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Sermon Illustrations for Proper 17 | Ordinary Time 22 (2017)

Exodus 3:1-15
Sometimes I wish the call from God on my life would be as clear as the burning bush Moses encountered. It would be so much simpler than stumbling along, wondering if it is God’s voice I hear or my own desires and hopes. Yet even in the face of God’s evidence of existence, Moses falters. How can I go and talk to Pharaoh? It can’t be me you’re asking to do this big thing. After all, I am just a simple person, a shepherd, nothing special about me. Moses seems to have forgotten his royal upbringing, his fall from grace, and his exile -- or maybe that is what Moses remembers, his limits and not his potential.

In my own life, I wrestled with accepting a call to ordained ministry for several years. God certainly couldn’t be calling me. I was too ordinary, too sinful, too old (I was in my early and mid-40s at the time). But God had a plan for me. Stepping forward into the potential God saw has made all the difference -- broken relationships were mended, lives were touched, my own spiritual development has deepened.

What is God calling you to do? Where are you being called to journey? Is the booming voice of God being heard in your spirit, or is God the still small voice that nudges you? In any case, listen my friends. Listen and then act on the invitations. Your life will never be the same.
Bonnie B.

Exodus 3:1-15
This is the first instance in the scriptures where a place is called sacred. Prior to this the sacred word seems to be only aware of sacred time -- to be found in the sabbath. While approaching the burning bush -- answering the call of God with a single Hebrew word which can be translated “Here I am!” -- Moses is told to remove his sandals because he is standing on this now holy ground. Here is the place where one is to act differently -- the real idea behind the word holy! To be holy is to be different.

As time goes on, other sacred spaces will be defined -- the tabernacle and the temple, for instance, and in those places priests would officiate while barefoot to show their respect. When the priestly benediction is pronounced in synagogue services, officiants still take off their footwear. But this instance provides the first example of a sacred space.
Frank R.

Exodus 3:1-15
What does it take to make one a missionary? There may be no burning bush, but a number of things may call to them. They may see the tragedy of some country, as when Nepal had that earthquake. They may see people starving and in need. They may simply see people that need God’s message for them.

Taking off your shoes may be just a command for humility. Come before the Lord on our knees! We get to know the name of the Lord through our church -- not just the spelling but the experience of his presence in our lives.

We need something dramatic to open our eyes to God’s presence and his purpose for us.

Most of us in church are there because our parents or a friend have opened our eyes to see our Lord.

We may cry out because of our pain, as when we are so sick that we look for some means to end our suffering and bring us to the land of milk and honey in the next world that he has for us.

My wife and I got a call to the mission field in Nepal, where we met others who had also gotten that call. Each one received it in different ways, so you can’t write a book that tells if and when you may become a missionary. Not many will have a flaming bush!

How does God rescue us from an oppressor? How many in the world are hoping to be rescued from some leader who does not care for his people? Is the answer always military action, as some seem to think? No! God’s way is to send us someone who cares for us and God wants.
Bob O.

Romans 12:9-21
Carla Barnhill of Christianity Today recently did a survey of several high school students, asking them about people’s perceptions of Christians. She began by asking them what were some of the myths they thought people held about Christians. One young man answered: “People’s picture of a Christian is someone carrying their Bible around, wearing glasses and a suit and tie, walking to church. You know, kind of nerdy.” A young lady replied: “There are also people who say they’re Christians but don’t really do anything about it. They give people the impression that Christians are just like anyone else, that there’s nothing special about being a Christian.”

The entire article was interesting, but I couldn’t shake these two responses. What does a Christian look like? I think it’s a good question. In this passage in Romans, I think Paul paints a picture of what a Christian ought to be. The words leap from the page: love, honor, rejoice, patient, harmony, not haughty. Paul concludes the passage by addressing how Christians are to interact with those around them. “Live peaceably,” “never avenge yourselves,” “feed your enemy,” “overcome evil with good” are benchmarks Paul sets for Christian conduct.

Looking at this picture from Romans 12 can make us a bit uncomfortable. In the Christianity Today article one student sums up what it means to be a Christian. He said: “Being a Christian isn’t just a Sunday thing. You have to live it out every day.” Challenging words; how are we doing living up to them?
Bill T.

Romans 12:9-21
This lesson reminds us of 18th-century poet Alexander Pope’s well-known comment: “To err is human; to forgive divine.” Forgiveness helps you move on. American entertainer Bernard Meltzer said it nicely: “When you forgive, you in no way change the past -- but you do change the future.” Forgiveness helps you get back at your enemy, as Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once noted: “Always forgive your enemies -- nothing annoys them so much.”

Forgiveness, it seems, is good for your health, as it reduces blood pressure. Psychiatrist Andrew Newberg has noted that forgiveness can stimulate frontal lobe circuits that are associated with compassionate beliefs and spiritual experience (Why We Believe What We Believe, pp. 138,174-175), which reminds us that forgiveness is associated with religious faith. Biology suggests that Pope was right: Forgiveness really is divine.
Mark E.

Romans 12:9-21
Robert Bentley ran for governor of Alabama on a campaign that promoted his integrity, which was firmly established in his Christian values. The dermatologist and church deacon who taught Sunday school would quote the Bible during his campaign. Once elected he would quote the Bible during legislative sessions, and he always shared stories of how he would witness to patients in his medical practice. When he was elected to office, voters saw him as an extraordinary change from decades of state corruption. Governor Bentley remined popular in office -- until it was discovered that he was having a secret affair with Rebekah Caldwell Manson, his top aide and a former beauty pageant contestant. In an effort to cover up the affair, Bentley committed acts that led to his impeachment. The 2017 sex scandal also ended his 50-year marriage.
Application: Our reading discusses the seriousness of sin. 
Ron L.

Matthew 16:21-28
I just love Peter. He says all the things the rest of us are thinking. Why, Jesus, would you surrender yourself in Jerusalem? How can you even think about such a thing? Haven’t you come to set us free? Yet the path that Jesus walks is the path he was called into being to walk.

Now, you understand that I am a progressive Christian. I don’t necessarily think Jesus came into the world as an atonement figure. I don’t even think that Jesus was born just to die. I think us humans are so bad at love and compassion and understanding and justice that we cause the crucifixion. I believe God would have been just as happy if we had all followed Jesus’ example and lived a life deeply connected to God. However, living a life of grace, compassion, reconciliation, justice, and love is difficult. It is a taking up of our cross. And the response to our life aligned with God is uncertain. We may be welcomed, but more than likely we will be feared and persecuted. Human beings are challenged when we are asked to live a life of faith, a life putting others before ourselves. That’s the life Jesus lived, a life fulfilling the potential for which he was born. Are we risking doing the same?
Bonnie B.

Matthew 16:21-28
When Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (v. 28), he says something that truly challenges us because he seems to be wrong.

Now, one way to interpret this verse is to say that there were those listening to him who did see the might of Rome descend on a rebellious Jerusalem and fulfill the prophecy of Jesus with the destruction of the Temple. Not one stone would be left standing on another.

Or else Jesus was just plain wrong, because everyone listening to him that day died without seeing the Son of Man coming into his kingdom -- unless there is a spiritual aspect to this saying.

In this passage Jesus was talking about reading the signs of the time and understanding that there is a cost to discipleship. Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus warns us that no one, not even the Son, knows when the world will come to an end. But here Jesus seems to set a timetable that great end-time events will occur during the lifetimes of those living then.

I wonder how much this has to do with being unable to fully untangle what it means to be fully divine and fully human. We are told elsewhere that Jesus did not sin, but being wrong is different than sinning. Jesus took on our limitations and our infirmities as a human being. That seems to have included imperfections like anger.

And maybe occasionally being wrong.
Frank R.

Matthew 16:21-28
When I was called to be a missionary to Nepal at 70 years of age, my kids said to me: “That’s ridiculous at your age, Dad! Don’t risk your life halfway around the world.”

I said, “I must do what God has called me to do. Don’t be a stumbling block to me.”

No, I was not crucified -- but there was some suffering and some sacrifice. I had to deny myself all the pleasures of retirement. When I was home, I wrote a couple of books in the time I had, but the profit was nothing compared to what God had in store for me.

God will come to each of us who puts him first in our lives. There will be a reward for any who serve him -- whether teaching Sunday school or serving on the church council or just making sacrificial giving for God’s missions at home or in the world.

Even before we die, we may see Jesus coming into our lives and the lives of our fellow believers.

One of my members had been given a job in another state quite far away. His family had just bought a house a year before and his children were going to the local school, so his wife said that she would not go with him. He had to choose between a better job or his family. Regardless how tempting a new job may be -- even if it is in Hawaii -- is it worth it if he might lose the ones he loves?

A church can help its members with some of the great temptations they might face. Trust in the Lord, even if some choices are not comfortable at all -- like a cross! 
Bob O.
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