Sermon Options: June 25, 2023

May 23rd, 2020


GENESIS 21:8-21

Strained relationships, jealousy, favoritism, and stress are a few of the normal struggles every family must manage. I was thirty-four years old when our youngest son was born. I cannot imagine how Abraham and Sarah dealt with the chronic fatigue and sleep deprivation that accompany being a preschooler's parent at the age of one hundred! Add to that the dynamics of a blended family and you have tension with a capital T!

I can understand why the parents would celebrate when he finally disposed of Isaac's last diaper (v. 8). I have also learned to be cautious because with many celebrations another crisis is waiting to crash the party. Like Abraham and Sarah, you and I are often crushed by the brutal reality of our family matters. This episode in their lives models for us three dynamic principles that greatly enhance our own family matters.

I. Impure Motives Damage Meaningful Relationships (vv. 9-11)
Life is in constant motion and that fluidity means change. Once Sarah was not able to have children. Because of a miracle of God, she and Abraham have a son. But now, Sarah is devastated that Isaac and the stepson Ishmael are not only playmates but joint heirs, even though Sarah had encouraged Abraham to make her handmaid, Hagar, the mother of his child.

This is not the first marital conflict of this family matter. Immediately after Ishmael was conceived, Sarah was angry, filled with guilt, and she began to assign the blame to others. For many years theirs had been a rocky relationship. Sarah's jealousy had infected her relationships—first with Abraham, then her servant, and now her son. But that jealousy resulted from a poor decision.

Even though Sarah's gift of Hagar to Abraham was culturally correct, socially acceptable, and religiously redeemable, the consequences were relationally devastating. The decision Sarah made prior to her experience with God was different from her after-God experience. Did Sarah lose hope and abandon her faith in God and take matters into her own hands to manipulate the will of God? Did Abraham's nagging wear down Sarah's faith defense mechanism? Or, as often happens, did Sarah's selfless passion for Abraham fade as her own personal identity emerged to prominence? Regardless, one thing is certain: Sarah's selfish jealousy infected her relationships and caused Abraham to grieve.

II. The Purposes of God Prevail in Spite of the Circumstances of Life (vv. 12-14)
It was an emotionally charged situation characterized as cruel, angry, and broken. God told Abraham to not grieve but to do as Sarah said. Abraham sent his firstborn away. You never know what it is to have a firstborn son until you have a secondborn son.

Again, because of his faithfulness, Abraham discovered that God's plans were bigger than he understood. God would make a nation from each son, both Isaac and from Ishmael. Grasp that principle: God's purposes for our lives will prevail, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves! The most demanding family matters deserve to be understood against the backdrop of God's ultimate purposes for our lives.

III. God's Provision Is Always Adequate to Accomplish the Divine Will in Our Lives (vv. 15-21)
That is difficult to believe but it may be even more difficult to accept.

God gave Hagar and Ishmael everything they needed as strokes in the mural of his redemptive history.

That is encouraging! First, God's provision for you will never be less than adequate and will never be late. Second, God's purpose for you is not merely for survival but a daily experience as the bride of Christ, an heir of the Creator. Family matters do not have to be bitter or blistering. Abraham and Sarah's experience enables you with three winning family principles: jealousy always infects relationships, the purposes of God prevail in spite of our circumstances, and God's provision is always adequate to accomplish his exalted purpose for our lives. (Barry J. Beames)


ROMANS 6:1b-11

Some people live like Jesus never rose from the dead. They are moderately committed to him. They are moderately Christian. They remind me of the statement by Frank Layden, the former coach of the Utah Jazz, who said to a player, "Son, I don't understand it with you. Is it ignorance or apathy?" The player replied, "Coach, I don't know and I don't care."

Some people live like Jesus rose from the dead. They pray and work to be holy unto him (vv. 2-7). They live confidently in the assurance of eternal life through faith in Jesus (vv. 5, 8-10). They are "alive to God" (v. 11) Living like Jesus rose from the dead is confirmed through confession (what we say), countenance (how we look), and conduct (what we do).

I. We Declare Our Faith Through Our Confession
Rising from the dead confirmed Jesus' identity as our Savior and Lord. We are assured of eternal life through faith in him as our Savior (vv. 5, 8-10). We are committed to honor him through our lives and ministries as our Lord (vv. 2-7, 11).

We are baptized into or marked off for him (vv. 3-4). That's why we confess with Paul, "I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith" Rom. 1:16) . Confidently and courageously, we confess his preeminent place in our lives as Savior and Lord. Within our confessional context, we order our lives and ministries in response to three questions. First, do we honor the name of Jesus alone through what we say and do? Second, do our priorities, plans, and programs promote his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? Third, what would Jesus say about our lives and ministries?

II. We Display Our Faith Through Our Countenance
One of the saddest indictments against the church comes from children. When asked what they think of church, they will invariably blurt out, "It's boring!" The visitor to a rather staid congregation comes to mind. He became excited during the sermon and exclaimed, "Praise the Lord!" An usher rushed to him and said, "I'm sorry, sir, but we don't do that here." "But I've got religion," the man explained. "Well," huffed the usher, "you didn't get it here." It's like the fellow who said, "I would have become a preacher if they didn't look like undertakers."

Countenance confirms confession (v. 11). How we look is the enfleshment of what we believe. Or as we've heard, "The only gospel that some folks will ever hear or see is the gospel according to you and me." When we know who he is, we look like we know him. We are "alive to God." Our confession is confirmed rather than concealed by our countenance. It's like the song, "If you're a Christian and you know it, then you really ought to show it."

III. We Demonstrate Our Faith Through Our Conduct
Behavior measures belief (vv. 2-7, 11). Conduct confirms confession and countenance. "Good works do not make a good man," wrote Martin Luther in The Freedom of a Christian (1520), "but a good man does good works." John Calvin concluded people who know Jesus as Savior and Lord show the signs of their salvation: "Briefly, the more earnestly any man measures his life by the standard of God's law, the surer are the signs of repentance that he shows" (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536).

Living like Jesus rose from the dead is as simple as the ending refrain of an old gospel favorite: "You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart."

If he is alive to us, we are alive to Jesus through confession, countenance, and conduct. (Robert R. Kopp)


MATTHEW 10:24-39

Have you ever tried to condense many thoughts and feelings into a very short and memorable form? For example, can you imagine trying to explain a symphonic orchestra on a postcard or putting a lifetime of advice to a child into several short directives? In a sense, that is what Jesus is doing in this text. He is giving instruction to the disciples to prepare them for the hostility and suffering they will encounter on their mission, and he is trying to help them maintain a hold on the vivid life they have experienced together. If we look at his teaching in this manner, it does not seem so much a disjointed group of sayings but more like shorthand instructions around a unifying thread: bread for the journey, especially the kind you drop behind to help you find your way back.

I. On the Journey, We Will Encounter Opposition
He begins with an age-old warning: they will be called names, and as we all know, names do hurt us. Even being misunderstood is painful, to be seen as other than we believe ourselves to be. Jesus has been called the devil himself and so asks what his disciples can expect from their detractors. Implicit in his statement that a disciple is not above the teacher is a call for each of his followers, then and now, to experience the fullness of life as he led it. We should not assume that we will not have to suffer since Jesus took care of everything. Jesus is telling us that our lives will not be easier than his, and he urges us to embrace the life of faith with all of its pain and glory.

II. On the Journey, We Will Encounter God's Love
Jesus then urges the disciples to have no fear of those who abuse them. In fact, he is insistent regarding fear, repeating three times that they need not be afraid. He encourages them to speak boldly the things they have previously discussed privately, without regard for the local authorities, and to remember that they are answerable only to God, who alone has power over both their bodies and their souls.

He takes time to tell them how infinitely precious they are to God, reminding them that the divine "eye is on the sparrow" and they are of much greater value. Then Jesus challenges them to hold fast to their faith, acknowledging him before others.

These words still challenge us today. Our cultural indifference to religious values leads many of us, even clergy, to not mention prayers answered, we don't tell of moments of spiritual insight or share the poignant moment in church, nor do we talk of the struggle in the life of faith; we simply let the moment pass. We don't do it because the surrounding cultural apathy feels like hostility, and yet Jesus warns of spiritual consequences if we deny our allegiance to him. He urges us to break out of fear.

III. On the Journey, We Will Encounter Decisions
Jesus continues his directions by challenging the disciples in their allegiances. He states the strain that their new life in the gospel will place on their strongest loyalties. He pits true discipleship against any bond of affection and familial fidelity that would stand between the disciple and the life of faith.

Finally, Jesus issues the ultimate challenge to those who would follow him: that of picking up our individual crosses and being willing to lose (and, paradoxically, find) our lives in the service of his greater life among us. These words for the disciples are still relevant for disciples today. Jesus is calling us to a more open proclamation of what we value most, to move beyond fear and the tired emptiness that consumes our culture. If we listen and follow, we can find our way back (through these broken bread bits of guidance) into the freshness and fullness of his extravagant life. (Penelope Duckworth)

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