Sermon Options: July 21, 2019

April 8th, 2019

GOD IN CHRIST, AND CHRIST IN US

COLOSSIANS 1:15-28

My teenage son recently became attracted to a girl in his math class. I asked him what about her appealed to him most. He answered: "Her mom does. She's a knock-out!" He explained that as he figured it, given a few years, his classmate will grow into the lovely likeness of her mother. I countered: "But son, what if she grows up to look like her dad?" He had not considered that. Actually, I was pleased to see my son thinking analytically. He deduced that the daughter was more or less the incarnate image of her mom.

In Colossians, Paul figures the same way. "He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (v. 15). "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (v. 19). Paul writes of incarnation. William Barclay put it this way: "All we can know of God is what we see in Jesus Christ." Though Paul's Christology was not quite that exhaustive (taking into account God's self-revelation through the Law and the Prophets), he nonetheless agrees that Jesus is the clearest photo of God available to any of us.

Thus, in our search to know what God is like, we need simply consult what Jesus was like in his earthly ministry. His grace for sinners, his joy in the presence of children, his healing compassion for those who hurt, his love for the lonely, left out or left behind, his impatience toward those pharisaical sorts who were inflexible and intolerant, his tendency to offer fresh starts and second chances—in all these and in countless other ways, we are given a glimpse of the very heart of the Creator. "He is the image of the invisible God."

Additionally, Paul identifies Jesus as the glue that binds all things together. "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (v. 17 RSV). Dr. John Grant was host preacher at a recent community Good Friday worship service. He is an African American pastor, a powerful preacher and senior minister of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. In attendance were African Americans, Asian Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, Democrats, Republicans, Baptists, United Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics.

Dr. Grant mounted the pulpit, looked out at the crowd, and said: "We are diverse. Our skin colors vary, as do our denominations, our politics, our genders, and our ages. Many of us do not always understand each other. But in this place something miraculous happens. In this place, though diverse, we become family because here we can all get together around Jesus." It was a powerful witness to our community—to families, neighborhoods, and churches. "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

In verse 24 Paul refers to "his body, that is, the church." The phrase (from which early theologians derived their theology of "extended incarnation") challenges churches to do what Jesus did. Indeed, the word Christian implies the same challenge, for it literally means "little Christ." If we are Christians, then by definition we do what Jesus did. And what might that be?

Paul says we are to be "blameless and irreproachable . . . [to] continue in the faith, stable and steadfast" (vv. 22-23 RSV). In short, our witness to the world is to be Christlike: "blameless and irreproachable . . . stable and steadfast."

Bishop William Grove of The United Methodist Church made the statement at his church's 1996 General Conference in Denver: "The world, seeing our alienation, is not interested in our truth." He was talking about the negative power of a broken witness, one that is neither stable nor steadfast. When churches (corporately) and church people (individually) are prejudiced, greedy, insensitive to those in need, arrogant, unconcerned about worship, unwilling to evangelize, poor stewards of human, material, or natural resources, the world is not likely to be won over. Only when they look at us and see Jesus, only when they encounter us and experience his love, is there hope that some of the 160 million unchurched folks in our land will come home to the community of Christ's people. (Michael B. Brown)

WHO DARES TO BE FREE?

LUKE 10:38-42

I. Endless Variations on an Old Menu
Poor Martha. She has been held up as the bad example in millions of sermons, ridiculed as a tattletale, a worrywart, the kind of hostess no one really enjoys visiting because anxiety poisons her hospitality. Preachers have speculated on what dishes she may have been preparing out there in the kitchen, and pontificated on the adequacy of sandwiches and other simple food. Other clergy have exhorted their listeners to find a proper balance in life: a Mary and a Martha kind of discipleship, with time devoted to prayer and work.

Some listeners may question her relevance in an age of two-career families; does the problem of overelaborate dinner parties exist beyond the world of Martha Stewart wanna-bes? In a culture where one out of three meals is eaten in a restaurant, fewer people can identify with the challenges of "gracious entertaining" in the home. Feminist critics may justifiably challenge traditional interpretations of the text, which seem to pit one woman against another. Others see in the story of Mary and Martha reinforcements of negative and/or repressive stereotypes about women: complaining, manipulative, competing for male attention, requiring correction by male authorities.

II. What's Really Cooking Here?
Those skeptics who focus on the strained connection between Mary and Martha's world and our own inadvertently do the church a valuable service. They imply the need for us to imagine ourselves back into the customs and mores of first-century Judaism. In the context in which the event occurred, the episode was shocking, not for reproving Martha, but for praising Mary. As far as Jesus' own culture was concerned, Martha was in the right. She knew how to serve itinerant rabbis, how to treat guests with honor. She knew that her place was back in the kitchen. The apostles probably expected Jesus to rebuke Mary, because she was breaking the rules.

It was the custom for a Jewish man to pray every morning, thanking God he was not born a slave, a Gentile, or a woman. A common saying of the time was that it was better for the Torah to be burned than to be put into the hands of a woman. So for Mary to sit at Jesus' feet, just as any student of a great rabbi would, was scandalous. For Jesus to commend her was incredible. And for Jesus to speak to Martha in the way that he did was less correction than it was an invitation.

III. Taste and See That the Lord Is Good!
"The good portion" is not a choice dish prepared for the occasion. It is, to paraphrase Fanny J. Crosby, to choose Jesus as "my everlasting portion." The Savior came into the world to set people free: free from bondage to the past, free from the tyranny of public opinion, free from graceless, joyless patterns of behavior that keep us away from his presence. Martha was encouraged to dare leaving all that behind, and feast on the same fellowship Mary enjoyed with Jesus. Our Lord commended Mary's daring to exercise the freedom he brings. Breaking with customs and risking her sister's disapproval, she delighted in Jesus' words and presence.

The "one thing needful" is desiring Christ above all else: security, popularity, and conventions. We are offered the same freedom when Christ invites us to his table today. Do we dare taste and see that the Lord is good? (Carol M. Norén)

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