connecting people to the gospel
Sermons from Philadelphia First Church of the Brethren
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Total Sermons: 21
I don’t know what it would be like to be a rich, powerful, dynastic ruler. I have no idea. I do however a decent imagination that could be helpful in this case had. Regardless, one of the main concerns was keeping power, influence and extending power and influence. Herod the Great tied his fortunes to that of Rome. While he built greatly in Jerusalem, he also built many Roman cities. In some ways scholars suggest that his family had become more Roman than Jewish, if in fact they ever really were practicing the faith of Judaism. Out text today is filled with the fears of a political figure attempting to keep and control his domain. We see this yet today, from third world countries to the behavior of individuals in our own governments. The posturing following the Supreme Courts recent rulings by people on both sides of the decision are examples of this same behavior.
What happens when we die? That is an interesting question on a number of levels, and in some real ways we don’t know all that much about what happens after death. The vast majority of New Testament passages that deal with life after death typically make reference to the resurrection of the body on the last day. Yet, there are items that point to other understandings, like Jesus telling the thief on the cross with him that today he would be with him in paradise. Some passages seem to indicate an immediate presence with God after death, some seem to point to a time of waiting before entering God’s presence. It can make the whole subject a bit difficult to track clearly. Today’s text deals with issues of healing, death and resuscitation. I say resuscitation and not resurrection because resurrection has implications well beyond just living again, it means being like Jesus post resurrection, passing through solid objects, like walls and tombs, and yet enjoying a meal with friends, and still at other times being with people and then vanishing before their eyes. Our text deals with two women, or one woman and a young girl to be precise, both ill and one dies.
Training and education are good, this is true. Expertise is a subject matter is also a good thing. Jesus has spent some time with these men, his apostles, but they are far from being experts in evangelism, public speaking or exorcism. Sometimes willingness to try something and the encouragement from a respected person is all we need to enable us to do things we thought were impossible. We see this all the time with children, with a little bit of encouragement they will try things and do things, sometimes just because you tell them that the can. As adults we become a bit more jaded, fearful of failure and looking foolish that we won’t do things we’d really like to do. We as adults become bound by the fear of our failures, and so we don’t do things that we could, that we want to, that we ought to do, simply because we are afraid of failure, of looking foolish, of thinking it is too hard. Yet, Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones, out of our places of personal safety to try things that will impact the world in positive ways that will transform the lives of our friends and neighbors. Jesus sent out these twelve in groups of two, after a few months at best of training and instruction, sent them out to preach and to cast out demons, to call people to repentance. These were not interns, guided by a seasoned veteran, but first time preachers, first time exorcists, called to go and bear witness to the Kingdom of God. They were sent out into a harsh world, with a message of hope and repentance, they were on their own.
We Brethren have often, though not always held to the notion that there should be no force in religion and this idea does not originate with the Brethren, but it is something we see here. Jesus did not force anyone to accept him as Messiah, he did not force anyone to bow before him and worship him, he did not demand that anyone receive healing from. Only those who had faith were healed, not faith that enabled him to heal them, but a sense of trusting in Jesus to be who he said he was. Often we define faith as a belief in something that you can’t see or prove. This is a short sighted definition on many accounts. Faith also implies a trust, not just a hope that something will happen, but dependence on and an abiding trust. There was an effort in the 19th and 20th centuries to make faith a rational exercise. If we present the gospel in a rational manner, rational people will make a decision for Jesus Christ. It sounds nice in a lot of ways, but while there are points where faith is clearly a rational endeavor, there are also points where it is not. To trust that Jesus is who he says he is, is not altogether rational. First of all, we’ve never encountered Jesus in the sense that we have uncounted each other. Secondly, there is no proof that he is who he said that he is. Now you can say quiet quickly that the Bible tells us he is, but that makes an assumption that the Bible is trustworthy and reliable. But, if you don’t believe that Jesus who he claimed to be, why would you trust the Bible to be reliable and trustworthy? It becomes an exercise in circular logic. I am convinced that the scriptures are reliable and trustworthy, because I have come to know Jesus. Arguing that we someone should believe in the Jesus because the Bible tells us too, is not a logical or rational thing to do. If you read Acts closely the apostles only argued for Jesus from the scriptures with those who already found the scriptures to be trustworthy, in other cases they argued from other sources, including their experience, the experience of the one to whom they were speaking, and so forth. Jesus does not force anyone to be his follower, he invites us, calls us and we may respond in a variety of ways. Now, clearly the Holy Spirit plays a role in how we respond to Jesus and there is some sense of free will, but there is also a sense that God enables faith within us.
We often assume that Jesus came for all of humanity, and in a specific pattern, to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. This is the pattern we see developed here as well, Jesus had been ministering to the Jewish people in the Galilee, now he moves to the Trans-Jordan, perhaps in the region of the Decapolis to minister to people. This is a bold and unprecedented move, one that most Jewish people of Jesus day worked to avoid. They did not go through gentile areas unless it was necessary. And then their contact with Gentiles was limited, as limited as they could keep it to be honest. Now, Jesus intentionally goes to this gentile area, if you recall, the reason they were caught in the storm was because of the crossing of the sea of Galilee, so that they could get to the eastern shore. Clearly if Jesus had the authority to command the winds and the rain, going to a gentile area was within the scope of his actions, and the disciples would not question this action any further. At this point, the question that we get to ask, was the stopping of the wind and waves for the disciples or for us?