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Brand Name Or Generic?

Preaching
Lectionary Preaching Workbook
Series V, Cycle B
Theme For The Day: Providing a preserving and redemptive effect on the world.


BRIEF COMMENTARY ON THE LESSONS

Lesson 1: Esther 7:1--6, 9--10; 9:20--22 (C)
The book of Esther, written about 460 B.C., makes no mention of God, worship, or prayer. It doubtless was included in the canon because it is sort of an Easter story concerning the Jewish people. The wicked Haman had laid plans for the genocide of the Jewish people. Mordecai catches wind of the plot and intercedes with his adopted daughter, Queen Esther, who intercedes with King Ahasuerus during a feast. Haman is hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordicai, a kind of poetic justice. This text explains the institution of the Feast of Purim.

Lesson 1: Numbers 11:25--29 (RC); Numbers 11:4--6, 10--16, 24--29 (E)

Lesson 2: James 5:13--20 (C)

The concluding remarks of James continue the practical nature of the book. Those who suffer are instructed to pray, the joyous are to sing, and the sick are to contact the Elders, so they could anoint the sick with oil and pray over them. Confessing one's sins is also commended as a part of the healing and redemptive process. Anyone who brings a sinner back to God's grace will save the soul of the sinner.

Lesson 2: James 5:1--6 (RC); James 4:7--12 (13-5:6) (E)

Gospel: Mark 9:38--50 (C); Mark 9:38--43, 45, 47--48 (RC, E)
In the first part of this lection (vv. 38--40), the disciples object that a man is casting out demons in Jesus' name but is not a part of their group. Jesus counsels them to leave him alone, because nobody who does a mighty work in his name will soon be able to speak evil of him. The Lord encourages tolerance. On the other hand, Jesus is not tolerant of those who cause others to fall into sin (literally "stumble"); it would be better for such a person if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. Jesus advises the sinner to remove the cause of sin to save his soul. "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than for your whole body to be cast into Hell" (v. 44). Such advice constitutes hyperbole, an exaggeration for the purpose of making a point. The word translated "Hell" is the word Gehenna, Valley of Hinnom. This valley in the region of Jerusalem was the area where children were sacrificed, during the period when Ahaz encouraged the heathen fire--worship cult. It later became a city dump, an unclean place of refuse, where the fires continued to burn. The passage concludes with sayings that employ the metaphor of salt, which are not necessarily related in any other way.

Psalm Of The Day
Psalm 124 (C) - "Our help is in the name of the Lord" (v. 8).

Psalm 19; Psalm 135:1--7 (E)

Psalm 18 (RC)

Prayer Of The Day

Merciful Lord, give us the courage to remove any cause of temptation to sin and forbid that anything that we do would cause pain or scandal to one of your precious children. In Jesus' name. Amen.


THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION ON THE LESSONS

Lesson 1: Esther 7:1--6, 9--10; 9:20--22
Trapped. Haman had plotted to destroy Mordecai and the Jews by stealth and treachery but found himself snared in his own trap and executed on the gallows prepared for Mordecai. Those who practice evil eventually find themselves destroyed by their own plots, caught in their own trap.
King's favor (v. 2). Esther finds favor in the king's eyes and he offers her the desire of her heart, up to half his kingdom. It reminds me of the story of Salome, who danced before King Herod. She so pleased the king that he too offered her anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom. You will recall that her mother put her up to requesting the head of John the Baptist. Herodias and Salome sought revenge and the death of their enemy through the king's favor. Esther requested life and deliverance for her people. The Lord God grants his favor to those who seek life, not death.

Doomed by his deceit (v. 8--10). The text mentions that they covered Haman's face. This was a custom performed on the doomed. The sense of this punishment is similar to the millstone around the neck that Jesus mentions in the Gospel Lesson. Both images convey utter hopelessness and doom. What really doomed Haman was not the king but his own deceit.


Lesson 2: James 5:13--20
Reach out and touch (v. 13). James advises sufferers to share their misery with God and the church. "Are any among you suffering, let him pray." Share your misery with the Lord; he will hear, he will help. "Are any cheerful? Let them sing." Let others hear your praises. "Are any sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord." God heals through the ministering touch of his people. Misery may enjoy company but sufferers need community.
The healing ministry of the church (v. 14). The healing ministry of the church has mostly become limited to hospitals and trained professionals, both clergy and lay. James indicates that the leaders of the early church exercised a healing ministry. They didn't just attend meetings and form budgets, they were physicians for the soul. The sick are encouraged to call on the elders for the laying on of hands and the anointing with oil. The healing ministry of the church is sacramental, involving earthly means, God's Word, and promised blessings.

Sin and sickness (vv. 15--16). In the same breath that James speaks of healing, he also lifts up the forgiveness of sins. He is right in doing so; science has come to realize what people of faith have always known, that there is a link between sin and sickness. However, we must caution that the relationship is not necessarily a direct one. The presence of physical illness is not inevitably the product of sinful behavior. On the other side of the coin, there is no wellness or wholeness unless we know God and have received the forgiveness of sins. This remains true even if the doctors say that a person is free of illness.

Gospel: Mark 9:38--50


The ministry of the non--ordained (v. 38). The disciples came to Jesus with the complaint that a man outside their group was casting out demons in Jesus' name. We might say that he was an irregular, not a part of the ordained ministry of Jesus' followers. God often employs those outside of the normal channels to do his work.

Support staff (v. 41). "Whoever gives you a cup of cold water because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose his reward." There are many people who do not call themselves Christians, yet may be sympathetic to the gospel and the mission of the church. They may support us or work together with us on areas of common interest. They are our support staff.

An ounce of prevention (vv. 42--47). Employing hyperbole, Jesus urges an ounce of prevention to obviate the pound of cure. Actually, Jesus warns that the time will come when a cure is not possible, as in hell. "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better to enter life lame than to have two feet to be thrown into hell." Remove the obstacle or cause of offense before you fall into the pit or break your neck.

The most damnable condition (v. 42). Jesus indicates that the worst sin that one can commit is to cause one of his disciples (little ones) who believe in him to fall away from grace. The Lord comments that it would be better for such a person to lose his life in the most inglorious fashion, such as a millstone around his neck as he is thrown into the sea, than to cause one of his own to fall away.


SERMON APPROACHES WITH ILLUSTRATIONS

Lesson 1: Esther 7:1--6, 9--10; 9:20--22

Sermon Title: The Importance Of Knowing Who You Are

Sermon Angle:
Esther was an orphaned, alien Jew who became Queen in Persia. Once she became Queen, she might have forgotten her former lowly identity but she didn't. She chose to put her life on the line to save her people because she remembered who she was. In living out her Jewish identity, she became both powerful and authentic. As children of God, we too are called to know and remember who we are.

Outline:

1. Esther was both Queen of Persia and a Jewish woman.

2. In a conflict between those identities, she chose to side with her imperiled people (v. 3).

3. Like Moses, she chose to identify with her lowly roots, rather than her exalted position.

4. Authentic living comes from knowing and living out your true identity.

5. Our true identity rests in our baptism into Christ.


Sermon Title: The Joy Of Being Saved

Sermon Angle:
Mordecai proclaimed throughout the empire a day of feasting and celebration for the Jewish people who had been saved from holocaust. In issuing the edict, he describes this feast as "the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday..." (v. 22). This feast combines some of the spirit of both Christmas and Easter. Christmas, because of the practice of gift giving, and Easter, because of the reversal of fortunes; those doomed were delivered. Though the book of Esther does not mention God, it speaks to the joy of being saved, a joy which cries out to be expressed in celebration and giving. This joy was only a brief foretaste of our salvation in Christ.

Outline:

1. Imagine the feelings of one condemned to death who is pardoned!

2. The Jews, set for slaughter, were saved - imagine their joy!

3. This deliverance was marked by celebration, exchange of food, and giving to the poor (vv. 22--23).

4. Every Sunday is a celebration of our deliverance in Christ. Show your joy by giving of yourself and your substance.

Lesson 2: James 5:13--20
Sermon Title: The Original HMO

Sermon Angle:
In an effort to cut the cost of medical care in our country, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO's) have assumed a much greater importance. The HMO's attempt to prevent many of the maladies that plague us and maintain a high level of health. The church was the first HMO, whose mission it was and is to bring wholeness to body, mind and spirit. Confession is our fundamental diagnostic tool and prayer is our primary therapeutic appliance.

Outline:

1. Healing of illness has always been a central element of the church's mission.

2. The Church was the first health maintenance organization.

3. The sick are instructed to contact the church leaders for healing ministry (v. 14).
4. We are all part of the health maintenance team.


Sermon Title: Confession Is Good For More Than The Soul

Sermon Angle:
James indicates that the prayers of the righteous are effectual not only for the body but the soul (v. 15). He links forgiveness and healing. Then James urges the church to pray for one another and confess our sins to one another, so that we might be healed. Guilt, fear, and bitterness can destroy our bodies and/or souls, if we do not tend to them. Counseling may assist those who are so dis--eased but only God and prayer can heal both body and spirit.

Outline:
1. Our confession of sins at church is often perfunctory.

2. We think confession can help our souls but not our bodies.

3. James urges us to confess our sins to one another, that we might be healed in every way (v. 16).
__________


Confession is productive of good health because it releases us from bitterness. Holding on to offenses eats away at our body and our spirit. Guy de Maupassant, in his short story "The Piece of String," writes about a man who found a piece of string on the pavement of a busy street one morning. Thinking that he might find a use for it, he bent down to pick it up. Later, he was accused of having found a wallet at the same spot. Though he protested his innocence, he was taken to the police station for interrogation. The wallet was found the next day, but the man felt that he had been wronged. He could not let this incident go and brooded daily over it. The string became a symbol of the injustice done him, affecting his work, his family and his health. Every person that he met would hear about his injustice. He died a bitter and broken man, mumbling "a piece of string."

Gospel: Mark 9:38--50

Sermon Title: Brand Name Or Generic?
Sermon Angle: In the field of medications, there may be one brand name for a particular medicine, but after the patent has run out one may get the same medicine with a generic label at a fraction of the cost. What I am about to say is not a perfect analogy but might prove to be a helpful construct. The Church of Christ is filled with brand name Christians, with the name of Christ affixed upon their forehead in baptism. Some of them live out their faith well, others do not. At the same time, there are people out in the world that hold many of the values and beliefs of brand name Christians but without the label. Their lives might be composed of basically the same ingredients. Didn't Jesus say, "Those who are not against us are with us?" Didn't Jesus rebuke the disciples for wanting to forbid the outsiders from ministering in Jesus' name? Though the generic Christian might be composed of pretty much the same stuff, keep in mind that he or she is a copy of brand name, a facsimile of the real McCoy.

Outline:

1. Discuss the differentiation between generic and brand name medicines.

2. Use this analogy for followers of Christ, inside and outside the institutional church.
3. We can work together with those who hold basically our same beliefs and values.

4. The generic believer is a copy of the brand name Christian - without the brand name, there would be no generic.

5. Salvation still comes through Christ.


Sermon Title: Don't Cause A Wake

Sermon Angle:
If you're a boater, you will eventually go through areas posted as "no wake" zones. That means that the boats are required to keep their speed down so as not to cause a wake, waves that follow the boat and are created by the speed and movement of the boat. Wakes can upset fishing boats, swamp swimmers and gouge out the shore line. Wakes are to the sea what stumbling blocks are on the land. When James counsels against putting stumbling blocks in the way of one of his little ones (disciples) (v. 42), it is the same as saying, "Don't swamp the lifeboat of one of my disciples." Those whose careless and reckless actions inundate those disciples who do not know how to swim well in the sea of life will be judged severely.

Outline:

1. If you've gone fishing, you probably have been adversely affected by some other boat's wake.

2. Wakes are the nautical equivalent of stumbling blocks.

3. Life is a "no wake" zone, so we don't upset someone else's lifeboat.

4. We must carefully consider our effect on those who find themselves in our wake.


Sermon Title: There Is No Salt Substitute

Sermon Angle:
To control their blood pressure, some people have to lower their salt intake. To do this, some of them use a salt substitute. The problem is, they don't taste like salt and they don't season like salt (personal opinion). Salt was a very important commodity in the ancient world; it was so precious that in some cultures, it was a medium of exchange. At the conclusion of our Gospel Lesson, there are three sayings involving salt. We will consider the one in verse 50: "Salt is good but if it has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?" To explicate this saying, we must first understand the function of salt. (1) Salt was a purifier and preservative for food, absolutely essential before the days of refrigeration. (2) As we know, salt also enhances the taste of food. (3) Even the ancients must have known that salt was essential to preserving health. (4) Salt is powerful; a little goes a long way. Christians are meant to be preserving and purifying agents in society. We are also to give life zest and flavor. Even though committed Christians may be a minority, our influence can penetrate every strata of society. We don't really lose our saltiness, except when our faith is mixed with a host of impurities.
__________

Elie Wiesel, a Jewish author who survived the Holocaust, conveys the story about a faithful and just Jew who came to a wicked village in order to save it from destruction. Night and day he walked the streets preaching against vice and corruption. At first, the people listened to the stranger and smiled condescendingly. After a short time, they stopped listening; he no longer was able to even entertain them. The thieves went on stealing, the corrupt officials kept taking bribes, spouses kept on cheating on their spouses, and the children continued being disobedient to their parents. One day, a youth, puzzled by the stranger's behavior, asked, "Poor stranger, you shout and wear yourself out. Don't you see that it's useless?" "Yes, I see," answered the just man. "Then why do you go on?" "I'll tell you why. I'm not sure to what extent, if any, I can change this village. But if I still shout today and if I still scream, it is to prevent them from changing me."
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