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

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sermon: The Christmas present (John 1:12-14,18)

The Christmas Present (John 1:12-14,18)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2003

Hunting for gifts can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience at this season of the year, especially dealing with the crowds, which can lead to a more creative method.
It was approaching the Christmas holiday, and the judge was in a cheerful mood. "What are you charged with?" he asked the defendant. "Doing my Christmas shopping early, Your Honor," the man answered. "Well, that certainly isn't a crime," the judge said. "How early were you doing this shopping?" ..."Before the store opened."
For those too young to do their own shopping, there is the more traditional method, although even this can be distressing.
As a little girl climbed onto Santa's lap, he asked the usual question, "And what would you like for Christmas?" The child stared at him open-mouthed and horrified for a moment, then gasped... "Didn't you get my e-mail?"
Thankfully, you need not resort to theft or technology to get the most important gift anyone can receive, The Christmas Present God gave long ago.

Most of us are familiar with the carols and Bible readings we use at this time of year, so much so that we do not need the hymnal and could probably recite the Scripture passages from memory. Still, no matter how familiar we are, we come to this season with another year's worth of experience and reflection that may enable us to appreciate some element of our celebration in a new way. One biblical passage, I have read and reread several times, struck me with renewed force because of the contrast it presents. Please turn to John 1, where the apostle explains how...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sermon: The promise of protection (Ps 91)

The Promise of Protection (Ps 91:1-16)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2010

Most people's occupations do not place them in dangerous situations, and most people are content to keep it that way. For the adventuresome few, however, there is a desire to test their survival skills.
Bear season opened on a cold, crisp morning at the brothers' hunting lodge. John wanted to get an early start, but James wanted to stay in bed awhile longer. So John went out and soon found a huge bear. He shot at it but only wounded it enough to make it mad. The enraged bear charged toward him so fast that John dropped his rifle and started running for the cabin as fast as he could. He was quick, but the bear was quicker and gained on him with every step. Just as he reached the open cabin door, he tripped on a branch and fell flat on his face. Too close behind to stop, the bear tripped over him and went rolling into the cabin. John jumped up, closed the cabin door, and yelled to James inside... "You skin this one; I'll get another." (Adapted from Hodgin 2004:185)
Sometimes what keeps a person from harm is just dumb luck, like tripping on a branch. It would not be wise, however, to depend on that sort of thing all the time. We need a more reliable source of security. We need The Promise of Protection that God offers.

Our text is Ps 91, a familiar passage to many. It describes one of the primary advantages of knowing God, which is having the benefit of His protection.1 The author wants you, his readers, to know that because the Lord is his God, He protects him,2 and that if the Lord is your God, He will also protect you.

The psalm divides neatly into two parts (Ps 91:1-8 and Ps 91:9-16), each part beginning with a statement about the prerequisite for this protection. Who qualifies for God's protection? Look at vv. 1 and 9.
Ps 91:1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.... 9 If you make the Most High your dwelling...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sermon: The benevolence of God (Lam 3:21-26)

The Benevolence of God (Lam 3:21-26)1
Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

One of the characteristics of a healthy relationship, especially between a husband and wife, is that they are good to each other and treat each other with respect. That can manifest in several ways, but it should certainly include a willingness to give the other person priority, to put one's partner first.
Before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing Gulf War, Barbara Walters did a story on gender roles in Kuwait. She noted that women customarily walked about ten feet behind their husbands. Later, she returned to Kuwait and observed that the men now walked several yards behind their wives. Ms. Walters approached one of the women for an explanation. "This is marvelous," she exclaimed. "What has enabled women to achieve such respect?" Nonchalantly, the woman replied... "Land mines."
That is not the way a husband is good to his wife. It is also not the way God is good to His people. Nevertheless, while He will not put them at risk, they may step ahead of His care and put themselves at risk. Yet even then, they can turn back and experience again The Benevolence of God.

How does your understanding about God's kindness fit with your faith in Him? That is, can you commit yourself to God if you do not trust that He will do what is best for you? ...You cannot be confident—in any positive way—about the present or about the future if you are not also convinced of His goodness. Only when you are certain that He is looking out for your interests can you be certain that your present circumstances as well as your future prospects will lead to your ultimate advantage.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sermon: A decade of devotion — a period of peace (2 Chr 14:1-7)

A Decade of Devotion — A Period of Peace (2 Chr 14:1-7)1
Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

Some people are always in the market for what will make life easier—a shorter workweek, a higher-paying job...a less-demanding church. In an appeal to those looking for something in that third category, I came across this advertisement.
Has the heaviness of your old-fashioned church got you weighed down? Try us! We are the New and Improved Lite Church of the Valley. Studies have shown we have 24% fewer commitment expectations than other churches. We are the home of the 7½% tithe. We promise a 35-minute worship service with an 8-minute sermon. Next week's exciting text is Jesus' parable, "The Feeding of the 500." We have only 6 Commandments—your choice! We use just 3 gospels in our contemporary New Testament, with the politically correct title, Good Sound Bites for Modern Human Beings. We take an offering every other week, all major credit cards accepted, of course. As we move into the future, we are eagerly anticipating that 800-year Millennium. Yes, the New and Improved Lite Church of the Valley could be just what you are looking for. We are everything you want in a church...and less!
Some people are always in the market for what will make life easier. This is not a new trend, of course. Even in ancient Israel, people wanted something easier, less-demanding than what God expected, and idolatrous worship offered that alternative. Other gods levied few, if any, demands on their devotees, which made them attractive to those who did not have the time or want to expend the effort that serving the true God entailed. Political leaders, especially kings, had to decide which deity, if any, their administration would actively promote and what other deities, if any, their administration would simply tolerate. While most kings chose poorly, some chose well, like King Asa, the monarch in our message this morning.

When you are young, ten years is a long time. As you get older, ten years is not so long, especially when you begin to group years and think in terms of decades. Realizing that this Sabbath marks our tenth year here, I wondered if ten years had any particular significance in scripture, so I looked at all the references to that period. My research was not very encouraging.2 There are only a few passages, and the first entry marks an event that did not turn out well.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Judges: A book study

Judges: The Struggle for Autonomy
This study is extensive—with the bibliography and notes it is 248 pages—so only
the contents and introduction are on this site. The pdf of the complete study can be downloaded here.
Dr. Paul Manuel—2010

Samson Pulls Down the Pillars, James Tissot (c. 1896-1900)

Announcement: Having spent 430 years as aliens in a foreign land and 40 more years as nomads in the wilderness, the descendants of Abraham are ready to settle down in a place of their own. With the Lord’s help, their future prospects are bright, but something goes wrong. After Israel enters Canaan, the nation turns from God and fails to establish its independence in the land. Instead, the people seem to get trapped in a vicious cycle (rebellion, retribution, repentance, restoration; rebellion, retribution, etc.). Why do they keep repeating their past mistakes, and who are those enigmatic figures the Lord keeps appointing, called judges? This study will explore the relationship between Israel’s intermittent devotion to God and the nation’s halting progress in His plan. We will also consider how the people’s experience informs God’s will for Christians today.

Preface: The biblical books of Joshua-2 Kings give a continuous narrative of four major periods in Israel’s history.
  • Initial conquest of the land under Joshua (c. 1250)
  • Early settlement of the land under the judges
  • United monarchy under Saul, David, and Solomon
  • Divided monarchy of Israel (north) and Judah (south)
The book of Judges falls in the period after the death of Joshua, Moses’ successor, and before Saul, Israel’s first king.

In Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham , promising his descendants PLAK, elements essential to God’s plan for establishing a kingdom:
The book of Judges is where God gives Israel the opportunity to gain the “A” of PLAK: Autonomy. Unfortunately, Israel is not always cooperative, evinced by a recursive, four-part cycle in Judges that marks the changing condition of the nation’s relationship with God:

Rebellion > Retribution > Repentance > Restoration

As with any portion of scripture, we must give careful consideration to the context in order to understand the book. Of particular importance to this study is the historical context, which includes history, proper, as well as geography and archaeology.

(see the pdf here to download the paper in its entirety)


Excursus: Dating the Book of Judges
I. Prologue Judges 1:1-3:6