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Sermon Illustrations for Proper 23 | Ordinary Time 28 (2020)

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Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23
I once heard someone say, “I’ve been poor, and I’ve been rich. I like being rich better.” I wondered at the time about my own life. When I was first divorced with a toddler to care for, I knew being poor; struggling to buy groceries, pay the bills, keep a roof over our heads; it all seemed really difficult. I live a fairly comfortable life now, but in perspective I lived a pretty comfortable life then. I visited churches in Southern India this past February. As a part of that visit, I visited cities and rural villages. In case I thought I had been poor, I was mistaken. To meet people who walk two kilometers for fresh water, who live without indoor plumbing, who struggle to grow or buy food, who beg on the streets for their children, to see those with disabilities crawl up the street because they can’t walk – that is poverty. I wonder, amid this, about the faith of the people who walk for hours to come to a place of worship. They rest in the shelter of the Lord in ways I never have. I have much to learn about grace and gifts from God.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Exodus 32:1-14
Modern life feels so empty sometimes, devoid of meaning. And we’re not happy with those feelings. The great 17th-century French intellectual Blaise Pascal nicely summarized the feelings of many of us:

Many find nothing so intolerable as to be in a state of complete rest without passions, without occupation, without diversion, without effort. Then he feels his nullity, loneliness, inadequacy, dependence, helplessness, emptiness.

Unable to live well with this sense of emptiness we do what famed Canadian architect Arthur Erickson once advised: “Illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within.” That describes what fallen human beings like us do. We try so desperately to fill up, so we don’t feel the emptiness. It’s what the people of Israel did in our lesson. We construct our own idols or our own versions of God. But God shatters our idols and makes us attend to whom he really is. It is like the famed 20th-century German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:

Here, in the Cross, there is an end to all idolatry... Here God is wholly the God Who will have no other god before Him, but now also wholly God in that He forgives without limit. (A Testament to Freedom, p.224)
Mark E.

* * *

Philippians 4:1-9
When you take a closer look you discover that the apostle Paul seems to know a lot more about the earthly life of Jesus than most people think. Philippians 4:6 seems to point to two different thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount. I see echoes of that whole “lilies of the field” trope in the words “Do not worry about anything.” (Matthew 6:25), and the “Ask… seek… knock” (Matthew 7:7) is mirrored in “let your requests be made known to God.”
Frank R.

* * *

Philippians 4:1-9
Henry Martin died on June 30, 2020, in Newton, Pennsylvania. He was 94.

Martin is not known to the public, but his cartoons are. During the 35 years that he worked for The New Yorker magazine, he drew over 700 cartoons. He was best known for being able to find humor in the mundane and everyday experiences of life. In order to secure his position at The New Yorker, in 1960 he began submitting 20 cartons a week. In 1964, he was hired by the magazine.

In discussing what it means to be a cartoonist, Henry Martin said, “The cartoonist’s job is to observe, toss the observations about in a basket of happy insanity and report the results with an economy of line and a spare sprinkling of words.”
Ron L.

* * *

Philippians 4:1-9
I came across this quick humorous anecdote that struck a chord with me. An exasperated husband asked his wife, “Why are you always worrying when it doesn't do any good?” She quickly answered, “Oh yes it does! Ninety percent of the things I worry about never happen.”

While we laugh at that, worry is a real issue for a lot of people and a lot of Christians. You may not have heard of James Cash Penney, but I’m guessing you know his stores, JC Penney’s. His first stores weren’t called that, though. They were called The Golden Rule stores. Penney grew up in a Christian home and had a relationship with Jesus. In the early days of his business career things were tough, and Penney was wracked with worry and fear. An old friend convinced him to enter a sanitarium. The rest and medical attention did him good, but there was another event that revived him spiritually. One morning he got up too early for breakfast and was wandering the halls when he heard a hymn he remembered from childhood.

Be not dismayed whate'er betide,
God will take care of you
All you need he will provide
God will take care of you


He followed the music to the chapel filled with worshiping doctors and nurses. Someone read a scripture passage: "Come unto me all you that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." It was at that moment that Penney realized he needed to release his worries. In verses six and seven, Paul notes how Christians need to let go of their worries and allow the Holy Spirit to guard their hearts.
Bill T.

* * *

Matthew 22:1-14
I often struggle with this passage of scripture. The king seems so hateful and cruel. Surely this is not a personification of God. Surely God prepares a banquet and we are invited. Surely some of us respond and some of us do not – but does God send out the angels to destroy us? Surely God spreads open the invitation for all to come, but why then punish the one who is unprepared for the invitation? I don’t understand. But maybe I am not supposed to. Maybe I am supposed to think about which of the characters in the passage, I am. Am I the one who was invited by God and doesn’t show up – I surely have been that person in my life? Am I the lost and alone who is invited even though I didn’t expect to be – I surely have been that person in my life? Am I the one who comes without the respect of clothing myself appropriately in the garments of a believer – I surely have been that person in my life? The exploration may be all God requires – not understanding but introspection.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Matthew 22:1-14
The tragedy of life is that we are all invited to live with Christ and often spurn it, like the guests invited to the wedding in Jesus’ parable. Martin Luther explained this well:

It is still the same today. When the precious gospel is expounded, the world plays its little game, becoming worse than it was before, as everybody bustles around with activity (Complete Sermons, Vol.7, p.92)      

John Calvin offered similar sentiments:

It is truly base and shameful, that men who were created for a heavenly life, should be under the influence of such brutish stupidity, as to be entirely carried away with transitory things. (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol.XVI/2, p.171) 

It is not too late to dress up for the wedding, if we wake up and decide to attend. Nothing we need to do, Wesley claims. The proper attire is “the righteousness of Christ.” (Commentary On the Bible, p.419) And as he puts it elsewhere, “Clothed in this, they [we] will not be naked.” (Works, Vol.7, p.317).
Mark E.
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