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Free Sermon Illustrations for Proper 23 | Ordinary Time 28 (2017)

Exodus 32:1-14
Disasters happen. Natural and human-created disasters happen. This passage from Exodus engages us in a conversation between God and Moses over the Israelite people. Aaron has lost faith and instructed the people to create an idol for them to worship. Aaron is afraid that Moses will not come back, that God has abandoned them. So they need something to worship -- why not a golden calf?

God, who has been faithfully leading Moses and the people toward a new life, is infuriated that the people would turn away and worship an idol. Moses turns God from anger and into reconciliation with the people. Moses intercedes.

I wonder how angry God gets with us. We sometimes seem to worship success, thinness, wealth, power, influence, sex, and any number of idols other than God. Who intercedes for us? When we pray “thy will be done,” we are each and all interceding for each other. We are proclaiming that God is our God and that before God there are no others. Even when we fall short of that goal, God forgives. Jesus forgave from the very cross, the instrument of his death. God forgives as well, no matter the disasters that befall us or that we create ourselves.
Bonnie B.

Exodus 32:1-14
It’s not clear exactly what Aaron was thinking when he crafted that golden calf. Medieval Jewish rabbis wondered if the people would be so foolish as to think this object could be the source of the power that had liberated them from Egypt. However, a statue of a bull or a calf sometimes served as the pedestal upon which a god stood. Just as the later ark of the covenant would have a throne but no depiction of the living God who sat upon that throne, some of the rabbis wondered if perhaps what Aaron was creating for the people was a visible image of the beast upon which their God invisibly stood. Were they trying to summon God? To control God? After all, Aaron states when the task is done that tomorrow would be a festival to YHWH, the name of the God who spoke from the burning bush, sent the ten plagues, whose angel of death passed over their houses, and who led them beyond the Red Sea in their journey. The statue of a calf did not depict their God, but did in some way seek to control the presence of God. This passage comes right after instructions for the building of the ark. This calf is in direct opposition to God’s plan for a movable presence among the people as they travel through the desert.
Frank R.

Exodus 32:1-14
This is one text that proves democracy was a total disaster in the Bible. If that were the ruling system then, we would be worshiping that golden calf today.

Almost every “vote” by the people was wrong in scripture. Prophets of God were killed by the will of the majority. God didn’t want the people to have a king, but he let them have kings -- some of whom were not so bad. The biggest tragedy was the “vote” to crucify Jesus!

Several government figures (including Colin Powell) have supposedly said that democracy is not right for all the countries in the world.

The secret is to have someone intercede like Moses. God loved his people as he loves us, so the answer to our problems is in the hands of the Lord. Yes, our constitution commands the separation of “church” and state -- but not “God” and state!

Don’t we all get impatient now and then when God seems far away and it seems that he is not listening? The message in this passage is that we must never give up on God and try to solve our problems in some unacceptable way. We can always think of shortcuts that he won’t be happy with.

When I was having trouble making enough money in my motion picture business before I became a pastor, I was given an offer to make $800 a day one day a week if I went to the bay area and made pornographic films. I almost took up the offer, but the Lord came to me just in time and changed my whole life.

God can give each of us an answer to our problems if we learn patience. Our church can be our Moses for us! All we need to do is learn where God wants us to go. If we have problems, remind our Lord that we are baptized and belong to him.
Bob O.

Philippians 4:1-9
I heard the following story and thought of it again as I read through this passage. A recently licensed pilot was flying his private plane on a cloudy day. He was not very experienced in instrument landing. When the control tower started to bring him in, he began to get nervous, panicky. Then a stern voice came over the radio: “You just obey instructions. We’ll take care of the obstructions.”

As Paul concludes his letter to the church in Philippi, he gives them some quick exhortations. One of them is found in verse six: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul has just told them to rejoice and to be gentle. He reminds them that the Lord is near. He then tells them not to worry about anything. Instead, turn to God in prayer and supplication.

The words are true and make sense, but it’s hard, isn’t it? Sometimes it is easy to see the obstacles that may threaten us, whether they be real or imagined. Sometimes it’s easy for us to run every possible negative scenario that might happen. Paul is urging the Philippian Christians: “Don’t do that.” The words of the control tower could also come from the Lord. “You just obey instructions. I’ll take care of the obstructions.”
Bill T.

Philippians 4:1-9 
Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, in May 2016, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the three cousins who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. The three girls were shepherds, and shepherds have always been a symbol in the church for ministry and peace. Francis used this occasion to deliver a homily on peace and justice in the world. His remarks somewhat reflected on President Trump’s desire to build a wall to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States, and Europe’s refusal to accept refuges from the Middle East and Africa. The pope said: “We will tear down all walls and cross every frontier, as we go out to every periphery, to male known God’s justice and peace.”

Application: A central theme in our reading is the need to “stand firm” for social justice.
Ron L.

Philippians 4:1-9
The 2016 presidential election demonstrated that Americans were unhappy with things. Our happiness is dropping demonstrably. A World Happiness Index poll in 2016 indicated what we are only 19th among nations (Norway leading the pack), down from 3rd in 2007. Our lesson offers some advice. Paul calls for rejoicing by Christians.

Martin Luther seems to best explain why we are anxious, why so many Americans are unhappy: “Paul thus makes plain that many things transpire which tend to create in us anxiety, but we must not let them make us overanxious; we must commit ourselves to God and implore his aid for our needs” (Collected Sermons, Vol. 3/2, p. 106).

John Calvin offers much the same advice about how happiness can happen in our lives: “The sum, then, is this -- that come what may, believers have the Lord standing on their side, have amply sufficient grounds of joy” (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XXI/2, p. 116).

Rejoicing in the Lord, happiness in life, is like the song “Happiness” goes: For Christians, tomorrow really is fuller than a thousand yesterdays, when you have that vision of Jesus’ new day in your heart.
Mark E.

Matthew 22:1-14
We continue our theme of worthiness in this gospel lesson. Many have been invited to the banquet of the king. Many were thought to be worthy. Yet those previously deemed worthy, those previously invited, are too busy to come, or kill the messengers, or are unwilling to travel the distance. The king, while furious, extends the invitation more broadly -- invite everyone you see on the street, bring them all, for the feast is ready.

Imagine being invited to a palace for a feast and turning down the invitation. It’s inconvenient right now, but thanks. Imagine begging on the street and being gathered together with others and welcomed into the palace. What a wonder that might be. What joy and trepidation! Why me? How did I get included?

It was tradition to offer a coat to those who did not have one as they entered the feast. The refusal of the coat leads to dismissal. It is not the dress code that it is at stake, it is the acknowledgement that one is in the presence of the king and is unprepared that is at issue. There has been time and a way to prepare, but there apparently has also been a refusal, a lack of gratitude demonstrated. How does this relate to us?

What invitations has God offered to us? How have we responded? Have we ignored the invitation? Have we come to the party unprepared and unrepentant? What hinders our relationship with God, the king of all creation? What do we do now?
Bonnie B.

Matthew 22:1-14
If there is a problem with the parables of Jesus for 21st-century Christians, it’s that we don’t get the jokes. We’ve heard them too often, or live outside the original society’s understanding of what was funny.

The basic premise is hilarious. How could anyone be too busy not to answer the high honor of being summoned to the wedding of the king’s son? Those who refused got their just deserts and good riddance! The day laborers and others barely getting by in that economy would have loved the story -- but then there is the surprise twist... not the surprise twist where all the poor people like them got to go to the wedding feast! That was great. But the last surprise twist is when one of the poor gets thrown out. Didn’t see that one coming.
Frank R.

Matthew 22:1-14
If we think of the Lord’s Supper as the king’s banquet, God has invited all his people to come but some have other priorities and turn down the invitation. We see them all around us. Statistics tell us that the number is growing!

Even some of my own children still haven’t come to the Lord’s banquet, and it makes me very worried that the Lord will send his army to make them pay a price. All I can do is continue to send them that invitation, and pray that they will see not only the danger of not coming but also all the blessings they will be missing if they ignore the invitation.

The other problem is for those who come without the proper dressing. Yes, we may see some in our church who are there because it benefits their business or helps them find friends or because their mate and their family insist on their coming.

I gave my people a questionnaire in one church asking them why they came. Some said that their family has always come or that their new bride or groom insisted on their coming. There were some who said they came because they learned in catechism that they had to come or they would go to hell.

Most of those on the mission field came because they believed that God had a great banquet for them -- his salvation -- and they didn’t want to miss it. They are hungrier both physically and spiritually.

Everyone in our church has a duty to go out and invite those who they meet to come and feast. It is better to describe that banquet to attract them rather than trying to scare them with the danger of not answering the invitation. Should we tell them that their baptism is their garment? That garment is always there for those who want to come to the Lord’s banquet. God loves us all.
Bob O.
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