This morning we begin a six-week series on the book of Romans. Perhaps no book in the whole Bible has been as influential and as controversial as Romans. And the same goes for its author, the Apostle Paul. Most people either love him or hate him. Guess what? As always, black and white answers are too easy. First of all the apostle Paul was a human being just like all of us. He is not just one thing. He has strengths and he has flaws. His theology, especially his expectation of Christ's return, evolves throughout his writing.
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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.
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 begin a six-week series on the book of Romans. Perhaps no book in the whole Bible has been as influential and as controversial as Romans. And the same goes for its author, the Apostle Paul. Most people either love him or hate him. Guess what? As always, black and white answers are too easy. First of all the apostle Paul was a human being just like all of us. He is not just one thing. He has strengths and he has flaws. His theology, especially his expectation of Christ's return, evolves throughout his writing. He was a deeply religious and observant Jewish man, and a flame-throwing reformer. He wrote at least seven books of the New Testament, and as many as six more were written in his name by people who learned from him. Romans is one of his latest letters and there's a few important things to keep in mind as we study it. The first one is that at this point, nobody had heard of Christianity, including Paul.