The Least, First

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Reading Job, Watching Jesus, part 2 [sermon of Oct 15, 06]

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Ooh, this was fun. Hope it helps you like it did me! Seems like Jesus Christ is becoming newer and newer. How can that be?

Peace to you,



Proper 22 (27)
October 15, 2006 – continued from October 8

Given at New Oaks Church, Washington, IA USA

Job 1:1; Job 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1:1-4; Hebrews 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16


The order we followed:


Call to Worship – Georgann Haeffner


You Are the One

How Great Is Our God

In Christ Alone

The Church’s One Foundation

Fairest Lord Jesus

Prayer – Pastor Sharon Armstrong




Blessing – Pastor Sharon


And the sermon:


Say you’re a junior high teacher, and the school bully, eyes the door, comes up and says, “What’s the school’s policy on kids in the halls during class?”

What do you think? How will you answer? You’ll answer in such a way that he won’t twist your answer into an excuse to hurt somebody.


Now, suppose later, a couple of kids who really want to know about it, whom you trust, come up and ask the same question. How will you answer? Your answer will be different, for you’re giving it for a different reason. Perhaps you’ll explain the “why” of it, or what the situations are that might result in exceptions. You trust them. You’re not protecting.


Hang on to that.


We’re finishing last week’s sermon. [Remind them of the things Nicole wrote on the FLIP CHART about Jesus from Hebrews – also on handout, highlighted, like so:]

By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words!


The Son Is Higher than Angels

After he finished the sacrifice for sins, the Son took his honored place high in the heavens right alongside God, far higher than any angel in rank and rule. . . . . What we do see is Jesus, made “not quite as high as angels,” and then, through the experience of death, crowned so much higher than any angel, with a glory “bright with Eden’s dawn light.” In that death, by God’s grace, he fully experienced death in every person’s place.


It makes good sense that the God who got everything started and keeps everything going now completes the work by making the Salvation Pioneer perfect through suffering as he leads all these people to glory. Since the One who saves and those who are saved have a common origin, Jesus doesn’t hesitate to treat them as family .. .


Then we went to Job. Talked about difference in revelation that the writer of Job would’ve had, vs. writer of Hebrews. (especially “perfectly mirrors God.”) After the worship last week, Dan Henderson, a history teacher, commented that Job: “Sounds like a Babylonian story.” Of course it does! That’s the cultural fountain from which Hebrews drew their preconceptions about God.


Here’s how I see the Bible these days:

Bible Crescendo

The Hebrew Scriptures are the story of ever-increasing light. The New Testament always points to Jesus Christ. And he, according to Hebrews, “perfectly mirrors God” and “is stamped with God’s nature.” He is the Bible’s focus, for we who are Christians. He is “The Church’s One Foundation,” as we sang. In the Gospels – the stories of Jesus Christ, we believe we see God more clearly, more definitively, than at any other moment.


OK, then, if that’s what the Gospels represent, let’s go there and watch Jesus himself:


Mark 10


1-2 From there he went to the area of Judea across the Jordan. A crowd of people, as was so often the case, went along, and he, as he so often did, taught them. Pharisees came up, intending to give him a hard time. They asked, “Is it legal for a man to divorce his wife?”


For whom did Jesus craft this answer? Remember the school bully? How are you answers different when someone’s trying to give you trouble compared to when someone really wants to learn?

3Jesus said, “What did Moses command?”

What’s Jesus do first, in response to people who want to give him trouble? Asks them to answer their own question! Good plan!

4They answered, “Moses gave permission to fill out a certificate of dismissal and divorce her.”


5-9Jesus said, “Moses wrote this command only as a concession to your hardhearted ways. In the original creation, God made male and female to be together. Because of this, a man leaves father and mother, and in marriage he becomes one flesh with a woman—no longer two individuals, but forming a new unity. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart.”


There’s a debate going on. Just like in our day, some felt divorce for any reason was their business, others were at the other extreme. So these guys have come to pin Jesus down one way or the other, yes or no, so one group or the other will have cause to give him static. And what did he give them, yes or no? Really, both. Or neither.


What could be meant by “a concession to your hardhearted ways?” [That was a hard question to answer live!] Things might have gotten so bad that it was better for some spouses to be out of there – because the other was so hardhearted, and, perhaps, abusive. Does that mean divorce is good? Naa.


So he comes down on neither side with the school bully.


10-12When they were back home, the disciples brought it up again.


Now, here’s his answer to the others – let’s compare the two:

Jesus gave it to them straight: “A man who divorces his wife so he can marry someone else commits adultery against her. And a woman who divorces her husband so she can marry someone else commits adultery.”


Much more straighforward answer! Dumping someone to hook up with someone else – that’s just plain wicked.


Seems like Jesus is always interested in protecting people who can be taken advantage of.


Now, this gives us another important bit about reading the Bible fairly: Who’s being spoken to? Where are you going to find out the heart of Jesus – the lesson for the bullies, or the lesson for those who really want to know?


It’s this way in the epistles, too: Those written to churches where there are lots of problems include lots of warnings and restrictions. Those written to churches where people are getting it include lots of light and hope, and little restraint.


For instance, the letters to the Corinthians, where there was tons of trouble, contain lots of rebuke and lots of restriction (eg., not permitting female preachers there). The letter to the Ephesians, on the other hand, is full of wonder, love, and delight – with no mention of the Corinthian restrictions.


We are tempted to think that every page of the Bible applies equally to every situation. But if the books of the Bible themselves were written differently from each other, according to the situation to which they were addressed, surely we are wise to consider the situation when applying the Bible, too. Paul would find it very strange if he heard the Ephesians were following all the details for getting out of trouble found 1st Corinthians, for the Ephesians weren’t in that kind of trouble. And Jesus must find it strange when we confuse the directions given to trouble-makers with the directions he gave to the tender of heart. How much more must we ask ourselves, twenty centuries later, “For what situation was this written? How, then, might it fit my own?”


And this brings us to one of the truly beautiful things about reading Jesus himself.


Let’s go to it this way: Orhan Pamuk won Nobel prize in literature recently. He is a Turk who has spent much time in the US (even 35 miles from us, at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop), and writes novels about people coming to grips with the tensions between east and west. Here’s what he said this week in an interview on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer:


All generalizations about east and west in the news are generalizations. Don’t believe them. Don’t buy them. The essential function of literature is that the other person – that culture, politics and propaganda … always represents as enemy – is no enemy. He is like us. She is like us. We are the other. … Forget about the ideas. Rewrite them. Focus on real human situations. I am not a political person. I am a story teller.


Real human situations. Story teller. Sound like anyone you know?


Jesus is that way: Telling stories, making few pronouncements, usually dealing in real human situations. Jesus is not about getting the rules right, he is about loving people, and especially those who are often taken advantage of.


And the final paragraph shows it:


13-16The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them. [Gk suggests blessed them fervently, again and again: NBCR]


[Scripture passages are from The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson]


There he is, responding to a real human situation. That’s Jesus himself, at the peak of the crescendo – the perfect mirror of God – that’s who you follow when you follow Jesus. And Jesus not only stops to love the children. While doing so, he employs their presence to teach his disciples about how to come to him.


Perhaps this is why we need children with us in worship: Because Jesus has so much to teach us through them. See, they didn’t want to put up with children’s priorities, and wanted them out of the way. Jesus saw them as important parts of the family of God, and a means of teaching the grownups what really mattered. Is there anything in the church world more controversial even today?

Let’s close with a story from our own Nicole Kitchen. She’s telling, in an e-mail, of something that happened on her way home from worship with her four-year-old son, Lucas:


Pastor Monte …


I have to share what happened after church today … it was truly one of those experiences that leaves your hair standing on end. As Lucas and I were driving home … Lucas exclaimed out of the blue (or was it?!) … “Mommy … God can see us but we can’t see Him. God is master of camouflage!” When he exclaimed this, I pulled the car over to the side of the road and immediately wrote his words down. He asked me what I was doing … and I told him I wanted to write what he had just said because I didn’t trust my memory to remember this special moment. He laughed and said, “Mommy … you’re so silly.” Then, before I could respond, he went into this prayer: “God … thank you for my Megan and my Mommy and my Daddy. You follow me everywhere I am. You can go in my room and sleep with me if you get tired. I’ll leave my light on so you can see. Thank you, God, for EVERYTHING.”

Needless to say, I just about cried. I must have sounded different to him because he asked me if I was okay. I turned to him and said, “Lucas … I’m more than okay … I’m truly blessed because I have you and our wonderful family. Truly gifts from God.” Lucas replied, “Mommy, it’s okay … just say thank you and God will know you like your gifts.”

So … thank you … thank you … thank you!

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