Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Sara and I are presently camped out in snowy Denver International Airport, waiting for our connecting flight to my family's home in Salt Lake City, Utah. We hope these coming 12 days of Christmastide are the source of great joy for you.

Christe, Redemptor Omnium

Oh Christ, Savior of humankind,
O Son of God, we call to mind
Your birth eternal and divine;
The Father's image in you enshrine.

You are the Father's light and love,
Sure hope of those who call on you;
Attend in mercy to the prayers
Addressed to you throughout the world.

You took on human form, aware
That we, O Lord, your life must share;
Born of a sinless Virgin pure,
You made our faith in you secure.

All honor and all praise we sing,
O Jesus, Virgin-born to You,
All glory likewise ever be,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


O Antiphon for December 23.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of nations and their Savior: Come, and save us, O Lord and God.
Quoted in: Johnson, Maxwell. Benedictine Daily Prayer. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005, as quoted on p. 1367.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

O (VI)

O Antiphon for December 22.
O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save poor humanity, whom you fashioned out of clay.
Quoted in: Johnson, Maxwell. Benedictine Daily Prayer. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005, as quoted on p. 1366.

Friday, December 21, 2007

O (V)

O Antiphon for December 21.
O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice; come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Quoted in: Johnson, Maxwell. Benedictine Daily Prayer. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005, as quoted on p. 1366.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

O (IV)

O Antiphon for December 20.
O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel; you open and no one closes; you close and no one opens. Come, and deliver us from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Quoted in: Johnson, Maxwell. Benedictine Daily Prayer. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005, as quoted on p. 1366.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


O Antiphon for December 19.
O Root of Jesse, you stand for an ensign of humankind; before you kings shall keep silence, and to you all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.
Quoted in: Johnson, Maxwell. Benedictine Daily Prayer. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005, as quoted on p. 1365.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Straight No Chaser - 12 Days

One of the most creative a cappella Christmas medleys I've ever heard. Enjoy!

O (II)

O Antiphon for December 18.
O Adonai and Ruler of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him your law. Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us.
Quoted in: Johnson, Maxwell. Benedictine Daily Prayer. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005, as quoted on p. 1365.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Are You The One Who Is To Come?

Are You The One Who Is To Come?
Matthew 11:2-11
December 16, 2007
3rd Sunday in Advent

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: John the Baptist seems to be disappointed. Last week, we heard him proclaim the message that the kingdom has come, and that another would be coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, and with fire. These week, John finds himself in prison. Ultimately, he will be put to death. While there, be asks a profound question of Jesus – are you the one to come, or should we wait for another? We should reexamine Jesus’ answer this Advent season, when we have keen expectations for a certain kind of savior that conforms his role to our expectation.

Sermon Function: To remind listeners that the Messiah and his Kingdom are not what we might expect or envision. God’s vision for His creation is demonstrated by what Jesus does in obedience to the Father. We are also expected to act in obedience to God’s will for us and for His kingdom.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


This is the third week of Advent, and our thematic progression continues. During the first week of Advent, the overarching theme was proclaimed – that we, living in the post-resurrection world, are now waiting on the second coming of Jesus, which we anticipate with hope, and which gives us reason to celebrate the incarnation of the Christ from December 25th through January 6th.

The second week of Advent in the lectionary tells us about the ministry of John the Baptist, and relates to us his proclamation that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated on Earth.

In this third week of Advent, John the Baptist again plays an important role. In each of the years of the lectionary, the theme for this third week has John the Baptist pointing to the Jesus as the Christ. And that is what John does in this week’s text, although his pointing is potentially clouded in confusion, for reasons that will become apparent.

Let us now listen to God’s word to us this day.

[Read Scripture - Matthew 11:2-11]

Opening Illustration

Back when I was a boy, there occurred a funny spectacle in my family that still gets discussed to this day, particularly as we approach the season of the great gift exchange. It seems that my parents wanted to give my sister and me a tremendous gift, one that we were told we would receive within a few weeks. We were promised a gift of amazing wonder and spectacular joy. It would be a gift that exceeded all of our expectations. It’s been so long now that I cannot remember what I imagined the gift to be. At that age, I might have been thinking of Lincoln Logs or Legos or some such thing. I don’t think my sister has ever shared with me what she was expecting, but I know that she was experiencing the same feelings of deep anxiety and anticipation while we awaited our tremendous, spectacular, stunning, gold-plated, ultra-cool, gift, one that hopefully none of my friends’ parents would have been able to match.

In the two or three weeks following the initial promise of the gift, our parents would remind us that it was coming, and that it would be a surprise; such a surprise, in fact, that they could not commit to a day when the gift would be given. It would come to us soon, but at an unexpected day and hour.

Each day, my sister and I would tingle with anticipation. Is this the day? Are we getting our phenomenal new surprise thing today? We can hardly wait! “How much longer?” we would ask. “A bit longer,” they would reply. “You’re going to love it,” they said.

The day FINALLY ARRIVED. It was late in the afternoon, and my folks loaded us up in the back of my dad’s good ol’ VW Rabbit (the original model). We drove around in the waning light of the day until we arrived at a house I didn’t recognize somewhere on the East bench of the Salt Lake Valley. My dad ran to the house, leaving us in the car with mom. After what seemed liked an hour, my dad emerged from the home, holding something in his hands. By now, it was so late that we couldn’t really see what he was holding. Then he arrived at the side of the car, the back door was opened, the overhead light came on, and dad set between us the gift which, we were promised, would be the most wonderful gift of ALL TIME.

He set it down between Bethany and I. At first, I couldn’t figure out what the all-black hair poof was doing in the car, until I started to see it move around a bit on its own.

It was a small puppy dog.

My sister and I looked at it for a bit, then looked at each other, then at our parents.

We started bawling with grief and disappointment. We were inconsolable! “You told us this would be something absolutely amazing!” We cried. “What is this thing? Is this it??”

“It’s a brand new puppy,” my folks explained, “Don’t you like it?” Our bawling only intensified with the question. I couldn’t see my parent’s face through the tears, but I would guess they were utterly crestfallen and confused. How on Earth could we have screwed this up? My expectations hadn’t been met, my sister’s expectations hadn’t been met, and, certainly, not even my parents’ expectations had been met. It was true disappointment all around.

Well, there was no turning back. Our parents encouraged us to try being affectionate with the furball-of-crushed-expectations, and for awhile I think they were really worried that we actually hated the dog. We drove to the local K-Mart, put the puppy in the shopping card, and started stocking up on pet supplies.

This was how my sister and I greeted the arrival of Duffy, the dog that, despite our initially wailing, quickly became the loyal and loving companion of my family for the next 15 plus years.

But boy, the initial disappointment we felt!

Disappointment – When Things Don’t Go As Expected

We have all experienced disappointments in life, times when things just don’t go as expected. A young man in the prime of his high school athletic years is unexpectedly injured and missed the entire basketball season. A small business owner can’t get things turned around, and the dream devolves into a failure and the need to start over. A politician loses a close election, one he or she felt certain of victory. A disease strikes suddenly, a marriage promise is broken. The list goes on. Life can be filled with disappointment when things don’t go as we expect.

In our scripture today, John the Baptist, who just last week appeared in the dessert proclaiming the inauguration of God’s kingdom, this week points to the Christ from a prison cell. He was put there by King Herod for having pointed out Herod’s, uh, indiscretions with a certain member of the royal family. Having been the one fired up with excitement that the kingdom had come, John now sits and waits in prison. Now, Matthew doesn’t try to tell us John’s mental state while in prison, but the overarching narrative in Matthew causes the reader, you and me, to wonder if he wasn’t disappointed with his situation, and wondering if he had had it right back there at the river Jordan. Things weren’t going as expected for John. There was no political revolution, but a man ministering to the people.

In this midst of these confounded expectations, John asks, through his disciples, one of the more profound questions of the entire bible: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another” (Matt 11:3 NRSV)? The question itself implies that John might not be sure of the answer, or simply wants confirmation on his deepest question.

Jesus, you will notice, doesn’t give John a yes or no answer. In fact, one could also imagine, as one writer put it, that “it might have hurt” a little for Jesus to hear John’s question – one that might be framed with a bit of doubt as to Jesus’ identity. Instead, Jesus replies in a away that fulfills the prophetic words of Isaiah:1
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matt 11:4-6 NRSV)
Tell John what you hear and see. The Word comes first, and John gets to hear Jesus’ words through John’s disciples, just as we have received Jesus’ Word through the gospels of our Bible. Jesus couples healing with the good news that is brought to the poor. Verse five is particularly important, because it has the specific intent of identifying Jesus’ actions with the inauguration of God’s kingdom.2

So, Jesus’ answer to John is, in essence, “I am the one coming, but not in the way you had likely anticipated.”

What Does This Mean for Us?

And in this Advent season, when so much of the world is in chaos and disorder, as it was in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, what does Jesus’ words mean for us? Each of us is confronted with the question. Each of us likely comes to the table, even this communion table, with some preconceived idea for what we want our Jesus to be. Some of us, like John the Baptist, want Jesus to overthrow the existing order. Others want a Jesus who will be best friends who will happen to overlook this or that or the other sin that keeps us from knowing Him. Others want a Jesus who will richly bless them with the things they have always wanted. We all have this propensity as sinful humans, the propensity to define God in terms we can understand and cleave to.

But today’s scripture makes it clear that Jesus generally doesn’t accommodate our expectations for his ministry. So this might explain why he doesn’t give a simple “yes” answer to John’s question. Instead, Jesus testifies to the prophetical fulfillment being actualized right in front of anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see.

These acts, these healing and miraculous acts, are not accomplished by Jesus to necessarily convince people that he is the Messiah. Jesus does these things out of radical obedience to the will of his Father in Heaven, as exemplified by the servant theme of the prophet Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes.

We Are Called

And as disciples of Jesus Christ, we also are called to bear witness to the glorious work of God through our obedience to God’s Word as well. We are called to witness to the gospel in everything we do, and not just by faithfully attending worship and other church functions. We are called to much more than that. We are also called to ministry with others, including people we may not be comfortable with, just as Jesus worked and lived with people that his contemporaries weren’t comfortable with.

Jesus shares the good news with John’s disciples and they go on their way. He then turns to the crowds and addresses their expectation regarding John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” “What then did you go out to see?” Again he asks, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet?” Yes, a prophet, one who promised profound, revolutionary change. Such change wasn’t forthcoming, so the crowds were likely wondering a bit about John the Baptist, just as John the Baptist wondered about what Jesus was doing.

Answering his own rhetorical questions, Jesus announces that John the Baptist was the greatest of those born of women. Hidden in this single verse is a promise, a promise that includes you and me. You see, John was a great man, a great prophet, and more than a prophet. But the children of the world who believe in Jesus will have equal, even greater standing that this mighty biblical prophet. For us, that means that through our faithful response to God’s grace, that we too might attain this prize.

This great promise is particularly important for those who are lonely, or sick, or suffering pain or the loss of a loved one. All of these, the least of these, are the once promised the place of honor at the table. This is likely not what many people, including many of us, would expect. Life is full of unfulfilled expectations and disappointments. But for those who are filled with faith, there is the promise of great wonder in the kingdom of heaven. And remember, that kingdom has already come, and it continues to come, until the time when all with be renewed and transformed by God’s glory. Friends, Jesus is the Lord of all, even the Lord of our disappointments. In the midst of what might cause us to suffer, Jesus has saved a place at the banquet table. And that is our hope and the source of our joy this Advent season. Praise be to God.

Let us pray.

Eternal God, you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for the coming of your Son. Grant us the wisdom to see your purpose and openness to hear your will, that we too may prepare the way for Christ who is coming in power and glory to establish his kingdom of peace and justice; through Jesus Christ our Judge and Redeemer, the one who saves a place for us at the banquet table of your Kingdom, and the one who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.3

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.

1Hare, Douglas. Matthew. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1993, p. 121.


3Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993, adapted from Prayer of the Day 1, p. 175 (adapted).

O (I)

O Antiphon for December 17.
O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from the beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.
Quoted in: Johnson, Maxwell. Benedictine Daily Prayer. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005, as quoted on p. 1365.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Kingdom Has Come Near

The Kingdom Has Come Near
Matthew 3:1-12
December 9, 2007
2nd Sunday in Advent

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: John is called the precursor, the one proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near. The implications of John’s statement ought to cause us much discomfort, because we are closer to the final culmination of John’s proclamation that anyone who has come before us. The time of waiting continues, but we should be living as if that Kingdom has already come into existence. The present realities of our lives must reflect this reality, if we truly accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Sermon Function: To proclaim John’s message for the contemporary listener, who is otherwise distracted by the forthcoming secular form of the Christmas holiday. Are we really ready for Christ’s return? This is the question that ought to dominate our thoughts.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


We’re now into our second week of exploration of not just the first coming of the baby Jesus, but the second coming of Jesus the Christ. Luke records that Jesus and John where related due to the family relationship between Elizabeth, John’s mother, and Mary, Jesus’ mother. They were cousins.

John gives us words of warning in our text; words that, to our ears, might sound strange and even a bit off-putting. Imagine what it might be like to hear this strange man who, walking from the fields, comes into, say, the HEB, his words booming through aisles. To say that we would be surprised and shocked would likely be an understatement.

As we continue our preparations for Christ’s return, let’s listen to God’s Word and what it is saying to us know.

[Read Scripture - Matthew 3:1-12]

Opening Illustration – The Kingdom is Near

I have learned that it is possible to get at least a glimpse into what those of us in Portland are reading by examining the book and magazine sales racks at Wall-Mart. It is an interesting experience to see what is selling. I take it that Wall-Mart wouldn’t have what they have unless there was some prospect of selling a few copies.

Behind such titles as “Your Best Life Now,” multiple books by Beth Moore, and three of four books by Joyce Meyer – incidentally, how to these people have the time to write so many books? – are a few bibles (hooray!). Also in the mix is one of those “Left-Behind” novels that give a very dispensationalist interpretation to the end times to come and the arrival of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

I paused in front of that book and thought for a moment about our text this week, a text in which this wild preacher named John comes proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near. The Greek word ἤγγικεν, the verb translated as “come near,” is a perfect verb. In the Greek language, perfect verbs describe actions that have already taken place and which have continuing, full effect – a change of state that persists.

And as I sat there looking at the book from the “Left Behind” series, the one that purports to tell the story of the forthcoming arrival of Christ’s kingdom on earth, I realized that indeed, they have likely gotten it wrong. The kingdom of God has come near with continuing full effect. It might come as a surprise to you, but Christ’s kingdom has already come into the world. It’s here already! We live, right now, in a world in a condition where the Kingdom of God has come near to us. Right now.


We forget this fact – the fact that we live in a “now and not yet” Kingdom of God. We miss the boat if we think that the kingdom isn’t here yet, but is promised to us at some point in the future. If we believe that, then I think we run the risk of living in some pie in the sky world, so that we might be manipulated into thinking that if we don’t fix everything right now, well hey, that’s okay! The kingdom will come and set everything aright.

But that’s not what John is saying, nor is it what Matthew says. One of the things that distinguishes the Gospel according to Matthew from the other gospels is that Matthew seems keenly interested in the intersection between faith and ethics.1 Faith, our faith that God will ultimately set things right in final judgment is somehow merged with the need to do something in response to this good news NOW. That is, in fact, what John is preaching here. He is saying that God’s kingdom has been inaugurated already, and accordingly we need to, as he says, repent! This prophet, who materializes almost out of nowhere in the wilderness of Judea, dressed remarkably like the great prophet Elijah the Tishbite in 2 Kings 1:8, is telling us that we need to do something right now in response to the news that the Kingdom has been inaugurated on earth. For John, that process of doing something NOW takes the form of repentance and baptism.

The Nature of Repentance

Repentance is an interesting word. To the modern ear, to repent means, in some way, that we are called upon to apologize for a wrong committed against God or our neighbor. The New Oxford American Dictionary says as much. “Repent” is defined as the need to “feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin.”2 And we should feel sorry for abrogating the covenant God has made with us. But John’s call to repent here is much larger than that. Again, we have to understand what the Greek word means in order to get the full gist of what John is asking us to do. The Greek word for “repent” is μετανοέω, which mean much more than just saying, “I’m sorry, Lord.” “Though in English a focal component of repent is the sorrow or contrition that a person experiences because of sin, the emphasis in μετανοέω … seems to be more specifically the total change, both in thought and behavior, with respect to how one should both think and act.3 Total change. In thought and behavior. John uses the imperative form of the verb, a decision that puts a sense of urgency on the action. Well, that makes more sense now, doesn’t it? If the Kingdom is already here, in some fashion that we usually don’t remember or see, then there is HUGE emphasis on responding to that reality now, with our thoughts and our actions – reforming our ways, and becoming new people.

Last week, we were talking about watching and waiting. And part of watching and waiting is responding to God’s wonderful work now by fundamentally rearchitecting our thoughts and actions so that we become proper reflections of Jesus Christ in the world. Paul rights to the Galatians and says “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27 NRSV). We don’t belong to ourselves anymore – we belong to Jesus.

So, Now What?

Advent is a time of watching, of waiting, and now we see it is also an opportunity ripe for transformation, for putting our faith into practice in our lives.

Reverend Billy Graham was recently asked what he thinks the greatest need is in our churches today. Is it better preaching? More youth work? What is it? The writer asking the question is on the board of a church, and they are debating this subject recently.

Billy Graham’s answer is illuminating and motivating and encapsulates our response today to John’s imperative to repent by transforming our lives in the knowledge that God’s Kingdom has come near and is currently near. Here’s Billy Graham’s response to the concerned church board member:
I'm convinced that the single greatest need in most churches today is spiritual revival - for a renewed commitment to Jesus Christ and a greater desire to do His will, regardless of the cost.

How does this happen? It must begin with an awareness of our spiritual poverty - an acknowledgment of our sin and our emptiness before God. It is no accident that Jesus' first words in the Sermon on the Mount dealt with this truth: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). This must lead us to confession and repentance, asking God to forgive us and turn our hearts toward Him.

Spiritual revival also means seeing the world the way God sees it, with all of its brokenness and rebellion and heartache - and then asking God to use us to touch it for Christ. When we are concerned only for ourselves, our lives and our churches will grow cold and stagnate - but when we become burdened over a world that has lost its way, then God can begin to use us.

Spiritual revival cannot be manufactured or created by our own efforts; only the Holy Spirit can bring true revival to our hearts. But we can pray for revival, and we can ask God to remove anything in our lives that would create a barrier to God's work. May the ancient prayer of Habakkuk become yours: "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years" (Habakkuk 3:2, KJV)4
The Surprise of Advent

This is the surprise of Advent – The Kingdom of God has come near and remains near to us, even as we watch and wait. We are called to fundamentally change our focus, to shape our thoughts and our actions in response to this great thing that has happened. John, the firebrand, warned the Pharisees and Sadducees of “the wrath to come” as they stood there awaiting baptism. John implores them to bear fruit worthy of repentance – the fruit of repentance is personal transformation. Again, Matthew point to the ethical implications of personal transformation. The Pharisees and Sadducees through that claiming Abraham as their ancestor would be enough to absolve them for their sinfulness. But it wasn’t enough. The fruit of repentance was missing. I think we run a similar risk if we think that we can sort of coast by as a body of faithful believers who claim Christ as their ancestor.5 We know that God works through us and calls us to discipleship before we are even aware of it. But if our lives do not reflect that reality, then of what use are we to God? We become as useless as that tree which no longer bears fruit. If you have such a plant in your own garden, you don’t keep it around, you cut it out and replace it with one that is productive, and fully lives into its function of bearing fruit. Similarly, we are called by God to live our lives in the reality that the Kingdom of God is here.


How are we called to bear fruit? Matthew 28 gives us a clue.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20 NRSV)
We are to extend the message of the Gospel to the entire world. This church is called to extend the mission of the Gospel to the entire world. And we should ask ourselves if we could be doing more? Does our church budget reflect the reality that the kingdom has been inaugurated and is awaiting fulfillment with the return of Christ? Are we doing enough mission and evangelism in our community? How is my own budget a reflection of the reality of God’s kingdom? How do my relationships with other need to change to reflect the reality of the kingdom? Do I need to seek reconciliation with a friend or a family member? Do I need to cut back on a luxury so I can buy a family a meal, or giving gifts to children in need through the Angel Tree program? I implore you to reflect this Advent on your own spiritual life and the spiritual life of this church! Are we bearing fruit worthy of repentance? And if we are not, what must we do to be transformed? Are there hungry people in Portland that we need to feed? Are we using our land and our money appropriately? We’re going to need to work together to discern that answer as we get close to the end of the calendar year. The Kingdom is here, and Christ is coming. And we need to get on with being the people God has created us to be, not just to look busy, and we need to get on with the task of bearing fruit worthy of repentance, worth of that calling and ministry into which we have been baptized by the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Let us pray.

Merciful God, you sent your servant John to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation. Give us grace to heed his warning, and to forsake our sins and transform our lives, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.6

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.

1Hare, Douglas. Matthew. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1993, p. 2.

2New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd Edition) entry for “repent.”

3Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Eds. “μετανοέω.” Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1989.

4Graham, Billy. “My Answer: Spiritual Revival.” Christian Post. Nov. 30, 2007. Online here.

5Hare, p. 20.

6Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993, adapted from Prayer of the Day 1, p. 174.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

If You've Been Called...

... Then you will appreciate this paragraph, taken from the Declaration of Faith by St. John of Damascus (whose memorial is observed today by our Roman Catholic friends):
Now you have called me, Lord, through your bishop, to serve your children. Why should you do this? I do not know; the secret is yours. Lighten, then, the heavy load of my sins; cleanse my mind and heart; be a light to my feet. Open my lips and give me speech. Let the fiery tongues of your Spirit penetrate my being and make me walk every day in your presence. Feed me, Lord, so that my heart may not stray. Let your good Spirit guide me on the right path and teach me to act as you wish.1

1Johnson, Maxwell. Benedictine Daily Prayer. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005, as quoted on p. 1682.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Wait Just a Minute

Wait Just a Minute
Matthew 24:36-44
December 2, 2007
1st Sunday in Advent

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: Thematically, the Sundays in Advent are all about the second coming of the Son of Man. Despite our clamoring for his appearance right here and right now, Jesus makes it crystal clear that no one knows the day or the hour when he will return. And when he does, the results will be astonishing. Some will be “taken up along,” but others will be left behind. The chaff will finally be separated from the wheat. Divine justice is in the offing. Are we waiting and watching?

Sermon Function: To illustrate how those in our society, including many in the church, want Christmas now. We already think we are in the Christmas season, but the 12 Days of Christmastide do not being until Christmas Day. Why the rush? And are we anxiously rushing toward the right thing? How do we recover the wonder of this season?

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


Happy Advent! You may remember that we changed out the color of our paraments last Sunday to mark the beginning of the change of the church season and the start of a new church year. This week, you can see that we’ve augmented that change with a few others.

Part of the change in the year means that the lectionary, the source for our weekly biblical readings, also changes. There are three years in the lectionary cycle, denoted A, B, and C. Last year, we were in year C, and the gospel readings for most weeks of the year came from the gospel of Luke. This year, we start over with year A, and Matthew is the gospel of emphasis. The theme of today’s reading is not the forthcoming birth of the Christ child, but of Jesus’ return – a return that promises to be sudden, swift, and unpredictable.

Let’s listen now to God’s word.

[Read Scripture - Matthew 24:36-44]

Introductory Story

I learned a very important lesson this week, and I’d like to share it with you.

Each Thursday, your intrepid pastor leads a short “children’s chapel” for the students enrolled in our Presbyterian Children’s Enrichment Center. We usually gather at the front of the church, and I sit with them on the floor as we pray together and sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This week, however, I gave them a bit of a test. I asked the children if they had a great Thanksgiving. “Yes! Yes!” could be heard, along with the response “I’m five” and “look at me.” Then I asked them this question, “What season comes after Thanksgiving?”

To the child, the answer came flooding forth, “Christmas! Christmas! It’s Christmas!”

“Well, we’re getting close to Christmas, but Christmas doesn’t begin until late in the month, on December 25th. What season, then, are we in?”


“Advent,” I said, “We’re in the season of Advent.”

I then gave them the oversimplified answer about Advent being a time of waiting and watching. One of the girls in our group told me her birthday was coming up on December 10th. I asked her if she got excited for her birthday, in the days leading up to it. “You can hardly wait for your birthday, right?” “Yes!” she answered. “But you have to wait for your birthday, don’t you?” “Yes,” she replied. “Well, during the season of Advent, we wait for Christmas like you wait for your birthday.”

Now, it’s generally beyond the competence of very young children to understand the concept of waiting for Jesus’ return, which is the subject of today’s gospel text. But that is what we are called to do.

But will we?

Advent: The Forgotten Season

The fact of the matter is this: Just like the kids in the PCEC, many of us think and act like Christmas has come already. The day after our Thanksgiving in Luverne, Minnesota, someone obligingly put on a CD containing Christmas music. Our society has more or less secularized Christmas, and the Church runs the significant risk of following suit.

So this Sunday’s sermon is a reminder of what the season of Advent is and how, by reclaiming the season, we just might be able to regenerate the sense of hope and wonder that ought to play a role in our faith lives.

I mentioned that Advent is a time of waiting. The concept of waiting for something is an increasingly hard sell in a culture where just about anything can be acquired with a few mouse clicks at Amazon.com. But waiting has some value for us, because waiting is, for Christians, a spiritual discipline based upon our Hope for the certain future that awaits us.

The big task for us, as we celebrate this time of waiting, is remembering that without our hope of Jesus’ return, there really is little reason to celebrate the birth of a boy in a Bethlehem manger. Jesus cannot be a figure of ultimate hope for us if we reduce who He is to a well-meaning philosopher who had some nice things to say. The claims that Jesus makes about himself and about the Father are such that we either accept that He is the Son, or we accept that he was a complete maniac.

Immediately before our text begins today, Jesus is talking to the disciples about the coming of the Son of Man. He anticipates the question about when this will happen when Matthew quotes him as follows:

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt 24:36 NRSV). Only the Father knows when history as we know it will we wrapped up, reformed, and reborn into a new heaven and a new earth. No special codes are available to render a definitive few about when these events will happen, despite what we made read in the pages of the successful popular serial fictional novels about the second coming.

So, we know he’s coming, but we don’t know when. Jesus then tells us something important – that when the time comes, we will be preoccupied with our earthly lives, just as the people were at the time of Noah and the flood.

And we are preoccupied. With our families, with our work, with buying the right gifts for the right people, by making the right connections at work, by doing all that we think we need to do to ensure our security and success in this life. As in Noah time, we eat and we drink. We marry and are given in marriage. None of these things are morally suspect or questionable. On the contrary, we need to eat and drink. We rely on families to sustain us and to afford the best possible environment for the care of children, the children that guarantee that humanity as a species won’t drift off into a distant memory. No, we are engaged, as those in Noah’s generation, with the tasks we are called to by virtue of the fact that we are created beings.

And yet, while we are preoccupied with those things that make us human, we are nonetheless called upon to keep watch. Because just as the flood suddenly came and took life, in a similar way people will be “taken” when the Son of Man comes. This is not something to dread – this is our hope! The hope that a final, full, completely fair and inarguable judgment will come at the time of the renewal of the world and the coming of God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. This is the certain future hope we have that gives us the real reason we will celebrate the 12 days Christmastide starting on December 25th. We anxiously await this time because we know that the ordinary things of this life, like the ordinary tasks of life at the time of Noah, are not the end. This future promise is what drives us now to remember that birth event two millennia ago.

It is very important for us to remember this fact. Advent is a time of great anticipation, a time when we should refocus our efforts to keep watch, not just for the big day of Christmas when, due to the cultural secularization of the holiday, we find ourselves all to often saying “That God that’s over.” Rather, we look forward to the very incarnation of the future Hope of justice, mercy, and the coming of God’s Kingdom in the person of Jesus, that baby of wonder, who enters into our condition to redeem us, once and for all, from the sinfulness that separates us from the Father.

I find that prospect very exciting, and I want to join with you in our watching. But how can we keep watch with all of the business of our lives? How do we keep plowing the fields, taking care of the kids, pay the bills, mow the lawn, balance the checkbook, prepare dinner for the family, suffer the commute to work, sweat through our labors, and keep our eye out for Jesus? Is it even possible?

Advent the Discipline

It is possible, if we remember that Advent isn’t just a season. It’s a gift, and a discipline. I’ll talk about the second item first.

Advent is a discipline. What does that mean? It means refocusing our efforts to reclaim the hope we have in Advent now, because we know that Jesus wasn’t just a nice man who said nice things. We know he is everything to us, and the key to our salvation. If we truly believe that Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then nothing in our lives ought to remain the same. Instead, we need to do things differently. And doing things differently is difficult, time-consuming, and requires effort. That’s what I mean by Advent being a discipline.

If you, like me, want to reclaim the meaning and wonder of Advent for the church, then an examination of your life will, I think, quickly reveal what you can do to refocus your efforts on anticipating Christmas. Here’s something I’m going to do. Many of you know that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist. I like buying things just like anything else. But I’ve committed this Christmas to avoid the shopping mall. I will not, in fact, enter a mall between now and Epiphany in early January. Now, I’m not some Luddite who wants to live a horse-and-buggy existence. The reason I’m going to avoid the mall if very practical – I want to avoid the blaring Christmas music and the shopping hints that have caused Christmas in our culture to overwhelm the anticipation of Advent. Instead, I’m going to shop online, in the quiet of our apartment here in Portland. Quick, efficient, and back to anticipating. I hope to up my time in quiet reflection and prayer with the time I might otherwise have spent mall shopping. I’m also going to avoid FM Christmas music spectaculars until December 25th, and I’m doing that because I like the music so much. I would rather wait with some longing and start playing the music over the 12 days of Christmas. It’s not much, I know, but I hope that focusing on a few small things might help me reclaim the wonder of anticipation that I remember when I was a kid.

Second, I hope we can all remember that Advent is a gift, a time of reclaiming wonder.

Years ago, I purchased a small book from a discount rack called Wonder Tales. The book is a compilation of fairy tales written for adults during the reign of Louis XIV of France. The book was edited by Marina Warner. This is one of these books that looked interesting, but which I’ve never actually read, alas. But I spied the book on my shelf as I was preparing the sermon, and because it had the word “Wonder” in the title, I pulled it off and perused the introduction.

Here’s the first sentence of the introduction:
Wonder has no opposite; it springs up already double in itself, compounded of dread and desire at once, attraction and recoil, producing a thrill, the shudder of pleasure and of fear. It names the marvel, the prodigy, the surprise as well as the responses they excite, of fascination and inquiry; it conveys the active motion towards experience and the passive state of enrapturement.1
That is about the best description of wonder as I’ve ever read, and it is the gift of Advent. Through deliberate, disciplined waiting we can reclaim that moment of wonder, the wonder of God Almighty, the Alpha and the Omega, the great I AM, the steadfast Rock and the Giver of Life, who, even now enfolding us with His Holy Spirit, through the incarnation was born into life in a broken world, THIS world, to be WITH us, so that he could SAVE us. Can you imagine that? How amazing! And it is through Jesus that ALL of creation will be renewed at the Second Advent of this coming. That same child, born on that same night, is the same Savior who will come again. The same person of the same Triune God. What a wonder filled miracle that is! And what wonder we will experience on December 25th, if we will just wait a minute first.

Let us pray.

Eternal God, you taught us that the night is far spent and the day is at hand. Keep us awake and alert, watching for your kingdom, and make us strong in faith, so that when Christ comes in glory to judge the earth, we may joyfully give him praise; who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.2

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.

1Warner, Marina et.al. Wonder Tales. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1.

2Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993, p. 173.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


After reading this interesting post by Nathaniel Peters, I decided to check out Stephen Colbert's interview of Fr. James Martin talking about Mother Teresa here.

Here's an easy link if you're interested in purchasing the book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Advent Tidings

My lovely wife preached last Sunday, so I don't have a sermon to post this week. Instead, here's my column about Advent for the church newsletter.

Dear Friends in Christ:

Preaching during the season of Advent is challenging. In our wider culture, Advent gets substantially consumed by Christmas. In the malls, in restaurants, even at home, we put on the wonderful music that marks Christmastide during the season of Advent. As a result, we frequently get to Christmas morning on December 25th tired of all the Christmas carols and worn out from our “holiday cheer” and shopping mayhem. The malls start their “post-Christmas” sales, and the 24-hour broadcasts of Christmas music vanish as radio stations resume their normal programming on December 26th.

All of this makes planning Advent worship a more complicated endeavor than in times past. The expectation is that our worship and music will reflect what the wider culture is doing. But the church, if it’s doing its job, should struggle against this tide. This year, your worship team has developed a deeply meaningful plan for how we’ll approach the Advent season, paying special attention to developing a sense of suspense and anticipation as we prepare for the season of Christmastide (yes, Christmas really is 12 days long!). When we get to Christmas Eve, we’ll be breaking out of joyous hymns of celebration. We’ll sing more carols the following Sunday, the first Sunday of the Christmas season. We get to continue singing until the Sunday of Epiphany, when we mark the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Remember that we get the wonderful opportunity to focus for an extended time on the birth of the Christ from December 24th all the way to January 6th. As we move through Advent, remember that Christ hasn’t come just yet. But when He does … wow!

Peace and blessings,

Pastor Chris

Technorati Tags: ,

Monday, November 19, 2007

An Opportunity

An Opportunity
Luke 21:5-19
November 18, 2007
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: As the church moves to the conclusion of the liturgical year, our gospel texts for this week take on a more apocalyptic tone. This week, Jesus tells his disciples and others of the destruction that will come to the temple, and the persecutions and disasters that foretell the end of things. In this midst of this, Jesus offers words of astonishing reassurance. Jesus assures us that he himself will give us words (literally “a mouth”) to testify to the truth of the gospel, and that by our endurance we will gain our souls.

Sermon Function: To instruct listeners about Jesus’ presence in the midst of our own tumult and chaos, and that Jesus’ promises for the events to come translate into a present assurance in a world which is right now filled with war, famine, and pestilence.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


In theological and liturgical circles, Jesus is understood to hold three simultaneous offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. Next week is Christ the King Sunday, and my wife Sara will explore the Kingship office of Jesus. We celebrate the Priestly office of Christ when we remember his self-sacrifice on the cross on behalf of sinful humanity. This week, we get a specific look at the prophetic character of Jesus. In our text, Jesus announces the forthcoming destruction of the temple, and event that would actually happen about 40 years after the discussion recorded here by Saint Luke, and he offers us some startling reassurance.

Let us listen now to God’s Word to us.

[Read Scripture - Luke 21:5-19]

Opening Comments

Many people wonder how long it takes to come up with a sermon to preach on Sunday. The simple answer is: It depends. Pastors each have their own process for structuring a sermon. In my case, I usually sit with the text over a week in advance and give it a first reading. Then, I usually do some comparisons between English texts, and then I do my own translation from the Greek or Hebrew, depending on the text for the week.

Then the fun begins. Friday is my designated sermon-writing day. In addition to the language work, I also check a commentary or two for other interpretive guidance. Then I look for helpful illustrative material, from the news of from my life experience of from the events of the week at the church. Then, and only then, do I sit down, say a prayer, and begin to write. The actual writing process only takes about three hours, the rest of the preparation time varies according to the week.

This week, much of the preparation time has been addressing the question: How do I preach a sermon about wars, rebellion, famine, disease and pestilence, destruction, false prophets, betrayal by family and friends, and persecution unto death on the same week that we’re celebrating our national day of Thanksgiving, and on a particular Sunday when we will, following the offering, respond to the Word read and proclaimed with a wedding?

After a very brief fantasy consisting of me running away from Portland in a panic, I then thought about changing the text at the last minute. And the Holy Spirit intervened, and I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy:
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17 NRSV)
One of the ways scripture works is to equip us for all manner of obligations in life, including giving thanks for God’s manifest blessings and the gift of Christian marriage. Therefore, this scripture, while it seems to dwell on devastation and destruction to come, is nonetheless profitable for us because it gives us the opportunity, once again, to witness to the gospel. We talk a lot about God’s attempts to reach out to humanity, and that God is always the one who moves first, as we are caught in the nets of our sin. In worship, we respond to God’s Word in a variety of ways – thanksgiving, offering, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Marriage is also a response to the gospel, because we understanding Christian marriage as a covenant that resembles the kind of commitment that God makes to humanity.


What does this text say to us today? Well, first off, it tells us something about ourselves. Did you notice how the reading began? It began with people, likely disciples and other interested parties, commenting on the beautiful stones of the temple, and the offerings that adorned it with fantastic beauty. These are worldly preoccupations of proud humans wondering at the achievements of other humans, especially the Roman puppet king at that time, Herod, who made it a point of transforming the temple into a spectacle of wonder. Jesus, the anointed one, Emmanuel, Christ-With-Us, is standing there with them, and the people are commenting on what a wonderful building the temple is! We do the same thing. We are all the time drawn to things we think point to God, but really point to ourselves or to the supposed magnificence of purely human creation. We’re drawn to our own preoccupations even in moments of personal prayer. I know that personal worries and distractions plague me in my own prayer life, and it take deliberate effort to quash these so that we can actually listen to what God may be saying to us.

Jesus seems to respond to this by saying, rather bluntly, enjoy these things while they last, because in a short time they’ll be torn to shreds. The seemingly solid things of life, the things that give us a sense of stability and safety, these can be swept away in a moment, can’t they? Anyone who has ever visited an older bank building will notice that the architecture of the building, with massive columns and huge granite stones, are meant to make the psychological impression on customers that their money was safe, and not subject to theft or destruction. But we know in our hearts, I think, that any building can be felled. All it takes is a big enough fire, a big enough earthquake, and the most solidly constructed building can be broken. And that is, in fact, what happened to the temple. Herod’s restored temple, it is thought, had stones that measured as large as 44 feet by 11 feet and weighing about 628 tons.1 Most of the structure was laid to waste within a few decades of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Western Wall in Jerusalem is all that remains.

Give Us a Sign!

After making his pronouncement about the future of the temple, the disciples and others present then ask Jesus for clues as to when the forthcoming destruction will take place. There will be, as Jesus says, lots of political and natural chaos: Warfare and earthquakes. False messiahs will come forth proclaiming that they know the answer. Don’t believe them, Jesus says.

Jesus gives them some pointers, but if you’re like me you will almost miss the reassurance in this part of our text. In the middle of all this chaos, Jesus tells those with ears to hear: “Do not be terrified” (Luke 21:9). In the midst of what is to come, do not be terrified. Jesus gives us words of peace and assurance, even in the worst of times, even in the midst of family struggles and personal uncertainty, even when times are tough financially, even when death is near. “Do not be terrified,” Jesus explains. For those God has called, the uncertainties and destructions of life are not the final answer.

But even before the natural disasters and political tumult to come, Jesus tells those listening, including us today, that we will be subject to persecution and betrayal, and brought before the authorities for the sake of the name of Jesus.

We live at a time when our cultural elites are intensely worried about those to profess deep religious belief. We live, for example, in a time when a Governor has been panned in the press for having the ridiculous audacity to ask citizens of his state to pray to God for rain in the drought-ridden state of Georgia. Ridicule is one thing, but persecution and betrayal by friends and family? That’s huge, but that’s part of living our fully our lives of discipleship. We live in a country were it’s common to be made fun of for our faith in Jesus, but at least we don’t face possible death, like many other Christians do even as I stand hear preaching to you in the safe town of Portland, Texas. Last week, seven men and two women were arrested as spies in North Korea for the crime of being disciples of Jesus Christ? Three members of a Christian group in Egypt were arrested last week for investigating the death of another Christian.2 The threat is real.

But even under these conditions, there is reason to have joy. Jesus tells us that persecution and imprisonment will give us the “opportunity to testify.” The Greek word for "testify" is μαρτύριον, from which we get the English word martyr. Many folks, when they year this word, think of being martyred, which means being put to death for what one believes. But there is more to the word than that. We are all, in fact, martyrs for the faith. We witness to our faith in Jesus Christ each week in worship, when we celebrate the sacraments, when we give back our offering, when we pledge to the church, when we sing, when we pray. In all of these activities, we witness to all present the grace and wonderful gifts we have received from our heavenly Father.

Today, we will witness to the goodness of God in another way, through the marriage of Ray Rodriguez and Amy Yaffe. In our culture, most people think of marriage as an act particular to a given couple. And it is that. But in Christian marriage, we witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. Marriage for us symbolizes the love Jesus has for the church. And in Christian marriage, the couple making the covenant promises to each other remind us of the covenant promises make to us by God. So yes, even the act of Christian marriage in worship is an opportunity for us to be martyrs, witnesses, for the faith and hope we have in Jesus Christ.

Called to Witness

We are called by Jesus to be witnesses to the good news, and not just during the good times, but also during troubling, challenging, disturbing times. The good news for us today is that we always have the opportunity to witness to what God has done for us, in our family lives, in our work lives, in our political lives, and in our faith lives. We may, as Jesus says, be hated for this. But we have the blessed assurance that Jesus Himself will be present with us:

“For I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:15 NRSV). Literally, this Greek phrase can be translated as “I will give you a mouth.” When the demand is made for an accounting of our faith, we’ll be able to witness to the power of God with words that aren’t just our own, but the words of Christ. The context may be the wonderful occasion of Christian marriage, but it also might be a tense thing, during a time of suffering or even pending death. But do not be afraid! “[N]ot a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls” (Luke 21:18-19 NRSV). I believe this with all of my heart. Even now, Jesus may be calling upon you to witness to the greatness of God. If you suspect that this is the case, I invite you to approach me or one of the Elders of this church to discuss more fully how this witness may take shape. Perhaps such a witness might be being baptism, or the reaffirmation of your baptism, or through becoming a member of the church, or through a public profession of your faith, or by changing your job, or by working for a Christian charitable organization, or by becoming a missionary, or by publicly witnessing to faith in Christian marriage. However you are called to witness to the faith, do not be afraid! “[N]ot a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls (Luke 21:18-19 NRSV)”

Let us pray.

Lord God of all the ages, the One who is, who was, and who is to come, stir up within us a longing for your kingdom, steady our hearts in time of trial, and grant us patient endurance until the sun of justice dawns. We make our prayer through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.3

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Portland, Texas.

1See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod's_Temple for additional details.

2Christian Post, November 13, 2007, here and here.

3Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993, p. 393.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Gotcha… Not!

Gotcha… Not!
Luke 20:27-38
November 11, 2007
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: The Sadducees attempt to trap Jesus through their inquiry about a woman marrying each of seven brothers? At the resurrection, they ask, who will be the wife’s husband? The absurdity of the question is intended by the Sadducees to illustrate the absurdity of Jesus’ apparent belief in the resurrection. Jesus, however, neatly eviscerates the premise of their question. The age to come will not be characterized by the social or even the biological functions we attribute to our earthly, fallen, existence. The people of God, at the resurrection, will be immortal, like the angels, and have no need for institutions like marriage. Creation will be, transformed when the Kingdom of God comes.

Sermon Function: To illustrate how, in this season approaching Lent, our lives should be marked by the objective understanding that the world to come will be, in many ways, fundamentally different from what we understand now, and that the common characteristics of humanity, when perfected by God, will also be transformed in ways we cannot completely understand. Once this is known, it makes it much easier to see how this-worldly our society is, and how it will, in the divine plan, be overturned by God.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


Our busy life at the church continues. Our worship team met to begin the formal preparations for Advent, which is just three Sunday’s away. We also continue to prepare for the coming year, and the financial and non-financial demands that we face as we continue our journey of faith together. This week is our pledge dedication Sunday, and during the offering you will be invited to share your pledge card for the year along with your offering for the day here at the table.

Speaking of the table, you probably notice that it is set this week. As a result of our successful class on the sacraments of the church, it was determined that it might be nice to have a more visible reminder of what our table is for, which is to celebrate the shared feast given to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Each week in worship, we’ll be reminded of our baptisms when, at the beginning of each service, water is poured visibly and loudly into the font. And we’ll be reminded of the Lord’s Supper each week by the bread that sits in readiness on our banquet table.

We’ve also been in the midst of our annual stewardship sermon series. We’ve spoken about giving in the church. We talked about giving with a humble, confessional disposition, about giving generously in response to Jesus entering our lives unexpectedly, as happened to Zacchaeus in last week’s reading. This week, our topic is the resurrection. Many people might not connect the resurrection of the dead with our giving today, but there is a connection, and we’ll explore it together today.

We have been following Jesus’ path to Jerusalem through to his stopping to see Zacchaeus in Jericho, and now Jesus has reached the City of David – Jerusalem. Here in chapter twenty of Luke’s gospel, Jesus encounters several groups of people who attempt to trip him up with questions about the law. First, there’s the group that questions Jesus his authority. Jesus responds with a question, and asks them if John’s baptism was from heaven or from men. Realizing that they have stepped into a trap, they respond that they don’t know. Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Luke 20:8 NRSV).

Luke then recounts Jesus telling the parable of the tenants. After that, he is questioned about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus tells them to “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25 NRSV).

They became silent after this second attempt at gotcha. But then there’s a third attempt to catch Jesus on a point of doctrine. And that’s our text for today.

[Read Scripture - Luke 20:27-38]

Opening Comments

After the attempt to get Jesus in trouble with the Roman authorities with the question about paying taxes to Caesar, Luke now recounts one additional attempt to play “gotcha” with Jesus. The Sadducees were one of the Jewish sects of some note at the time of our story. Other groups included the Pharisees and the Zealots, a party in which John the Baptizer might have been a member. As you can imagine, these different groups had varied interpretations of the complexities of the Jewish law, the Torah, the major potion of which was called the Pentateuch, that is, the first five books of the our bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The Sadducees are a group that has a definitive view of the resurrection of the dead. When we talk about the doctrines of the church, we often throw language around without having a clear understanding of exactly what it is we’re referring to. People today have divergent views of resurrection. I once heard an extraordinary version of what happens when the body is raised from the dead to be reunited with the soul. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body, which we profess to believe each time we read the great creeds of the church, and a doctrine I completely believe, is next to impossible for us to understand. Accordingly, we try to come up with fanciful ways of describing exactly how the resurrection of the dead will be accomplished.

The fact of the matter is this: We cannot possibly ever understand the full nature of God, at least on this side of the cross, so how can we possibly understand the details of the resurrection, that great hope and promise we have from God that our embodied souls will one day be joined with all the heavenly host, singing and praising God forevermore.

I would suggest to you, in fact, that anyone who tells you he or she has the details of the resurrection of the body all worked out is not working from the same playbook as the rest of Christendom. The fact of the matter is this: We don’t know how it will happen, or when. We do know this: For God, nothing is impossible.

But we constantly try to reduce God and God’s works into terms we are familiar with. And that is exactly what is happening here. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the body. It’s wasn’t canonical for them, it didn’t fall into line with what Moses had taught, therefore it must not be real. You know that old joke, right? The reason they have the name Sadducee is because they don’t believe in the dead, which makes them sad, you see?

Translating Heaven Using Earthly Terms

But the Sadducees aren’t all that different from us. We like to have a carefully defined God that meets all of our expectations and needs. Same with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is a divine mystery, however, and not subject entirely to human reason. And that is precisely the point the just irritates the heck out of those people who view human reason as the ultimate arbiter of everything, including ethics and morals. But if we accept the fact that human beings are depraved, and that their tendency is, despite what they might “will,” that they will persist in sin, then I’m reluctant to join with those who think that, through the power of human reason, we can figure out life, the body, and the mystery of the universe.

But the Sadducees think they’ve figured out what the resurrection means, and so they think they’ve identified the perfect absurd example that will illustrate the absurdity of resurrection belief. They ask Jesus their question because they know, through means not fully disclosed to us in scripture that Jesus believes in the resurrection. They hope to put his belief to ridicule by using an example straight from the Mosaic Law, the Pentateuch, the Torah. They describe how a woman marries one of seven brothers. When the brother dies, leaving the widow childless, Hebrew law required that the man’s brother take the woman as his wife and have children with here, thereby keeping the family name alive in the nation of Israel.1 This happens until the woman has married all seven brothers. And then she dies.

The Sadducees, thinking they’ve clearly illustrated the absurdity of the resurrection, ask Jesus a pretty straightforward question: “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her” (Luke 20:33 NRSV). They were probably proud at their cleverness, having taken this earthly estate of marriage to demonstrate how utterly ridiculous, how mind-numbingly stupid Jesus was for believing in the resurrection of the dead. Whatcha going to say to that, Jesus! Huh? We gotcha!

Surprise Surprise! God is Bigger than You Thought

And it is at this point we get a peak at just how amazing Jesus is. He could have gotten into the mix with the Sadducees and started a wide-ranging debate on the Torah and the example they provided. But he doesn’t do that. And what Jesus does is a model for all of us: He takes the Sadducees into much deeper spiritual territory than they probably expected. Jesus does this by neatly taking apart their argument.
Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. (Luke 20:34-36 NRSV)
In this age, with the preoccupations of our lives and the necessity of the biological perpetuation of the human race, things like marriage are commonplace. But Jesus then tells us that in “that” age, the age of the resurrection, the resurrection people with neither marry nor be given in marriage. The reason is very straightforward: Things in the resurrection won’t be as they are now.

And that is the terrific hope of the gospel, and the awesome gift of the Father in his Son Jesus Christ. It is in the resurrected Jesus that we ourselves are made dead to sin and to the ways of the world and made alive in the kingdom, inaugurated with the first coming of Jesus way back in Nazareth, and brought to fullness when God responds to our intercession for the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. The resurrected people of God are like the angels of heaven, incorruptible and immortal. I’ve always wanted to see an angel, but I cannot imagine being like one. What must that be like? What will we be like? These are unimaginable things for us to consider, but this is the promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What Jesus is saying to the Sadducees is that they need to think much bigger about God and about humanity, because humanity is made in the image of God. We ought to remember this, because the remnant of God’s image in us is what makes us precious and distinctive in all of God’s creation. Having been accorded the gift of being made in God’s very image, our response should be one of awe, wonder, gratitude, and repentance, because we oftentimes abuse that image, either by abusing our bodies with extensive and abusive habits, or by abusing others with our behavior.

We are destined for a redemption that exceeds our wildest expectations.

And the reason we have this Hope is that the God we worship is the God of salvation, the God who seeks us out when we screw it all up. He is the God of the living. As Jesus so aptly notes, “The fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (Luke 20:37-38 NRSV). In the Hebrew text of Exodus 3:6, where God discloses His name to Moses, God declares, very clearly, that he is the God of the Fathers of the Bible. God is a God of presence. There is a present-tenseness of God in all things and across all time. God’s time isn’t our own, and God’s redemption is nothing that we can logically determine or discover.

And if we sit for a moment, and reflect on this fact, that the eternal God of Presence, here right now with us as we worship Him, gave his Son Jesus to the world to illustrate how clearly he wants to be with us, to the point where he will resurrect those who are worthy from the dead, means that death itself is nothing to God, and that the transformative power of the Holy Spirit can transform you into a new, amazing creature beyond your wildest expectations.

For us, that means right now, right now, nothing should be as it was before. The old-self is dead and gone. The present newness of life in Christ is all that matters. And that objective fact should change how we live, how we relate, and how we exercise our dominion and stewardship over the gifts we have been given.

On this dedication Sunday, I implore you to remember that you are citizens of a resurrection kingdom, a kingdom of Grace and Love and Peace that transcends all our understanding, but nonetheless causes us to responds. Ponder this fact as we prepare to move forward together in the coming year.

Let us pray.

God of all the living, in the resurrection of Christ Jesus you have given us the promise of life which death itself cannot destroy. In the strength of this unshakable promise give us a new heart to live, even now, as your new creation. We ask this through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.2

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.

1See Deuteronomy 25:5ff.

2Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993, p. 392.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Do Pastors Really Work Only One Hour Per Week?

This video confirms everything we already knew.

Responding to Jesus

Responding to Jesus
Luke 19:1-10
November 4, 2007
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: Zacchaeus, a big-time tax collector, knows how to live large. But he himself is small in spiritual stature. Upon encountering the resurrected One, Zacchaeus’ view of the earth is transformed. He gained great wealth in his capacity as an agent for the state (Rome), but know he was an agent for hospitality, generosity, and justice – all as a result of the self-invitation of Jesus.

Sermon Function: To illustrate how critically important it is to make stewardship a fiscal discipline, particularly if there are larger amounts for which one has made responsible. And to demonstrate how our management of possessions is utterly transformed when Jesus finds us amongst the shrubs and calls us into service.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


Well I hope you all had a happy and safe Halloween this year. At our home over in the Pavilions, we had not a single trick-or-treater. Sara and I both lament the fact that we will now have to each consumed our respective quantities of mini-Snickers and bubble gum.

Actually, when it became apparent that we weren’t going to get any scary visitors, we decided to go out for a walk to catch the last bit of the action. We were pleased to see all of the costumes. We even saw one youngster on stilts! He probably stood about eight feet tall. In today’s scripture passage, we learn about Zacchaeus, a character who is renowned because of his height. He likely could have used some of the stilts that our treat-or-treat friend employed to scare the neighbors into giving him a treat.

Whether or not this story is familiar to you, I invite you to consider some questions before we begin. Reflect a bit on these as I read the text.

First: Who invites whom in the story?

Second: What happens to Zacchaeus?

Third: What does this story tell you about the responsible use of money and possessions?

Let's listen now to God's Word.

[Read Scripture - Luke 19:1-10]

Opening Remarks

We are in a season of discernment and planning and stewardship here at the church. We spoke last week about another tax collector, one who out of his knowledge that he was a sinner pled with God for mercy and left the temple justified. The tax collector stood in start contrast with the Pharisee, who loudly proclaimed his self-righteousness in prayer before the assembled people of God. We were taught a few important lessons in that sermon. First, when it comes to giving, we ought to give with a prayerful and confessional disposition. Second, our giving is in response to something wonderful that God has done for us through the incredible gift of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

This week, we have another tax collector to talk about. His name is Zacchaeus, a word that is derived from a term that means “pure” or “innocent.” Zacchaeus likely didn’t live up to his name. Zacchaeus was a “chief tax collector” and was, as recorded in Luke’s gospel, very wealthy. Like other tax collectors at that time, others would have viewed him as a traitor to his nation, ripping off the people with his abusive tax practices. He lives in Jericho, a town that could be considered the Las Vegas of the day. Jericho was favored by the Herods, the Roman-approved Jewish “kings” who reportedly built lavish satellite palaces there along with various sports arenas, theaters, and other pleasure-oriented venues. It was an interesting place for Jesus to stop, but Jesus always seems to stop in interesting places, fascinating places, risky places. One writer put it this way, “What Happens in Jericho stays in Jericho.”1

The narrow street of Jericho would have already been crowded, but you can imagine that people where also gathering to view this man about whom they have heard very interesting stories. Profound stories about his man’s teaching and feeding and healing acts, many times with the undesirables, prostitutes, disease ridden and leprous beggars, and even tax collectors. We don’t get a thorough accounting of what was going on in Zacchaeus’ mind as Jesus approached, but we can imagine a few scenarios. He might have simply been curious to see what all the buzz was about. He might have wanted to just see what Jesus looked like. He might have heard about other encounters with other tax collectors. And if that was the case, perhaps Zacchaeus was a bit worried about his situation. He was flush with riches, an official of the Roman government who was living high of the backs of the people. He is identified, in the last verse of our text, as a Son of Abraham. Maybe, just maybe, he had climbed to the top of the self-achievement ladder and now found himself wondering what many of us wonder in this society: Is this it? I’ve gotten everything I want in life. I’ve checked off all the boxes of self-sufficiency and have built an almost impregnable financial empire out of which I can relax and enjoy life. Many people have made it, but then they realize that there is something missing. Something fundamental.

Perhaps Zacchaeus is one of these people. He climbs up the tree to see what is going on because, as our text humorously notes, he is short in stature. Long on wealth and prosperity, but a bit short perhaps on spiritual maturity. It’s remarkably easy to judge Zacchaeus harshly, and many did.

Luke tells us that Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore tree to get a better view. A straightforward explanation. But there might have been another reason, and I hadn’t thought of this one until I read an interesting article on this passage. Perhaps he went up there to get a good view, but one can also imagine that, amongst the leaves of the tree, Zacchaeus might have actually been hiding from Jesus, and from the crowds.2 It’s rather, well, embarrassing for someone of incredible means to climb a tree just to see some interesting rabbi pass by. But maybe the social and spiritual situation was such that Zacchaeus really didn’t want to be seen, to be called out for the person he was, and wanted to avoid embarrassment.

So there he is, perched and perhaps safely hidden away. Jesus comes down the road, through the crowds. He arrives at the place where the tree is. He stops. Perhaps he’s seen something that tipped him off, and he looks up into the tree. He looks right up, and sees a man there. He knows his name, and calls out to him. “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5 NRSV).

“Oh boy,” Zacchaeus might have though, “this man found me up here. And now he wants to come to my house.” Interesting, isn’t it? Zacchaeus didn’t even get a chance. Jesus has invited himself to this wealthy man’s home. Now he has to come out of the tree.

Our Lives Today

And aren’t we just like Zacchaeus, in a way? We may or may not be wealthy, but we frequently, in our sin, act in ways that we would prefer, many times, for other people not to know about. This is particularly the case in our modern society, when so many deeply sinful behaviors can, through the wonders of technology, be engaged in without anyone else even knowing. But God knows the secrets of our hearts. And despite our best efforts to stay hidden and not be found out, here is this man, Jesus, who comes to the place where we hide and calls us out!

Jesus, then, reaches out to Zacchaeus first. He calls out to him, and Zacchaeus responds. He responds “joyfully.”

Others talked. Our text says, “Grumbled.” This is a common feature in the gospels. Jesus attends to those who are sinners, and others take note. And we should take note as well. In Luke’s Gospel, the rich don’t necessary make out well. But here is Jesus who, having just healed a blind beggar outside of Jericho (in the nine verses just prior to today’s story), Jesus is now hanging out with another cultural outcast, the mega-wealthy. Poor man and rich, it seems that there isn’t a sinner that Jesus won’t speak with. Notwithstanding the balances in their respective bank accounts, they are both poor in Spirit.

Extending the hospitality of his home, Zacchaeus is suddenly prompted to come clean while in the presence of the Savior of the World, whose light is now shining down brightly on Zacchaeus, so much so that nothing can remain hidden. Nothing. One can imagine Zacchaeus perhaps remembering, in some far off corner of his mind, the words of Psalm 139:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven [or into the tree?], you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Ps 139:1-12 NRSV)
Nowhere to Hide

Zacchaeus has been, in a word, “busted” by our Lord Jesus Christ. He’s been found out, discovered, and called by Jesus. There is nowhere to hide. No tree high enough. No valley low enough. Nothing will keep Jesus from Zacchaeus.

And here, in the text, we see what happens. Jesus makes the first move, and after being exposed by the Light of the World, Zacchaeus realizes that everything has changed. The world has shifted out from under him. The desires of this world have slipped away. Zacchaeus has slipped out of his earlier, curious mood, and now wants to respond. Even though Jesus has invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home, Zacchaeus is now moved to give, to show mercy, and to do justice.
Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” (Luke 19:8 NRSV)
Zacchaeus, realizing that nothing was as it was before he was discovered up in that Sycamore tree, is now compelled to respond in some fashion, in some way that draws him closer in his relationship with this man who he has never before met, and who he will likely not see again on this side of the Cross.

At this point, it is very important to note Jesus’ response. He says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10 NRSV). Isn’t this what we actually fret about? Has Zacchaeus actually “purchased” salvation through his generosity and mercy? No. Remember, Jesus approached Zacchaeus first. And in response, Zacchaeus’ worldview is transformed. The Son of Man came to save the lost of those sons who count themselves descendants of Abraham. And we know, too, that by his death on the cross, death itself was defeated, and the curtain that separated God from humanity was torn asunder.

What We Now Know

The pattern of God calling and humanity responding is pervasive throughout scripture. Time and time again God calls. Many times, God calls those whom we might not. David was an adulterer. His predecessor Saul was mentally unstable. Paul, formerly Saul, persecuted the followers of Jesus. Jesus Christ comes to those who are lost, to those who, despite following all of our society’s rules for success, nonetheless find their lives a spiritual dessert. Jesus comes to those who are up in the tree, or behind their bedroom door, and asks if He can join us in our homes. He might as well ask to come inside us, because that’s what he seems to do here. The danger, of course, is that everything we think we know about ourselves is put at risk. Why? Because when Jesus comes in, we end up finding out who we really are, and it’s always not what we thought.

Is Jesus knocking at your door today? Is your life filled with worldly things? Are you feeling like you’re in a spiritual dessert, and that despite all of the goods that you have gathered something is still missing? You’re here in church today, and for me that means you’ve climbed the tree and are perhaps interested in seeing who this Jesus guy is. Or perhaps you’re already up in that tree, believing yourself to be nicely concealed, but now you feel His eyes upon you, asking if He can come in to your home. And if you let him in, and he transforms your life, how will you respond? That’s the question that must underlie any thinking we do during this time of increased emphasis on stewardship, planning, and the future of this particular church and how it serves the community.

Paul Scherer, in his exposition on this passage in the Interpreter’s Bible, makes this excellent observation:
There are times when we talk about finding God in Christ. Infinitely truer is it that in him God finds us. And when we’re found, nothing stays the same. Everything is transformed, we turn our lives over to him, and we end up finding out who we really are, the beloved ones of God.3 [Emphasis added]
In just a minute, we’ll be celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The basic reason for celebrating this sacrament is this: We know, by faith, that Jesus Christ is present with us during the meal. While we dine together, be on watch. Jesus may just be looking at you, calling you out from sin and the world, so that you might truly know who you are.

Let us pray.

Merciful God, righteous judge of all, you send Jesus among us to seek and to save those who are lost. Grant that we, like Zacchaeus of Jericho, may eagerly seek the Savior, joyfully welcome him into our homes and lives, and gladly do what is pleasing in his sight. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, how and forever. Amen.4

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas

1This material is taken from Calvin’s Seminary’s wonderful Center for Excellence in Preaching website here.


3Scherer, Paul. “The Gospel According to St. Luke.” Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. VIII. New York: Abingdon Press, 1953, p. 323.

4Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993, p. 384.