Sermon Notes for August 28, 2011

Scriptures for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A, Proper 17)

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28


  •  The OT lesson is a winner with Moses and the Burning Bush.  This theophany passage is ripe with possibilities.  1) There is the concept of call…God calls us right where we are are (even out in the wilderness tending sheep while on the lam from the authorities). 2)  Then there is the concept of ‘holy ground’ and our response to being in the presence of God.  3) Then the patriarchs are invoked, they have not been a big part of Moses’ life until then, then he can’t get away from them the rest of his life. 4) Then there is the “Holy Name”- the Great I AM.”  The Hebrew in those few verses is rich with meaning and is worth unpacking for an English speaking congregation.  The verb– I am–I will be--says much about the God of the Ages. A verb when it is used as the proper name of God is so powerful that they exchange those letters for Adonai throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  I am convinced that even in the 21st century, this God of the Burning Bush is still being made known.
  • The Psalm works well with the OT lesson and should be used as an act of worship.  If you don’t do it normally, Simplified Anglican chant has a way of bringing out the meaning of the Psalm in powerful ways.  Anytime the Church finds away to sing the Psalms, we are drawing close to the community who gave them to us…and is probably how Jesus used the Psalms most frequently.
  • The lessons from the New Testament are complimentary as well.  Paul’s letter to the Romans calls the Church to unity.  After last week’s lesson that speaks of the variety of gifts, but one Spirit.  As the Romans passage continues it points to concrete signs of that unity–Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers…The whole Romans pericope carries similar themes and ends with this statement: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Isn’t this the power of the cross?  God takes the evil of the world and turns it on its head.
  • The Gospel lesson is one of those readings rich with meaning.  How many times have we preached it, heard it preached?   “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  One of the most difficult things about this verse is that in the 21st century Church, we are so far removed from the crosses, executions and suffering of the first century, that we really don’t get the meaning of “taking up our cross.”  The challenge for the preacher is to call the people of God to something radical, revolutionary when our concept of denying ourselves is holding off the painting of the nursery in the church for a year.  Jesus, the Crucified One, is a challenge to 21st century sensibilities.
  • Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, suggests that this concept of taking up our cross is a call to live a life of spiritual discipline–to deny ourselves and take up practices that draw us nearer to Jesus and his life, death and resurrection.  When I read this book some 10 years ago, it seemed more revolutionary and radical than it does now.  But like the Romans passage, where Paul gives concrete examples of how to live in Christian unity, Willard makes the concepts of taking up our cross concrete and specific.

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