Sentences for Sermons from March 4 – May 27Posted: January 28, 2012
Sentences for John March 4 – May 27
March 4: Luke 17:11-19. Lepers lived outside of the community. They sort of formed a society all their own. They were all ritually unclean whether Israelite of Samaritan. Leprosy in the First Century was any chronic skin disease, not necessarily true leprosy or Hansen’s Disease, with lesions and the loss of fingers and toes and eventual death. Someone with really severe psoriasis would have been labeled a leper and forced to live outside the village depending upon the charity of relatives for food. The social isolation and ostracism was often as bad or worse than the disease.
These lepers had probably heard stories of a miracle worker, and so when Jesus approached their village, they sought him out hoping for a miracle. Hope is powerful. Hope is related to faith and love. The ten lepers are bold enough to ask for help: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Jesus didn’t even touch them, but instead he told them to fulfill the law, as if they were already healed: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” All of the ten started on their way to see the priest, without questioning, apparently having faith that something would happen. And while they were “on their way” they were cleansed, all of them without exception.
One of them, a Samaritan, realizing he has been healed, stops in his tracks turns around and offers thanks to Jesus for his healing. Now we might ask why a Samaritan would have tried to show himself to the priest anyway? Would the priest of seen the Samaritan? Now that they were all healed, perhaps the society of the suffering in which even a Samaritan could be accepted would come to an end.
We should note this story is unique to Luke, just as the Parable of the Good Samaritan is unique to Luke and does not occur in any of the other canonical gospels. We might then conclude these two stories were meant to support the early church’s mission to the Samaritan people and indeed ultimately to gentiles. Gratitude is the natural out-flowing of faith, and even gentiles know gratitude. Indeed, the early church was confounded that Israel took Jesus for granted, even rejected the church’s claim he was the Messiah, while the Samaritans and the gentiles embraced him as Messiah.
March 11: Luke 22:7-23. The story begins with cloak and dagger. In order to conceal his location from the Temple authorities and his suspected betrayer, Jesus sends disciples into the City, where they are to follow a man carrying a jar of water. Since carrying water was women’s work, a man carrying water would have been an obvious sign for the disciples. Also their instructions were not to greet the man carrying water on the street but rather to follow him into the house where he entered. In this way anyone trying to follow Jesus’ disciples might be thrown off the trail. Jesus would decide not to run away from his arrest, but he did not want to be arrested prematurely before he had the opportunity for the Last Supper with his disciples.
The story then suggests that Jesus intended for something very important to happen at the Last Supper, and indeed, the symbolic actions he initiated at that meal become the central act of worship of the community of faith he left behind. From the beginning his Disciples remembered the words and actions of Jesus by sharing the breaking of the bread. The breaking of the bread was also reminiscent of the feeding of the 5,000 the symbolic meal that foreshadowed the Commonwealth of God. If you share with one another, if you love one another, if self-sacrificing love becomes the hallmark of your lives, then the Commonwealth of God will be in the midst of you – “Do this in remembrance of me.” When we share the bread and the wine, we remember the way of Jesus, and his love is to become embodied in us.
March 18: Matthew 26:36-50. “Betrayal in the Garden.” Almost all humans who live in community will at one time or another experience betrayal. Betrayal hurts so much, because it comes to us at the hands of someone we have loved and trusted. Why do humans betray one another? Many motives: envy, greed, hurt, ego, misunderstanding, lust, fear, disappointment, disillusionment. Judas had been a trusted member of Jesus’ inner circle. He was the treasurer. And the early church’s identification of greed as the motive, was probably simplistic and inaccurate. The driving force behind Judas’ betrayal was probably much deeper and more complicated. If he committed suicide afterward, Judas’ betrayal must have haunted him, and ultimately appeared to him as a betrayal of himself as well as a friend. Why do we do it? What can we do, when we find ourselves betrayed? There is so much we can learn in the Garden with Jesus.
March 25: Matthew 26:69-75; Luke 22:54-62 “A Failure of Courage.” I have always identified with Peter, because when push comes to shove I am a coward. Put me on the spot and my knees quake and my courage fails. Peter at least had the courage to follow Jesus after his arrest, when all the rest of the disciples scattered. But what about his profession of love and loyalty he had voiced only a few hours before?
Luke 22:33 “And he said to Jesus, ‘Lord I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’”
Jesus understood that Peter would fail. Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned again, strengthen your bretheren.”
Like Peter Jesus can see right through us. God knows our limits. God knows we will fail. God calls us to pick ourselves back up and go on.
We should note that no one among the disciples at least knew about Peter’s failure. The only reason this story has come down to us is because Peter shared it and retold it, because he realized that God had forgiven him and strengthened him for a purpose. There is a legend that when Peter was in Rome and Nero began rounding up the Christians for execution, Peter got word and tried to slip out of town. But as he was walking away from the City, he had a vision of Jesus walking into the City, and the Jesus he met on the road our of town asked him, “quo vadis?” Where are you going? And Peter turned around and went back into Rome to accept his martyrdom.
April 1: Mark 11:1-11. “Occupy Jerusalem.” The Romans and the Chief Priest were in charge in Jerusalem, and Jesus came to town to challenge them. Like the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, Jesus knew he needed large numbers of supporters in a public demonstration or he would be marginalized maybe even eliminated his first day in town. So he planned a demonstration. “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Were they crazy, an unarmed peasant king over against the well oiled machinery of the Temple and the military might of Rome? Who would have bet that Hosni Mubarak would be on trial in Egypt today, or that Muamar Qadaffi would be overthrown and dead? The priests and the Romans were very afraid. No wonder they killed him on Friday.
April 8: Matthew 28:1-10 “He Is Going Before You.” The cult of the empty tomb is a way of trying to limit Jesus. If we focus on the empty tomb, we can locate him in time and space, and then we can try to control him. But Jesus is not there, he has risen and he is going before us into the world. We cannot stop him, we cannot tame him, we cannot control him, we cannot place limits on the activities of the Holy Spirit. All we can do is run as fast as we can to catch up to where Jesus is going before us into the world.
The resurrection is a Parable for the church. For too long we have huddled behind the safety of the walls of the church. Maybe one reason for the decline of the church in America today is to motivate us to go looking for where Jesus has gone on before us into the world. Jesus doesn’t care very much whether our particular way of doing church survives. Jesus is too busy looking for the hurting, the least and the lost. He is going before us. Let’s run to catch up. Again let’s reference Albert Schweitzer’s summary of the call to discipleship: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
April 15: Luke 24:13-35. “Not Zombie Jesus.” When the followers of Jesus encountered the living Christ after the death of Jesus, whatever they were experiencing, it was not a resuscitated corpse. Christ on the Road to Emmaus was not a zombie Jesus. Cleopas and his traveling companion walked and talked with the stranger on the road for hours but they did not recognize him until the stranger took the bread, blessed it and broke it, and then their eyes were opened and they recognized him. What did it mean to open their eyes? Can our eyes be opened. Why was the breaking of the bread so important to their recognition and understanding? Table Fellowship was symbolic and important. Sharing bread was a symbol of community, of the openness and acceptance of the love of Jesus that crossed class, caste and cultural boundaries. The breaking of the bread was symbolic of Jesus setting aside the taboos of his culture. Perhaps when we stop chasing the Zombie Jesus, and embrace the Christ who shares, who crosses caste, class and cultural boundaries, who advocates for the poor and the oppressed, our eyes might be opened and we might recognize the risen Christ in our midst.
April 22: John 21:1-22 “What’s it to you?” Somehow the disciples never seem to grow up. In this resurrection appearance that occurs only in John, the Risen Christ three times asks Peter, if Peter loves him. This is to match the three times Peter denied Jesus. In the midst of this exchange with Jesus, Peter catches sight of the “beloved disciple,” and his envy, his resentment, his jealousy is aroused, and he essentially asks Jesus why he is more affectionate with John. Why is John your favorite? And Jesus responds rather starkly by asking Peter, “what’s it to you?” Do we ever wonder if God likes other people better because they seem to have better fortune? Jesus says, “get over it. You have work to do. It will be enough if you do what I have asked you to do.”
April 29: Matthew 28:9-10, 16-20 “Honest Doubt.” So the Disciples go back to Galilee. But that was kind of a no brainer, since they lived in Galilee. What’s the percentage in hanging around Jerusalem, especially with the Temple Police looking for them. They go to an unnamed designated mountain – could have been either Mt. Tabor or Mt. Hermon – probably the site of the transfiguration. The resurrected Christ appears to them, and they worship him, but some doubted.
Hey wait a minute, what’s this some doubted? Didn’t everyone see him? Couldn’t they see with their own eyes? Why the doubt? Maybe like many of us the Disciples lived somewhere between belief and doubt. They wanted to believe, oh how they wanted to believe, but there was that little niggle of doubt in the back of their minds. It’s O.K.! We don’t have to have perfect faith to be disciples of Jesus, we just have to have enough faith to go ahead and live the way of Jesus even when we are plagued by doubts. Remember the Father of the epileptic child, “I believe, but help my unbelief.” Faith the size of a mustard seed is just enough to see us through, if we are desperate enough and hopeful enough to bring our needs to Jesus.
May 6: Acts 3:1-10. “I Give You What I Have.” The lame man was brought to the “beautiful” gate every day to beg. Probably this was one of the gates on the south side of the Temple complex leading into a tunnel and a set of stair up to Solomon’s Porch. This position would have had a lot of traffic and have been highly advantageous for begging. But if this man was brought there every day, then Jesus must have passed by him several times, when he was coming and going to the Temple. This raises the question, why didn’t Jesus heal the man? First, we need to understand that Jesus didn’t just go around randomly healing every person with whom he came in contact. In all of the gospel stories about healing Jesus was approached by a sick person or someone close to the sick person asking for healing. There is something important about our asking for help that makes a difference. We have to cooperate in our own healing. We have to “want” to be healed before healing can occur. No one can heal us against our will.
The lame man asked for alms. Peter used this as an opportunity to engage the lame man’s faith for healing. In this case even the lame man’s hope for a handout was enough to be worked into a larger miracle. Sometimes it is not silver or gold that can heal us but our own determination to change our lives and become open to faith. As people of faith trying to help others, we can only offer what we have: love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and faith.
May 13: Acts 5:12-29. “We Must Obey God Rather than Men.” Living by faith can be scary especially when our actions threaten those who are in control and authority. Living in a democracy is a rare privilege, but all we have to do is look at places like China, Russia, Syria, Iran to see the kinds of oppression those members of the early church were facing. As the early church began to experience some success in their ministry the authorities tried to intimidate them with arrest, jail, beatings. When questioned why they continued to preach the gospel Peter empowered by a courage that had earlier failed him said: “We must obey God rather than men.”
Even though for the most part we do not face life threatening intimidation our livelihoods can often we threatened, when we commit truth. The corporations will stop at almost nothing to protect their power, and now that the Supreme Court has guaranteed the Corporations the unlimited use of their money to dominate the media, we have to work incredibly hard just to make sure the truth gets a hearing. Hopefully the church can be an arena, where truth can be spoken. We can use social media. We need to work very hard to spread the Progressive Christian gospel.
May 20: Acts 9:32-42. “The Miracle of Material Aid.” Jerusalem became so hot Peter had to get out of town. So he traveled from town to town visiting the little communities of followers of Jesus offering encouragement and even praying over their sick and effecting healings. When he healed Aeneas in the village of Lydda, (Lod the location of Israel’s airport) the followers of Jesus in Joppa came to beseech Peter to come with them, because the good widow Dorcus was gravely ill.
Dorcus was one of those wonderful women who took soup to the sick, casseroles to grieving families, made dresses for orphan girls, washed and tore up old cloth to make leper bandages. When I was serving in Monee, we had a lady who diligently led the “material aid” committee. That was Dorcus. She was hands on and faithful – material aid. In Galesburg our material aid lady also suffered from schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder, which just goes to prove that even in the midst of mental illness there can be a good heart.
When Peter arrived Dorcus was already dead, or at least in a deep enough coma they believed she was dead. But Peter prayed and Dorcus recovered. I don’t know what was the greater miracle, Dorcus’ recovery or Mary Alice’s good heart.
May 27: “An Intoxicating Spirit.” Something marvelous happened on that first Pentecost. A spirit filled the church that was “intoxicating.” At least it looked like it from the outside. People witnessing the disciples empowered by this spirit said, “They are filled with new wine.” Sometimes as followers of Jesus we are just too sober, too cautious, too calculating, too safe. We forget we are called to risk and joy. Love is risky especially when we reach out to others. God might call us to move out of our comfort zone. We might have to rub up against lowlifes, and poor people, give what we have away in order to find the joy of Jesus. God help us if we should get intoxicated like that. God help us.