Sermons

To Reject or Receive God’s Reign

To Reject or Receive God’s Reign

Matthew 13:1-30, 36-43

 

In July, Time magazine published The 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.  Editors drew up this list of fictional characters with some help from “contributors” such as F. Murray Abraham, Jodie Foster and Chris Colfer.  The public then voted for its top choices from the list.  Not surprisingly, Santa Claus ranked No. 1.  But James Bond was No. 2?  Sherlock Holmes followed him.  No. 4 was The Dude. The Dude?  Jeff Bridges as The Big Lebowski.  The Good Samaritan was fifth.  The Prodigal Son ranked farther down the list, getting about a third as many votes as did The Good Samaritan.  The Prodigal Son was ranked just ahead of Dorothy Gale but far ahead of Jay Gatsby, Tarzan and Pollyanna.

In his Prodigal Son essay, a sports writer for Time misses the point of the parable. He hails the Prodigal as a “designer of daydreams” and says the older brother “needs to take a few more risks to earn his rewards, just like Baby Bro.” (Sean Gregory)  But, the anonymous comments on The Good Samaritan are on point.  The character’s function as archetype of folks who come to the aid of needy strangers is recognized and the writer says that Jesus asks us “to practice the most demanding act of the Christian faith: to love and help even our enemies in an age in which so many voices urge us to demonize.”  Some get a parable’s point and others don’t.

Well, this weekend we’ll be looking at some of Jesus’ other parables.  But before that, and since Jesus is so poorly stereotyped in the public mind, I’d like to quote from a letter I have in which C. S. Lewis responds to an enquirer, addressing the misconception that was popular in Lewis’ day as it still is in our day.

Lewis wrote: “Of course, ‘Gentle Jesus’ my elbow!  The most striking thing about our Lord is the union of great ferocity with extreme tenderness. … Add to this that He is also a supreme ironist, dialectician, and (occasionally) humourist.  So go on: You are on the right track now: getting to the real Man behind all the plaster dolls that have been substituted for Him.  This is the appearance in Human form of the God who made the tiger and the lamb, the avalanche and the rose.  He’ll frighten and puzzle you; but the real Christ can be loved and admired as the doll can’t.”

Let’s hear God’s word. Read more →

The Humility of God’s Reign

The Humility of God’s Reign

Matthew 18:1-10

One day, Jesus did more than merely tell a parable.  He produced a parable. He portrayed a parable. He presented a little child in tableau vivant – a “living picture”. Then, as now, a picture can mean more than mere words.  But, still, just as ears must be willing to hear, eyes must be willing to see.

Again, the parable is from Matthew, the most quoted Gospel of the early Church.  Let’s hear God’s word.

“Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked: ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  Calling to a little child, Jesus told the child to stand beside him.  Then Jesus said to the disciples: ‘Here’s the truth: Unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  But, whoever does humble himself as this little child is humble, that one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.”

The Universal Society for Optimism has produced a portrayed parable.  It’s a video. It shows a kid walking onto a deserted baseball field.  He brings along a bat and balls and steps into the batter’s box.  Then, he yells to no one but himself: ‘I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” and he tosses a ball into the air.  He swings – and misses, “Strike one” he mumbles. Again, he yells, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!”  Again, he tosses that ball into the air and swings – and misses, “Strike two”.  Again, he yells, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!”  Again, he tosses that ball into the air and swings – and misses, “Strike three”.  Dejection!  Then suddenly, he brightens up and yells: “Wow!  I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”  Read more →

God’s Revolution and Reign

God’s Revolution and Reign

Mark 2:16-17, 21-22; Luke 5:36-39  

Let’s hear God’s word:

“When the scribes of the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, they said to his disciples: ‘Why is he eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?’ ”

“Sinners” was a catchall term for all Jews who didn’t follow the dictates of the scribes of the Pharisees.  The tax collectors were lumped in with these other “sinners” for reasons we’ve mentioned – they were seen as traitorous thieves who did the pagan’s bidding.

Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees had not fared well in direct debate with Jesus.  So, here, their attack is indirect.  They try to stump his disciples.  They didn’t want their “gotcha questions” to trigger any more “gotcha answers”.

Of course, theirs wasn’t a question; it was yet another accusation meant to entrap Jesus.  But, they were more insistent on being right than sure they were right.  The self-righteous don’t really believe they’re righteous.  And, although they’re blessed with an uneasy suspicion of their unrighteousness, they nonetheless suppress it and insist on their righteousness.  So, they do all of this with such little tactical caution, that their malicious maneuver malfunctions.       

“Jesus overheard them.  And he said to them, ‘People who are healthy don’t need a physician; the unhealthy need a physician.  I have come to call sinners, not those who’re well.’ ”

Foiled again!  Still, at God’s deeper level of mercy, they were given yet another opportunity to find the truth even in the foiling.
Read more →

Preaching Festival 2012

1912 ~ The Centennials ~ 2012

Lottie Moon – William Booth – Francis Schaeffer – Jacques Ellel

This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 2012 Preaching Festival.  The 2012 weekend focused on a group of centennial, historical Christians whose journeys and testimonies are an encouragement and inspiration to all.  Sermons from the weekend are available here.


In the Year of Our Lord, 1912

We’re commemorating centenaries of the deaths of Lottie Moon, Baptist missionary to China, and William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. We’re also commemorating the 100th anniversaries of the births of apologist Francis Schaeffer and French sociologist and legal scholar, Jacques Ellul.

The year is 1912. New Mexico and Arizona are admitted as our 47th and 48th states. In another 47 years, we’ll have Alaska and Hawaii, too. First Lady, Helen Taft, plants the first cherry trees around the Tidal Basin. In November, in a four-man Presidential race between William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Eugene V. Debs and Woodrow Wilson, Wilson wins.

Times Square has a new attraction. It’s called the Automat. You get the food through little lift-up doors, for just nickels a serving. A new cookie’s come out in Hoboken. It’s called Oreo. Read more →

JESUS: THE ORIGINAL EVIDENCE

The first in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2012 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

Jesus: The Original Evidence

“Who Invented Christianity?” This provocative question popped up on my computer screen. It was an ad for “an all-star lineup [in] scenic Durham, North Carolina [this weekend]. Four of the greatest powerhouse intellectuals in the field of Biblical studies and archaeology in this three-day program filled with the excitement of discovery, new ideas and dynamic discussion.”

The teaser makes false and misleading allegations of conspiracies: “Some of Christianity’s most important doctrines – the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the doctrine of heaven and hell – were not found on the lips of Jesus or his earliest followers. They instead represent later developments … . Where did these doctrines come from, and how did Jesus’ later followers modify his teachings to invent what we think of as Christianity today?”

To assert that the Jesus of the New Testament is not the historical Jesus, but an invented “Christ of faith,” how do they know? They don’t; they assume, they pretend. To know would require trustworthy 1st-century evidence of an alternative Jesus. It doesn’t exist. Read more →

JESUS: THE ONGOING EVIDENCE

The second in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2012 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

Jesus: The Ongoing Evidence

The original evidence for Jesus is his resurrection. His ongoing evidence is the Church, his Bride, and what she, by God’s Spirit, gives, in love, to the welfare of each other and the world. (Mk 2:19; Matt 25:1-13; Eph 5; Rom 7)

In Jesus’ day, world population was around 300 million. Today, it’s 7 billion. And 2.3 billion are Christians. The Christian population is rising faster than the world’s population is increasing. Since 1912, the Christian population has quadrupled, and Evangelicals and Pentecostals account for the fastest rate of growth – especially in sub-Sahara Africa and in the Asia-Pacific region. In America, 75 percent identify as Christian – that’s higher than in any other country. In Europe’s increasingly secularized society, the Christian population is in decline.

The second largest world religion is Islam, with 1.6 billion Muslims, nearly a quarter of the world’s population.

Although Jesus’ followers cannot be equated with Western civiliza­tion as such, Western civilization was built from a Christian worldview and on a largely Christian cultural consensus. Without Jesus’ resurrec­tion, there would have been no Christian worldview, and therefore no Western civilization as we’ve known it and know it. Read more →

JESUS: THE EVIDENCE IN OUR LIVES

The third in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2012 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

JESUS: THE EVIDENCE IN OUR LIVES

It’s Sunday morning. We’re meeting on this Sunday morning in the 21st-century because of that 1st-century Sunday morning when God raised Jesus from the dead. Since that Sunday morning, Christians have cele­brated God’s raising Jesus from the dead for well over 100,000 Sunday mornings.

Christianity did not arise from a box of bones. So, the day named for the sun god became God’s Son’s Day. Without Jesus’ resurrection, it would be just another day in the week. Without Jesus’ resurrection, what this world would be and what we would be is anybody’s guess – except that, as Paul realized, we’d still all be lost in our sin and death. (I Cor 15:17ff)

So, now, this Sunday morning, let’s bring it home. We’ve looked into the Gospels’ evidence for Jesus, biblical evidence of the earliest Chris­tians’ trust in Jesus and evidence for Jesus throughout history. But behind and beyond the book, the church, the history, there reigns the living God, the living God incarnate, crucified, dead, buried and raised from the dead, exalted in glory and coming again. Read more →

Preaching Festival 2011

1911 ~ The Centennials ~ 2011

Hannah Whitall Smith – Carry A. Nation – Mahalia Jackson – Bob Jones, Jr.

This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 2011 Preaching Festival.  The 2012 weekend focused on a group of centennial, historical Christians whose journeys and testimonies are an encouragement and inspiration to all.  Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Four Christian Departures or Arrivals in 1911

The year is 1911.  None of us has yet been born, much less born again from above. Yet all of us are on God’s timeless Mind and in God’s timeless Heart.

In 1911, were we to ask: “What’s new?”, we’d hear that Orville Wright kept his flying machine in the air for a record 9 minutes, 45 seconds.  Wow!  A Model T hits a new record in hill climbing and gasoline sales now surpass the sale of kerosene.  There’s another new motorcar – the Chevrolet.  And Studebaker is offering something else that’s new, customer credit.  The Stock Exchange now lists car stocks.  A Computer Tabulating Recording Corporation has been incorporated in New York.  100 years from now, it’ll be IBM, the world’s Number 1 “green company”.  You’d think that with a hundred years of experience it would no longer be green!   Read more →

The Prosperity of The Poor in Spirit

The first in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2011 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

His fellow Jews despised Matthew.  As the Roman occupation’s local tax collector, they viewed him as a traitor, taking whatever cash Rome required and keeping for himself whatever more than that he could squeeze out of them.  The Jews hated him.  Jesus chose him.

Not far into Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’ Good News, we find what’s called “The Sermon on the Mount”.  Known as, “the supreme jewel in the crown of Jesus’ teaching” (Michael Green), it’s introduced with a literary alert to signal the weight of Jesus’ words.  That formal phrasing is this: “Jesus opened his mouth and began to teach.”  We read: Read more →

The Privilege of the Appropriately Prioritized

The second in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2011 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

Jesus said:

How fortunate are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

A New Yorker cartoon depicts a sadsack newly arrived at the Pearly Gates.  St. Peter is inspecting the computer screen: “You say ‘meek,’ but your records say ‘passive-aggressive.’”

The meaning of meekness gets misunderstood.  Might the meek be mere milquetoasts?  Or wussies?  Is so-called “meekness” just a strategy for self-protection?  Is it but a pout – a calculated scheme to get one’s way?  Some timidity may intend to intimidate.  Or, she may be only a nervous Nelly.  But all of these are the damned absence of the meekness of the fortunate.

Jesus, himself, models the meekness of which he speaks.  As Paul wrote about him to Philippians, Christ did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” (Phil 2:6-7)  In his entrance into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, he’s described as gentle, meek, and astride, not a great horse like a triumphant general, but a young donkey. (Matt 21:5)  And hadn’t he invited the weary with these welcoming words: “Come to me.  I’ll give you rest. Be yoked with me.  Learn from me, for I’m gentle, humble – meek – and you’ll find rest with me, for my yoke eases your burden and lightens the load.” (Matt 11:28-30)  He stoops down to where we are. Read more →

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