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Sermon Illustrations for Proper 27 | Ordinary Time 32 (2017)

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Do you remember the game show To Tell the Truth? It was a television game show that has aired in various forms since 1956, both on networks and in syndication. In June of 2016 the show was given new life on ABC and hosted by Anthony Anderson. The show features a panel of four celebrities who try to determine, from a group of three with two imposters, who is telling the truth. A central character who has done something unusual is accompanied by two impostors who pretend to be the central character (or characters). After questioning, the panel attempts to identify which of the three challengers is telling the truth and is, thus, the central character.

To Tell the Truth... Joshua seems to be challenging the Israelites to do just that at the end of the book of Joshua. He makes their choices clear. He lets them know they can choose to serve the Lord, but they can also choose to serve the gods their ancestors served beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites in whose land they were living. He also lets them know his selection: “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Just like in the game show, the “pretenders” are there, but there is only one “real thing.”  Not much has changed today. There are lots of pretenders who claim to be able to bring about happiness, contentment, and even salvation. There is one who can really do it. Which will you choose?
Bill T.

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Writing about this lesson nearly 500 years ago, John Calvin noted something about how people live that is still relevant today: “By this example we are taught how multifarious are the fallacies occupying the senses of men, and how torturous the recesses in which they hide their hypocrisy and folly, while they deceive themselves in vain confidence” (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. IV/1, p. 278).

A 2002 Gallup poll on American values seems to bear out these observations. As many Americans rank money as extremely or very important as they rank religion. The pursuit of money seems to be the 21st-century idol in which we find our vain confidence. This lesson calls us to repentance. Eminent 20th-century Reformed theologian Karl Barth offers profound insights about what is involved in repentance: “But we can cry for God’s mercy and therefore for forgiveness only when we know that although we are lost God has accepted us and redeemed us.... To believe is to admit that we are at the end of ourselves because God will to make a new beginning with us and has actually done so” (Church Dogmatics, Vol. II/2, p. 769).             

Living out our repentance, acting on it, then comes easy. It is as Martin Luther says: “All that a Christian does is nothing but fruit. Everything such a person does is easy for him. Nothing is too arduous” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 24, p. 230).
Mark E.

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
In Changsha, China there is an ideological crisis that began in the February 2016. Changsha is the birthplace of Mao Zedong, the leader of China’s 20th-century Cultural Revolution. Mao was also an atheist who persecuted the church. In honor of Mao the largest statue of him in the country was built. Now, in Changsha the Xingsha Church is constructing a steeple that will be topped by a cross. It will be 260 feet tall and dwarf the statue of Mao. Zhao Danyang, on the website Red Morality Think Tank, wrote: “Going for Christianity in a big way damages our nation’s ideological security.”

Application: A central theme in our reading is for Christians to remember who we are, own our heritage, and place our faith above any country’s ideology.
Ron L.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

“When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!

When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory!” (Eliza E. Hewitt)

The assurance of this refrain, as the assurance of this scripture, is that all of us -- those alive when Jesus returns and those who have died before his return -- will all go to heaven. Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica includes many assurances. This is one of them. Don’t worry about those who have already died. Jesus will not leave them behind. They will also be raised; they will also go to heaven. We will see them again.

It’s worth noting that early followers of Christ believed that Jesus would return during their lifetimes. Clearly that was not the case. Many are waiting still for the return of Jesus. Some put their whole lives on hold waiting for Jesus, laying aside the work that God has provided for the to do, waiting on hilltops for Jesus to appear, trying to determine the exact date when Jesus will return. When we do this, we cease to follow Jesus. We cease to care for the least among us. We cease to fully live. The hymn quoted above reminds us that we will rejoice when we are with Jesus. Yet we are called to be the hands and feet, the compassion and love of Jesus in the world, right now, right here. Let’s do that and be assured that we will all see Jesus when it is time to do so!
Bonnie B.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The rapture is what some people call a meme. “Meme” was originally a biological term, about a trait that is passed on genetically to the next generation, but it now also refers to an idea, saying, musical catchphrase, slogan, or piece of information that has legs of its own. Suddenly everyone knows it. It replicates almost as if it were alive.

It’s only been in the last couple hundred years that some Christians have interpreted this passage as something called the rapture, in which faithful Christians are plucked away before the trials and tribulations of the end time.

Though the Christian faith is 2,000 years old, the first Christians, the church that was persecuted for three centuries by the Romans, as well as the church of the Reformers, the King James translators, and most other eras knew nothing about the rapture. They were no biblical slouches. They knew the Bible inside and out.

The idea only goes back 200-300 years or so, which makes it something of a newfangled fad. There’s something ironic about all this. Apocalyptic literature is written for those who are oppressed by the rich and powerful who are offended by the message of Jesus, which is directed towards the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering. But it has been co-opted by people in our society who are a little too comfortable with power, and deaf to the insistence of scripture that God favors the poor and powerless. Thanks to the rapture, apocalyptic literature has become a multimillion-dollar industry with books and movies that favor car and plane crashes while somehow supporting our own wealth and power.

So what is really going on here? The apostle Paul addressed this passage to Greek Christians, all of whom looked forward to the return of Jesus but who seem to have been the targets of a rumor that stated that only those alive at the time of the Savior’s return would share in his glory. No, Paul writes, everyone, living or dead, will rise with Christ. There’s dramatic irony here -- Jesus is returning. Are you ready? That’s the question.

(Note: This is adapted from a quarterly guide I wrote for the Church of the Brethren’s Guide for Biblical Studies a few years ago.)
Frank R.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
How can we be encouraged by the coming of death? Yes, I have had members who were in hospice and suffering a great deal. It was not always physical pain, as they had been given anesthetics -- in some cases so much painkiller that they were only half awake.

I had been living at home since I was a baby and didn’t leave until I went away to college in Illinois at 18 years of age. My folks missed me and were always happy to see me when I came home for breaks in my studies. My college was not too far from home, and they would sometimes drive down for special events where parents were invited.

But then came almost graduation. I say almost because I finished my degree with a summer of study in Arizona. That was way too far for them, but then it was only for the summer. I had met a girl in college and we were interested in each other, but wanted to wait until I had a job and a future.

My future came with an offer to teach at a school in New Mexico. That was still too far for me to head home now and then, but my folks did come to visit and it was not long before my dad got a job in New Mexico. But then I got another job in California! They never caught up with me.

One reason I didn’t pick a place close to my kids when I retired was because, like me, they kept finding jobs somewhere else far away!

Death can be something like moving away from your home and all those you love and going to a wonderful place where we wouldn’t have to move again. I could wait there until my family came to join me -- when they died.

Death is mainly feared because it can mean a long separation. We can’t pick a date on the calendar when we will be together again. We can’t even send pictures back. So all the family who are still alive can spend their last days at a travel agency called a church where we can hear all about the place we bought at ticket for at our baptism.

Be sure to have your passport ready and stay with your agent -- your church -- until your flight is called!
Bob O.

Matthew 25:1-13
When we know something is about to happen, we have a tendency to prepare for it.

A U.S. Army officer was once asked about the contrast in his pupils during two different eras of teaching at the artillery training school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma (home of the Field Artillery). He noted that in 1958-60 the attitude was so lax that the instructors had a problem getting the men to stay awake to hear the lectures. During the 1965-67 classes, however, the men, hearing the same basic lectures, were alert and took tons of notes. What made the difference in the class of ’65? They knew that in less than six weeks they would be facing the enemy in Vietnam.

Prior to the terrorist attack on 9/11, the screening at airports was minimal. Now, though, that has changed dramatically. Why? Because we know what can happen when we are lax and we’ve vowed to never let it happen again. We are more prepared for the dangers that are out there.

Preparedness is connected to the certainty, gained by hindsight or acknowledgment of a present reality, that something is coming or could come. In this parable, Jesus talks about preparedness. The five wise bridesmaids were certain of the bridegroom’s coming and were prepared. Five were not prepared and found themselves shut out of the banquet. Jesus is coming back. We know and understand that reality. Are we prepared?
Bill T.

Matthew 25:1-13
This is a lesson about being prepared for Christ to come into our lives and having the right priorities. Johnnie Cochran, O. J. Simpson’s famous defense lawyer, concisely noted how important preparation is: “I’m a big believer in the fact that life is preparation, preparation, preparation.” The ancient Asian religious leader Confucius teaches us that “Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” A big part of preparation is having the right priorities Jesus teaches in this story. Successful U. S. auto executive Lee Iacocca said it well: “To succeed today, you have to set priorities, decide what you stand for.” American television personality Elizabeth Hasselbeck reminds us how important having the right priorities is: “Nobody’s life is ever balanced. It’s a conscious decision to choose your priorities right.” When you are planning and prioritizing, the front part of your brain is saturated with a brain chemical (dopamine) that gives you energy. And the brain also functions that way when engaged in spirituality (Daniel Amen, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, pp. 148-149).
Mark E.

Matthew 25:1-13
Pope Francis made a pilgrimage in May 2017 to Fatima, Portugal, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the three illiterate shepherd girls there who had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The pope said that we can learn from, in his words, “the immense ocean of God’s light” that was bestowed upon the three girls. The pope went on to share the meaning of that message when he said in his homily: “Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures. Such a life, frequently proposed and imposed, risks leading to hell.”

Application: Our reading has a strong message on judgment.
Ron L.
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