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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Church Matters, pt 1 (Luke 18.35-43, Luke 19.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 9, 2014
Text: Luke 18:35-43; Luke 19:1-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Christians, Join to Sing" (MADRID)
Hymn of Praise: "I Love to Tell the Story" (HANKEY)
Hymn: "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Hymn of Offering: "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" (DENNIS)
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Bless the Lord (10,000 Reasons)" (Myrin, Redman)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Testimonies From the Service 
How have you seen the GOODNESS or GREATNESS of God through Good Shepherd?
Mark Katibah (link)
MaryGene Longenecker (link)
Matt and Megan Butler (link)
Chuck and Linda Jenkins (link) 
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript and this is such a week (especially the ending). Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises! 8 Awake, my glory! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. 9 I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations. 10 For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens And Your truth to the clouds. 11 Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth.
Today’s sermon and service are a little different format that usual. It is our “Stewardship Sunday,” but instead of talking about the giving of time, talent, and treasure or teaching on tithing, I want to talk about why church matters. For the past few months we have been talking about “Belonging to God,” and most recently have focused on how all things (including our belonging) reflect back on God’s name. Both God’s being (holy, loving, right, just, etc…) and God’s works (creation, salvation, redemption, etc…) shine in what we refer to as God’s GLORY.

Another way of using everyday words to talk about God’s-being-and-works-showing-forth-as-glory is to talk about God’s GOODNESS and GREATNESS. And there’s no place we see that glory more clearly than through Jesus Christ, who is at once the foundation, the center, and the head of the church. John 1:14 reminds us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Today I am using the same scripture texts as I will next week. These back-to-back texts from Luke describe two people experiencing God’s goodness and greatness through an encounter with Jesus. This week I want to describe those encounters to you, highlighting God’s glory. Then, over the course of the service, I want to invite several folks to share with you how they have experienced God’s goodness and greatness in this place. Finally, I will give you an opportunity to stand and briefly do the same. You can see the question there in the bulletin: “How have you experienced God’s GOODNESS or GREATNESS through Good Shepherd?”

Bottom-line, what I hope you’ll walk away with is a strong reminder that church matters because this is a place where God shows up – and that is an amazing thing… even a life-changing thing.

Blind (Luke 18:35-43)
35 As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. 36 Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was. 37 They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38 And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.
Both of today’s stories take place in or near the ancient city of Jericho. In Luke 18, Jesus is on his way into Jericho with a crowd following and walking with him. A blind man hears the commotion and asks what is going on. When he hears that it is Jesus, he calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” We don’t have to wonder what he wanted or meant by that because Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the man responded, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” And Jesus said, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately, he regained his sight.

Isn’t that the way you wish it would always work… that you could just ask Jesus for something and he would do it?

But wait, let’s look a little more closely. First, Jesus was already showing up; he was present there on the road that day. The man was attentive enough to ask questions, to recognize the power before him, to call out, and to believe Jesus could do what he asked. That’s all on the front end. Do we come to church expecting God to show up? And assuming God does (I believe He is faithful to do so!), do you see it? Do you call out? Do you recognize who we are worshiping? Do you believe God can do anything?

And then look at what followed: after regaining his sight, the man began following Jesus and glorifying God; and all the people around gave praise to God. This encounter with the power and presence of God wasn’t a point in time thing; it was more than healing blindness; the man was CHANGED. He didn’t just start to see; he started to follow and to worship. And the whole encounter spurred the crowd to worship and praise.

There are several parts to consider when we talk about encountering the GOODNESS and GREATNESS of God here.

1.    Are we expectant?
2.    Will we believe and be touched?
3.    Will we remember and be changed?

In a bit you will hear stories of people here – people you know – who have experienced the GOODNESS and GREATNESS of God. I imagine each of us will hear those stories from one of these points of view.

You may think, “I’ve never had that experience.” I’d ask, “Are you expectant? Are you looking and waiting and hoping to?”

You may think, “Oh yes, I have encountered God’s GOODNESS or GREATNESS!” If so, I hope you’ll share that with us at the appropriate time.

A third point of view either realizes “I had forgotten that” or also realizes that the encounter with God changed you. If that is the case, praise God! And I’d like to know and maybe hear about it next Sunday!

From this story, realize that God showed up through Jesus and more than healing physical blindness occurred; a man was changed – through his experience perhaps even a community.

Hated and Despised (Luke 19:1-10)
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
We’ve talked before about tax collectors; one of them named Matthew (Levi) even became a disciple. As Jesus was passing through Jericho, he encountered another one named Zacchaeus. We’ve talked about how tax collectors were hated and despised because they were Jewish people working for the Roman Empire, taxing their own people and free to overtax and line their own pockets. We know that Zacchaeus was especially hated and despised because we are told he was a “chief tax collector and he was rich.” His wealth came from taxing his fellow Jews.

Like the blind man, Zacchaeus also heard the commotion of Jesus coming through Jericho and went to check it out. Because he was small – or perhaps because he was hated? – he ran ahead of Jesus and the crowd and climbed up in a tree to see him. Unlike the blind man, Zacchaeus did not call out to Jesus; instead, Jesus called out to him. And it wasn’t a “hey, how are you?” or a “come, follow me.” Jesus looked up and called his name and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” How did Jesus know his name? Maybe because he was Jesus… or maybe Matthew knew him. But Jesus did the same thing he did with Matthew’s friends in Capernaum; he went for dinner at his house. And Zacchaeus received him gladly.

The people grumbled just as when Jesus ate with Matthew… Jesus is hanging out with “sinners” again! But that storyline is interrupted by a declaration from Zacchaeus, who says, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

Again, God showed up through Jesus and someone’s life was changed. There’s no other way to explain Zacchaeus’ declaration. We don’t quite have all the figures to do the math, but it sounds to me like he’s pretty much giving all his wealth away, both to help those in need and to make right his wrongs.

Again, thinking back on the blind man and now on Zacchaeus, I ask:

1.    Are you expectantly looking for God to show up?
2.    Will you listen and respond when He does?
3.    How is that changing your life?

Big questions; but then again, we are talking about when God shows up!

I look forward to hearing more from you later in the service and also to digging some more into these texts again next week. Amen.

**Audio links to the testimonies from the service are included in the top section of this post.

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