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Sermon Illustrations for Proper 20 | Ordinary Time 25 (2018)

Proverbs 31:10-31, Psalm 1
Betty Ford was the wife of Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States. Gerald Ford took office on August 9, 1974 with the resignation of Richard Nixon. Betty loved domestic life, but this was no longer possible when she became the First Lady. When asked about the difficulties of her new life in the White House she replied, “I wish I’d married a plumber. At least he’d be home by five o’clock.”

Application: A good marriage does require sacrifice.
Ron L.

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Proverbs 31:10-31
Keeping It All In Order
The final portion of Proverbs has been criticized by some because it seems to be founded on an image of women chained to household chores. But this image of the “competent wife” (as she is called in the Common English Bible) is based on the ancient household, in which rich men gadded about with their buddies while rich women had control of finances and the family business. Women like Susanna, Joanna, and Mary of Magdala (Luke 8:1-3) financially supported the ministry of Jesus. They’re examples of competence and success. One also finds home-owning women like Lydia (Acts 16:40) providing the setting for a house church while the sisters Mary and Martha provided hospitality for the community of God.

Throughout history women have played a central role in the economy of the household. These women were not always rich, but they put their families first. It’s for this reason that women receive 97% of all microloans distributed in the Third World. They start businesses and bring in money for their children. Men who receive these loans tend to spend the money on themselves.
Frank R.

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Proverbs 31:10-31 and Psalm 1
I read this from a blog post by Jennifer Tatum. I thought it expressed the sentiment of this passage:

About ten years ago, I found my mother sitting at the kitchen table. She was reading and chuckling in frustration, so I asked her what she was looking at. She told me that she'd been studying Proverbs for her devotions and that she'd just read chapter 31, which lists the qualities of a virtuous wife. She was frustrated because she realized she could never be the woman God describes there. We talked about it some more, and my mom finally arrived at a decision that still inspires me today: she decided to take on the challenge, one verse at a time. She said: “I'll work on the first item in the list. When I've got that one mastered, I'll move to the next one -- hopefully I'll be a virtuous woman before I die.”

I recently checked in with her to see how she was progressing. She laughed and told me she was seven or eight items into the list but was currently stuck on, “Her children call her blessed.” She said, “I might have to wait for all of them to grow out of their teens before I can accomplish that one.”

Last year, my sisters and I got together and made a Certificate of Completion in Proverbs 31 Training. We took every verse and came up with an example of when she had fulfilled that requirement. When the certificate was finished, it looked like a real diploma and listed her many accomplishments. We all signed it, including my dad. I read it out loud to her, and when I got to the last verse, “Her children call her blessed,” one by one each of us said, “Mom, you are blessed.” She cried and cried -- she had finally reached her life's goal!

The passage in Proverbs is one that’s been used many times in funeral services and Mothers’ Day sermons. I heard most recently read by the granddaughters of Barbara Bush at her funeral. King Lemuel’s mother seeks to share with him Godly counsel. The wisdom still emerges from this text. All who’ve been influenced by such a woman are blessed.
Bill T.

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James 3:13--4:3, 7-8a
“And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” Peace is such a challenging concept for most of us. We struggle for it, internally, relationally, and globally. It feels against our nature. We tend to be “either or” people and it does make us tend to choose one view of right and one view of wrong. “Both and” viewpoints might make it easier to come to peaceful resolutions. James reminds us that peace from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. What might that form of peace look like in the world?

Perhaps we would care less about our individual views and more about the gentleness needed to move us into relationships together. Praying for peace is a good thing. Acting to bring about peace through gentleness, mercy and compassion is even more vital to sow and make peace. Perhaps we can focus on those actions along with our prayers.
Bonnie B.

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James 3:13--4:3, 7-8a
I read an item by a woman who was having trouble communicating with her teenage son. She tried everything, including yelling at him and threatening him with punishment when he disobeyed her. She let him know that she was the boss. She looked angry and sounded angry, but he kept on being bad and disobeying. Then she read a scripture that said she should be humble and speak kindly as a Christian example. She wasn’t sure it would work, but the next day she tried to talk in a loving way. It surprised her son and he obeyed her requests. She was wise to be humble.

I also read that bosses would get more work out of their employees if they tried being  friendly and polite -- even with a smile.  Those who tried to be “human” found that it was much more successful.  Dagwood’s boss always turned him off and he fell asleep at his desk.

Mercy and peace always accomplish much more. That might do a better job of healing the wounds with North Korea. Let them know what you want but do it in a caring way!

I had a church member whose business partner was hurting him by telling their employees that he was planning to take over the business and would fire them. They treated my member badly and he wanted to get even and buy out his partner.

I showed him the scripture suggesting that he should go to their employees and speak well of his partner, even praising him. My member was not sure that would help him at all, since nothing else seemed to work, he would try it for a couple weeks.

A couple weeks later my member invited me over for coffee. He had a big smile on his face and told me that his partner told him that he would buy him out for a big profit because he was too depressed to go on. The employees were all upset with him for speaking so badly of his partner who was such a nice guy.

“The Bible was right,” my member said, “I’m going to have to read it more often.”

Sometimes God’s words don’t seem to make sense to us until we find out that they work even with our unruly teens or in our business.

Read God’s word and experiment with it and you may be surprised.
Bob O.

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James 3:13--4:3, 7-8a
Augustine well describes the sinful lust that traps us: “... the [sinners’] will is enslaved to sin, by which they are tossed about by diverse mischievous lusts...” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1:5, p.489) John Calvin proposes wisdom as an antidote, wisdom which “requires a state of mind that is calm and composed, but envying disturbs it.” (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol.XXII/2, p.326)

Buddha warned against this envy and its negative outcomes: “He who envies does not obtain peace of mind.” Envy makes you miserable. A thoughtful observation by ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus hits the nail on the head: “Our envy always lasts longer than the happiness of those we envy.” No point in envying since his or her happiness won’t last as long as our misery about it.

Two eminent Catholics provide some thoughtful strategies for making peace, being gentle, with those with whom we have quarreled or envied (3:17--4:1). Medieval mystic Thomas a Kempis advises: “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” In the same spirit, Pope John XXIII once uttered: “See everything; overlook a great deal, correct a little.”
Mark E.

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Mark 9:30-37
True fame isn’t necessarily found on the covers of glossy magazines sold near the checkout lines at grocery stores.

Recently scholar Lincoln H. Blumell was asked to look over a small limestone block from Egypt that’s part of the collection at the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah. It dates back to the Third Century AD. When translated from the Greek it turned out to be a 1700 year old obituary.

Here’s what the epitaph said, according to his translation:

In peace and blessing, Ama Helene, a Jew, who loves the orphans, [died]. For about 60 years her path was one of mercy and blessing; on it she prospered.

There are some questions surrounding this inscription. Helene was neither a Christian or Jewish name. It was associated with Helen of Troy, whose face launched a thousand ships, Helen of Troy, and whose abduction from Greece ignited the Trojan War.

She’s identified as “a Jew” but “Ama” was a Christian term of honor associated with women who served in God’s ministries, including, but not exclusively, nuns. And though there had been a thriving Jewish population in Egypt a century earlier, it had largely been wiped out after the Jewish Revolt of 115-117 AD.

What matters most is that during her long life of sixty years (during an era when life expectancy was 25-30 years) she was remembered in “mercy and blessing” for serving orphans. Just as the widows of Joppa lamented the death of Dorcas, who charitably made clothing for them, so the population of a small town along the Nile created a memorial to Helene.
Frank R.

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Mark 9:30-37
John Kenneth Galbraith, in his autobiography, A Life in Our Times, illustrates the devotion of Emily Gloria Wilson, his family's housekeeper:

It had been a wearying day, and I asked Emily to hold all telephone calls while I had a nap. Shortly thereafter the phone rang. Lyndon Johnson was calling from the White House. “Get me Ken Galbraith. This is Lyndon Johnson.” “He is sleeping, Mr. President. He said not to disturb him.” “Well, wake him up. I want to talk to him.” “No, Mr. President. I work for him, not you.” When I called the President back, he could scarcely control his pleasure. “Tell that woman I want her here in the White House.”

The disciples, as they followed Jesus, discussed among themselves who was most important; who was the greatest. Jesus knew the substance of their discussion and told them about true greatness. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Greatness is seen in your serving others. Emily Gloria Wilson was devoted as a servant of John Kenneth Galbraith. How devoted are we?
Bill T.

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Mark 9:30-37
John Bradford was an exceptional Protestant theologian and preacher in England. He was so well respected that in 1551 he was appointed Chaplain to King Edward VI and Prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral. Upon the death of King Edward in 1553, the throne was assumed by Mary Tudor who began reprisals against anyone under Edward’s reign who opposed Catholicism. Bradford was arrested and placed in the Tower of London. On July 1, 1555, Bradford was burned at the stake. Alongside of him was another Protestant martyr by the name of John Leaf. As they were both chained to the stake Bradford looked over at Leaf and said, “Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!”

Application: Our lectionary reading discusses the dedication that is required to be a follower of Jesus.
Ron L.
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