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Sermon Illustrations For Proper 6 | OT 11 | Pentecost 2 (2020)

Illustration
Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7)
Promises made. Promises kept. It makes a good political slogan, but it goes much deeper. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Damon and Pythias. Damon and Pythias had been the best of friends since childhood. Each trusted the other like a brother and each knew in his heart that there was nothing he would not do for his friend.

Dionysius, the powerful king who ruled Sicily, was as cruel as he was strong. He ruled with absolute power. Pythias made speeches asserting that no man or king should have such power over others for it would corrupt his rule. For speaking out against him, Dionysius ordered Pythias to die. Pythias pleaded that he might say good-bye to his children and wife. Dionysius was incredulous and scoffed at Pythias’ promise. Damon, however, stood. He volunteered to stand in Pythias’ place until he returned and even die in his place if he didn’t. Dionysius gave them five days. For four days, there was no sign of Pythias and Dionysius and others mocked Damon for his act. “He won’t keep his promise,” they chided. Damon refused to believe them. On the morning of the fifth day, just before the executioner was called in Pythias burst through the door. He’d been shipwrecked and robbed, but nothing would keep him from fulfilling his promise. Dionysius was so touched, he freed both.

Keeping a promise matters. It matters in politics. It mattered to Pythias. It mattered to God. He kept his word to Abraham and Sarah. Isaac, whose name means “laughter or he laughs” was a joy to his mother and father. What God has promised, he will do. Count on it.
Bill T.

* * *

Genesis 18:1-15 (21:1-7)
Margaret Atwood wrote the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which was published in 1985. The story take place in the future, and the setting of the story is Cambridge, Massachusetts. A military coup has overthrown the United States government, killing the president and all the members of congress. The country is now ruled by theocratic regime who have renamed the country the Republic of Gilead. The new country is hierarchical, with strong class, race and gender distinctions. The book pivots on the theme of how women are subjugated to men. One catalyst for the coup was the low birth rate in the country. This was due to pollution and radiation poisoning. Because of the need to repopulate the country, and because there are so few fertile women, those who can bear children are taken into custody by the state. The females who lost their ability to reproduce are called “Unwomen.” These women are sent to the Colonies to work in the polluted and radiated land. In these conditions they can only live a few years. Women who are still fertile are called “Handmaids.” They are assigned to a Commander, a member of the ruling class who will inseminate them, as their wives are infertile. A Handmaid no longer has her own name, no longer has her own identity, and is not permitted to read or write. A Handmaid takes on the name of the Commander to whom she is assigned. The central character of the book is Offred, which means she is “Of Fred.” She has been assigned to Frederick R. Waterford. The reader never learns of Offred’s real name, but it is name that she cherishes. Because a Handmaid is a ward of the state solely for the purpose of reproduction, and because they are so valuable to the state they are always protected by armed guards, and because they must live isolated as they are not allowed to read or write, and since they have no identity as they no longer can use their birth name, a Handmaid has no freedom. They are captives — they are prisoners — of the state. When a Handmaid, whose birth name the readers did learn — Moira — did manage to escape, all the other Handmaids were given a sense of hope. As Offred described it, Moira for them was like “lava beneath the crust of daily life.”
Ron L.

* * *

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
There are trees, and then there are trees. Trees serve not only as physical landmarks, they are emotional markers, associated with important moments in our lives as individuals and as groups. They are often associated with sacred places. With their roots in the earth and their branches reaching up to the heavens, with their complex ecology intertwining animals, insects, birds, and other plant life such as mosses, trees in the Bible were a symbol of God’s whole creation, as well as of the relationship between the king and the kingdom.

The oaks of Mamre were significant enough that the author of this chapter mentions them without any additional explanation because evidently none was needed. Here were venerable trees, or perhaps one venerable tree. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) and the Book of Jubilees refer to one oak of Mamre.

The Jewish/Roman historian Josephus refers to an ancient tree in the area of Hebron, which is associated with Mamre. Legends of the Middle Ages referred to an “Oak of Abraham,” a venerable tree that had survived centuries. In Genesis 13:18 Abraham moved his homestead at least temporarily to these Oaks or Oak, and it is in this place that God, three in one, mysteriously appears one hot summer day to inform Abraham about the fulfillment of the original promise of a son, and to consult with Abraham about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Some of us may associate a tree with a childhood we cannot recover, or as a landmark to which our families can and do return to, or perhaps with a national park or other site of great beauty which has served as a silent witness to many stages in our lives.
Frank R.

* * *

Romans 5:1-8
Recently I recorded a sermon for our conference pastors to use. I wanted to give them a break from sermon preparation and delivery. Therefore, I utilized non-lectionary scripture readings, one of which was this passage of Romans. I shared in the sermon my reputation as a minister of hope. This reputation has followed me since my seminary days. I believe that God is a God of hope, but hope does not exist in a vacuum. The suffering we are encountering in this pandemic can produce a sense of endurance and new strengths of character. Our character, our desire for development, our appreciation for all we have and have learned, builds in us the capacity for hope. Some of us are naturally optimistic, but optimism is not the same as hope. Hope sings in our spirits and enable us to move into difficulties with a sense of God’s presence in all that we do and all that we encounter in this life. Where do you find your hope? In the love of family and friends, in the singing of birds and the greening of trees and fields, in the hymns of our faith, in the still small voice of God we hear in our prayers. Wherever and whenever we encounter God, there is a possibility to experience hope. Seek out hope. It changes everything.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Romans 5:1-8
The Possibility of the Impossible

I have a secret to share: I love arguing with atheists. Sure, they can sometimes be abrasive, and I’m sure I don’t react to them with the grace and compassion they surely deserve. But, it never ceases to amuse me when an atheist asks, “How can you believe in some kind of magical sky man who’s in charge of everything?” As if that was the craziest and stupidest thing anyone could believe.

If anything, believing in God is one of the easiest parts of Christianity. Believing in the idea that the universe works according to some kind of order or plan is hardly revolutionary. After all, scientists do it all the time. They assume that there is some kind of order to the universe and that this order can be understood by human beings through constant exploration and experimentation. They test hypotheses and modify their actions (experiments) in order to learn more and more about how the universe works. When an experiment has shown itself to be consistent and repeatable, scientists assume their theory is true and build their further experimentation on the assumption (faith) that what they observed will always be true.

Believing in a “magical sky man” isn’t even close to the craziest and stupidest thing someone could believe.

No, we Christians believe something far crazier and stupider. We believe that, at one point in history, a human being who was also God, and therefore had access to unlimited power, gave it all up. We believe, against the evidence of billions of examples of people taking advantage of each other for money and power, that there was a man who said, “No thanks.”

You think believing in God is crazy and stupid?

Let me tell you what is crazy and stupid: We believe, as Paul wrote, that “rarely will anyone die for a righteous person——though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). That means that in a world where people sell out their friends for power, and murder thousands for money, we believe, against all the evidence to the contrary, that it is possible for a human being to sacrifice his life, not to save innocent people, but to save murderers and thieves.

We believe that at one moment in human history, someone did the impossible.

Is that crazy? Is that stupid? I don’t see how it isn’t. After all the examples in human history where people were corrupted by power and consumed by greed, what kind of crazy stupid person would believe that a person could willing give up all their power — and even die — not for the sake of good people, but for the sake of the very worst of us? Christians, that’s who. Not only do we believe that it could happen, we believe that someone actually did it.

So yeah, call me crazy. Call me stupid. I’ll wear it with pride.
M T.

* * *

Romans 5:1-8
In dealing with this text which celebrates justification by faith, Martin Luther offered reflections on how receiving this kind of forgiveness leads you to consider how unworthy you are. Pointing out dynamics which are still prevalent in our day as most of us think we are good human beings, he noted:

But in our day the hypocrites and legalists swell up with horrifying pride and think that they are now saved and sufficiently righteous because they believe in Christ, but they are unwilling to be considered unrighteous or regarded as fools. (Luther’s Works, Vol.25, p.287)

Famed modern theologian Karl Barth referred to what happens to the faithful when they receive a love like Christ has for us:

Jesus Christ fought His enemies, the enemies of God — as we all are (v.10; Col. 1:21) —      no, He loves His enemies, by identifying Himself with them. Compared with that, what is the bit of forbearance or patience or humor or readiness to help or even intercession that we are willing and ready to bring and offer by way of loving our enemies? But obviously when we look at what Jesus Christ became and was for us, we cannot leave out some little love for our enemies as a sign of our recognition and understanding that this is how He treated us His enemies. (Church Dogmatics, Vol.IV/1, p.244)  

Luther also well describes what it feels like to receive this love and forgiveness:

But if you possess faith, your heart cannot do otherwise than laugh for joy in God and grow freed, confident, and courageous. For how can the heart remain sorrowful and dejected when it entertains no doubt of God’s kindness to it, and dejected when it entertains no doubt of God’s kindness to it, and of His attitude as a good friend with whom it may unreservedly and freely enjoy all things? (Complete Sermons, Vol. 3/2, p.146)
Mark E.

* * *

Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
In the spiritual sense, people are a lot like sheep. Lots of things have been written about sheep and their behavior that parallels what humans sometimes do. I ran across this little news story that comes from Istanbul, Turkey about a decade ago.

Hundreds of sheep followed a leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths while shepherds looked on in dismay. Four hundred sheep fell 15 meters to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived. Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free, the “Radikal Daily” said. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.

Hundreds of sheep jumped off a cliff because another one did. Helpless, hapless, harassed, and, in many ways, hopeless. That describes those sheep from Turkey, and it describes the crowd Jesus saw. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (9:36) The people of Jesus’ day were in dire need. They were lost and dying. Jesus sent out workers to them with the good news. Today, the crowd of people isn’t much different. Jesus will need to send workers. Can he send you?
Bill T.

* * *

Matthew 9:35--10:8 (9-23)
Don Carlos De Seso was an Italian who served in the court of the Spanish King Philip II. De Seso’s imperial duties allowed him to travel extensively across the continent. In the course of his travels he was introduced to Lutheranism, and how those Protestant teachings differed from those of Roman Catholic Spain. On his return to Spain, De Seso led hundreds into the new faith of the Protestant Reformation. King Philip and Pope Paul IV refused to allow a Protestant witness in Spain. Because of his preaching, De Seso was condemned as a heretic.

On October 8, 1559, the Spanish Inquisition held a great auto da fe, which literally means “act of faith.” It is a public ceremony when heretics are paraded, sentenced, and then executed. When De Seso was led past King Philip to be burned at the stake, De Seso said, “Is it thus that you allow innocent subjects to be persecuted?” Philip’s response was, “If it were my own son, I would fetch the wood to burn him, were he such a wretch as you are!”

Two men had to hold De Seso up, so weak was he from fifteen months of imprisonment and torture. As the flames rose slowly around him, De Seso called upon the soldiers in attendance to heap up more fuel. Watching the bravery of De Seso, Lutheranism continued to spread throughout Spain.
Ron L.

* * *

Matthew 9:35--10:8 (9-23)
Sometimes a chapter division causes us to put up a wall between adjoining passages that is entirely artificial. Matthew 9:35-38 is a natural fit to go with the opening of Matthew 10 because Jesus addresses the needs expressed in the one passage in a surprising way.

When Jesus expresses compassion on a gut level (the Greek Word splagknos refers to the colon, or guts)for the leaderless people he observes, he uses language that calls to mind Exodus and the saga of the kings. Moses was a shepherd when he encountered God through the burning bush and was called to be the shepherd for God’s people, leading them from slavery to freedom. In the books of Samuel and Kings the ideal king was envisioned to be a shepherd who guided the people, in the words of the young shepherd David, to green pastures, good water, and even through the valley of the shadow of death. It is natural to think of Jesus as this new Moses, leading the people from the slavery of sin to freedom, as well as the ideal king after the images of Psalm 23. His descent from King David is therefore emphasized in this gospel of Matthew.

But what does Jesus do next? He commissions apostles to carry on this leadership, sheep who become shepherds, sent into danger into the midst of wolves, and totally dependent upon those they serve for support.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but let’s assume Jesus knows what he’s doing…
Frank R.
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