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October 27, 2012

Living Under Judgment: A Sermon

Filed under: Sermons — William Witt @ 5:19 pm
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59:1-19
Psalm 13
Hebrews 5:12-6:121
Mark 10:46-52

Christ the JudgeThere are times when the preacher looks at the lectionary readings and prefers to preach on the gospel text, but knows that would be a cop-out. This is one of those mornings. There’s a reason we have a lectionary, and it is important to preach on the readings we are given. So here goes.

I am going to suggest that there is a common theme in the lectionary readings this morning. They all deal with God’s judgment in a way that makes us uncomfortable. The uncomfortable part is that they deal with judgment in the lives of believers. This does not fit into the standard Christian narrative of creation, fall, redemption. In the standard narrative, God’s judgment applies to sinners. In the atonement, Christ takes on God’s judgment, and sinners are forgiven. Those who repent and place their faith in Christ no longer stand under God’s judgment. As Paul writes in Romans, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1)

Yet a common theme of the readings this morning is that even after redemption, judgment continues, and it is a divine judgment toward believers, of whom we should be able to say “there is no condemnation.” Despite divine grace, despite divine forgiveness, despite no condemnation, Scripture seems to speak at times as if there is judgment after all. What do the passages say?

In the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, the prophet speaks of a judgment on account of ongoing sin. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” (Isaiah 59:1-2) This is not a message of judgment against the nations, against those who have worshiped other gods. This is a message of judgment against those who call the Lord, the God of Israel, their God. The prophet puts himself in the place of Israel, of those who know that they stand under divine judgment: “Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us, we hope for light, and behold darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” (59:9-10). He speaks for those who are conscious of their sin: “We hope for justice, but there is none, for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgression are with us, and we know our iniquities.” (59:12-13). (more…)

October 8, 2012

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

Filed under: Sermons — William Witt @ 5:22 am
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I came across the following sermon, which I preached ten years ago, and did not remember having written. I think some might find it helpful.

Matthew 15:21-28

Canaanite WomanWe’re sometimes told that the basic message of the Bible is very simple, something that even a child can understand.  There is a certain truth to that way of looking at things.  After all, the Bible contains many stories, and stories are supposed to be easy to read, and easy to understand.  Think of the Christmas story.  Almost every church has a Christmas pageant in which children play the roles of Joseph and Mary, the baby Jesus, the shepherds and wise men, the angels, and sometimes even the sheep and donkey.  At the same time, even the Christmas story is not so simple as we sometimes think it is–preachers and theologians have been coming up with sermons and books about Christmas for two thousand years

But there are other passages in the Bible that are not at all simple, not at all easy to understand.  This morning’s gospel reading is a classic example.  This morning’s gospel reading contains one of the so-called “hard sayings” of Jesus.  If you read the gospels or even listen to the gospel lectionary readings on Sunday morning for any length of time, you will eventually encounter them.  To save your life, you have to take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Whoever does not hate his father or mother or even his own life cannot follow Jesus.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  Let the dead bury their dead.

In this morning’s gospel, a mother comes to Jesus, desperate for help for her sick daughter.  Like any good mother, she cares for her daughter.  She has heard that Jesus has the power to heal, and she comes to him, begging for help.  He is probably her last resort.  No one else has been able to help.   Nothing else has worked.    Jesus responds to her request by calling her a dog.  That would be an insult in any language, in any culture, at any time, but in Jewish culture at that time, it was one of the worst insults that a Jew could think of to use for a Gentile.

How do we respond to such passages of scripture?  The simple approach is just to avoid them.  A smart preacher would preach on the OT reading this morning.  Or we might just not bother with the Bible at all.  I heard an older woman say recently  that she didn’t read the Bible anymore because it was full of contradictions.  There are a lot of people who are atheists because they have read passages like this in the Bible.  After all, how can we say that Jesus is the Son of God or that he never sinned when the Bible contains passages like this, where Jesus acts in a manner that seems unloving, even cruel?
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