Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Genesis Series: "A coat of many colors" (Gen 37:3)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

Being the oldest in a family comes with several disadvantages that younger siblings do not suffer. If you had the distinction of having entered the world first, then you were the test subject, the one who experienced the trial and error of parents' discovering how to raise children. At some point, you were probably also the babysitter, the one who had the privilege of keeping younger siblings from setting the house on fire or from seeing how well the cat could swim.
Steven, who often had to watch his younger sister, protested when his mother asked him to take her along fishing. "Do I have to? The last time she came, I didn't catch a single fish." "I'll talk to her," his mother said, "and tell her not to make any noise." "It wasn't the noise, Mom.... She ate all my bait." (Adapted from Streiker 1998:206)
Sometimes younger siblings can be more of a bother than a blessing. That was certainly what Joseph's brothers thought, especially after their father gave him "A coat of many colors."1

This sermon is the final installment of the series, The Generations of Genesis, which noted that the phrase, "these are the generations of," appears frequently in the first biblical book to mark major sections in the narrative. Please turn to chapter 37, which has the last occurrence of this phrase.
Gen 37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the account ["the generations"] of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen.....
Do you notice anything odd? ...Was Joseph Jacob's eldest son? Most genealogical discussions start at the beginning, with the firstborn, not toward the end. Jacob had twelve sons, and Joseph was number eleven, which is pretty far down the line to appear so early in "the generations of Jacob." The biblical author is alerting us to the fact that the most significant son in Jacob's lineage may not be the oldest son,2 which raises our expectations about what we will learn. This chapter must recount the great things Joseph does. Perhaps he establishes a mighty city or distinguishes himself as a successful military leader. As the story unfolds, however, we realize that our high expectations of Joseph's exploits may be premature. In fact, he seems anything but a candidate for greatness. Look again at Gen 37:2.
Gen 37:2b Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
Joseph was a snitch, a tattletale, an informer. In a family, someone who rats out his siblings is the lowest life form. This does not bode well for his future. Apparently, his father Jacob, also called Israel, did not discourage this behavior in Joseph. As we read further, we see that Jacob doted on this, his youngest son.3
Gen 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him [KJV "a coat of many colors"].
For most people in the Ancient Near East, clothing was utilitarian. It had to keep them warm and had to be sturdy enough to stand the stresses of work. Fancy clothing was appropriate only for special occasions or for those who led privileged lives. Here...

I. Receiving the robe marked Joseph's favor.

...favor Jacob did not extend to his other sons, as they were well aware.
Gen 37:4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
If you were seventeen years old and you knew that your brothers—your older brothers—felt this way, the wise course would not be to make a big deal about being dad's favorite son.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Genesis Series: "A stairway...reaching to heaven" (Gen 28:12)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

Some things in life we do not understand or appreciate until we have a few years behind us.
A certain man was appointed president of a bank while he was still quite young. He approached the venerable Chairman of the Board and asked for advice. The old man came back with just two words: "Right decisions!" "That's really very helpful," the young man replied, "and I appreciate it, but could you be more specific? How do I make right decisions?" This time the Chairman simply responded: "Experience!" Somewhat frustrated, the new president said, "That's the reason I'm here. I don't have the kind of experience I need. How do I get it?" To which the old man replied, "Wrong decisions!" (Adapted from Hodgin 1994:144)
This is often our dilemma when facing a new set of challenges or an uncertain future, and not just when we are young. We want to make right decisions but often lack the necessary experience. We may look to those older and wiser for guidance, but in the end the choices, right or wrong, are ours to make. In our text this morning, Jacob is facing a new set of challenges and an uncertain future, and he must make a decision, one he seems to have put off until he sees "A stairway...reaching to heaven."1

The Generations of Genesis begin with the history of the heavens and the earth, then proceed to the history of such notables as Noah and the Patriarchs.2 The time between the genealogies are growing shorter, as are the gaps between the people they list. What was several generations and many years following creation and the flood becomes a single generation and only a few years after Abraham, as we see in the brief genealogy of chapter 25 (KJV).
Gen 25:19b Abraham begat Isaac:
Through vision and dream,3 God appeared to the two patriarchs, and accounts of these visitations as well as stories of His deeds became part of the growing oral tradition that parents told their children. Abraham related what he received, coupled with his own experiences, to Isaac, who did the same with Jacob. For at least the first forty years of Jacob's life,4 though, there is no indication he had any personal contact with God. All he knew was what his father had told him. Then Isaac sent him to Haran, whence Abram came, to find a wife from among his distant relatives there. In the course of his journey, Jacob has an encounter with God and learns several things about Him that are good for us to remember as well. The meeting takes place in...

I. The Vision of Jacob

Monday, April 7, 2014

Genesis Series: "Credited to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

Trustworthiness is a valuable trait that marks a person on whom others can depend. An individual is trustworthy in that his actions match his words; what he says, he will do. Unfortunately, it is also a rare quality, so we often find ourselves not trusting people, either because we do not know them or because we do (McKenzie 1980:101). God, of course, is trustworthy, but it is not always easy to accept that.
A man fell off a cliff but, at the last moment, managed to grab hold of some shrubbery. He hung there in space, terrified, and cried out, "Is anyone up there?" A calm, powerful voice came out of the sky and said, "Yes." The man, in desperation, pleaded, "Can you help me?" The calm voice replied, "Yes, I can. Just let go of the bush, and everything will be fine." There was a tense pause, then the man yelled, "Is anyone else up there?" (Adapted from Hodgin 1994:356; cf. Wright 1985:135)
It is not always easy to trust God, but the longer we walk with Him, the more our confidence in Him grows, for we realize that what He says, He will do. Continuing in our series, The Generations of Genesis, we come to the history of Abraham, a man whose long-standing relationship with God gave him confidence in the trustworthiness of God, and whose faith God "Credited to him as righteousness."

Like the period between Creation and the Flood, it is uncertain how much time passes between Noah and Abraham, or Abram, as he is first called. Again, it is at least several generations (almost 1000 years), as we see in the genealogy of chapter 11 (KJV).
Gen 11: 10b Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad.... 12 [who] lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah.... 14 [who] lived thirty years, and begat Eber.... 16 [who] lived four and thirty years, and begat Peleg.... 18 [who] lived thirty years, and begat Reu.... 20 [who] lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug.... 22 [who] lived thirty years, and begat Nahor.... 24 [who] lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah... 26 [who] lived seventy years, and begat Abram....
When Gen 15 opens, Abram has been in Canaan for several years and "had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold" (Gen 13:2).1 He even has his own security force, "318 trained men born in his household" (Gen14:14) whom he can call to active duty at a moment's notice. Abram wants for nothing...or does he? Indeed, there is something he lacks, something important to the divine plan, something God offers to provide with...2

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Genesis Series: "Favor in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen 6:8)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

We are all concerned with how others view us, especially those whose favor we hope to win, and we are often careful to behave in a way that will meet with their approval.
Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president (1923-29), once entertained some visitors from Vermont. The guests were concerned that they display proper table manners to win the President's respect, so they observed him very carefully and followed his example in detail. The meal passed smoothly, then came time for coffee. President Coolidge poured his into his saucer. The guests did likewise. Then the President added cream and sugar. The visitors did the same. He then leaned over and gave the saucer to his cat. (Adapted from Wright 1985:123)
We may never dine with the President, but we do care about meeting someone else's approval, that of God. The text of this message offers us the example of a person who did just that. In our series on The Generations of Genesis, we come to the account of Noah, a man who found "Favor in the eyes of the LORD."

It is unclear how much time passed since God created man but at least several generations (1000+ years), as we see in the genealogy of chapter 5 (KJV).
Gen 5:3 ...Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat...Seth... 6 [who] lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos 9 ...[who] lived ninety years, and begat Cainan  12 ... [who] lived seventy years, and begat Mahalaleel 15 ...[who] lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared 18 ...[who] lived an hundred sixty and two years, and he begat Enoch.... 21 [who] lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah 25 ...[who] lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech 28 ... [who] lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat [Noah]....
The verses that follow this genealogy, though, opening chapter 6 (NIV), are a little puzzling.
Gen 6:1 When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.... 4a ...the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.
Who are "the sons of God"? One view holds that they were fallen angels, who cohabited with human women.1 Another view holds that they were the righteous descendants of Adam and Eve through Seth, and that "the daughters of men" were the descendants of Adam and Eve through Cain.2 Unfortunately, the passage is too vague and the evidence is too scanty to bear either interpretation with certainty. Whatever this means, the eventual result of their union is a profound moral decline, and the author of Genesis notes....

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Genesis Series: "In the beginning" (Gen 1:1)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

One of the teenagers in my previous congregation requested that I preach on the creation narrative to resolve a question she had. I assumed she was interested in how the theory of evolution relates to the biblical account. It is a difficult and complex issue, one that does not lend itself readily to treatment in a sermon, so I was relieved when she said that her question was different. I thought, "Ah, something easier." "What I want to know," she continued, "is 'Where does God come from?" I knew then that I had moved from the frying pan to the fire.

Since I could not determine which question was worse, I decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt to answer both.
  • Where did God come from?
  • Where did we come from?
For our next few sessions together, we will look at the book of Genesis starting, appropriately, with these questions of origins, what happened "In the beginning."

Moses, the traditional author of Genesis, lived centuries after the events he records. So, how did he know what to write? How did he know what happened? Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,1 Moses used oral and written sources to trace the unfolding of God's plan. Among his main sources were genealogies, those dry lists that say "Person A begat person B, who in turn begat person C." As if to draw attention to these lists, one of the key phrases Moses repeats to mark off various sections in the book2 means "These are the generations/origins/history of...." This series of messages will use these markers to focus our attention on various individuals who play prominent roles in the first biblical book. The first of these phrases, in Gen 2:4, stands between two accounts of creation.

"These are the generations of the heavens and the earth."

We will consider the more general of these accounts this morning, as we try to answer...

I. The First Question: Where did God come from?

The introductory statement to the section, Gen 1:1, is a likely place to look as we start with...
A. What Moses says (Gen 1:1; Ps 90:2)
The Bible's opening sentence is so familiar to us that we could probably quote it together.
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
"In the beginning": In the beginning of what? Moses starts with the coming into existence of our universe, the place in which man, who arrives later, will live. This is also the start of time as we know it, that moment in the past to which we ascribe the initiation of all events. Whatever people's view of origins—creation, evolution, or something in between—most everyone agrees that the universe's clock began ticking at some point. For Israel and for us, it was when God created the universe.

Friday, April 4, 2014

God's highest value

Dr. Paul Manuel—2009


The biblical writers use many different attributes to describe God—righteous, just, good, merciful—but there is one attribute that encompasses all others. It is the one the seraphim call out before the heavenly throne: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty" (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).
Holiness occupies the foremost rank among the attributes of God. It is the attribute by which God wanted to be especially known.... It is emphasized by the bounds set about Mt. Sinai when God came down upon it...the division of the tabernacle and temple into the holy and most holy places...the prescribed offerings that must be brought if an Israelite would approach God...the special priesthood to mediate between God and the people...the many laws about impurity...the feasts of Israel...and the special position of Israel in [Canaan].... The Lord is called "the Holy One" some thirty times in Isaiah alone. (Thiessen 1979:84)1
Holy is the attribute God uses more than any other to describe Himself. It is also that quality He expects will characterize those who serve Him. Holiness is The Highest Value in God's Economy. It is, therefore, the standard by which we measure and seek to understand what God does and what He demands. The term occurs over a thousand times in scripture!2

Because we have few representations of holiness in society today, it is an abstract concept to most people.
  • We may understand that to be holy is to be set apart, but the implications of this notion are vague: Set apart how and to what end?
  • We may also think too narrowly about holiness, that it means only separation from sin. There is more to it than that.
God expects His people to be holy, and He has provided for them, in considerable detail, A Roadmap to Holiness.3

Our task in this study is to survey what God has said about holiness, especially in the Old Testament, which has the greatest number of references to that subject. As I attempted to collate the vast amount of material here, I began to feel like a guide who has far less time than he needs to show a tour group the magnificence of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its three floors (excluding the Cloister), twenty-five collections, and hundreds of galleries—not to mention four gift shops, two libraries, an education wing with classrooms, and a restaurant. If we move quickly, we might make it from one end of the building to the other before the bus leaves, but we cannot pause to admire or contemplate what we see. You will forgive me, then, if I hurry us along.

The foundation of divine revelation is the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses, the Torah.

It is the first collection that God's people recognized as inspired, and all subsequent additions to the biblical canon rest on its authority.
  • The Prophets evaluate God's people by their adherence to Torah.
  • The authors of the Writings (like Psalms and Proverbs) illustrate life in obedience to Torah.
  • The New Testament authors and Jesus repeatedly appeal to Torah as their authority.
It is likely, therefore, that we will find the primary instruction for the topic of holiness in Torah, as indeed we do. Of the 700+ times the word appears in the Old Testament, almost half those occurrences (335) are in the first five books.4 Therefore, we will concentrate our study on what God has revealed in the Pentateuch about this subject.

What is the first reference in the Bible to holiness? Does it describe the character of God or the conduct of God? ...Turn to...
Gen 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The pressure to conform

Dr. Paul Manuel—2007

How independent are you? Are the decisions you make or the opinions you hold yours alone, or are they influenced (even coerced) by others, a person or a group whose approval you hope to win or whose support you think you need? There are many people who might have you behave or believe in a certain way, not because it is in your best interest but because it benefits them, supporting their agenda or simply demonstrating their power over others. Such pressures come in various forms and from various sources, but they often have the same purpose: influencing you in a way that is not necessarily to your benefit. To examples in scripture of such pressure, people have responded variously.

I. Peer pressure
A. In response to pressure from other prophets to misrepresent God, Micaiah resisted (1 Kgs 22:13-14).
1 Kgs 22:13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, "Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably." 14 But Micaiah said, "As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only what the LORD tells me."
B. In response to pressure from other prophets to misrepresent God, Micah resisted (Mic 2:6).
Mic 2:6 "Do not prophesy," their prophets say. "Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us."
C. In response to pressure from other religious leaders to misrepresent God, Jeremiah resisted (Jer 26:11-13).1
Jer 26:11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, "This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!" 12 Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: "The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. 13 Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God. Then the LORD will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"The Jews" in John's gospel

Dr. Paul Manuel—1999

John's gospel mentions "the Jews" more than any other biblical book (69x). This is essentially an in-house term (i.e., used of Jews by a Jew) and is not, by definition, pejorative. Because most of these occurrences refer to members of the religious establishment (50x), whether opponents or proponents of Jesus (the latter in italics below), the term may best be rendered "the Jew[ish authoritie]s." Nevertheless, reference to those who oppose Jesus often includes a negative connotation with the term.
John 1:19 Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.
John 2:18 Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" ...20 The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?"
John 5:10 and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat." ...15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.... 18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
John 6:41 At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." ...52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Not a local deity

Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

Unlike other gods of the Ancient Near East, the Lord is not limited to a particular geographical locale. In fact, He and the biblical writers state numerous times that, while He may have a vested interest in Canaan, His involvement is not at all restricted to it. Quite the contrary, His authority extends beyond any borders as does His ability to act.

I. The LORD is not a local deity.
A. His jurisdiction is not limited to one place.
Exod 8:22 But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land.
Exod 19:5c ...the whole earth is mine....
Ezra 1:2 This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah."
Ps 24:1 The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2 for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.
Ps 89:11 The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it.
B. His presence is not limited to one place.
Gen 28:15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.... I will not leave you....
Gen 31:3 ...Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ten "lost" tribes

Dr. Paul Manuel—Revised November 2003

The Bible traces the history of Israel's descendants from their beginnings as a loose tribal confederation to their formation as a cohesive nation, from their division into two kingdoms to their eventual fall and exile, and to a partial restoration of the people in their land. The post-exilic authors write from the perspective of the returnees, the members of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, who constituted the Southern Kingdom. What became of the other tribes? Their almost total absence from post-exilic literature is not simply the result of writer bias; something happened to wipe them from the pages of history.

The Assyrian exile was certainly a contributing factor in the disappearance of the northern tribes, but the exile was not solely responsible for their demise, because the southern tribes also went into exile yet managed to return, at least in part. What other factors led to the decline of the northern tribes, did they vanish completely and, if not, what was their part in the return? Although the Bible does not record a detailed history of each tribe, it does include a number of incidents for several of them that may suggest an answer to these questions.

I. Causes of the northern tribes' decline
A. Poor decisions
The first possible reason for the loss of the northern tribes is that they made poor decisions, resulting in a reduction of their number. Although not necessarily true of all tribes, Simeon, Dan, and the transjordanian tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh made choices early in their history that weakened them and that exacerbated the effect of the exile.
1. Simeon
The tribe of Simeon may have led a pro-assimilation faction at Peor and, consequently, suffered more in the ensuing plague than did the other tribes.
Num 25:14 The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family.
A comparison of the census figures before and after that incident shows a decline in their number of over fifty percent (from 59,300 in Num 1:23 to 22,100 in 26:14), far more than any other tribe. (Ephraim, the next largest tribe so affected, was down twenty percent, from 40,500 to 32,500.)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sermons: Spiritual gifts (1 Chr 25:1-7; Rom 12:3-8)

(1 Chron 25:1-7; Rom 12:3-8)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2006

(Two sermons: the first considering the place of music among the spiritual gifts, the second considers the gifts as presented in the New Testament)

The holidays should bring out the best in us, but the stress that often arises sometimes generates a less than gracious and grateful attitude.
This year, Jane wanted to be ready for company long before their arrival, so she started cleaning her house right after Halloween. She ran out of cleaning supplies before she finished and had to go to the store. What should have been a quick trip was anything but that, and Jane found herself standing in the checkout line for over thirty minutes, arms full of cleaning solutions as well as a broom. A deepening scowl marked her growing impatience. Finally, Jane reached the cashier, only to find that he needed a price check on one of her items. Sighing heavily, she said with more annoyance than necessary, "It'll be a miracle if I'm out of here and home in time for Thanksgiving!" "Oh I don't think you have to worry lady," the clerk answered cheerily.... "With the strong wind out there and your new broom, I'm sure you'll be home in no time."
While waiting in line, Jane could have been passing the time by counting her blessings and not just cooling her heels. She could have prepared for the holiday by reviewing all the ways God has blessed her and the many gifts He has given her.

The apostle Paul, especially, talks about the many different gifts God gives to His people.
  • He gives the good news about Jesus as a gift.
  • He gives forgiveness from sin as a gift.
  • He gives eternal life as a gift.
James says that...
Jms 1:17a Every good and perfect gift is from above [i.e., from God I....
We can always look forward to The Gifts of God.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sermon: A disciple's true confession (John 11:1-45)

By a Disciple
(John 11:1-45)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

(This is the last in a series of four sermons)

As others look at your life, you hope what they notice most are the positive qualities. You especially hope that will be the case at your funeral.
Three friends die in a car crash and find themselves at the gates of heaven. Before entering, St. Peter asks them each a question. "When you are in your casket, and friends and family are in mourning, what would you like to hear them say about you?" The first one replies, "I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor and a loving family man." The second one responds, "I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference in our children." The third one ponders a moment, then answers. "I would like to hear them say...LOOK! HE'S MOVING!"
That is probably close to what people say in our text this morning, after they hear one of the True Confessions about Jesus, this one By a Disciple.

While the gospel narratives often seem to focus on Jesus' twelve disciples, his supporters also include several women,1 such as Martha, the central character in John 11.2 She hails from "Bethany [which is] less than two miles from Jerusalem" (John 11:18). There she lives with her brother Lazarus and her younger sister Mary.3 Her family has an especially close relationship to Jesus.4 Consequently, when Lazarus becomes ill, the sisters send word to Jesus in Galilee.

This presents a problem for the teacher, because he is not on good terms with some of the Judean religious leaders. In fact, he so antagonized them on previous visits that they almost stoned him... twice.5 It is understandable, then, that he might hesitate returning to Judea from Galilee, not wanting to put himself or his followers in harm's way. That is likely how the disciples interpret his apparent lack of urgency, when he tells them, "This sickness will not end in death" (John 11:4). Two days later, when he says to them, "Let us go back to Judea" (John 11:7), they assume he has changed his mind and try to dissuade him.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sermon: A demon's confession (Luke 4:33-37)

By a Demon
(Luke 4:33-37)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

(This is the third in a series of four sermons)

The apostle Paul says that, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but...against the spiritual forces of evil" (Eph 6:12). If that is true—and we believe it is—how then should we conduct ourselves?
A parish priest was administering the last rites to a critically ill man. Before anointing him, the priest asked, "Do you renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil?" The man paused for a moment, then said, "I think in my condition, this is no time to offend anyone." (Adapted from Streiker 1998:91)
Is that the approach we should take in "our struggle... against the spiritual forces of evil," or should we adopt the stance of Bud Robinson, the Nazarene evangelist, who prayed?
Lord, help me to fight the devil as long as I've got teeth—and then gum him 'til I die. (Adapted from Hodgin 1994:148-149)
Whichever approach have you taken in your "struggle," the passage this morning is a reminder that you are on the winning side, because even "the spiritual forces of evil" must make True Confessions about Jesus, as we see in this one By a Demon.

However many times we read the gospel accounts, there will always be some things in them that are familiar to us and some things that remain unfamiliar. On the one hand...
  • We can appreciate Jesus' teaching, and
  • We can empathize with the needy in his audience.
On the other hand...
  • We wonder at Jesus' many miracles, and
  • We are glad that demon possession is not common in our society today.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sermon: A Samaritan's admission (John 4:4-26)

By a Samaritan
(John 4:4-26)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

 (This is the second in a series of four sermons)

Things are not always what they seem, and if we allow our preconceived notions to color our expectations, we may miss something important.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After they got their tent set up, both men fell asleep. Some hours later, Tonto awakens the Lone Ranger and says, "Kemo Sabe, look toward sky, what you see?" The Lone Ranger replies, "I see millions of stars." "What does that tell you?" asked Tonto. The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute, wondering how best to answer such a deeply philosophical question, then says, "Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What's it tell you, Tonto?" ..."It tells me someone stole the tent."
In the text of our sermon this morning, Jesus encounters a woman, whose preconceived notions he challenges. It is the second message in the series, Tentative Admissions and True Confessions, this one By A Samaritan.

Reading the New Testament, we encounter several groups, one of which is the Samaritans, so-called because they live in the central region of Israel known as Samaria. How they originated is not entirely clear (Anderson 1992).
  • Some biblical scholars believe them to be the descendants of foreigners that Assyria transplanted in the land after it deported Israelite residents in 722 B.C.
  • The Samaritans themselves claim to be descendants of Israelite residents that Assyria left in the land.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sermon: A Pharisee's admission (John 3:1-12)

By a Pharisee
(John 3:1-12)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

(This is the first in a series of four sermons)

Sometimes a conversation that begins innocently enough can develop in ways we did not expect.
During World War II, a navy aviator went into a barbershop to get a shave. The shop also had a manicurist who happened to be very attractive, so the pilot decided to ask for a manicure at the same time. He kept looking at her, completely smitten by her beauty, and finally asked, "How would you like to go out with me?" "No," she replied. "I'm married." "Well, just tell your husband you're busy tonight." Tell him yourself," she said...."He's shaving you." (Adapted from Streiker 1998:109)
Sometimes the conversation can turn out differently than we expect. That was certainly the case when Nicodemus visited the new rabbi in town.

In the course of Jesus' ministry, people wondered at his profound instruction and miraculous power. There were other rabbis who attracted groups of disciples, but this man was different. Although several theories were in circulation about his possible identity (some more believable than others), occasionally those who met him recognized his true nature. Their Tentative Admissions and True Confessions form the next series of messages.

Jesus did not make public appearances with great fanfare, but he did attract considerable public attention. Some people may have dismissed his instruction, assuming it to be similar to what other teachers proclaimed, but they could not ignore his miracles. The first instance in John's gospel is when Jesus surreptitiously turns water to wine at a wedding feast. Only the disciples and the servants are aware of what he does. Nevertheless, Jesus has apparently performed other supernatural deeds, and they have attracted the attention of a wider audience. Please turn to John 3, where Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus, and where we see immediately the importance of...

I. Nicodemus's position (John 3:1)
John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.
John describes Nicodemus by his affiliations, noting that Jesus' visitor has some important credentials.1