Sermon Options: March 31, 2019

January 24th, 2019

SUSPENDED JOY

JOSHUA 5:9-12

Have your ever lost something? The wilderness had taken its toll on the people of God. For forty years Israel has been a transient nation, wandering throughout an endless desert wilderness with no destination. They were there because they broke covenant with Yahweh. And throughout those four decades they suspended covenant living, thus suspending the joy of the covenant God. If they were to regain the joy of covenant privilege there was a standard of living to be maintained. Joshua summons the joyless people to a new departure—a departure to joy.

I. A Return to Joy Begins by Reestablishing a Pattern of Godly Living

Their disgrace seems to be a noncovenant status from not obeying the law of circumcision in the desert. The mass circumcision described atonement for a whole generation's neglect. God's intention was a circumcised heart, a new commitment to not pass disobedience on to another generation.

Gilgal, which means "circle," is a play on words related to the Hebrew gallothi, "to roll away." The designation of flint knives indicates that iron knives were in common use (v. 2). However, only through obedience to Yahweh and dedication to covenant demands could Israel be a conquering nation. Circumcision testifies that their God is native among them, a presence that heals and restores joy. This sanctuary can be your Gilgal, the place where you too roll away the sadness of life and become a conqueror again.

II. To Restore the Joy of God's Promise You Must Also Release the Past

Verses 10-12 are the climactic words of the entire Exodus narrative. Combining the two independent feasts, the full moon festival and the Passover, Israel must transition from wilderness manna to Canaan's fruit.

On that day the manna ceased. The point was not that they had denied themselves yeast, but joy. Now they could eat a normal diet with the prospect of much more to come.

What has tied you to the past, to disappointment? Virginia Dailey wrote in Healing for Life's Hurts: "We look back with dismay upon our wrong decisions, poor choices. . . . We dwell endlessly on our past mistakes until we make ourselves miserable and physically or emotionally ill. . . . We can't drop those hateful errors. . . . We keep dragging them out. . . . Continual rehashing of previous mistakes can cause us to lead gloomy lives" (pp. 50-52).

Personal power begins today by releasing your past—the mistakes, the pain, the misfortune to the creative ability of God. The preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1, "For everything there is a season . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."

III. To Restore the Joy of God's Promise You Must Rehearse the Pleasure of God's Presence

"They ate"—they began eating and continued to enjoy the produce of the land. The "produce" was a provision of grain not planted by Israel. Joy was not something they could produce. It is a state that God alone can provide.

"Grandma," he began, "you said when I eat a piece of pie I should say thank you, keep one hand in my lap with the napkin, and eat every bite, right?" "Yes, that's right," she replied. At that he requested, "Well, do you have a piece of pie I could practice on?" Rehearsing obedience to the word of God, Israel learned the success of God's ability.

Rehearsing a cleansed life, a circumcised life, Israel experienced the joy of God's affirming presence as opposed to God's corrective presence.

You rehearse the pleasure of God's providing presence by disciplined prayer, memorization of Scripture, trust in God's ability during difficult times. It is time for you, as C. S. Lewis phrased it, to be surprised by joy. (Barry J. Beames)

NEW CREATIONS IN CHRIST

2 CORINTHIANS 5:16-21

"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new" (v. 17). That is exactly what I am afraid of. Everything old has passed away. But I like a lot of the old me. In fact, I like most of the old me. Sure, nobody is perfect, but all that was needed was a minor correction here to some language that wasn't always good; moderate a few other minor habits that were rather excessive. Just a touch-up here and there and I would have been fine.

If anyone be in Christ, they are a new creation. And that's where the problem is. It isn't me that needs to be made better, it is all of them. If the men would just treat women better, then there would be no problem. It isn't women who need to be new creatures in Christ, it is the men. It isn't the minorities who need to be more responsible and work harder, it is the whites who need a new attitude. It isn't the Irish Catholics who need to be new creatures in Christ, it is the Protestants.

That is precisely one of the major problems the good news has. There is all this talk about being a new creation in Christ, and we are not sure we want to be a new creation. We have been told by the New Age religion that God is everywhere and we are God, so we feel pretty good about ourselves. Why should we want to be different? The educational philosophy of the last twenty years has been trying to give me self-confidence, self-esteem, and isn't it a surefire sign of lack of self-esteem to believe that I need to be made over, to be made new?

"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new." We don't think we need to be made new, but we do think you need to be worked on. So why do we keep preaching that if it is not what we think we need? Because we will admit that there are terrible conflicts raging around us. There are hostilities that are more than four thousand years old still being fought in the Middle East; there are conflicts between tribes in Africa; there are Chinese people shooting at other Chinese people for a tiny little island. And there is a war in our own family—fathers and mothers fighting over power and intimacy, there are children fighting with each other, and children fighting still with their parents. If we are ever to find any reconciliation and peace, it is going to be as we accept the gift of God to make us all new in the gift of Christ.

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us" (vv. 18-19). We do not come judging you and telling you that you need to become reconciled because you have this and this fault. We are not telling you to become new in Christ because you are a failure or you are a horrible sinner. We are not into the counting of weaknesses and trespasses.

We invite you into Christ so that Christ might be at work in you so that you become part of the new reconciled humanity that is not playing games of "I'm better than you," "Did so, did not," "Yes, but," and "Give me, give me, give me." God is at work in the power of Jesus Christ to bring all creation and all humanity together in a new heaven and a new earth, and it is only as we become one in Christ that we are renewed so that we are fit for this new, reconciled and redeemed community. And in that new creation we do not lose our interests and talents and abilities, our love for Scrabble, and our delight in country music. Our new creation is all our unique talents and abilities now made compatible with the abilities and interests of others so that we are all made better and more talented and more blessed by the gifts of all.

We are invited to become new in Christ, to become one in Christ so that we can participate in a whole new reconciled reality. It is not that the old is lost, but the old is united in reconciliation and redemption with all others and thus made new. (Rick Brand)

THE PIGSTY FREEDOM OF A WAYWARD SON

LUKE 15:1-3, 11b-32

The parable of the prodigal son begins with a declaration of independence. The young son of the good father has decided to make his own way in the world. Evidently he finds himself pinched by the constraining limits of family life. The household traditions have grown to seem oppressive to the young man, whose imagination is filled with the exciting possibilities of the wider world. The familiar atmosphere has grown stale.

Surely life must have more to offer than this. Surely there are places where the rising of the sun brings something new with it and not just more of the same old stuff yesterday was made of. The son wants to experience the thrill of the unknown. He believes this will not be possible as long as he stays under the protective but suffocating roof of his father's house. He must leave. He must go out and live on his own. He must be free.

The young man has so often been depicted as a low-life rowdy. We think of him as being the archetypical "party animal." Consequently most of us don't see ourselves in him. The young man was a self-indulgent pleasure-seeker who was utterly without prudence or forethought. We're not that way, are we? But maybe he's more like us than we want to admit.

Sure, the Bible says that he got involved in "loose living." But must we conclude that he was after nothing more than cheap thrills? Perhaps what was going on was that he was on a quest for self-realization. He wanted to expand his horizons, discover new things about himself and his world, find out who he was apart from his father. Perhaps he did things he had never done before so that he could learn to be himself, and not just be his father's son. Perhaps by doing more he could be more. If he could just cast off the limitations and responsibilities of the past he could live in a magnificent freedom that would put all manner of exciting possibilities at his fingertips.

It took the prodigal son some time to make this realization. But finally, the Bible tells us, "he came to himself." He discovered that life independent of his father was not so grand as he thought it might be. The hard-won knowledge that he attained was that his purpose in life and his true identity were to be found in his father's household, not in rebellion and isolation from his father.

The prodigal son had a bad experience with his freedom. The consequences of his actions were more than he could bear. He was entirely ready to get rid of it. "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say . . . I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants." But while it can be a dangerous and demeaning thing to give up our freedom to other people or to governments or even to churches, it is only as we place our freedom in the hands of God that we can live in true freedom. Only as we are willing to take our place as servants, indeed, as slaves in the household of God can we experience liberation as children of God.

Some people have noted that when the prodigal son went home he never did ask to be received as a servant. He was taken back as a son. True. But every true child of God is also a servant of God. And even in earthly households both children and servants must accept structures, guidance, and obligations from outside themselves. But with God we are most free when we are most obedient. For we are able to find our true selves and our higher purpose only as we take our place under the loving authority of God.

Some years ago, a visitor to a factory in Detroit, Michigan was very upset because he had seen a man chained to his machine. The visitor concluded that some form of secret slave labor was being practiced. But, in fact, the chain was a safety feature. A mechanism had been devised that would pull the man's hands out of the way before the press closed. Light chains were attached to straps around his wrists as a safeguard against absentmindedness. To an unknowledgeable observer it looked like some cruel practice was taking place when in fact it was a blessing.

So it is in our relationship with God. The word of command is a word of blessing and the call to be children and servants of God is a call of the One who loves us more than we love ourselves. Like the good father of the parable, God has given us the capacity to choose to live against the divine Word or to live out of relationship with God. But true freedom is ours only as we are willing to be servants in the household of God who lovingly receives us as sons and daughters. (Craig M. Watts)

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