Abingdon Preaching Annual 2005 [Secure eReader]
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eBook by David N. Mosser
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Preachers have long been able to turn to the Abingdon Preaching Annual for concise, thoughtful aids for worship and preaching. The 2005 edition of the Annual continues that tradition of solid biblical scholarship and creative sermon materials. Compiled with the preacher's need for high-quality, accessible resources in mind, the 2005 Abingdon Preaching Annual will: draw on a breadth of writers from a variety of denominational backgrounds provide both thorough exegesis and insightful sermon starters and outlines, present brief, biblically grounded worship aids, invite the preacher into a deeper appreciation of his or her calling through devotional materials written with the pastor in mind. The eBook edition aids sermon and worship preparation by allowing you to: quickly search on a keyword, Scripture verse, or lectionary day add notes and annotations to the electronic text using the note, bookmarking, and highlighting features copy and paste text into sermon documents and worship bulletins Some of the contributors to the preaching annual are the following: Thomas Lane Butts, John Fiedler, Wendy Joyner, Bass Mitchell, Mary Scifres, Ryan Wilson.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2004
FACING THE GOSPEL IN LIFE
FACING OUR FEARS
Did you know that The National Geographic Society has a magazine called Adventure? In the July 2002 issue there is an article titled "The Joy of Fear." Five people wrote about the adrenaline rush they got from doing extremely dangerous things, for example, racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah at 417 miles per hour, paddling a canoe through Iceberg Alley in Greenland, or dangling off a white-faced rock cliff in a remote Mexican jungle. We now have people in the United States and around the world for whom normal life is so boring and tedious that they need the surge of excitement that a death-defying experience provides to make them "feel" alive. This kind of human behavior has spawned a new field of study called adventure psychology.
Likewise, researchers tell us that "about 3.7% of the U.S. population ages 18 to 54 -- approximately 5.3 million Americans -- has social phobia in any given year."
Social phobia, also called social anxiety, is a disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. People with social anxiety have a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions. Their fear may be so severe that it interferes with work or school -- and other ordinary activities. While many people with social phobia recognize that their fear of being around people may be excessive or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome it. They often worry for days or weeks in advance of a dreaded situation.
So whether or not fear is self-induced or given to us by our peculiar psychological makeup, we must all face fear one way or another. Our biblical writers recognized this fact of human life and comprehensively addressed it. In fact, in our Bible's sixty-six recognized canonical books the terms fear, afraid, and dread occur 498 times (NRSV). Our lesson today concerns the Hebrews' fear of God and death at God's hands if the Lord speaks directly to them. Hear the scripture text:
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin." Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exod. 20:18-21)
The people were so afraid of God that they asked Moses to be their mediator so that the Lord God would not need to speak to them directly. It is odd but predictable that people often ask their leaders to do things that they fear to do for themselves, then later cast off the guidance when it is no longer needed.
Here now is the good news about our fear of God. This fear represents a real concern with the Creator of the universe. While the concept of God is not too fearsome, the reality of God's presence is something that we ponder, as Paul puts it, "with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). In other words, our fear represents our awareness of God's greatness and power. However, only by seeing both the awesome and the loving sides of God can we come to a full awareness of the greatness of God.
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom," both Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10 tell us. The "fear of the Lord" basically describes the awe that people ought to have before God. Although it does carry overtones of judgment, those who fear, or better respect, the awesomeness of God are those persons who have a grasp of the Lord's providential power for God's creation. The wisdom book of Ecclesiastes puts it appropriately at the end of the writer's musings on life and death. He writes: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone" (12:13).
Fear is a part of every human life. Fear energizes us. Fear helps us stay alert to danger. Fear, thereby, is a necessary emotion or sensation for survival. Yet, as we have seen already in our mention of "social anxiety" fear can debilitate people. We all fear different things. Most of us fear our money running out before our life does. Some people fear retirement while others fear for their current jobs. People are in constant worry about their loved ones, and this is doubly true for our anxiety about our children, regardless of their ages. We all have worries, but they do have an effect on our lives. They can paralyze us into inaction, or worse, they can even spur us to inappropriate and unfortunate action. If you don't believe me, think back to some of your community's anxiety created by the prediction of our neighbors and friends concerning the self-induced apocalypse we called Y2K.
For most of us it all comes down to trust. Either we trust that the Lord will provide or we don't. For Christians, there is no other alternative. Only by trusting the God who created all and will bring all to its final completion can we forge our way through this life that is given as a great and wonderful blessing. To trust in God or not to trust in God: That is the question!
Fear is real and has been with us at least as far back as Aesop who once told a fable that goes like this:
Long ago, the mice held a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. "You will all agree," said he, "that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood."
This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: "That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?" The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said: "It is easy to propose impossible remedies."
On the other hand, a healthy fear keeps us alert to the great risks that make creative life possible. Our remedy for fear is simply our faith and hope in the love of God, who loved us enough to create us but also loved us enough not to leave us like we are. To live the "fear of the Lord" is to have wisdom that the creator will sustain us to the end and then receive us into our eternal and divine home. Fear drives us to become the people God created us to be. Amen. (David N. Mosser)
FACING OUR ENEMIES
Near the end of chapter 4 the writer of the Epistle to the Ephesians reminds his readers that they are leaving their old lives and entering into a whole new world made possible by the gift of God in Christ Jesus. Ephesians tells its readers, "Clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (4:24). The overall intent of this six-chapter letter helps recently converted believers get a sense of what exactly their new baptism does for them. Beyond God's gift through baptism, the letter provides guidelines of what they are now free to become in light of God's action in Jesus Christ. Hear our morning's lesson:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the while armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darknesss, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:10-17)
Standing against our enemies, and in this case the ultimate enemy, the devil, our writer gives us striking images with which we can compete against those evil forces that we all sense conspire to defeat us in life.
An odd thing about the Bible is that sometimes it seems to speak to people far away and about issues that never enter our realm of experience. For example, Deuteronomy 14:21 tells the faithful, "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk." This idea might never have crossed my mind if I had not read it in the Bible. Or, what about the admonition to the Hebrew faithful in Deuteronomy 22:5: "A woman shall not wear a man's apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the LORD your God"? Clearly, no one in our society today takes this caution to heart. Yet the Bible, wherever it happens to fall open, knows us better than we know ourselves.
The Bible says much about the issue of human enemies. One of the reasons that the children of Israel ended up with their long bondage in Egypt was simply because the Egyptians feared what might happen if the Hebrews joined their enemies to fight against them (Exod. 1:10). Later, after the entrance into the Promised Land, we read that "the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, / until the nation took vengeance on their enemies" (Josh. 10:13). The Psalms have at least seventy-seven individual verses that address the issue of "the enemy." When we think about our national interests, have we, too, not been absolutely preoccupied with the concept of enemies since September 11, 2001?
Usually we can count on Jesus to guide us as to what to think and how to act in our journey toward and with God. Yet, on the issue of enemies, Jesus throws us something of a curveball. Jesus does not say what the Old Testament says. Jesus does not gratify our own conventional wisdom. Instead Jesus says things like:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matt. 5:43-44)
"But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." (Luke 6:35)
However, even if most of us don't like what Jesus says about the enemy, at least he acknowledges that in life we will all encounter enemies. I think Jesus assumes enemies as a part of human life. What is important to us is not whether we have enemies, but how we deal with them. As Sally Kempton wisely noted, "It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head." She knows that most of the damage that an enemy does to us comes as something of a self-inflicted wound. Like an African proverb suggests, "When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you." Practically, what does this mean?
The Reverend Norman Neaves related a television interview with the University of Oklahoma football coach, Bob Stoops. The University of Oklahoma (OU) had been a perennial contender for the NCAA national football title for decades. However, in the late 1990s, OU football had fallen on hard times. The reporter named several tough teams scheduled to go up against OU and asked Stoops how he felt about the schedule facing his team.
Neaves then went on in his sermon to praise Bob Stoops's answer. Stoops said, "I can't really worry about those teams at all, not one of them. I can't change who they are, I can't change the talent they have. . . . All I can do is to make sure we take care of our own business and that we execute our own game plan. . . . If we'll do that, . . . everything will take care of itself" ("Don't Worry About the End of the World," Church of the Servant, Oklahoma City, December 5, 1999).
Plainly, football is not life. Yet, this youthful coach from the University of Oklahoma grasped the situation that he and his team faced. In fact, in the subsequent season, they went on to win college football's national championship. This accomplishment, I suggest, had a lot to do with the realism that the leader, in this case a very young head coach, possessed and his ability to help his team apply themselves to the things that they could control. When we focus our lives on the things that we can manage and ignore those elements that are beyond our ability to influence, then we can be satisfied that we have done our best.
To conclude our look at Ephesians, what is most interesting about the list of the "weapons" is that they are not merely weapons of human warfare, although they do evoke these images. In fact, these weapons are not even mere human virtues. Rather, each of these images is an extension of God's own might. Many of these elements are those that allow us to fight against the evil, and often invisible, forces in our world. So, the next time you get dressed for the day, imagine that you gird your loins with some of these divine designer clothes:
• the belt of truth
• the breastplate of righteousness.
• shoes that make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace
• the shield of faith
• the helmet of salvation
• the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
The writer could have also added "forgiveness" to our arsenal. Oscar Wilde advised, "Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much." This sounds like Paul when he wrote to his beloved community in Rome:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:19-21) Amen. (David N. Mosser)
FACING OUR SUCCESSES
Winston Churchill surely knew of what he spoke when he quipped, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." But, just as true may have been what Tennessee Williams said: "Success and failure are equally disastrous." This sermon concludes our three-part series. We have explored in brief what scripture said about fear and enemies. Today we tackle success. This is not a sermon that a preacher can preach just anywhere. Sermons like this one can be preached only to congregations who understand what it is to achieve. Yet, I am absolutely confident that virtually everyone in our sanctuary would be considered a success by the citizens of our towns. Occasionally this reality intimidates people. Perhaps they feel that a church house full of accomplished people will rebuff them. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Yet, success does carry a certain stigma.
For many people, the idea and ideal of success is that target at which they aim their whole life. For those who have been frustrated time and time again, success becomes merely one more aspiration that has eluded them. Some folks simply give up and have no long- or even short-range life goals. Edward Butler said, "One man has enthusiasm for 30 minutes, another for 30 days, but it is the man who has it for 30 years who makes a success of his life."
Generally, most people would agree that success is a good thing. We strive for it. We work for it. We dream of it. Even scripture extols success. Hear Psalm 118:24-25:
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
Psalm 118 is a communal hymn of praise for which the people give thanks to God for all that God accomplishes among them. It also reiterates a request that God continue to "give us success!" The success it summons no doubt depends on the one who prays it.
Despite all the positive aspects of success, however, we are obliged as Christians to recognize and explore success from the perspective of the Christian faith. Nothing we, as believers, think or do should be thought or done in a vacuum. Rather, scripture calls us to "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). One of the troubles with success is that it is so seductive. Success breeds more responsibility and this, in turn, breeds more success. Success can be like a merry-go-round where no one can ever jump off. As Henry Kissinger remarked, "Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem." Thus, the issue for us today is simply, How can we be successful and Christian at the same time? It is worth noting that from the world's judgment Elvis Presley, Howard Hughes, and J. Paul Getty had "successful lives." Yet, biographies of these individuals read more like tragedy than success. Getty said, "The meek shall inherit the Earth, but not its mineral rights."
Success is seductive in the same sense that a kettle of cool water seduces a frog. If you throw a frog into a kettle of boiling water, the frog senses the danger and skips right off the surface seeking safety. However, if you put the frog in a kettle of cool water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog will remain in the kettle until it boils to death. The frog's survival instinct detects sudden changes, but not gradual change, which, of course, proves the frog's ultimate undoing. Sometimes successful people are lulled into a false sense of authentic life because of the work and effort necessary to achieve success. In other words, they miss the reason that they strive in the first place, which is to build a meaningful life, a life full of value and relationship and connection.
When the psalmist sings of success, it isn't reflective of the images we think of: cars and houses and prestige and all the rest of the modern images that success conjurses up. Success from a biblical point of view means the same thing as faithfulness. It means trusting God to provide for us. It means that God grants us success in our earthly pursuits. The prayer of Jabez puts it like this: " 'Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!' And God granted what he asked" (1 Chron. 4:10).
Success in the biblical sense means something completely different than our autonomous, Western, capitalist, American ideas of success. In fact, one of the dangers of living in modern America is that we may be seduced away from God by our own sense of success. Do you want to live in a world where all knowledge, insight, and experience is self-generated? Some critics of modern culture suggest that us moderns are naive.
We assume that everyone in America is a Christian. We feel confident that we live in a Christian nation and a Christian culture. But, sometimes things happen to us that jar that confidence. The last time that I was the senior-high dean at a church camp about fifteen years ago, I assumed that all the kids at camp were good kids who came from good homes. I got a rather rude and abrupt awakening one night.
On the third night of camp, about 2:00 A.M.. one of the counselors came to me and said, "We have a problem." I got up and the counselor produced seven inebriated teenagers who had also been smoking pot. I asked them what church they were from and they said, "The big one in Temple." Then I asked, "Who is your pastor?" They didn't have a clue. I later discovered that these youngsters had never even been to a Methodist church. They had come to camp thinking that they could blend in and party without any obstacles whatsoever. But, they did not blend in, and, as far as I was concerned, their party was over.
I called one teen's father and asked him to come immediately. The father replied, "It's 2:00 in the morning. I will drive over tomorrow." To which I said, "Well if you get to the camp in the next two hours you can pick up these seven kids. After that, just drop by the police station."
He said, "I'm on my way."
I had thought that everyone at camp was a Christian, but there were some who evidently were not, or at least did not act like it. Each of us who wants to be successful as a Christian contributes to the whole community of faith. Some teach; some are generous givers; some know how to help with mission projects like the youth mission trips or a soup kitchen. However, we all have a part to play. This is the essence of success from the Christian point of view. Helping others find Christ -- that is the real success in the household of faith.
During our last revival, on Monday and Wednesday nights, we had first twenty-nine and then thirty singers in the chancel area as choir members. They sounded beautiful, and they looked like they were "in the spirit." I wondered, "Why does this not happen on Sunday, the Sabbath of God?" If you want to be successful as a Christian, then help someone come to faith. Maybe it is by singing in choir or by mentoring in a confirmation program. But please do something.
Do you remember when the children of Israel left Egypt for the land of promise? Everyone went. Not some, but all. The ironic thing about Christian success is that we are never successful unless those around us also succeed. We need one another, and we need to reach out to others. This is what real success is all about. In the Psalm for today, notice the wording; it is intentional: "Save us, we beseech you, O LORD! / O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!" (Ps. 118:25). (David N. Mosser)
Copyright © 2004 by Abingdon Press