The season of Easter lasts for 50 days, which means we have six Sundays between Easter and Pentecost. But our New Testament does not really have six Sundays worth of stories about what happens between Easter and Pentecost, and so we are fast-forwarding a bit. This morning's story also comes from the book of Acts, after the Holy Spirit has come upon the early church and the message is starting to spread.
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I have decided that the book of Acts might be my favorite thing to preach. The Old Testament is just weird. With the gospels there's a lot of pressure to explain everything Jesus said and people always want to argue about whether it's true. When you preach the letters in the rest of the New Testament you have to do a lot of theology. But the book of Acts? It's a lot of crazy stories that just are what they are and we get to decide what to make of them. And this morning's story is in my opinion the best one in the whole book of Acts.
Guest Preacher Rev. Beth Long-Higgins on the Great Commission
This morning's reading from the scripture needs very little introduction. You know what you came to hear. Allow me simply to remind you of the themes of Matthew: righteousness and discipleship. Following Jesus is not about what we think but about how we live. Resurrection is the final piece of that. The author of the book of Matthew wants his audience to really get how important this moment is so he packs in all the drama he can: an earthquake, and an angel who rolls away a stone, big burly military men fainting in fear.
This is the final parable of judgment. In fact, it's the very end of Jesus' teaching. This parable is part of what happens in between the Triumphal Entry and the last supper. In the book of Matthew, everything after this text is story. This is the end of Jesus' response to the disciples wanting to know when they can expect the "end of the age." Jesus tells them that nobody knows when that will be. So the point is how we live in the meantime.
This morning we are going to spend a few minutes looking at another one of Jesus' parables of judgment. Our worship this morning centers around the communion table, and in a few minutes we are also going to welcome in some new members. The parables of judgment describe a kingdom where God includes everyone before we have the chance to exclude ourselves, and we're going to hear another example of that this morning. This parable is one in a series that Jesus tells about the timing of God's arrival.
For the past several weeks we have been exploring together the parables of Jesus, the stories he uses to describe his mysterious Kingdom. Describe it, but not explain it. Parables tend to raise as many questions as they answer, and that's certainly the case this morning. In the gospels, Jesus tells three kinds of parables. There are parables of the kingdom, where the point is the kingdom grows in a mystery (like mustard seeds and yeast). There are parables of grace, where the kingdom is accomplished by death and resurrection (like the prodigal son).
For the past several weeks we have been exploring together a couple of the parables of Jesus. These parables are the stories that Jesus uses to describe his mysterious Kingdom. Describe, but not explain. Parables tend to ask as many questions as they answer. They don't lend themselves to a nice correlation of this equals this. Parables are designed to throw us off balance and make us think. There are parables of the Kingdom, which Jesus tells and does between the feeding of the 5,000 and the Transfiguration.
This morning we begin a series on the parables of Jesus. Not all of them, because there are a lot. But a few of them. A few parables of grace and a few parables of judgment. Grace first, so we are grounded in the right thing. This is how we are going to spend Lent and wrap up our study of Matthew. Parables are fascinating. Jesus told lots of them; all the gospels record at least some of them. The Greek word for parable simply means comparing one thing with another. But parables are NOT simple. We often assume they are simple because they are stories and they are short.
This morning we continue in a similar theme from last week. Since last time, Jesus has been traveling, healing both Jews and Gentiles, teaching, and generally ticking off the religious establishment. So you know, standard Jesus stuff. This morning we come back around to interactions specifically involving Jesus and Peter. Peter is an important guy in the stories of Jesus' life and ministry, not because he's better than anyone else, but because he's just like everyone else. He's just like us. We are supposed to see ourselves in Peter. He's enthusiastic in his desire to follow Jesus.
This morning as we continue through our discussion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, we are going to hear to some verses that may get some us in areas where we feel sensitive. They might remind us of harsh things we've heard in church in the past, or times when God has not been presented as loving. But the fact that other people have used these texts poorly is not a reason for us to ignore them. This is our sacred text, and we are not afraid of what's in here. When the Bible gets difficult, it is tempting to pull out all the reasons that it might not speak to our culture. For example, the Bible doesn’t account for the range of gender roles, sexual identity and expression that we now understand exists in the world. Our topics for this morning—adultery, marriage, divorce and making promises—were different in the ancient world. And this is important for us to realize, especially because it can keep us from using the Bible against other people.