Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Christmas Drama (Matthew 1.17-23)

Sermon by: Greg Joines (student intern)
November 28, 2010
Some Music Used 
Prepare the Way
Hail, Gladdening Light (Passion Hymns)

A Christmas Drama
Texts: Matthew 1:17-23

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Manuscript not available.
bulletin artwork by Cathy Youngblood

2010 Community Thanksgiving Service

Sermon: "A Thanksgiving of Deliverance"
Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Preacher: Allen Schuyler (pastor, Candlewyck Baptist Church)
November 23, 2010
Some Music Used 
Come People of the Risen King (Getty/Townend)
Choir - Passacaglia of Praise (Courtney)
Praise to the Lord - Alleluia (Passion Hymns)

A Thanksgiving of Deliverance
Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Rea Road Churches
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church (2010 host)
Candlewyck Baptist Church
Cross and Crown Lutheran Church
Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church
Peace Moravian Church
Wesley United Methodist


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thank You (Luke 7.37-50)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 21, 2010
Some Music Used 
Good to me (Craig Musseau)
Choir - Look at the World (Rutter)
Now Thank We All our God (arr. R. Austell)
Thank You
Texts: Luke7:37-50

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today is the third Sunday in a row that we have looked at this same text and story. We looked at the first three verses of chapter eight to talk about the meaning of Christian stewardship. We looked at the actions of the woman in the story last week and saw a vivid, living picture of consecration – setting aside one’s self materially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for God’s purpose and presence. And we return to the same story one more time today to look at the theme of thankfulness, mindful that many of us will gather with family or friends this week, and hopeful that all of us will take time to give thanks to God for our many blessings.

Prophet, Teacher, and More

While I want to focus on Jesus’ parable in verses 41-43 today, it is important to note the layers of things going on in the larger context. So let me mention those and then we will return to the specific teaching of that parable.

Remember that the host at this dinner party is Simon the Pharisee, a religious leader who has invited Jesus over for a public meal, presumably to either show him off or show him up to other religious leaders and to other listeners-in. I noted last week that this particular type of dinner party, characterized by the reclining-style eating and the open house was designed so that people could listen in to the table conversation without being invited guests. So it was that the woman was able to enter the party.

Based on Simon addressing Jesus several times as ‘Rabbi’ or ‘teacher,’ we understand that Jesus was at least viewed as that. Following on the public ministry of John the Baptist as a latter-day prophet (see earlier in chapter seven), and Simon’s interior or under-the-breath thoughts to himself, there was some talk or speculation about Jesus being a prophet. Certainly later, and maybe even this early, there was also talk about him being more – a king or even the Messiah. This is too early in Jesus’ public ministry for all that to have developed fully, but there was certainly a let’s-check-him-out aspect to this dinner party.

I mention all that to highlight that, over the course of the dinner, Jesus demonstrated just who he was with respect to all those possibilities. Let me explain.

Simon had invited Jesus to dinner as Rabbi or Teacher. The expectation would have been that they dialog about the Scripture or other theological matters, and those present could see for themselves what kind of teacher Jesus was.

In verse 39, we are privy to Simon’s thoughts or mutterings that if Jesus were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this crying mess was. Last week I mentioned the irony that Jesus did prove himself to be a prophet (or more!) because not only did he read the situation correctly, and know precisely who the woman was, but he also read Simon’s heart and thoughts and responded to them, though they are described in verse 39 as being said “to himself.” By the time Jesus was done, he had clearly demonstrated himself teacher and prophet.

But he was even more. At the end of the text, in verses 48-50, he forgives the woman’s sins, tells her that her faith has saved her, and tells her to go in peace. Here he is at least assuming the role of priest, and in fact is doing far more in forgiving sin – he is claiming to be God.

In the broader narrative of God’s plan, Jesus’ identity, and the unfolding story, this passage plays a major role in describing and defining early on who Jesus said and demonstrated himself to be: far more than a teacher.

That’s not the point of this sermon or the parable he told, but it is worth highlighting. Now, given all Jesus said and showed himself to be, let’s take all the more seriously his teaching in this text.

Not Missing the Point

If you’ll remember, I’ve talked before about parables being a certain art or story-form. While they are intended to make a serious and spiritual point, they are somewhat similar in form to the modern joke in that they have a “punch line” that creates a kind of ‘gotcha’ or ‘aha’ moment that makes the point all the more memorable and powerful. So let’s look out for that as we look at this parable.

The parable starts off simply enough: there are two people that owe a debt, and one’s debt was ten times as great as the other. For what it’s worth, even the smaller debt was significant. With a denarius equivalent to one day’s wage, 50 would be about ten weeks’ wages. Let’s get that out of ancient coinage. At a ballpark minimum today of $10/hour times 40 hours, ten weeks’ worth would be $4000. Not impossible, but not insignificant if you’re only making $400/week. Now ten times that is $40,000… on the same wages. Get it?

Now here’s the really insightful part of this parable. If you had two minimum wage earning friends and one had a $4000 credit card debt and another owed someone $40,000, what would you think? Wouldn’t be easy to judge the one with the big debt a little? What in the world did they do wrong to incur that kind of debt? And you might even have more debt than the $4000. Here’s one part of what is so insightful: if you were at the dinner party, without knowing the how’s and why’s of the Pharisee’s life or the woman’s life, it would be easy to assume that he was basically a “good guy” and she was a “bad girl.” Just look at the differences between them!

Now here’s where Jesus sets up the punch line. What if the one to whom they owed the debt graciously forgave them both? That was the brow-raising setup… sure, someone could forgive a typical debt for a “good guy.” It would be great, but not unthinkable. And how easy it would be to give the good guy some credit. Maybe the debt-forgiveness was partly in response to some good quality or thing he had done. It would be so easy for Simon to fit into that character. But the $400,000 debt? Who does that? No one could possibly deserve that kind of forgiveness. Now, I realize Jesus said the debt was “graciously” forgiven, but don’t we all just blow right past the idea of the free gift of grace? That’s why this parable so quickly gets to the heart of what’s going on at this dinner party. Simon has judged the relative merits and shortcomings of himself and this woman and, using the simplest of stories, Jesus gets right through the surface to the attitudes and motives underneath.

But here’s the punch line – here’s where all these dynamics, in and outside the story, come into focus. Jesus comes out of the parable and asks Simon, “So which of them will love him more?” Well the answer is obvious – the one with the greater debt, which is the answer Simon gives. But here’s the twist. The “normal debt good guy” may not even recognize the graciousness of the gift at all. Certainly, that’s the point Jesus goes on to make in real life. Simon has not shown him the kind of hospitality Jesus is worth. Rather, the focus of the evening really has been on Simon himself – in being seen hosting this up-and-coming Rabbi. And Simon has not recognized – and worse, judged – the woman’s correct show of appreciation and love.

Finally, as part of the punch line, notice Jesus’ word choice. You would expect, “Which one of the debtors was more grateful?” But Jesus asked which one LOVED him more. Think about that. What an odd and surprising ending to what sounds like a simple story. That’s the punch line and the twist. Not only is it unusual that such a large debt might be forgiven, with no possible trade-off with “deserving it,” but that kind of forgiveness results not just in gratitude, but in love.

In the shortest of stories, Jesus has moved – or challenged Simon to move – from judging another to recognizing love of God in another.

What is the Relationship between Debt, Forgiveness, and Love?

Finally, I would press a little bit more deeply into that punch line. The point for us is not just that those who have more to forgive will love God more. Sometimes they won’t, if they don’t recognize that God loves them. There is not an automatic link between spiritual (or any) poverty and love of God. In fact, there is a very specific link – Jesus. And Jesus is precisely who was in the middle of the story unfolding in Simon the Pharisee’s house.

The point is that in order to truly love God, we must first recognize our spiritual need – our debt – whether great or small. And honestly, we all need to see how great it is – there is only thinking it is small.

Second, when we hear of God’s gracious love and forgiveness, we must recognize it for what it is, no strings attached, profound and deep mercy and love, extended uniquely and specifically through Jesus Christ.

And the rest will follow! We don’t have to work to conjure up gratitude or love at that point. Rather, it is not recognizing our debt that gets in the way of gratitude and love. Or it is thinking that our debt is small and we are somehow deserving that makes us miss the kind of gratitude and love Jesus describes.

The questions I asked last week had to do with who we are before Jesus, and under what terms we have welcomed Jesus into “our house.” It is finally not about us at all, but about Jesus – who he is and what he has done.

If we can hear that and see ourselves truly and honestly with respect to our sin-debt, God’s grace, and Jesus’ work, then we will be left speaking from the position of the one Jesus praises in this story:

From those who know the debt and to the one who has forgiven it: thank you, Lord; we love you, Lord.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Special Reserve (Luke 7.37-50)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 14, 2010 - Consecration Sunday
Some Music Used 
These Hands (Deyo)
Take My Life (Tomlin)
My Jesus, I Love Thee (Sjolund) - Jim Terrell, soloist

Offering (Baloche)

Special Reserve
Texts: Luke7:37-50

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**


Today is Consecration Sunday. That may mean something to some of you and others may have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s okay! My hope is that after looking more closely at the significant story in today’s text, that we will come face to face with a powerful and moving picture of consecration.

Last Sunday I looked at this same passage – actually the first few verses of chapter eight – to talk about stewardship. Stewardship has to do with giving or giving back to God, understanding that everything already belongs to Him. So stewardship can refer to time, money, affection, and any other number of offerings to God. And there is such thing as a good stewardship and a bad stewardship. We can give God our best, our second best, or our leftovers.

Stewardship describes our understanding and handling of resources, that we are stewards of what God has entrusted to our care.

Consecration describes the act of setting apart our resources (and ourselves) for God. In baptism and communion, I consecrate or set aside ordinary tap water, bread, and juice for God’s purposes and activity. So today we take time, having considered the meaning of stewardship, to consecrate our ordinary selves and resources for God’s holy or extraordinary purposes. It relates nicely to the sentence we have out front: “Ordinary people; extraordinary God.”

In today’s story we will see two people responding to Jesus’ presence in significantly different ways. And there is a marked contrast there. The first and apparent contrast is in their station in life – their appearance and reputation. But as the story unfolds and Jesus teaches, we see that the deeper contrast has to do with themes of stewardship and consecration – how and what each person has done in response to the presence of Jesus.

First, there is a lot going on in terms of the historical context. Let me walk through that and then we’ll look at the great contrast and how we might be challenged in our own lives before God.


A Lot Going on Here

There is a lot going on culturally in this story, and it is not all immediately apparent. Much of what I will say comes from historians, archaeologists, and biblical scholars diligently studying aspects of first century Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture. I mention all that to say that there is great value in trying to understand the context and culture of different portions of the Scripture, much as one of our Sunday school classes is doing this Fall.

So in our text, a Pharisee asks Jesus to come eat at his house. We read the detail that they “reclined” at the table. This clue answers several questions we would have of this story. For one, it indicates a certain kind of dinner – a certain social kind of dinner – where the house was open to outsiders. Particularly with Jesus being treated as a Teacher or Rabbi, the custom would have been for the poor or interested to come quietly listen to whatever he might say, though they would not have had a place at the table. That explains how it was that a woman such as the one in the story might come into a dinner party.

The style of meal also explains some of her actions. She brought the alabaster jar of perfume with her, most likely to anoint Jesus head in recognition of him as King, or perhaps prophet. Because the dinner guests were reclining – lying down toward the table, with feet away from it, she only had access to his feet. You heard what happened next. She began weeping – we’ll come back to why in a moment – and as her tears fell on his feet, she wiped them with her hair.

That is probably the strangest part of the story for us, right? But it is not without precedent. You have probably heard about the washing of feet. It is something a host would provide for a guest. With sandals and lots of dirt, people’s feet quickly became dirty. In a household of means, a servant would wash a guest’s feet, either with a towel (as Jesus did to his disciples before the Last Supper), or if a female servant, sometimes with her hair. It was a startling gesture, to be sure. That her hair was down and showing indicated she was not a woman of standing. That she used it to wash Jesus’ feet indicated a servant attitude toward one of greater importance. But those two facts were what was startling, not the use of her hair for this purpose (which is the odd thing to us).

And then, having washed Jesus’ feet, she anointed them with the perfume as she kissed his feet. Again, we can be confused or draw the wrong conclusions from the kissing. There was nothing romantic; in that culture it was a kiss of greeting, respect, and honor. Basically, her anointing and kissing Jesus’ feet were both actions honoring someone of high standing or reputation. She just didn’t have access to Jesus’ head – at the table – and washed, anointed, and kissed the only part of him she could reach, which only served to accent her respect of him.

Now, why was she weeping? On one hand, we can only guess. But the context – from Jesus talking right before this passage about the repentance signified in John’s baptism, to his explanation about the woman’s debt, to his acknowledgment of her faith and forgiven sins – suggests that she is repentant, believing, and grateful… that these are tears of sorrow and joy mixed together in the presence of the one in whom she has found peace.

There are a few other points that are not immediately obvious. One might think, when Jesus turns to Simon and begins a parable, that Simon Peter is present and Jesus is having a teaching moment with his disciple as he so often does. But what actually seems to be the case is that Simon is the name of the Pharisee hosting Jesus. Quickly, several things suggest this. Simon was a common name (even among the disciples there is Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot). The Simon in this scene calls Jesus “Teacher (Rabbi”; in Luke, the disciples almost always call Jesus “Master” and the Pharisees and others refer to Jesus as Teacher/Rabbi. More directly, in verses 44 and following, Jesus rebukes Simon for not showing standard signs of hospitality. It would not have been a disciples’ place to do these things, but the host’s responsibility.

Realizing that Simon is the hosting Pharisee rather than the disciple Peter makes the contrast between Simon and the woman all the more significant, and that’s where I want to focus now as we try to understand what consecrating ourselves and our resources means.


Special Reserve or a Bare Minimum

Hopefully we have a handle on the customs and culture and dynamics of the story. Next week we will look particularly at the short parable Jesus told Simon, focused on gratitude. But today I want to focus on Jesus’ “explanation” in verses 44 and following. It is only there that the startling contrast between Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman come to light.

At first glance, and evidently from Simon’s perspective, one thing is going on. Simon, a Pharisee and man of some standing, is publicly hosting an up-and-coming popular Rabbi in his home. It seems to be a social event meant to be seen and heard, though only by the “right sort” of people. The woman’s intrusion is disruptive in a number of ways and seems on the surface to be anything but a thoughtful offering. It is perceived as rude, messy, unnecessary, and anything but respectable.

Simon didn’t say these things to Jesus, but “to himself.” But Jesus read his heart (ironically proving to be the kind of prophet Simon reckoned he wasn’t!).

Jesus allows the whole thing to play out, only turning toward the woman in verse 44, after allowing all her attentions and after having an exchange with Simon about debts and gratitude. But it is when he turns to her in verse 44 that he speaks to Simon (turned away from him) and interprets her actions in front of Simon, the woman, and everyone else in the room.

And Jesus doesn’t just interpret her actions, but does so by contrasting Simon’s actions (or lack of them).
I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (v. 44)

You [Simon] gave me no kiss [of welcome or greeting]; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. (v. 45)

You [Simon] did not anoint my head [even with basic olive oil]; but she anointed my feet with perfume. (v. 46)
Simon the Pharisee, invited Jesus to come to his house, on his terms, and provided the bare minimum of hospitality. The woman, sought Jesus out, likely having heard Jesus’ earlier teaching on repentance and she poured out everything she had, materially, emotionally, spiritually – not to be seen and esteemed, but in complete humility, mingling tears, humble service, and treasured possessions.

Do you hear the contrast? Let it sink in… it nearly wrecked me when I got it all untangled.

I find far too much to identify with in the religious person who gladly welcomes Jesus into my house as long as it’s on my terms and with the limits I set. I congratulate myself on “being seen with Jesus” and miss the depth of faith and love of a sinner, broken in repentance and gratitude.

I know who I am more often. What about you? Who are you?


Consecration

Today we pause to consider consecration as the act of setting aside ourselves for Jesus. As I said last week, this is not about raising funds for the church budget. It is far, far deeper than that. Consecration is the deep response of one who has understood the depths of our sin and the deeper mystery and grace of God’s love. It is not bringing a few dollars for a nice lunch with Jesus, but bringing that which we reserve as our best, most, and deepest – from our sorrow and disappointments to our hopes and dreams to our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The message is not, “You aren’t doing enough.” It’s not that at all.

Rather, the question of this text is, “Who are you in relation to Jesus?”

You can’t fake what the woman was doing. That’s authentic; that’s real; that’s consecration. Amen.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's Not Mine, It's Yours (Luke 8.1-3)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 7, 2010 - Stewardship Sunday 

It's Not Mine, It's Yours
Texts: Luke 8:1-3

Sometimes the spoken version of the sermon varies from the written version. And some very few times, such as this week, there is no manuscript to publish.  I will include below my November newsletter article, to which I refer in the sermon and which describes the same core analogy of the sermon between music styles, stewardship styles, and the underlying worship principles of both.

Dear Church Family,

At Good Shepherd we are interested in doing good ministry – particularly ministries to which we believe God has called us. We are likewise interested in being good stewards of money that is given to the church. It is tempting to equate and define stewardship from the “receiving end” and get wrapped up in justifying programs, creating and balancing a budget, and encouraging tithing or sacrificial giving for the sake of the ministries to which we are called as a church. However, this is getting the cart before the horse, as well-intentioned as it may be. Stewardship is first and foremost an act of personal and corporate WORSHIP, a faith-full response to the being and character of the Triune God we experience in Spirit, Truth, and Christian community.

In scripture, stewardship and being a steward has to do with serving a higher authority through wise use of that which belongs to the authority (whether God, king, or master). If “the earth and all it contains is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1), then all that we are and all that we have belong to God. Our stewardship is not a tax, tithe, token, or charitable gift, but our complete and obedient service to God. That is the definition of worship in the broad sense.

What about tithing? Tithing was part of the Law, intended to “train spiritual children” (Galatians 3:24-26). Tithing is not our expected maximum; it is like training wheels until we learn what it means to submit everything we have to God as an act of worship. As long as our stewardship is understood as giving that is tied to a budget and a set of ministries, or even to the concept of a tithe, we have put limits on our worship, just as surely as saying one can only worship with traditional music or King James English.

At Good Shepherd, we have glimpsed the freedom and blessing of worshiping God musically and artistically in Spirit and in Truth, using “every means at our disposal to invite each worshiper into the presence of God” (from the worship philosophy on the back of the bulletin). Could we discover a similar freedom and expansiveness in terms of our stewardship-worship?

There are other parallels between stewardship and music. Just as some people worship most deeply with traditional hymns, others with more contemporary styles, and yet others through creating new musical offerings in response to the Spirit, we recognize that people understand and exercise stewardship best in different ways. So we’d like to encourage an approach to stewardship-worship that parallels our approach to musical worship: united by the shared theme of worship expressed through a variety of ‘styles’ of giving. There is no preference or priority to any of these; rather, we hope you will find one to be your “language” for worshiping God in this way. 

Stewardship as Obedient Commitment

Some folks have expressed a preference for the old pledge-card system. You find it helpful to commit up front to giving on a regular basis and doing so builds a helpful and regular pattern of obedience into your life. We’d like to honor that and offer the opportunity to pledge and provide regular communication from the Financial Secretary in keeping with your pledge. Pledging does not preclude other more spontaneous giving, nor does it bind you if income or situation changes. Rather, it is an expression of obedience and commitment that is a wonderful expression of worship. 

Stewardship as Ongoing Response

Some folks have expressed a preference for maintaining the flexibility to give more or less as the Spirit leads or as needs arise. On one hand you appreciate not being constantly pressured or reminded about giving, but on the other hand you may feel freer to give above a pre-set commitment. We’d like to encourage and offer some accountability for those who want to give in this way by inviting you sign a “covenant of stewardship” that doesn’t specify a pledged amount, but an intent to give regularly and prayerfully as an act of worship. 

Stewardship as Creative Faithfulness

Some folks, particularly among younger generations, have demonstrated a preference for what I would call “creative faithfulness.” No more or less faithful than regular, weekly givers, you are willing to give sacrificially and even extravagantly if so inspired by the Holy Spirit. Examples include purchasing a house with extra space to use to house those in crisis or need, or living off one spouse’s income while giving the other’s salary away. Having had to cut back ministry expenses to a bare-bones minimum in recent years, we still have big dreams and visions that God continues to put before us. We’d like to put some of these out there before you and see if God is stirring you in a faithfully creative way.

I will be preaching on Christian stewardship on November 7… We’d like to ask you to prayerfully consider your response, with family and including children, and then on November 14 we will have a time of consecration in the service to offer our responses before the Lord. I hope you will set aside some time to consider your own response along with that of your household.

In Christ,

Robert