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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
Mel Brooks made the catch-line famous, in his 1981 film, History of the World, Part I: “It’s good to be the king!”
(Get an idea with this 4-minute excerpt from the film, set to Mel’s own “hip hop” song lyric. Probably should be rated PG-13, or so…)
For Brooks fans, the line becomes something of a leitmotif in his other films, including Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, and The Producers — not that that has anything to do with anything — except that I am reminded of it when God, through Samuel, tries to tell the Israelites that gaining a king to rule over them might not be all they think it is cracked up to be!
“It’s going to cost you!” is something of a biblical leitmotif where sin is concerned, yet over and over again, we humans are willing to enter the bargain anyway. The Israelites (who play our part in this drama) use the argument familiar to every teenager who has ever been confronted by a parent over dubious behavioral choices: “Well, everybody’s doing it!”
What’s a prophet — or a God — to say?
This God — the LORD of Israel — is greater than all gods; this God is the true King above all kings.
Noticeably, the LORD, as the high King, is very close to those who recognize their own lowliness; but remains “far away” from those whose self-attitude is haughty. Those who seek the help of the LORD when they are in trouble will find it; those who maintain an “I got this” state-of-mind are not so likely to find themselves aided by God’s strong “right hand.”
Ah, speaking of the “fruit” of our own choices!
I have long been intrigued by the fact that God never said a word to these first humans before they exhibited their first sign of guilt; they “heard” God walking in the garden and they “hid” themselves in the trees.
Apparently, not only does the guilty dog bark first, he/she also tucks tail and hides at the first sound of accountability coming!
Does God keep score?
The psalmist asks a question (v.3) that still resonates. How in the world could I ever answer for every single time I “sinned?” (i.e., broke a rule, crossed a boundary, told a lie, hurt another person, etc.)
There is something powerful to consider here about just how forgiveness works. If I can never even the score of my wrongdoing, then sooner or later I would just give up trying — and sin would progress to its inevitable conclusion: hurt, destruction, and death.
But, if there is a way to “wipe the slate clean” and get a fresh start — starting over seems like a genuine option. After a time, I know the deep need of my life for cleansing and renewal; I feel it “in my bones.”
Honest confrontation of my shortcomings and confession of my sin are the prerequisites of right living and right relationship — with God and others. Like waiting through a long, dark night for a glimmer of hope and sunshine, passing through the anguish of repentance brings redemption to my soul.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
How thankful have I been for grace lately?
V. 15 says that “grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving….” Just makes me wonder how thankful I have been for the incredible grace given to me. Have I stopped the flow of God’s grace through my life in any way by ingratitude?
“That boy done lost his mind!”
There was a certain young man in my hometown of whom that statement was made regularly when I was growing up. Theories varied as to exactly why Ray Skinner (not his real name, by the way) was crazy — or if he even was really mentally unbalanced — but none of us “kids” were ever brave enough to actually talk to him and find out. He was sort of our local Boo Radley, I suppose.
The setting for today’s gospel reading is a very Boo Radley-like experience Jesus has with his own family — those who should have been best-positioned to know him. Jesus is, of course, talking about his “kingdom,” which was his favorite subject. He really believed that God had sent him to establish a kingdom that was sort of, kind of on this earth — but wasn’t really, exactly like the other kingdoms of the earth.
Yeah, that was some crazy-sounding stuff right there! No wonder his momma and them came to try to talk him into coming home with them.
Just how crazy are the demands of the kingdom of God for those who would claim to follow Christ today? Are we “brothers and sisters” of our Lord Jesus?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
I left home — the farm in the foothills of North Carolina — when I was 18, to go to college. Though I still speak with a decided southern accent, I do not sound like the folks in and around Mt. Airy, NC anymore. Years of higher education in the Research Triangle area of NC and serving transplanted mid-westerners in Lutheran congregations in Atlanta and Nashville have taken the edge off enough that when I go home to Mt. Airy I get, not the “you ain’t from around here” look, but the “you went off and got different” look — which is almost as bad.
When Jesus goes home in today’s Gospel lesson, he gets the “you went off and got different” look from his community and his family. They knew who he was, he was Mary’s boy, he was James’ brother. But then again, he wasn’t; something was different, something was wrong, he had changed.
A woman slips into the living quarters back of the carpenter shop, “Mary, I saw your boy. Yeah, Jesus the one that went off to be a preacher. Boy, he sure talks funny, like them city folks he’s been hanging around with. And, well, it ain’t just the way he talks, it’s what he says. That boy of your’n’ has sure got some funny ideas. People are talking like he’s nuts or something. You better do something about it.”
So Mary gathers up the family and sets out to find her boy. There are two motivations working in their effort to stop Jesus. One is the fact that Mary and James and the rest still live in Nazareth and what Jesus does reflects on them. Family honor and business are on the line. The second, and I suspect more powerful, motivation is love. They love Jesus. They didn’t understand him, but they loved him.They were wrong to try to stop him, but they were wrong for the right reason. They loved Jesus as a son and brother and they wanted him to be happy, they wanted him to be successful, they wanted him to fit in, they wanted him to be safe, they wanted him to come home; if not home to Nazareth at least home to traditional values.
When they found Jesus they discovered that things were worse than they thought. Not only was Jesus talking funny and doing weird things; he was also openly defying the public officials, engaging in public argument with the temple scribes. This was serious business indeed.
The scribes were accusing Jesus of being a Satanist, of being in league with the devil. Can you imagine the fear that struck at Mary’s heart when she heard it said that her sweet, precious, first-born son was not only odd but that he was also evil? And Jesus only made it worse by arguing with the scribes, by making them look like fools.
Mary had to act and act quickly. She sends in one of the boys with a message for Jesus to come out and go home. And Jesus, unbelievably, rejects his mother and his mother’s pleas.
Jesus turns his back on his family. He looks around the crowd and says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mothers and my sisters and my brothers; those who do the will of God!”
In that moment, Jesus redefined for all time the meaning of family. It was shocking then and it is shocking to many of us now.
For the people of Jesus time and place, family was not an important thing; it was everything. Who you were, what you did, who you married, your entire relationship to society and to God were defined by your family.
Jesus was not just Jesus who used to be a carpenter in Nazareth and was now a Rabbi. No, Jesus as Jesus, Son of Joseph, of the house and lineage of David, a descendant of Abraham. Without those family connections, Jesus was nobody, at least not anybody who had to be recognized or dealt with; he was permanently “not from around here.” He had done “gone off and got different.”
You have heard it said that “Blood is thicker than water,” but in that moment Jesus declared that “the waters of baptism are thicker than the blood of family.”
Now, this did not mean that Jesus no longer loved “his Mama and them,” as we say back in Mt. Airy. It did mean that Jesus declared a rearrangement in the order of his relationships; and by so doing, rearranged the order of our relationships too.
I am still son and brother and husband and father and pastor and neighbor and friend to many and probably am considered a jerk by more people than I would like to know about.
But all those relational definitions are secondary to one over-arching and defining relationship; I am a child of God and younger brother of Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior. That relationship takes priority over all others and makes sense of all others. As long as I remember that Christ is first in my life, everything else falls in line.
For more than 600 years the Hapsburgs ruled much of Europe. In 1916 Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died. A procession of dignitaries and elegantly dressed royal mourners escorted the coffin which was draped in black and gold silk. A military band played somber funeral music as the torch-lit procession made its way down winding narrow stairs into the catacombs beneath the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna
At the bottom of the stairs were great iron doors leading to the Hapsburg family crypt. Behind the door was the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.
The Commanding officer rapped on the door and cried out. “Open!”
The Archbishop replied, “Who goes there?”
“We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Defender of the Faith, Prince of Bohemia-Moravia, Grand-Duke of Lombardy . . . .” And so it went, through the entire list of his 37 titles.
“We know him not, “ the Cardinal said, “Who goes there?”
The officer spoke again, using the informal title, “We bear the remains of Emperor Franz-Josef I of the Hapsburg line.”
“We know him not,” the cardinal said again. “Who goes there?”
This time the officer replied, “We bear the body of Franz-Josef, our brother, a sinner like all of us.” At that the doors swung open and Franz-Josef was welcomed home.
Whoever else you may be, whatever other relationships you may have, there is one title and one relationship that can never be taken away from you; you are always a child of God, born out of the waters of baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.
Though that means that wherever you go on earth, you will be considered and bit odd and “not from around here” because you have “done gone off and got different;” it also means that you are always welcome and at home in the family and kingdom of God.
Amen and amen.