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Sermons Illustrations For Proper 18 | Ordinary Time 23 (2017)

Exodus 12:1-14
There’s always been something special about the blood. When two unrelated people become “blood brothers” they usually cut a finger and mingle their blood, signifying that they will be forever united. There is an old proverb, which many people wrongly use, that says: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” It means that blood shed in battle bonds soldiers more strongly than simple genetics. Statements like “he’s my own flesh and blood” are sometimes used as a reference to family members and call for loyalty.

Blood matters. It mattered in Israel’s time too. This passage is the culmination of the plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh’s hard heart has brought about God’s full wrath on Egypt. The final humiliation will be the death of the firstborn throughout the land. In Exodus 12 God initiates the Passover for his people. There are specific instructions that are to be followed, but there is one unmistakable element: blood. The blood of the lamb that’s slaughtered is to be put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which the meal is eaten. The blood is to be a sign, God tells them, so that when I see the blood I will pass over you and no plague will destroy you.

How was Israel spared death? The blood of the lamb. What a powerful and thought-provoking image. It foreshadows a day when a Jew named John will call out: “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Hebrews writer penned it this way: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Lewis Jones wrote it well: “There is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb.”
Bill T.

Exodus 12:1-14
The story of the Passover is a story of freedom. Jewish rabbi and educator Yaacov Cohen writes about this: “[T]he main objective of the Seder, the first night of Passover, is to educate to freedom.... This is true freedom: Our ability to shape reality. We have the power to initiate, create, and change reality rather than only react and survive it. How can we all educate our children to true freedom? Teach them not to look at reality as defining their acts but to look at their acts as defining reality.... That’s education to freedom; that’s the message of the Seder” (“Can You Educate to Freedom?”).

Freedom is such a good thing that it makes success possible, as Indian spiritual leader Dada Vashwani makes clear: “True success, true happiness lies in freedom and fulfillment.” The freedom that God gives in the Passover celebration or through Christ is not license to “do your own thing.” Twentieth-century Presbyterian pastor and Senate chaplain Peter Marshall’s insights remain timely: “May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”
Mark E.

Exodus 12:1-14
It came as a surprise to all the young monks of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in Lincoln, Nebraska. But when they released an album of Gregorian chants on May 12, 2017, they never expected it to be a best-selling classical album on Amazon. The album Requiem has many of the 80 seminarians and Catholic priests singing a traditional Latin funeral Mass. What is even more astonishing is that the order was only established in 1988. Rev. Gerard Saguto, the order’s North American superior, said about the album: “We just wanted to put something out there to get people to think more about eternity, God, and our life in reference to those things, and it seems we’ve been blessed with popularity, which none of us expected or were even trying to achieve.”

Application: A central theme in our reading is worship.
Ron L.

Psalm 149
This lesson is a celebration song, celebrating what God has done. Famed modern Jewish rabbi Abraham Heschel well described our situation and why we need more celebration: “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state -- it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle.... Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.”

What is it we have to celebrate? Saint Augustine answers this question while commenting on this very psalm: “This is what Christ did. He found nothing clean for him to offer for man; he offered himself as a clean Victim. Happy Victim, true Victim, spotless Offering. He offered not then what we gave him; yea, rather he offered what he took of us, and offered it clean.... He is our King, he is our Priest, in him let us rejoice” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 8, p. 678).

Twentieth-century Episcopal priest and author Robert Capon beautifully elaborated on why this grace that Augustine describes leads to celebration, on how it hounds us into joy: “Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears” (Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace).
Mark E.

Romans 13:8-14
Love your neighbor. If only life could be that simple. Paul reminds us that to follow the Law is to love our neighbor. But love is more than the absence of disobedience to the Law. Love is an embracing of our neighbor, of the needs of our neighbor, and putting our neighbor’s needs before our own.

I think about Jesus’ ministry and how many times he tried to go off and rest. Just about the time he was deeply in prayer or meditation, someone would find him -- the disciples, the crowds, the ill or infirm. The response of Jesus wasn’t to complain about the space and rest and time he needed, but rather to offer the gifts he had to those who needed them.

As a woman, I have fallen victim to the savior mentality sometimes -- determining that I can be all things to all people and neglect my own self-care. I don’t think that was what Jesus was doing. Jesus was, rather, eking out the time to engage with God and refuel his spirit. We too need to find time to spend with God, but not at the expense of those who need our efforts for justice, our grace and blessings, our compassion, and our love. Love your neighbor. Maybe it is simple after all.
Bonnie B.

Romans 13:8-14
The African theologian and church leader Augustine struggled with personal knowledge of his sinful nature. Despite his study of scripture, he was nevertheless reluctant at first to give his life to Christ. Then, according to his Confessions,one day he heard children chanting: “Pick up the book and read! Pick up the book and read!”

Whether this was really happening or was some form of audible vision (to mix metaphors), Augustine picked up the Bible and read the last two verses of this passage of Romans, about putting away the things of sin and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s when he realized he could wait no longer to respond to God’s call. The confusion about how to reject the world and embrace God’s commandments is simplified by Paul’s admonition that the laws are summed up in Leviticus 19:17 -- “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This, of course, is also a quote from Jesus.
Frank R.

Romans 13:8-14
God is love, so anything else other than love is not of God. Verse 8 should be the top commandment in our country. Democrats should love Republicans, and vice-versa. Maybe even guards should love their prisoners, and the prisoners should love their guards -- hard as that might be for either of them!

I had a scientist tell me that he could not believe in something he could not examine in his laboratory. He was a brilliant fellow who had trouble even listening to someone who disagreed with him. So I asked him what he would say if I gave him the most important thing in the world and he could not examine it in his lab. He laughed and waited for me to make my case. I told him that love was the most important thing! He wouldn’t be married without love. He wouldn’t have children without love. He wouldn’t have any friends if there was nothing like love. He had to think about that for a minute. Then I listed other things that couldn’t be examined in the lab, such as faith, happiness, hope, and satisfaction. He would not be doing what he was doing unless he could feel the importance of it and how much he enjoyed it. The most important things in life can’t be put in a bottle or looked at under a microscope. His salvation was closer now than when he first believed.

We are commanded to love our fellow man, but what if he is a jihadist? Is he a fellow man? Which fellow humans do we love? Can we make a list of them? What happens to the ones not on the list? Love can make up for all the failings we may have. Does that make it worth it? I sure hope so!

God is love! That is one of the main things our church should teach us.
Bob O.

Matthew 18:15-20
Where is Jesus in all this? Have you heard that question before? I know I have. Here are a few of the scenarios...

The church board is sharply divided. Some are eager and excited to embrace a new music style, while others have dug in their heels. “That music is of the devil!” More angry words are spoken and the sides are further entrenched. To the observer, the question must come: where is Jesus in all this?

Both are Christians, but you might not know it to see them. She is angry and pouting that he won’t listen. He is sitting next to her, but his heart is far away. He mutters to himself something about her always wanting to be right. To one just looking in, the question might arise: where is Jesus in all this?

Christians ought to know and do better, but we are not immune to fighting, arguing, and disagreeing. We sometimes excel in “biting and devouring” one another. Where is Jesus in all that?

That question is answered in this challenging passage. Jesus is talking about what to do when we disagree with one another. The instructions are detailed. The bottom line is to go to the person who’s wronged you and talk to them about it. If that doesn’t resolve it, then take along one or two others. The goal is to regain the relationship. Where is Jesus? The end of this passage shows us. He’s in the restoration of those who disagree. He’s found in the coming together of those who commit to do what’s right and pleasing in his eyes.
Bill T.

Matthew 18:15-20    
In this gospel account’s story of Jesus giving his disciples the power of the keys (authority to forgive sin), John Calvin helps us see how wonderful it is to receive such forgiveness: “The substance of it is this: whoever after committing a crime humbly confesses his fault and entreats the Church to forgive him is absolved not only by men, but by God himself” (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XVI/2, p. 258).

We need this word in our context. To experience the forgiveness of sin as God’s forgiveness entails that he is present with us. But according to a 2006 survey conducted by Baylor University, nearly two in five Americans believe in a distant God not engaged in our daily lives. This insight by Calvin, the experience of forgiveness as God’s forgiveness, is an important counter to these insalubrious attitudes.

Another insalubrious propensity among religious people today is to talk about church leaders behind their backs. John Wesley sees Jesus’ advice in this lesson as an excellent way to avoid speaking behind people’s backs (Works, Vol. 6, pp. 114-116,119). Being involved in forgiveness is good for us. Because giving or receiving forgiveness from God activates our brains’ frontal lobes, forgiveness slows down the brain’s emotional limbic system and so alleviates anger and fear (Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, Why We Believe What We Believe, p. 138). Forgiveness is good for us.
Mark E.

Matthew 18:15-20
Michelle Law-Gordon is the pastor of Open Door Baptist Church in Florence, South Carolina. She wrote an article for the city’s daily newspaper in which she said that she saw a plaque in Hobby Lobby with just four letters on it -- ASAP (meaning “As Soon As Possible!”). Looking at the wall plaque, she saw the letters meaning something else, so she bought it. She took ASAP to mean “Always Stop And Pray.” Michelle wrote: “The plaque contains the same four letters as the more commonly known message; however, the change in wording gives a completely different perspective.”

Application: One of the messages in this reading is the need for us to pray so we can have a different perspective on life.
Ron L.
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