Category Archives: Sermon Notes

Us and Them

I suppose people have always separated into factions: those like us versus those other people.

The news media seems to relish showing differences between Republicans and Democrats, even highlighting rifts within each party. Is a particular candidate conservative enough or liberal enough to be true to their party? Or has a particular candidate’s remark gone too far, serving more to excite an extreme segment of their party?

Listening to this harsh rhetoric every four years leaves me almost surprised that parties can come together to support one candidate for the general election. That the divisive rhetoric between parties continues between elections leaves me amazed that our various legislatures can accomplish anything.

The Apostle Paul had encountered similar divisiveness in the church at Ephesus between Jews and Christians.

For [Christ Jesus] is our peace;
in his flesh he has made both groups into one
and has broken down the dividing wall,
that is, the hostility between us.

— Ephesians 2:14

But what does he mean by “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God”? Are we to unite in a middle ground, ignoring our differences or are we to value our differences and find a new harmony?

Elsewhere Paul described the Church as like a human body with different parts serving different functions. If we were all the same, we could accomplish little. If we were all eyes, we would lack teeth to eat with, or feet to walk, or hands to grow crops.

The problem with divisions is not our differences, but hostilities used to maintain those divisions.

Instead when we work together, enjoying our differences, we become a dwelling place for God.

When have you experienced harmonious collaboration?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, July 19th, 2015.

Click below to hear this sermon.

Sermon Notes on Hiatus

Due to several factors I have suspended posting my study notes each week.

Please look under the Reflections category for a preview of how I will illustrate this week’s lesson.

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Sermon: “Covenants”

I prepare and delivered this sermon at the installation of a neighboring pastor who had selected the scripture readings for the worship service.

A video of the sermon is available here for downloading.

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 6:25-37

B. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

27-28 — In Chapter 29 Jeremiah warns the exiles to stay for the long haul. Here, perhaps decades later, he warns them to get ready for planting.

27-28 29-30 — Punishment for sin will only be for the sinner and no longer for generations.

27-28 31 — Are the days still to come or have they come and we have yet to recognize them?

27-28 32 — How will it be unlike the Decalogue? Will it be unbreakable? No. But Christ suffered the breaking for us.

27-28 33 — Hearts => wills and minds.

27-28 34 — Is the disestablishment of the church a foretaste of the time when all people will know the LORD? For what Jeremiah predicts is not a knowing about God, but thorough adoption of God’s ways by all people.

F. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

– From among a series of oracles of restoration of Israel from Babylonian captivity pledging the restoration of the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.

– This oracle possibly begins with a v. 27. vv 27 -30 convey the restoration after destruction and the personalizing of sin and punishment from punishment of children for the sins of their parents.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

– These oracles are presumed to have been collected over Jeremiah’s lifetime and rather than in historical order of the prophetic statements against various countries.

Sermon: “Look at the Birds”

Look below the video for my Bible study notes and sermon outline.

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 6:25-37

B. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

25 – – Career advice: Find something you enjoy doing and the money will follow.

26 – – Nomadic couple who wandered from church to church, relying on handouts for food and shelter. People in other countries exist for about $1/day. Pay Buddy $1000/year to sit by my lap.”

27 – – Science indicates that worry decreases life, while meditation and exercise increases over the average.

28 – – Goodwill, clothing ministry. Several options exist.

29 – – Lilies of the field flower to attract insects for pollenization. We array ourselves in fine clothes to attract other people for pollenization and for commerce.

30-33 – – God might not give us fine clothing, but has given us skills to earn a living.

II. Literary Study

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Part of the Sermon on the mount. Follows the beatitudes and the Lords’ Prayer.

III. Question the text

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

What other imperatives of Jesus are hidden in the Gospel?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

Center of Gravity: Physical needs are far less important than striving to live in God’s Kingdom.

Emotional Center: Do not worry about your life

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

Counter cultural! Absurd!

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Robert Gundry (Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art. Eerdmans’ 1982). interprets these sayings as dealing “with the other main reason, besides greed, for hoarding early wealth – anxiety.” He clarifies that the prohibition is against anxiety, not against work nor to endorse idleness.

M. Eugene Boring (“The Gospel of Mathew,” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 1995.) considers 6:19 through 7:12 as one pericope as instructions on authentic righteousness. He perceives this section as “directed to people involved with sowing, reaping, storing in barns, toiling, and spinning, but who are called to see that their life is not based on these things.” He limits the scope of Jesus’ audience for this passage from the general public to disciples who’s faith might waiver after hearing the first part of the sermon on the mount.

James J.H. Price (“Concerning Treasures,” The Presbyterian Outlook. October 19, 2001.) cautions against misusing this passage to scold people who are anxious because of the lingering shock and sorrow following the savage terrorism on Sept. 11. He suggest reflecting on appropriate versus inappropriate anxiety. While worry about tomorrow is proscribed, might one worry about today?

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Use anxiety constructively.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Other than humans, the rest of creation does not worry about food, clothing or shelter and does fine.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Develop constructive prayer practices to pursue God’s kingdom.

VI. Sermon Outline

[Say with hand signals]

Sit, down, come, lets go, leave it, take it, roll over, go to bed

→ Words we say to my dog to keep him healthy and on task.

Most important command: Focus

Hidden Imperatives:

Look at the birds of the air;

Consider the lilies of the field,

Do not worry, Do not be afraid
Love, Forgive, Remember me

Imperatives for our benefit.

It would be nice to be able to sit all day praying, looking at the birds and flowers, …

But someone must grow food, hunt meat, sew clothes, build houses, defend families, …

Will our proposal win?

Don’t want to be a lesson learned.

We ask:

‘What will we eat?’ or
‘What will we drink?’ or
‘What will we wear?’

Jesus spoke these words to people who had sown seed, reaped grain, sewn clothes, and built houses for others.

People who lived hand to mouth. Paycheck to paycheck.

No guarantee of food or clothing or shelter for today, much less tomorrow. ← reason to worry.

But we must eat!

Jesus tells us:

But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Do your best for God today and tomorrow will take care of itself.

Worrying about tomorrow will distract you from doing a great job today. Focus on today.

Asked business owner: Do you ever second guess proposals? Could/should we have written …?

Once it is done, on to what’s next. ← 90% win rate. & 14% growth.

Focus on today

Jesus asks:

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

By taking time each day to reflect on God’s creation and pray,
we add time to our lives.

← documented by several studies.

Worrying reduces health.

Daily prayer increases health.

Focus [hand signal] on today

Add years to life

Sermon: “The Good Neighbor”

Look below the video for my bible study notes and sermon outline.

Establish the text

Select the Pericope: Luke 10:25-37

Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

25 – – Micah 6:8 answers a similar question: What does the LORD require of you? This was a popular question to ask the religious leaders of the time. Rabbinical literature records similar questions to Jesus’ contemporaries.

27 – – Jesus’ answer is similarly paralleled in Rabbinical literature citing Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Love the LORD your God. Everything else is commentary.” Since all of humanity are children of God, then to love God requires loving the children of God. Thus to love your neighbor as your self is commentary on the first, but as the parable points out, a commentary that is easily forgotten.

28 – – “Do this and you will live.” Looks like if-then soteriology. Of course as Paul points out in Galatians, none can be reckoned as righteous by good works.

29 – – Key word: justify. Can the lawyer’s question be rephrased: What is the minimum that I must do to live? REB focuses the need for justification on asking the question.

30 – – Jerusalem: alt. 740 m, Jerico: alt. 308 m. Still a steep and winding road with plenty of places for an ambush.

31 – – N.B. the priest was going DOWN the road, away from Jerusalem. I recall a commentary that attempted to *justify* the priest’s avoidance of the victim based on maintaining ritual purity. If a priest touched a dead person, he would be defiled and unable to participate in the Temple rituals, a once in a lifetime opportunity. But if the priest was going down the road, away from Jerusalem, what then would his excuse be?

33 – – Samaritans were a rival Yawistic cult living north of Jerusalem. J.L. Kelso (Zondervan Pictoral Encyclopedia of the Bible) notes: 1. the Samaritans were not officially excommunicated by the Jews until A.D. 300. 2. As late as 2 cent. A.D. Samaritans were compared favorably with the Saducees by rabbis. Don’t demonize the Samaritan.

34 – – The Samaritan goes to significant expense, but within his capabilities, for a stranger from whom he might not expect reimbursement. 2 denarii = 2 days wages.

37 – – What does it mean to show mercy today? Does contributing taxes for welfare and Medicare/Medicaid justify us before God?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

The NRSV starts v. 25 “Just then a lawyer stood up …” Thus this is a continuation of the preceding scene. The preceding scene was the return of the 70 and their rejoicing at the submission of evil spirits to their ministry. Jesus counsels the disciples privately that many “desire to see what you see, but did not see it, and hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” Perhaps, the lawyer represents those who desire to see and to hear.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Written by ‘Luke’ to a Greek friend based on collections from various sources.
The passage is an illustration of a teaching.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Matthew 22:35-40 rephrases the lawyer’s question as which is the greatest commandment.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

25 – – kai idou — Blass and Debrunner (#442(7))classify this as a Semanticism. The Hebrew “hineh” is used for expressions pointing to a particular person, e.g. Gen 18:9 “Behold your wife”, 1 Sam 3:4 “Here I am.”; to introduce predication. Thus I agree with the NRSV although other translations render this as “On one occasion …”

33 – – esplagcvisqh — Aorist Passive indicative to be filled with compassion/pity. Is this a Divine passive?

37 – – meta — the Samaritan provided mercy WITH the victim. Although ‘on’ is an alternate translation, ‘with’ emphasizes that mercy requires two participants. Many translations ignore this preposition or use ‘on’.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

Parables are noted for making every word count and condensing much theological discussion into as few words as possible with many potential lessons from one illustration: What does the Lord require?, piety versus compassion, who is my neighbor?

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Consider the excuses that the priest and the Levite may have made for not attending to the needs of the victim: “I don’t know what to do for him.” “He may be dead anyway. Why bother?” “Someone else will take care of him.” “I need to do X. So I can’t stop.” “The robbers might still be near.” “He may be pretending to be beaten so that his friends will attack me when I stop to help him.”

Consider the reasons for the Samaritan: “If I don’t help, who will?” “I would want some one to stop, if this were me, even if they could only hold my hand.” “This may be one of my clients.” “God is counting on me to do this.”

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

Center of Gravity: Who is my neighbor? What does the law mean by: “love your neighbor as yourself”? What do the disciples see and hear that others did not see nor hear?

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

Dogmatic piety (of priest and Levite) versus love of neighbor, or ritual purity versus practical theology. What am I capable of doing?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Fred B. Cradock (Interpretation: Luke) notes the relationship between 10:23-24 and vv. 25-37. He entitles the section covering this pericope and the next “Two stories about hearing and not hearing.” I might call this section more specifically about not seeing; as the priest and the Levite both do not see the victim as a potential opportunity to love God.

Perry H. Biddle, Jr. (Preaching the Lectionary) centers the story on the difference between: Who must I include/exclude as my neighbor? versus To whom am I a neighbor? The difference is between ceremony and the nature of compassionate living.

J.A. Findlay (Abingdon Bible Commentary) notes the artificiality of the Church Fathers’ allegorizing this pericope: Jesus is the Samaritan (c.f. John 8:48), the dangerous road is his journey to Jerusalem, the innkeeper is the Church, the two denarii are the two Sacraments, and the pledge to return to the inn an announcement of the Second Coming. Or is this perhaps a way of teaching ecclesiology?

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

We must be careful not to miss opportunities to minister, which is the focus of Christ’s disciples who already see and hear that they are saved, rather than worrying about what is necessary to be saved.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

We often choose not to see opportunities for ministry around us because of preconceived notions of what God expects us to do, but if we are instead open to God working in every event, and respond in thanks for having received God’s grace, we will see many opportunities to minister to God’s children and thereby express our love for what God has done for us. What is Jesus doing right here and right now? And How might I work with Jesus right here and right now?

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Encourage the hearers to be more aware of opportunities to minister in response to the grace already received from God.

VI. Sermon Outline

Bible

Exegesis

Illustration

Bullet

And then, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. … “And who is my neighbor?”

Mark 12 – Teacher asks for greatest commandment then agrees
loving God & neighbor >> offerings

Jesus: “Not far from kingdom of heaven” ← about 3 – 6 feet!

Test, trick answer: None of the above

Trick question; Trick answer

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

Dangers lurking in shadows?

Cultural prohibitions.

Busy “saving the world”

– Important committees meetings

– Family obligations

– Busy

Not about clergy or ritual

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he was filled with compassion. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own animal, took him to an inn and took care of him.

Heroes of medicine:

EMT – Spends ~ hour lifting victim from the road – vital signs, perhaps a name, NOT father of three sons …

Trauma team spends an hour or two: fractures to set,

Nurses pop in an out for a few hours: IV to change, more vital signs,

No time for listening to family stories

But are these neighbors?

35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying: ‘Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Healing takes time: changing bandages, clothing soiled after meals, diapers, befriending toxic people.

listening to stories.

Touch that is more than treatment.

Visiting MIL interrupted by “friend” who in five minutes had inflicted her multitude of woes on us. ← LPN came in, hugged this “friend” and told her how much she had been missed. Instantly change woes to a smile.

Attending to the person beyond task

Neighboring: persistent touch

“The one who had mercy with him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Listen to people’s stories

Safe guard their slivers of joy.

& you will find yourself within 3 – 6 feet of the kingdom of heaven.

Doing mercy takes time.

April 14th: “Interruption”

When has God interrupted your life for Christ’s mission?

This Week’s Passage: Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Third Sunday of Easter (Year C)

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 – – Saul “breathed threats and murder against the disciples” since the stoning of Stephen.
Violence begets violence.

2 – – Has force ever been effective quelling belief?

3 – – How might some one from the first century react to Strobe lights? A Disco ball? The Dazzler?

4 – – In Saul’s time Christianity was a fringe sect of Judaism. The persecution he represented deepened that split. Today, in America, the biggest threat to the church comes from within, zealots who would persecute those on the fringe. How might God be transforming Christianity today?

5 – – Would we bow to the unknown when zapped out of our normal routine?

6 – – Saul who would have bound and led Christians, is now led. When has Christ redirected our lives?

7 – 8 – Saul’s support group hears the voice and effect Christ’s direction by leading him to the city where he would be told what to do.

9 – – “Without sight” might be a metaphor for without knowledge.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Requires a preface about Paul’s participation in stoning Stephen.
  • The lectionary suggests stopping at v. 6.
  • Continuing to verse 9 shows how Paul’s support group participated in God’s plan.
  • Since few of us have suddenly been struck blind and many might relate to having been called to do something perceived as odious, we might better relate to Ananias. Hence the optional continuation to verse 20. Initially both Ananias and Paul have turned a blind eye to God working in the other. Through faith, each trusts and each sees. Can the hearer also open an eye to small things having a major impact? Ananias laid hands on a foe and the faith of billions awoke.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Acts 22:4-16 – Paul admits to having persecuted the Way, having bound and imprisoned men and women. The light shone (not flashed). His companions saw the light, but did not hear the voice, yet led him to Damascus. Ananias restored his sight and baptized. Later while praying he received direction to go to the Gentiles.

Acts 26:9-18 – Admits to casting votes for believers’ executions and provoking blasphemy. Bright light shone at noon and voice spoke in Hebrew. Voice tells Paul of his appointment to serve and testify so that Hebrews and Gentiles would turn from Satan, receive forgiveness, and a place among the sanctified. (No mention of Ananias.)

Galatians 1:13-17 – “Violently persecuted the church.” No mention of Damascus Road episode. Denied conferring with Ananias nor apostles at Jerusalem.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Saul is flipped from seeking to bind and lead to being led blind.

Christ appreciates Paul’s zeal but laments his direction.

Saul’s traveling companions serve as props.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of gravity: Christ flipped Saul from persecuting the church into its greatest evangelist.
  • Emotional Center: A bolt out of the blue.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • God chose to convert a violent persecutor rather than a committed follower. Are committed followers too meek to change the world?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • This episode would be unbelievable, except that others have also had dramatic life-changing reversals.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Robert W. Wall (“The Acts of the Apostles”, The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 2002.) comments that God did not seek to frighten Saul into obedience, but to reveal a plan of action, a plan that Saul was conditioned to receive, hence the ironic use of “Lord.” He also notes the parallel between Saul’s three days of blindness before his conversion with Jesus’ three days in the tomb prior to the resurrection. Wall reflects that Saul was converted to Jesus without repudiating his Jewish heritage.

William H. Willimon (Interpretation: Acts. JKP, 1988.) opines that Saul’s conversion dose not interrupt the story of Phillip, but fits within a series of conversion stories.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher),

What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

God can and does interrupt our lives to further his kingdom.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Ask: What mission does God have for me?

April 7th: “Obeying God”

When should our testimony of faith become civil disobedience?

This Week’s Passage: Acts 5:27-32

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for 2nd Sunday in Easter

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

27 – – Either expand the pericope or explain what has happened prior to the apostles return.

28 – – How does today’s culture limit our freedom to preach Christ and him crucified?

29 – – Choosing to obey God over human authorities will still get one arrested if not hospitalized for insanity.

30-33 – Peter summarized Christian faith and riled these religious leaders to violence.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This episode begins in verse 17. The Chief Priest and his friends order the apostles arrested because they were jealous of healings that the apostles were performing. An angel released them and sent them back to the temple to preach. When the high priests discover the apostles missing they are arrested a second time.
  • The episode continues through verse 42. After Rabbi Gamaliel counsels patience, the apostles are whipped and warned. The episode concludes with the apostles teaching in the temple every day.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • Some variants render verse 28 as a statement, others as a question. A question would be consistent with the circumstance.

II. Literary Study.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

“Hanging him on a tree” a euphemism for crucifixion that parallels usage in Deuteronomy.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

Rendered as a news report to give it credibility.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Peter and the apostles have decided to imitate Jesus and preach and to heal ignoring warnings of the consequences.

The priests are irate over being displaced from the focus of teaching and by Peter’s disregard of their theology.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Preach at all costs, means even risking life itself.
  • Emotional Center: Obey God not men.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The apostles and high council talk past each other, ignoring legitimate points the other might offer, blinded by their own ideologies.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • We would like to believe that our society does not oppose God’s direction.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Robert W. Wall (“The Acts of the Apostles”, The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 2002.) calls Acts 5:17-42 “Story Three: The Apostles vs. the Sanhedrin, Round Two.” He notes similarities with and expansions from the apostles’ previous arrest and trial for healing a man lame from birth (Acts 3:1 – 4:31). The earlier story resulted in warning, which the apostles ignored yielding this episode. He discerns the introduction of an angel, who facilitated Peter’s escape, and Gamaliel’s speech as the significant additions in this episode over the earlier episode. He also notes that the police fear being stoned by the people, demonstrating the apostle’s popular support over the council. He interprets the Chief Priest’s concern as political rather than theological. While Peter responded theologically, he defined the crucifixion as a lynching ordered by the council before whom he now stood and attributed their ability to understand as due to a lack of the Holy Spirit. Wall reflects that Peter’s speech “is Scripture’s leading justification for civil disobedience,” with the qualification that civil disobedience serves a missionary rather than political end, and is not a protest but a witness.

William H. Willimon (Interpretation: Acts. John Knox Press, 1988.) includes this episode within a section extending from 4:32 through 6:7 that deals with more mundane topics, particularly money. He opines: “The most eloquent testimony to the reality of the resurrection is not an empty tomb or a well-orchestrated pageant on Easter Sunday but rather a group of people whose life together is so radically different, so completely changed from the way the world builds community, that there can be no explanation other than that something decisive has happened in history.” The difficulty comes not from explaining how the resurrection happened, but because the church does not look more resurrected.
With regard to this passage, he perceives the ire of those on the high council, people who strove every day to live obediently to the will of God, on hearing Peter say: “We must obey God rather than men.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

This act of the apostles demonstrates how we might engage civil authorities as a resurrected people.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Obey God rather than men.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

To consider what we might accomplish as resurrected people, boldly obeying God.

March 31st: “Anyone?”

After being surprised by the scope of God’s mercy, Peter recaps the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.

This Week’s Passage: Acts 10:34-43

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for Resurrection Sunday in Easter

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

34 Peter had thought that only Jews could be baptized, but now has come to understand that God’s circle is wider than his. Whom do we seek to exclude from God’s circle?

35 Salvation by works?

36 The “message” is not Jesus Christ, but is sent through him.

37 The expansion of the Gospel starting in Galilee: John’s baptism was one of repentance for the Kingdom of God is near.

38 a. God anointing Jesus with the Holy Spirit is a matter of faith.

b. “oppressed by the devil” — Is Peter preaching in the vernacular which expects a battle between good and evil?

c. “God was with him” — Why not he was God as in John’s Gospel?

39 Why not say nailed him to a tree? Or is this a euphemism for crucifixion as well as picking up the scriptural admonition against hanging on a tree?

40 God “caused him to appear”.

41 Proof that he was risen bodily, at least among the believers.

42 Jesus is ordained as judge by God. Peter appears to be testifying that Jesus is a prophet rather than the Son of God.

43 Consistency with earlier Scripture.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Peter has been sent for by Corneilus, a Gentile. Corneilus has seen a vision while in prayer that he should see Peter, and Peter has seen a vision that it is God who decides who is clean.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

1 Corinthians 14:2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

Jews shunned eating with Gentiles (offered to idols); even visiting a Gentile household would cause spiritual uncleanness.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

Passage begins with Peter opening his mouth and ends with people speaking in tongues.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

Chapter 10 is a well structured story: Begins with a centurion, an outsider of the community, whose worship was answered through an angel. Paralleled with Peter praying and receiving a vision. The vision is explained through the acceptance of Cornelius by the Holy Spirit.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

In the larger story Cornelius does not question why he invites Peter or what he expects when Peter begins to speak. Thus they are much like a congregation sitting waiting for the preacher to speak. In the end the congregation becomes the object lesson for the preacher and his associates.

Peter is like the preacher who visits the hospital on the request of family, and experiences a miracle!

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: This is the kernel of a much larger passage about the wideness of God’s desire for salvation. It matters not who we think should/will be saved (by God), but rather that we need to be about confirming with baptism whom God has already chosen.
  • Emotional Center: God breaking forth in our midst!

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Peter associates with Gentiles setting up the conflict in chapter 11 about future ministry with the Gentiles.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

William H. Willimon (Interpretation: Acts) notes two errors in his sermon to Cornelius: 1) that “anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” is otherwise unsupported in Scripture; and 2) that Jesus was sent to Israel does not support ministry with Gentiles.

Robert W. Wall (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Acts of the Apostles”) notes the parallel with the story of Jonah, the prophet also sent from Joppa to preach to people he was reluctant to meet. Jonah needed three days in the belly of the great fish before he would preach to the Ninevites. Peter (aka Simon bar Jonah) took three auditions from God. Jonah’s preaching resulted in the repentance of the Ninevites. Peter’s preaching resulted in the conversion of all of Cornelius’s household and his friends.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

You know the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Everyone who trusts him, receives forgiveness.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Experience Peter’s surprise with God’s mercy.

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March 24th: “Worship Takes Courage”

To worship God requires courage! When have you stood up for your faith?

This Week’s Passage:Isaiah 50:4-9a

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for 6th Sunday in Lent, Palm/Passion Sunday

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

4a – – A preacher’s prayer: Give me the word that the people need to hear to sustain themselves.

4b – – Scripture readings speak to life each day.

5 – – Could following God be our prayer? Or do we merely wish God’s path would stay beneath our feet?

6 – – c.f. Abba Abram on check turning.

7-8 – With God we can endure any adversary!

9 – – With God our adversary’s weaken.

10-11 – Verse 11 interprets verse 10 in reverse order. Thus if we walk in darkness yet trust, we have kindling to light firebrands, but if we obey out of fear, torment?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Most commentaries consider 50:4-11 a complete song.
  • The lectionary lops of vv 10-11 as they are grammatically difficult to follow diverting modern listeners from the central message. They may be an emendation to the Servant Song, and verses 1-3 provide the context for this song.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Written by a follower of Isaiah during the Babylonian exile.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

Third of four servant songs.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The identity of the servant is ambiguous. Israel? An individual? Cyrus? Jesus? The hearer?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Deep abiding faith strengthens those who trust God to withstand false charges and assault.
  • Emotional Center: God is near and vindicates!
  • Music: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The source of the conflict, Israel’s transgressions, is provided in verse 1.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Wolfgang Roth (Knox Preaching Guides: Isaiah. John Knox Press, 1988.) considers 50:1-3 as closing to the theme started with 49:14-26. He counts no fewer than five instances of words or phrases being doubled, thus demonstrating the intensity of the prophet’s words. “A sermon will have to deal with the sobering insight that the Scriptures tell of fierce hostility between persons and groups of different religious persuasions, and that many a biblical text is born of religious zeal and polemic. It is doubly puzzling when – as is the case here – the latter are generated by by a servant’s obedient listening to the divine voice and the words of comfort which flow from it.”

Perry Biddle (Editor, Preaching the Lectionary. WJKP 1991.) summarizes that the servant testifies to three things: (1) personal pupil-teacher relationship with God, (2) loyalty to God while experiencing persecution, and (3) not distracted from God’s mission even by violent persecution. He suggests preachers anticipate the suffering and mocking Jesus received during trial and extending the sufferings to what all Christians occasionally experience.

Walter Brueggemann et al (Texts for Preaching: Year B. WJKP, 1993.) rejects the rendering of verse 4 in the NRSV and prefers “the lord God, taught my tongue.”

Christopher Seitz (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Book of Isaiah 40-66.” Abingdon, 2001) interprets verses 10-11 as a response added by the prophet’s community to theologically interpret his death. The Servant Song, verses 4-9, answer the question raised in verse 2, where God asks the children of the exiles why they did not answer the LORD. He reflects: “It is crucial to remember that, as tragedies go, the crucifixion of Jesus was neither the worst nor was even remotely a singular event in its time; many were such executions in his day. What set it apart was that God had opened Jesus’ ears as to its larger significance, allowing him the measure of confidence that did not remove the anguish but made it bearable. [Behind the crucifixion] was the voice of the one who sent him, who opened his ears and taught him and helped him, even against forces of death … That voice kept Good Friday good and not another tragedy. It enabled that particular servant to empower and inspire other servants, who would follow his lead and take up the cross God sets aside for them as well.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

To worship God requires courage!

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

To recognize that God stands with us in our struggles.

Good Friday, March 29th

Road to the cross

Come to hear the story of Christ’s trial and crucifixion by which the cross became the instrument of our deliverance.

At this special worship service you will hear Matthew’s account of the Last Supper, Christ’s betrayal, Mocking, The Trial, The Crucifixion, and Burial. In between these readings and interpretations, we will pray and sing verses of the hymn “Were You There?”, adapted and extended for this service. Slow removal of decorations from the sanctuary will help us recall the betrayal.

The cross will be presented and participants will be encouraged to individually offer a sign of reverence, including bowing, kneeling, touching, praying, or pinning one’s sin on the cross.

Yet, after the prayers of the people, participants should go away recognizing the cross as a symbol of the world’s redemption, upon which Christ is exalted!

7 p.m., Friday, March 29th