yes, I go to church, I'm afraid not to." A church where people discover good news and a changed life is a church you want to be part of. Expectant joy prompts involvement.

III. The Church Ministers to All People
The categories of need described in this mission statement describe more than spiritual realities. Physical, social, and emotional ills exist that the church must not ignore. Much to the dislike of the hometown crowd, Jesus also included the Gentiles as recipients of God's favor. The church's mission extends to every person and every need.

Ralph Neighbour tells about a Houston church that exemplified evangelism that cares. This church reached out to a former corporation president dying of cancer. When asked if he was prepared to die the man said, "If your God is so great why doesn't he do something about the real problems of life?" He went on to tell about leaving his wife penniless and his daughter without money for college. In a rage he ordered the pastor and deacon to leave his room. The two witnesses returned later and apologized. Then they reported their efforts to sell the man's house and the opportunity to invest the proceeds for his daughter's education. They found his family a residence where they could live without rent. His wife had a job offer. The patient cried like a baby. He died shortly thereafter, so wrapped in pain he never accepted Christ. His widow, touched by caring Christians, responded to the gospel message.

Let's be the kind of church that reaches out to every person, every family, and makes a difference in Christ's name. (Bill D. Whittaker)

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