Preaching to the Choir

These are some sermons, but mostly lectionary discussions. It also has prayers for some Sundays.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My Sermon from Sunday

I started a new sermon series for Sunday called Christ on Trial. It goes along with the Wednesday night Bible Study we are doing. We had a drama of the Prosecution interrogating the witness, Matthew the former tax collector turned disciple. Bob, my husband played Matthew, and did a good job. Gary Webb played the prosecutor, and really got into the role. People asked if they were going to redo it. The are doing it again on Wednesday night. And every Sunday we will have a new witness.

Here is my sermon titled "The Case of Death by Taxes" (It almost turned into "The Case of the Missing Sermon". Someone took my sermon manuscript off the pulpit for some reason. We couldn't find it at the start of the service, so I started praying that I could remember most of it or say what God wanted me to say. Bob went looking for it, and found it right before the offertory. Some one had taken and put it on my desk with a stack of other papers. Whooh.)

The Case of Death by Taxes

Christ on Trial sermon series

Feb 25, 07

Matthew 9:9-13

Everyday of Jesus ministry it seemed like the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the teachers of the law put Jesus on trial. They questioned everything he did, why he did what he did, the way he did what he did, the things he taught, the people he dealt with. Our scripture today and the courtroom drama we just saw showed that. But eventually Jesus was brought to trial first to Caiaphas, the Chief Priest of the temple, then to Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor of Judea, and finally on up to Herod Antipas.

But Jesus is on trial today everyday, His saving act, his being in the world, his radical teachings all demand a reaction. All of us have or are now, or will wrestle with some question about Jesus. Who is He? Is he who he said he was? What does that really mean for me? The truth is Christ demands a verdict from you Who is Jesus for you?

Some people think it is wrong to question the bible, question God, question Jesus, but the truth is you and I will question God, it is part of the faith journey, part of the Christian walk, part of what it means to be human. In order to grow we ask the questions. We seek the answer. We are curious as humans, inquisitive, learners. When we decide to stop asking the questions, stop learning, we stop growing and die. Frankly I hope I never stop growing never stop asking the questions. Never stop learning.

I grew up in a denomination that you were taught to accept what was told you in church, by your parents, and what was in the bible for literal fact. No questions. No different thoughts. No inquisitiveness. I remember one time my Uncle Bill, my mom’s brother came to visit. Now my Uncle Bill was a College Philosophy Professor. He was also a Quaker. My dad and Uncle Bill were discussing religion, and my dad response to Uncle Bill was something to the affect, Well, its in the bible and that’s enough for me. And that’s what I was taught. And yet when I hit my teenage years, I started having lots of questions about God, about religion, Jesus, faith, the bible. Who was going to help me with my questions? Not my parents. Not my Pastor. Not my church. But there was one woman in the church who knew what to do. She knew to listen to me. And listen to me she did for hours on end. She didn’t come up with pat answers either. She would share from herself her own struggles and experiences, and she lived what she believed.

There are people, young people, middle age people, and yes old people who are questioning, seeking to understand who this Jesus is. There are people seeking something to help them live their lives, give them a purpose, a meaning. There are people in the middle of a crisis or have been through a crisis seeking answers to the why questions. Why me, why my spouse, why now, why us, why not them, why does anyone have to suffer, why God? They say we are living in a spiritual age, a time of seeking the something more than this life, a something greater than me. People are looking in all kinds of directions and religions for that something more something greater. And people are looking at Christianity and wondering is it the answer to my questions, my needs? Is Christ really who he says he is?

And you and I not only better have the answers, but know how to walk with them through the questions. We better know how to listen. We better know how to be with people who are seeking. We better know how to live our lives as believers.

Many have written books about their questions about Jesus. Josh McDowell’s book Evidence that demand a verdict which has been updated, Stroebel’s book, The Case for Christ as well. In the seventeenth century the French mathematician and theologian, Blaise Pascal (1623- 1663) put forward a wager in his Pensees (Thoughts):

If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having, neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is ... you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then without hesitation that he is.[1]

History Channel, PBS, The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel have done their versions about Jesus. Even Time and Newsweek occasionally have written articles about the questions. And if you go on the Internet there is all kind of information about Jesus, questions about Jesus, some of it true, some of it not true, some of it written from the person’s perspective, the atheist’s perspective, historical perspective.

If you have listened to our District Superintendent Hal Noble’s story, you know that as a young man he was an atheist himself, and even tried to convince people to become one. And yet became a Christian through the work of God through someone in his life. C. S. Lewis once an atheist himself said this about Jesus: Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

So the question comes back to you Who is Jesus to you?

Today we heard from Matthew who was once a tax collector and became a disciple of Jesus. He told us of Jesus scandalous association with the seedier side of society. It is the part of Jesus we often like to read about, and say, man isn’t Jesus cool, but if Jesus appeared today and had the same associations today, we might not want anything to do with Jesus. If the truth be known we might be like the prosecutors or the Pharisees or the priests. I don’t know how I would feel if I am honest with myself. I struggle with the part of me that thinks I am better than some people, especially those that Jesus was involved in like Matthew, and the sinners, and prostitutes. I am not sure I would want to be seen being associated with them. On the other hand I have a part of me that realizes that I am no better than them, I too am a sinner, I am human too, I have some part of me that can relate to some part of them too. I realize that just as Jesus came and died for my sins, he died for theirs, that I have no place to judge them. I have no place to turn them away. I have no place to put a roadblock for them to come into the Kingdom of God. If anything I better be taking down every roadblock there is and be about making room for them, inviting them into the Kingdom of God, spending time with them.

Look who invited to follow him, Matthew a tax collector, a cheater, a friend of the Romans, a sinner, a money grubbing thief. If Jesus can invite him to be one of his disciples, then we better be about doing the same thing. But the Religious leaders of that day didn’t want to have anything to have to do with a person like him, and they judge Jesus for that. And that Jesus would then go to a dinner party with Matthew and all those other sinners, unclean, outcasts was well you heard the prosecution, blasphemy, Heresy! Would we think and act the same way as the Religious leaders? It is a hard question to answer isn’t it. But answer it we must.

The religious leaders who came to the dinner party, turned and asked the disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” It wasn’t the disciples that answered him was it, it was Jesus. And his answer "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." Ouch “-Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Double ouch.

- Hosea 6.6

This passage from Hosea was a favourite verse for Israel, particularly

during their time of exile; for it was a reminder of that steadfast love

and loyalty of God. Jesus was merely practicing what his own people

preached. He lets the fact that his critics did not embody the generous love of God to members of their own community become a form of self-indictment.

This was Jesus’ first run in with the Pharisees. And it was only the beginning. This was Jesus’ first battle with the Pharisees. His first confrontation with them. His first war of words with them. And it occurred at Matthew’s house in Capernaum. The story of the conflict with the Pharisees continues. The dye was set. The mold was cast. The plot was beginning and would end only when these same Pharisees plotted, planted and killed him on the cross on Good Friday three years later.

Throughout his whole life, Jesus was crystal clear about the Pharisees: The Pharisees were hypocrites, phonies, pretending to be religious but they were not. The Pharisees felt superior to others around them who did not attend synagogue, felt superior to those who did not tithe and felt superior to those who did not pray in public. The Pharisees wanted praise and attention more than any thing else. They would pray in the synagogues so people could see them praying. They would give money to the beggars so other people could see them giving. They covered their clothing with ashes so people could see them being pious. It was all for show. They wanted praise, respect, honor. They wanted to be treated as “top dog.”

According to a recent Harris poll, accountants were at the very bottom of the list with only 14% of Americans thinking that accountants had an honorable occupation. Others at the bottom of the list were bankers, business people, lawyers and journalists and union leaders. Maybe we should be inviting the bankers, business people, lawyers, journalists and union leaders to church. Jesus is sending us the same message today. Today, Jesus does not get hung up on religious niceties and call people who think they are religiously clean and more impeccable than other folks. Today Jesus still calls people who know they are sinners big time to be his disciples, to be part of the inner core, to be his loyal followers. (Edward Marquart)

The sign at St. James UMC sign board says "Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven." We can not forget this, that we are forgiven sinners. And that is what we have to offer others, his forgiveness, his healing, his love, his kingdom.

So the question comes to you Who is this Jesus for you?

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