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Sermon Archive 2017

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Meditation on Peace

prepareyeMark 1: 1-8
Isaiah 40: 1-5
Introduction to the reading

In the first reading you heard how the prophet Isaiah began to prepare the people of ancient Israel for their return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Their sins are forgiven; salvation is near; justice and peace shall prevail.

The psalmist author of the verses of our Call to Worship echoes the prophet: Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.

Likewise, John the Baptizer, a prophet in his own time, prepares the people of the 1st century for the coming of Jesus in order that God’s same purposes might be accomplished through him.

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The End is the Beginning

christthekingMatthew 25: 31-46
Introduction to the reading
The reading for today is the last parable Jesus tells before the end of his earthly life and the events of the crucifixion begin to unfold. We have arrived at the last Sunday of the church calendar year, known as Christ the King Sunday. Pastor and writer Tom Long commented upon this passage:

It could be said that the whole Gospel of Matthew has been moving toward and preparing for this dramatic parable. In Matthew, Jesus is the great teacher and this parable is his last formal act of teaching, the final point, the parting lesson, the cumulative moment in his teaching ministry. Moreover, this parable not only concludes [this ministry], it also sums up the major theological themes of Matthew’s Gospel by presenting a majestic picture of the triumphant Jesus reigning in glory as king and judge at the end of time. (Long 283)

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Go For It

5talentsMatthew 25: 14-30 (from The Message)
Introduction to the reading

The parable that Jesus tells today is another that aims to teach what constitutes responsible and proper conduct as people await the far-off end of times when Jesus returns and ushers in the kingdom of heaven. The classic, theological interpretation of this parable, where each element stands for something else, goes like this:

  • The man, the master of the servants, represents Jesus.
  • The journey is his movement through earthly life toward and into heaven to be with God the Father. After a long time, the master returns from his journey; this is the long-awaited second coming of Jesus.
  • The man is exceedingly rich and the servants exceedingly fortunate. He lavishes talents upon them, a single talent in that first century economy being about 15 years’ worth of wages for a typical worker. The talents represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the forgiveness of sin and the spirit of reconciliation; the pursuit of compassion, justice and peace; the salvation of the world; the all-encompassing love of God. This is extravagant grace, enough to last for years and years.

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What Are You Waiting For?

10virginsMatthew 25: 1-13
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Introduction to the reading

The Gospel reading this morning, from Matthew, is a parable about waiting for the Messiah. Scholars call it an advent parable. It’s not the Advent we will enter in a few weeks, anticipating the birth of Jesus, but rather an eschatological advent, that is, relating to Jesus’ coming at the end of time, when the kingdom of God will be realized in its fullness.

Here is a classic parable, an allegory, where every element stands for something larger than itself. The wedding banquet symbolizes the kingdom of heaven and the long-awaited bridegroom is Jesus Christ. The bridesmaids are the followers of Jesus, the very early church (the unmentioned bride) who light the way toward the banquet with their lamps lit with the oil of good works. The strange scene of the bridegroom’s arrival at midnight reflects the idea that the second coming will be at an unexpected time - like a “thief in the night”, Jesus has said (Matt. 24:43-44) – and interestingly, like the way Jesus was born into the world in an unsung place at an unexpected time.

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A Good Faith Example

scribesphariseesMatthew 23: 1-12
Introduction to the reading
Here he goes again, our Jesus, excoriating the religious leaders in front of the disciples and the crowds of people who have been following him. Jesus has had a running conflict with the scribes and Pharisees; they have confronted him repeatedly, asking questions to provoke and test him.

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Reformed and Always Reforming

1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8
Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Introduction to the reading

First Thessalonians is understood to be Paul’s first letter and as such, it is the oldest New Testament document that we know of. The Thessalonians were recent converts to Christianity, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a new concept to them, and they were learning what it meant to be “the church” amid conflicts, hardships and opposition.

But Paul treats them with gentleness, and with some hint of self-defensiveness, he lets them see how he has handled adversity and thereby sets an example for their own work in the name of Jesus.

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What’s In Your Wallet?

Matthew 22: 15-22

Introduction to the reading

This morning’s reading ends with a well-known saying of Jesus: in the King James: render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

Under Roman occupation, the Jews in 1st century Palestine had been forced to pay, in Roman currency, a tax to the Roman government. Some Jews rested easy with Roman rule and supported the tax, but most of the citizens of Judah reacted to the idea of paying money to the pagan emperor with utter distaste.

The tax was usually paid with the common denarius coin, which was minted with the image of the head of Caesar Tiberius and carried the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus and high priest.” So, you can see why the whole Roman system was anathema to the Jews and why they recoiled at the idea of paying homage to a man who, for them, most certainly was not God.

The powerful Jewish leaders were trying to trap Jesus. He represented a threat to their entrenched religious system, which they were trying to protect. Their question is deceptively simple: Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? If Jesus answers ‘No’, then the Roman government would move in on him as a dangerous political agitator. If he says ‘Yes’, Jesus would lose credibility with the people who were beginning to listen to him and to follow him.

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Vineyard Haven

vineyard001Isaiah 5: 1-7
Matthew 21: 33-46
Introduction to the reading from Matthew
Jesus continues to teach in the synagogue, drawing followers to himself as he opens up the word of God to them in new ways.

We heard last week how a group of high priests and elders confronted him, demanding to know who gave him the authority to be there, teaching. Jesus countered with the parable about two sons whose father told them to go work in his vineyard. One said he wouldn’t go but then went. The second said he would go but then didn’t. The first son was the one obedient to the father. But the religious leaders were like the second son; they claim to be God’s faithful representatives, debating, interpreting and making judgments about the law, but fail to live by God’s commandments.

In today’s Gospel reading, another parable about a vineyard, Jesus presses his point about faithlessness, to violent, drastic conclusion.

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So… Do It

vineyard00 Introduction to the reading
Jesus stands in the synagogue teaching, drawing followers to himself as he opens up the Word of God to them in new ways. But a group of high priests and elders confront him, demanding to know who gave him the authority to be there, teaching.

The passage begins with this confrontation. But Jesus confronts them right back with a trick question of his own, which you will hear.

Keep in mind that by all appearances, in the time of Jesus, the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people were the exemplars of piety, keepers of the religious order, and teachers of God’s law. John the Baptist, on the other hand, was a wild man who wore a hair shirt and ate locusts. He did not fit any proper image of a respectable religious leader.

Here were two entirely different types of serious religious expression. Which one was right? And how do you judge? By way of a parable, Jesus leads us to an answer.

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laborers2Matthew 20: 1-16
Jonah 3:10 – 4: 4-11
Introduction to the reading

Today’s reading is a classic parable:

  • its structure as metaphor (“The kingdom of heaven is like…);
  • the slow introduction of characters and unfolding of dramatic details;
  • the unexpected conclusion.

So, the with metaphorical in this parable:

  • think of the landowner as God
  • the workers as people of that ancient time – Jews, to whom Jesus came first, and then the church, as the followers of Jesus came to be known;
  • the vineyard as God’s whole created world or even an individual person’s attitude toward life.

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Statue of Limitations

70x7Romans 14: 1-12
Introduction to the reading
Christianity arrived in Rome just 50 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Paul himself did not found the church there, but he writes to them - to introduce himself, to establish his authority as an apostle and to provide a strong argument for the Gospel and its implications for faithful living. The book of Romans is deeply theological. But also practical…

The congregations of the Roman church were made up of both Jewish Christians - Jews who had come to believe in Jesus as the anticipated Messiah - and Gentiles, for whom Jesus was a whole new idea. In today’s passage, Paul seems to be trying to reconcile differences among the two groups with respect to eating habits.

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Not Any More

2or3Matthew 18: 15-20
Romans 13: 8-14
Introduction to the Gospel reading
Three features of this reading to point out:

  • Use of the term “church” (ekklesia, in the Greek). Most scholars consider this passage to be the product of the writer Matthew rather than being the actual words of Jesus. So, it seems to reflect the developing institutional church rather than a situation in the time of Jesus’ earthly life, before there was a “church” as an organization.
  • Consequently, the phrase “another member of the church” loses the concept that the followers of Jesus are an extended family, the family of God. A footnote at this point is a corrective. It notes that the original Greek was “your brother” and in later editing, “brother and sister.”
  • “Binding and loosing” relates to rabbinic authority to interpret how or
    even if one should apply a commandment or law to a given circumstance. Binding would hold to the law. Loosing would determine whether applies in a given situation.

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khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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