Counting the Cost

Let’s talk about fear for a minute, deep, paralyzing fear. I’m not talking about the kind of fear that makes you cover your eyes in the scary parts of the horror movie. Some time I must tell you about Ervin Smith. He was sitting beside me when we were both little boys, watching this old time horror movie when suddenly the scary part came. The next thing I knew Ervin wasn’t there anymore. He had run up the aisle to the lobby in less time than it takes to tell it. I’m not talking about the kind of healthy fear that sends the adrenalin pumping through your blood and prepares you to remove yourself from the danger, fast.

I’m talking about the kind of fear that lies there in the pit of your stomach day and night and gnaws at your life and saps your strength like a cancer. What makes people afraid like that? The fear of losing something or someone valuable to them. For example, money. Money has power and I mean more than purchasing power. Money has the power to make us afraid. If we have grown up where there wasn’t enough of it we may be afraid that there won’t be enough again. The other day I heard a financial advisor talking about security. He said that he advised people not to figure in Social Security benefits as they plan for their retirement for you never can tell. Now, I am counting on Social Security and that didn’t reassure me a bit. Money has the power to make people afraid.

There are other things that make us afraid. Two of us were discussing the other day, which is the dearest relationship, that between parent and child or between spouses? It probably depends on the circumstances and the individuals involved, but the loss of either can be a devastating event and thinking about that loss can make us afraid. The loss of a child can be so devastating that marriages sometimes don’t survive it, compounding the loss. People have been known to commit suicide over the fear of the loss of a parent or some other important person.  It was that sort of fear that Jesus was talking about.

Luke 14:25-33

The Cost of Discipleship

25 Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus. He turned and told them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his own life, he can’t be my disciple. 27 Whoever doesn’t carry his cross and follow me can’t be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. He will first sit down and estimate the cost to see whether he has enough money to finish it, won’t he? 29 Otherwise, if he lays a foundation and can’t finish the building, everyone who watches will begin to ridicule him 30 and say, ‘This person started a building but couldn’t finish it.’

31 “Or suppose a king is going to war against another king. He will first sit down and consider whether with 10,000 men he can fight the one coming against him with 20,000 men, won’t he? 32 If he can’t, he will send a delegation to ask for terms of peace while the other king is still far away. 33 In the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.”

You heard what he said. He said unless you renounce everything you cannot be my disciple. There were all those people following him. He was at the height of his popularity, and he said to them, “Do you know what you are doing? Have you counted the cost?”

Let me tell you what I think he was saying to us. If your world is built around anything when it fails you, and it will fail you, then your world will collapse. It is not possible to store up enough money to be really secure, no matter what your financial advisor tells you. There is no human relationship that you will always be able to count on, for human relationships are always under the power of the grave. That’s what he meant in this apparently harsh statement about hating those important persons. To be a disciple of Jesus is to build your world around him knowing that he will never fail you.

Count the cost. What is the cost of discipleship? Trust in God. Trust in the God who gives you this day your daily bread. Trust in the God who snatched Jesus from the power of the grave. What do you have to lose? Your money? Fear, that deep, paralyzing fear that lies there in the pit of your stomach and won’t go away.

So, how do you renounce everything? It was just a little tiny crucifix, no bigger than that, Leona had been given it by her Czech grandmother. She was a Methodist and a crucifix shouldn’t have meant that much to her but it did. For some reason her family had just sort of melted away. They hadn’t died, her father and mother were still together, but in the years since she had been an adult she had found out what their relationship was really like. Now her father came to pour out his weakness to his daughter and it was often more than she could bear. All this time it was her grandmother who stood firm, but last year when she died it was as if her world had nothing left to hold it together. Lately she had carried that little crucifix around with her as if her life depended on it. But one day she came into my office. She held out her hand and said, “Here, give this to someone who needs it worse than I do.” You don’t ever have to be afraid of losing what you have given away.

This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch on September 7, 1986 at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas.  If you would like to receive notifications of new posting to Rumors of Angels, you can subscribe to this blog in the upper right corner of this page

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Enabling the Vision

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This parable is a difficult parable. In fact, I don’t know of any that is more difficult. I am not alone in this assessment. It is a parable that has caused consternation among interpreters ever since. If you just look at the story, it looks as if Jesus is commending a man for his dishonesty.

Luke 16:1-13

The Parable about a Dishonest Manager

16 Now Jesus was saying to the disciples, “A rich man had a servant manager who was accused of wasting his assets. So he called for him and asked him, ‘What’s this I hear about you? You can’t be my manager any longer. Now give me a report about your management!’

“Then the servant manager told himself, ‘What should I do? My master is taking my position away from me. I’m not strong enough to plow, and I’m ashamed to beg. I know what I’ll do so that people will welcome me into their homes when I’m dismissed from my job.’

“So he called for each of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ The man replied, ‘A hundred jars of olive oil.’ The manager told him, ‘Get your bill. Sit down quickly and write “50.”’ Then he asked another debtor, ‘How much do you owe?’ The man replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ The manager told him, ‘Get your bill and write “80.”’ The master praised the dishonest servant manager for being so clever, because worldly people are more clever than enlightened people in dealing with their own.

“I’m telling you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails, they will welcome you into eternal homes. 10 Whoever is faithful with very little is also faithful with a lot, and whoever is dishonest with very little is also dishonest with a lot. 11 So if you haven’t been faithful with unrighteous wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? 12 And if you haven’t been faithful with what belongs to foreigners, who will give you what is your own?

13 “No servant can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth!”

If you strip away all the cultural stuff, household slaves and credit arrangements, the man in the story defrauded his employer out of fifty barrels of oil and twenty bushels of wheat in order to feather his own next. Now, I know that is not an unusual story. Perhaps some of you who are employers have had employees like that. You would be surprised if Jesus commended someone who had done that to you.

And if you just look at the commentary that follows the story it doesn’t help much at all. I know that it was hard to follow as I read, but go home and read it for yourself and if you can untangle it all let me know. When it comes to this explanation of this parable, I need all the help I can get.

But I think that I understand one verse out of it, “Make friends by means of unrighteous mammon so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.” It is that verse that I want to choose as a text and comment on this morning. I think that it means that everyone of us would like to make something really good happen.

One Saturday afternoon Debby and I were strolling down Kenyatta Avenue a couple of blocks from our hotel in Nairobi. The streets of Nairobi are always busy but Saturday afternoon they were busier still. A young man walked up beside us and said, “From the United States, what state?” “Texas,” I said. “Oh, Texas A&M. That’s where I would like to go to school. Will you tell me more about it?” When I asked him what he wanted to know he wanted to know about prejudice. I told him that I thought that African students in this city did not suffer unduly from prejudice. Later he pressed me about the KKK. He didn’t even know that KKK stood for the Ku Klux Klan. Somebody had frightened him with the KKK, however, and when I told him that they were free to operate but had little influence he had difficulty understanding our idea of freedom. He invited me to talk with him and his friends a little more about the United States and since we had had little opportunity to speak with local persons I agreed. There were three of them. There had been four in the beginning, but one had died on the way. Their story was that they were Ugandans. Uganda, of course, borders Kenya on the west. They had fled from the civil war in their country because they didn’t want to be drafted to kill their brothers in the north. They had come this far with the aid of the Nomadic tribes. They had no papers. They were trying to get to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania from where they hoped to get to the United States to study. They needed money, of course. I gave them six hundred Kenya Shillings, about $25. I am as puzzled today as I was that day about whether their story was true. I believe that they were Ugandans, and I have decided to believe the rest of the story and I tell you why. Every one of us would like to make something really good happen. What if you could? That brings me back to the text.

Make friends by means of unrighteous mammon. It is a difficult passage and the first difficulty is in admitting that money is unrighteous. We would rather believe that money is neutral. We would rather believe that it doesn’t have power to do evil things to us. Here I am indebted for this insight to Richard Foster and his book Money, Sex and Power, where he reminds us that money has its dark side and its light side and that you can’t get hold of its light side until you acknowledge its dark side.

Money has power, and not just purchasing power. It has power to make us afraid. It can make us afraid that we will lose it or that we won’t have enough of it. It doesn’t matter how much you have, in fact, the fear is sometimes in proportion to the amount you have.

And it has a great power to do evil, to corrupt the nicest people. That’s one of many arguments against legalized gambling. There is so much money involved that somewhere along the line that money will corrupt even the honest among us. My evidence is simply all the places where that has happened, New Jersey, New Mexico. It is not just bribery. If you don’t think money has a power over people just ask any banker. You probably know more stories than I do about how the steady flow of money through otherwise honest hands makes embezzlers of them. You know some business stories. I know some church stories. One that I heard for the first time Wednesday concerned a very well-beloved and respected lay member of another annual conference, a man elected to General Conference and in every way appreciated by his colleagues. So appreciated that they made him treasurer of the funds used to supplement salaries for the underpaid ministers in the conference, he collected the funds, he disbursed the funds to the persons for whom they were intended, but over the years he siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars and used them in his private business. Why would anybody do something like that? Because money is unrighteous and has the power to corrupt.

So, how do you conquer money’s unrighteous side? Let me give you Foster’s eight steps.

  1. Begin with the Biblical witness. Look up all the things the bible has to say about money, and there are a lot of them. Jesus said a lot about money.
  2. Consider money from a psychological perspective. Are you afraid of money? Are you afraid to be without?
  3. Only when you have come to terms with how money makes you feel can you plan your budget and think about the poor.
  4. Gather others around you who can help you. Sometimes it is easier to talk to other people about sex than it is about money, but find other Christian people to help you shape your financial decisions.
  5. I like this one, dethrone money. Treat it with contempt. Take it out and stomp on it, yell at it, show money that you serve God and not mammon.
  6. Side with people against money.
  7. Don’t allow yourself to value people just because they have money.
  8. Maybe I like this one best of all. Bring the ministry of prayer to bear upon your decisions about money.

I will be the first to tell you that money has a power over me. It has the power to make me afraid. When the church gets in money troubles as we are now I get all sorts of bad feelings. We had to take some drastic measures this last week because we were way over drawn at the bank and Mr. Orr doesn’t like that. My fears make me feel bad and wring my hands and say what are we going to do. The answer ought always to be to pray. Not because prayer is a means to raise money, contrary to what you will hear on so-called religious television occasionally. Prayer is an end in itself. It dethrones money by insisting that Jesus is Lord, not mammon. So I invite you to pray about money.

The ninth thing, perhaps the way to dethrone money best of all, give it away. The god mammon cannot endure the generous heart that laughs and says, “It’s only money.”

What if you could make something really good happen? Jesus said you can. He said, “Make friends by means of unrighteous mammon so that when it fails they will receive you into the eternal habitations.” It puts you in mind of that other place where Jesus said, “Don’t lay up treasure on earth, lay up treasure in heaven.” You have heard it said all your life that you can’t take it with you. Maybe not, but Jesus said if you do it right you may be able to send it on ahead.

Let me tell you something really good. Look on the front of your bulletin. See what it says down there about serving God and this community from this location. More than has ever been true in the time that I have been here, I sense that there is a firm commitment to that vision on the part of the people of this church. Specifically it is a commitment to shape our worship so that it invites people, men, women, children and youth, to be included in this worshiping community. Specifically it is a commitment on the part of the members of this church to ask people all over this town, what can I do for you? Would you like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Specifically it is a commitment to communicate that vision to ourselves and to our community so that we will know and they will know that we are unalterably committed to serve God and this community from this location. We have written our budget this year so that it reflects that four-fold commitment. When we have our budget campaign this fall it is very simply for the purpose of enabling that vision. I ask you to bring the ministry of prayer to bear upon God’s mission for us in this place and upon they way you commit your money to it.

What if you could make something really good happen? Not all by yourself, but what if the little part that you do could open the eyes of the blind or make the deaf hear? Several years ago a friend of mine told the story about being present at such an event. It seemed that his mother suffered from some sort of ear condition that had seriously impaired her hearing. He happened to be chaplain in one of our Methodist hospitals and when one of the physicians there heard him describe the condition he said, “We can fix that.” It is a surgery that has since become quite common. It seems that for some reason one of those little bones in the middle ear, the stapes, I think, becomes immobile. The surgery makes it mobile again. It has to be done while the patient is upright and awake. Because he was chaplain they invited him to stand in and watch. When the climactic moment came the surgeon said, “Step around there in front of your mother so that you can see her face.” He said when the surgeon put that tiny little bone in its place her whole face lighted up. He could hear from just that little thing. Just a little thing in the right place at the right time. What if you could make something really good happen? You can. Make friends by means of unrighteous mammon. Thanks be to God.

This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch on September 21, 1986 at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas.  If you would like to receive notifications of new posting to Rumors of Angels, you can subscribe to this blog in the upper right corner of this page

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All this summer I want to talk with you about prayer and the one thing I want to say about it is that the Bible holds up for us models of prayer. That’s what I have tried to say the last few weeks. We read the stories of the woman who sought to touch the hem of Jesus‘s garment and the man who came to get Jesus to come heal his daughter and they are models for prayer, just ask! just ask! We talked about how to pray for the nation and there David is the model, for God build David’s house. Last Sunday we read about the disciples whom Jesus sent out with nothing but a stick and they are models for prayer because it is not what we bring to the journey but what God gives along the way.

And today we read about this David and Bathsheba business.

2 Samuel 11-15

1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,[a] and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

Hmm! Well, it is getting a little harder, isn’t it. I guess I want to remind you that David has always been understood the be the author of the Psalms. In fact, if your Bible is like mine it says that the one we read, this fifteenth Psalm, is a Psalm of David.

Psalm 15

1 LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?

2 The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
4 who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the LORD;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent. Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He who walks blamelessly.” Hmm! Sort of lets David out, doesn’t it. And maybe the rest of us too, and at this point I think that I will worry about the rest of us more than about David. Well, let’s see what we can find in this story about David as a model for prayer.

You know, that’s a funny thing about the Bible. They never got it all cleaned up. Now David is the greatest hero, maybe next to Moses, in all the Bible. You would have thought they would have edited these stories and cut this one out. Not good for little children to hear. If they put in on TV you oughtn’t to watch such trash. Donald Wildmon would go wild over this one. Sort of reminds me of books that have been rushed into print without proper editing. We ought not say such things about David. But that’s a funny thing about the Bible. The issue in the Bible seems to be not so much whether you are a sinner but what you are
going to do about your sin. So maybe there is a model for prayer here.

How did David handle his sin? In the first place he tried to erase it, put things back the way they were. The idea was that if he could get Uriah to come home and go down to his house and spend the night he and Bathsheba could pretend that the baby was his. Who would be counting anyway. The problem was Uriah’s loyalty to the King. Stands in great contrast to the disloyalty of the King to Uriah, doesn’t it. Do you remember that Uriah was not even a Hebrew? He was Hittite. David even tried to get him drunk, but he slept all night at the door of the King. Pitiful!

It just never works to put things back the way they were. It can never be as if it had not been. Things are just not reversible. It doesn’t matter what has happened. Is it murder?
You can’t restore that life. Is it adultery? No way to put it back the way it was. Even theft. You can restore the property. The thief can pay back or pay compensation or pay some sort of punitive damages, but he can never be restored to that original state of innocence. A word said can never be unsaid. In the game of life a card laid is a card played. To put that in Biblical terms, when Adam and Eve left the Garden of Innocence God placed at the east gate two cherubim with flaming swords barring forever their return. But here is the good news, to walk blamelessly is not to return to innocence.

David’s second response is to cover it up. He sends Uriah back to the front line carrying the order for his death. “Put him in the front and then pull back so that he will be killed.” There
goes Uriah, loyal Uriah, secretly carrying in his messenger’s pouch his own death sentence. How could David? That’s the problem with a cover up. It always compounds the problem. Adultery turns into murder. The third rate burglary of the Watergate turns into the first rate cover up that brought down a whole administration and sent all those people to jail. Wouldn’t the truth have been a lot better? The problem is that at such times we seldom think of the truth. We more often think of how to explain it.

Do you suppose there was somebody whispering in David’s ear, “You’re the King aren’t you. You are entitled to any woman in the land. Soldiers always take a risk.” The problem with self justification is that it doesn’t work either. We always know in our hearts that it isn’t alright. But the good news is that to walk blamelessly does not require us to cover it up.

So let’s see, now, how is David a model for prayer. So far only in a negative sense. You see, we are talking about a prayer of confession here and David doesn’t get around to that until
next week’s lesson when Nathan says, “Thou art the man.” But I couldn’t wait until next week to tell you about this because there might be somebody here today who needs to hear about prayers of confession, who may have tried all the other possibilities and might not be here next week. Did you set the movie, “Moonstruck“? It is a Catholic confession. Loretta goes to the priest and she says the proper formula about “bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” “Yes, Loretta, what is your confession?” “It has been two months since my last confession and I slept with my fiance’s brother and I bounced a check at the bank, but I didn’t mean to.” “You didn’t mean to? Then that’s not a sin, but what was that in the middle? You shouldn’t do that, Loretta. Go and say two Rosaries.” Say two Rosaries? Is that going to make up for it? No, of course not, but walking blamelessly means putting it right with God. Walking blamelessly means being absolutely dependent not on self-justification but on God.

Let me see if I can illustrate that by talking about the Iranian airliner shot down by the ship in the Persian Gulf. One of the magazines described it as “when good people do bad
things.” It is hard not to call the death of 290 people a bad thing. The commander of the ship said so. He said that it was something he would have to live with for the rest of his life.
When I first heard the report it was Sunday after noon. We had sung “America” and “America the Beautiful” that morning in worship. Isn’t the fourth of July supposed to celebrate our innocence, our righteousness? “We shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” I said, as if we could go back and pretend that it hadn’t happened. “I wouldn’t put it past the Iranians to put 290 people on that airplane and deliberately send them out where
they would get shot down, just to provoke an incident,” I said next in some sort of strange attempt to cover the whole thing.

But it doesn’t work. Neither of those nor all the other reasons that we have thought of in the meantime will restore 290 lives lost. To walk blamelessly before God is to take
responsibility for our actions. It may be that there is a difference between responsibility and culpability here. To walk blamelessly is to be sorry for the result of our actions and to
say so and to know that God forgives sinners, and God puts it right because we never can.

So David is a model for prayer. The issue in the Bible is never whether you are blameless, but what you do with the whole thing. The Biblical model or confession is not to maintain our innocence nor to justify our actions. It is not even to list what we have done and left undone. We can blame ourselves. We can blame others. We can take the blame on ourselves from our friends or from the whole world. But only through faith in Christ can we
know that God doesn’t hold it against us. I had to tell you the rest of the story today. There might be someone who is here carrying around great blame today and might not make it back here next week.

Let me tell you, to walk blamelessly before God,… what a relief,… what a relief.                     – William C. Crouch

This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch on July 17, 1988 at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas.  If you would like to receive notifications of new posting to Rumors of Angels, you can subscribe to this blog in the upper right corner of this page.

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I don’t know how our poll of this congregation about your favorite hymns is going to turn out. I do know that several years ago somebody did a poll that found that the favorite hymn of Americans was this one we just sang, “Rock of Ages.” My grandmother had a picture on her wall that was entitled Rock of Ages. It was the drawing of a young woman in some great storm or other, the waters rising about her and she was trying to lift herself above the flood, clinging to this great stone cross. I suppose the part of the song was “simply to thy cross I cling.”

So when I was growing up I had a mental picture of the rock of ages as that stone cross and I had some sort of idea that to say that it was cleft meant it was carved. Well, what we have here, of course, is a mixed metaphor. Augustus Toplady who wrote the hymn took a little from the Old Testament and a little from the New Testament. You remember when Moses asked to see God and God said, “Tell you what I will do. I will hide you here in the
cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand and pass my glory by you.” Well, “rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” But then the New Testament turns to the cross.

Do you know who Toplady was? He was an English clergyman, a contemporary of John Wesley, as a matter of fact. He was a committed Calvinist and a bitter opponent of the Wesleys. The second verse of the hymn is aimed at them, “Could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no languor know, these for sin could not atone. Thou must save and thou alone.” We could talk a long time about that, but Toplady is saying in that verse that it is
not our feeling about Christ, not our experience about Christ, it is Christ that saves us. “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.”

2 Samuel 7:18-29 18 Then David the king went in and sat before the LORD, and he said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far? 19 And yet this was insignificant in Your eyes, O Lord GOD, for You have spoken also of the house of Your servant concerning the distant future. And this is the custom of man, O Lord GOD. 20 Again what more can David say to You? For You know Your servant, O Lord GOD! 21 For the sake of Your word, and according to Your own heart, You have done all this greatness to let Your servant know. 22 For this reason You are great, O Lord GOD; for there is none like You, and there is no God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 23 And what one nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself, and to do a great thing for You and awesome things for Your land, before Your people whom You have redeemed for Yourself from Egypt, from nations and their gods? 24 For You have established for Yourself Your people Israel as Your own people forever, and You, O LORD, have become their God. 25 Now therefore, O LORD God, the word that You have spoken concerning Your servant and his house, confirm it forever, and do as You have spoken, 26 that Your name may be magnified forever, by saying, ‘The LORD of hosts is God over Israel’; and may the house of Your servant David be established before You. 27 For You, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have made a revelation to Your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house’; therefore Your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to You. 28 Now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are truth, and You have promised this good thing to Your servant. 29 Now therefore, may it please You to bless the house of Your servant, that it may continue forever before You. For You, O Lord GOD, have spoken; and with Your blessing may the house of Your servant be blessed forever.”

I said that I wanted to talk with you about prayer and that’s what I want to say about it. I have wanted to talk with you about David this summer, and there is a sort of model for
prayer in David’s prayer asking God’s blessing upon his house, but I am drawn back to the New Testament and to this hymn. I think it is because I like stories. There isn’t much of a story in David’s prayer, but the New Testament, this story of the sending out of the twelve and these instructions about what not to take, there’s a story. “Nothing in my hand I bring.”

Mark 6:7-13 7 And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; 8 and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt— 9 but to wear sandals; and He added, “Do not put on two tunics.” 10 And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. 11 Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” 12 They went out and preached that men should repent. 13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.

Look with me at the story as  model of prayer. Take nothing with you but a staff. Why a staff? I looked up the word to see if there was any symbolic meaning. It just means a stick, maybe a walking stick, the kind you might use to assist you on a hike in the mountains. Or maybe it is the kind I see out early mornings, walkers carrying a stick to poke dogs away who come barking. A staff would ward off wild animals or maybe robbers, just a matter
of prudence. Take no money, no bread. We are getting ready to go to Jurisdictional Conference next week. That’s not the sort of preparation we are making for our journey. Frankly, I wonder sometimes if all our political preparation would be better left behind, but that’s not the way you elect bishops. All the more remarkable, then, these instructions, no bag, a travelers bag or a beggars bag. Francis of Assisi and his little brothers took
all but this one seriously. They carried a beggars bag. Wear only sandals. Why sandals? I’m not an expert on first century footwear, but a sandal is a rather insubstantial piece, not made for long hikes. It is a kind of symbol for something here. Don’t
wear two tunics, don’t pack an extra shirt.

What do you make of all this? Very impractical, wouldn’t you say. A couple of years ago the Board of Global Ministries did part of its training for new missionaries over here at TWU. I
dropped in just to say hello and welcome them to Denton. When I got there someone from the Board was addressing them on how to pack their worldly goods to be shipped to Africa or India, wherever they were going. These were instructions about how you can get packing barrels and how many pounds you can take and so on. Compare that to what some have called the first missionary journey. Of course these modern day missionaries were going for a matter of years.

Scholars have thought, therefore, that these instructions contain the hint of something else. Some have said that the little equipment they were to take was a sign that the kingdom
would come while they were gone. It would be a short journey. Sandals would be enough. You won’t even need two shirts. I say it is a sign of faith. You will receive whatever you need. “Nothing in my hand I bring.”

Now, how is that a model for prayer? In the first place it is a model for life. Prayer is not different from life. If prayer is different from life it is not prayer. Prayer is what is really
on your heart. Most of us already have enough, and we could leave a lot of that behind.

But let me talk to you about what’s really on your hearts. What is deep down in those secret places? What have you always wanted to do? Not what have you always wanted to have, but what sort of mark do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered. What have you always wanted to be? Why did you turn aside from it? Was it because you said to yourself, “I couldn’t do that. I’m not smart enough. I’m not rich enough. I’m too old for that or too young for that.” Where did you get that idea? Did
somebody tell you once that girls aren’t supposed to be able to do math? Think of what we do to our children when out of impatience we say, “Here, let me do that for you.” Nothing in my hand I bring. It isn’t what you bring along for the trip it is what God supplies. Leave all that behind, you will receive what you need.

When I think about this church and its future I think that we are limited only by our own imagination. God doesn’t limit us. I think about all the talent and all the energy and all the money and all the love that we can bring to bear on the life of this community. I think about how two years ago we were spending maybe $5,000 per year feeding a few hungry people in Denton. If someone had told you that in 1987 we would spend $20,000 would you have believed it? And if present trends continue we will spend $30,000 in 1988. People come up to me in the strangest places and give me a check for our Love Fund and the Manna program. You don’t always plan these things out carefully. Sometimes you just do something and figure out how to do it perfectly later on. Look at all that we can bring to the life of this community. No, that’s not it. Leave all that behind, talent, money, buildings and land. Begin with the fact that we are sinners, and whatever we need along the way God will supply. Nothing in my hand I bring, and that’s a model for prayer.

Now, I don’t know what to expect from that sort of prayer. That’s no promise that if you pray you will get rich or pass the test or whatever. I am aware that God answers prayers with a no as often as a yes. I don’t know what will happen if we pull back the curtain drawn over those secret places in our lives, our deepest hopes, our fondest dreams to do some great work for God. I don’t know what God will do with this church. I only know what
the Bible says, take nothing for your journey except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money in your belt. Wear sandals and don’t take two tunics. And they did and the Bible says, great miracles. They preached repentance and cast out demons and anointed with oil those who were sick and healed them. Do you suppose…? Nah! We couldn’t do that. But we aren’t talking about what we can do, we are talking about what God supplies….Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling. – William C. Crouch

This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch on July 10, 1988, at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas.  If you would like to receive notifications of new posting to Rumors of Angels, you can subscribe to this blog in the upper right corner of this page.

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Unless the Lord Builds the House

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I said last Sunday that I wanted to talk with you about prayer these next few weeks, maybe for this whole summer season. I guess I would want you to pray for a vision for this church of ours. I am praying for such a vision, for without a vision the people perish.

Today I said that I want to talk with you about praying for our country. You see, part of my vision for this church, this family of God’s people, is that the community that we have
declared that we serve is the community of the nation. How shall we pray for this country of ours?

Let me say a couple of things first about the need for prayer. Scott Bennett in his newspaper column last week wrote this, “The American people seem uneasy about streets filled with ragged people, unsafe skies, roller coaster stock markets, drug abuse, crime, holes in the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, illegal immigrants and a leviathan national debt.” That covers most of it, doesn’t it. He went on to point out how difficult it would be to get elected to anything if you ran on a platform like that. Someone handed me this article from one of the news magazines the other day. I won’t bother with the article, but Dan
who teaches at Northwestern University said this, “In our society where individualism plays such an important role, we don’t have a public ethic about what we owe to others.”

It is good to think about that sort of thing on this day when we remember the Declaration of Independence, when we remember Thomas Jefferson‘s stirring words about “pledging our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” I was reminded of this book ”Habits of the Heart“, the thesis of which is that this country was founded on the Republican and Biblical principles of concern for the common good, a public ethic, and divorced from it a democracy cannot survive.

So how do we pray for our country? The Psalm teaches us, “Unless the Lord build the house those who build it labor in vain.”

Psalm 127

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

3 Children are a heritage from the LORD,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.

So, let me turn to the Bible, that’s enough quoting from these authors. If you have your Bibles turn back to that story from Samuel.

2 Samuel 7

1 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”

4 But that night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying:

5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders[a] over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me[b]; your throne will be established forever.’”

17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.

David had decided to build a house for God. It is not good enough for God to dwell in a tent. You sort of have the feeling that either David pitied God, or David thought he would be able to earn God’s gratitude. But Nathan the prophet, who was a thorn in David’s side more than once, brought this message, “Has God ever complained about the tent?” Then God turns the whole thing upside down. “You have it all wrong, David. You aren’t going to build a house for me. I am going to build a house for you.”

Ah, but what is the house of David? You might read this as a promise that David’s son Solomon would build the temple. But it is really a promise that David’s son Jesus of Nazareth will build the everlasting temple. If you want to turn to the New Testament:

Mark 6:1-6

1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.

This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is called the carpenter. Elsewhere he is called the carpenter’s son. Here he is the carpenter, the builder. Here his mighty works are not houses made with hands, but a people of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, erected to bear witness to God.

The business of the church is not to run the United States. The business of the church is to be that Body of Christ, that temple of the Holy Spirit, that house that the Lord has  built,
that shows forth justice, that is a shelter for the poor and a place for the swallow to build her nest. The church is an alternative to the individualistic ethic that will destroy this
democracy. My fourth of July sermon is less about the nation than it is about the church. If we will hold up those Biblical principles of concern for the common good then we shall be a city set on a hill that cannot be hid. That is my vision for this church. The best way that we can serve our country is to pray for our country and the best way to pray for our country is to renew ourselves as a Biblical people. “Unless the Lord build the house those that build it labor in vain.”
This sermon was preached by William C. Crouch on July 3, 1988 at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas.  If you would like to receive notifications of new sermon postings to Rumors of Angels by email, simply subscribe in  the up right corner of this blog page.

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I Could Just Touch Him

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I think that I have told at least some of you about my friend, the one who used to pray during the Lenten season, “Lord, during this season let me feel the wounds, let me know the sufferings of Christ.” The problem was,she said, the Lord answered that prayer. Her children got sick, her husband was laid off. She said, “You would have thought I would have learned, but no, I prayed that prayer a second year in a row, with the same result. You would think that I would have learned.” But the whole point of prayer as I have understood it from the scriptures, is that you don’t think. Prayer is not calculating. Prayer is not a weighing of alternatives in a self conscious way. Prayer is bring God the deepest desires of your heart and in a very unselfconscious way, just asking.

So I want to talk with you about prayer today and I want to talk with you about prayer next week, too. Next week, Independence weekend, I want to talk with you about praying for our country. But today, I want to talk with you about prayer out of this strange Gospel lesson. Not so much that I want to reason with you about prayer as to hold up this woman,and this man who is the other part of the story, as models of those who pray.

You will remember that the story of the woman with an issue of blood is really a story within a story. There was this man who came to Jesus begging Jesus to come heal his daughter well, let me read the whole story to you.

Mark 5:21-4321 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.                                   A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.            30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”                                                                       “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”                                                                                                                           32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”                                                                                                              35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”                                                                                                                                          36 Overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”                  37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Now, if you have never read that story before, if you just wandered in here off the street with your skeptical attitude on this morning, that’s a very strange story. If you are going to listen to it at all, you have to suspend your rational faculties or you have to screw up your mind to read it as some highly symbolic allegory. The whole thing smacks a bit of magic doesn’t. This woman who says to herself, “If I can just touch his clothes!” That sounds
more like what you would expect from some groupie at a rock concert. “If I can just touch one of Michael Jackson’s sequins I will never wash this hand again.” Or it may sound like something you used to hear from those border stations, “Just send your dollar to ‘prayer cloth’ XCLO, Clint, Texas.” Or, “we will send you this beautiful life sized statue of Jesus Christ that glows in the dark, and if you send today, we will have it autographed.”

His disciples scoffed at the idea too. You see all this crowd of people surging around you and you ask, “Who touched my clothes?” Come on, now. If you wandered in here this morning with your skeptical attitude on….

But if you wandered in here off the street because you were as desperate as these two must have been desperate,then this story makes a lot of sense. Look at the story and the story within the story with me, not from the perspective of the skeptical disciples but from the perspective of these other two.

In those days Jesus was attracting great crowds. As soon as he got off the boat they came running to him, all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. “Excuse me, let me through, please. Please, let me through to see him. This is an emergency. My little daughter.” He carried the title, President of the Synagogue, lay leader or Chairman of the Administrative Board, or maybe mayor of the town, but titles did not matter. He was just a father this day. He neither showed Jesus his credentials nor asked for any. He simply took him by the sleeve. “Hurry. My little girl. She is at the point of death, but if you will come quickly maybe you can save her.” So they hurry down the street toward his house, all the crowd pressing around. Suddenly he stops. “Who touched me?”  “Never mind that,” come quickly, my little girl,” and the words choke in his throat. But Jesus is suddenly tending to another need. It takes only a few minutes but that is long enough. When they start toward the house again they come to tell him, “Never mind. It’s too late. Your daughter is dead.” What do you suppose, desperation turned to anger at the interruption?And Jesus says, “Come on. It’s never too late.” At the house the scoff at him again,but he puts them outside, takes
the little girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up.” And she gets up and he says, “Why don’t you ever feed this poor thing. She looks half starved.”

The woman’s story is really the same story, except her desperation is described differently. She never intended an interruption at all. She intended to slip up behind Jesus and just touch his clothes. Now, you may think the story is a little hard on doctors, and it is, but read it as a description of her desperation. Imagine if you ha;d been ill for twelve years. spent all that you had and were none the better but worse for it. Does she have this conversation with herself or with her closest friend, “If I can just touch him.” When she does she feels it in her body, and Jesus feels it too. “Who touched me?” The crowd has
covered her for a moment, but with fear and trembling she comes forward and tells Jesus the whole truth. Isn’t that a marvelous phrase. Prayer begins with telling the whole truth, keeping nothing back. Prayer begins and ends with telling God what is in your heart,the deepest desires of your heart. Jesus tells her that she has been healed of her affliction and the word describes something more than her physical condition. All these years she
has been outcast. She has been ritually unclean, so that she could not even practice her religion. There is even something of a note of punishment about her condition and Jesus says, “That’s all behind you now.”

Put yourself in the place of these two, a woman who for twelve years had tried everything. She was ready to give up. “If I could just touch him.” A man whose daughter was at the point of death. Is there anything you wouldn’t do if your daughter were at the point of death?The whole countryside turned out to look for the little boy lost in Garland last week.

Oh sure, prayer raises a lot of theological questions. Does God really answer prayer? Can Jesus really do this? How do you ask correctly? Lord, if this is your will let my daughter be
well. But none of these questions means anything. Prayer is what is really in your heart. “Come quickly, my daughter….” “If I could just touch him.” How do you do it? Just ask, just ask. Sure that leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but if you wandered in here off the street today as desperate as these two it doesn’t matter, does it.

But I must warn you. Prayer ought to come in a container with a label clearly marked: “This stuff may be hazardous to your health.” Remember my friend who prayed to feel the wounds of Christ? And remember this even stranger story of the Ark of the Covenant.

2 Samuel 6: 1-15 1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah[a] in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name,[b] the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it,[c] and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets,[d] harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.                                               6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.                                                                                                                                    8 Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.                                                                                  9 David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?” 10 He was not willing to take the ark of the LORD to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 11 The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the LORD blessed him and his entire household.                                                                                              12 Now King David was told, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

The ark was a kind of trunk where the holy things of Israel were kept, the two tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments, for example. On top of it was carved a little seat that stood for the place where God sat. It was the holiest thing that Israel had. They were moving it to David’s new capital at Jerusalem when the oxen stumbled and Uzzah put out his hand to steady it, and the Lord smote him on the spot and he died. “If I could just touch him.” It could incinerate you. It could burn up your old way of life. Francis of Assissi had to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. Albert Schweitzer had to leave behind two great careers, organist and theologian, and become a medical missionary to Africa. The Seminaries are full of second career people. I don’t know what it could do to
you if you really open up the deep desires of your heart to God. He could heal you or he could slay you. But maybe if you wandered in here as desperate as these two today it doesn’t matter. “If I could just touch him, if I could just touch him.”

This sermons was preached by Bill Crouch on June 26, 1988, at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas.  If you would like to receive notifications of new posting to Rumors of Angels, you can subscribe to this blog in the upper right corner of this page.

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At the beginning of World War II, the man who was our pastor said to us one Sunday morning, shortly after the war began that during the course of the war he did not plan to make commentary of the events from the events from the pulpit, that is, he would not preach on the war.  He said that by way of explanation of something very important, that he as our pastor who responsibility it is to preach the gospel was not a commentator of the world situation.  No preacher ought to be, but when world events, the world itself, threatens to undo us as Christians then we must defend the faith and ourselves by making a clear and unmistakable restatement of the faith.

The whole issue of our relationship as Christians to world events has been raised anew by much talk of war.  Someone said the other day that the most tragic thing about the whole situation is the lack of any voice raised in opposition  to preparations for war, from Congress on down.  But the place where this threat meets us comes from the threat of Atomic war and the announced need for Civil Defense preparations, the chief example being the whole matter of backyard bomb shelters. Seeing that the events of the world menace us in new and diabolical ways, how ought we behave as Christians?

First of all, it must be said, that we live in the world and that we cannot ignore the world, hoping that while our backs are turned it will go away.  It never has and it probably never will.  But what is the real issue involved in all this business?  Is it survival?  It would seem that from the debates that have been carried on in the letters to the editor section of Time magazine recently that is the chief problem.  But for the Christian mere survival is never the highest good.  Now I say, for the Christian, for a man it may be, but not for the Christian, not if I read the New Testament correctly.  Then what is the issue in this matter of the threats of Atomic war and bomb shelters?  If the lesson that we read from the Gospel for this morning has anything to say to us, and I think that it definitely does, then the issue is the issue that is always at stake whenever you talk about being a Christian, the issue of faith, Do you trust God? Jesus said to his disciples, “Take no thought for tomorrow.”  Whether you and I agree or not, it seems to be very plain that these are specific instructions about what it means to be a Christian in times like these.

Matthew 6:24-3424 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus’ prohibition against his disciples being anxious about their physical needs is very plain, and it cannot be softened.  Sometimes we read these verses, Be not anxious about what you shall eat or drink or put on.  In our time which has come to be called the age of anxiety we know what that means.  The problem in tense situations, whatever they may be, is not always our concern for what we are to do, it is the anxiety that often accompanies the decisions we have to make.  No matter what the decision, sometimes for one reason or another , anxiety creeps in and clouds our good judgment and paralyzes about ability to do the reasonable and proper thing.  The problem of anxiety is not simply concern, but the problem of panic.  And at the very least it can be said that Christians above all people ought to have reasons not to panic, not to be paralyzed by anxiety. But such subtle distinctions do not prohibit our doing something about the tomorrow that threatens, if we do it calmly and in the assurance that finally God is in charge of his world.  This is the difference between anxiety and concern.

But if we make such distinctions then we have misunderstood the words of Jesus, for his words are more radical than that.  He said to his disciples, “Do not seek after these things, what you shall eat or what you shall drink or what you shall put on.”  And in the most radical way, “Do not concern your selves with making provisions for these things.”  To be sure, there is no proper way for us to make comparisons between the time in which we live and the first century, but the Christian issues at stake have not changed and we cannot make any changes in the radical nature of the demands of Jesus, “Take not thought for your physical needs.”

Jesus did not make radical demands of his disciples for not reason at all, neither did he want them to ignore their physical needs because they were unreal or unworthy, but he said, “Take not thought because your heavenly father will take care of your needs.”  Jesus’ illustration was the birds of the air, who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, but the Father feeds them.  And the lilies which do not toil or spin, but are arrayed in the finest clothing.”  And the meaning of these illustrations cannot be pressed, but like all parables, these illustrations have only one point and the one point is that those who are disciples are absolutely secure in the hands of God.  Take not thought for tomorrow, for the Father who is ultimately concerned about you knows your needs better than you know yourself and in the hands of the Father you are absolutely secure.

But the second reason for Christians being prohibited from being anxious about tomorrow is that they have more important things to do for today.  Do not seek after what you shall eat or what you shall drink or what you shall put on, but seek after the kingdom of God.

Let it not be said, that Jesus intended for his disciples to understand that they were to dismiss themselves from the responsibility for their physical needs, that they were to cast away all care for themselves as if to test whether God really will care for their day to day needs as he does for the birds of the air or lilies of the field.  Jesus himself rejected such foolishness when at the time of the temptation Satan took him up to the pinnacle of the temple and suggested, quoting scripture, that he throw himself off the roof of the temple, that the angels would bear him up lest he dash his foot against a stone.  Jesus answered by saying, you shall not put God to the test, you must trust him, but you must not seek out an opportunity to put him to the test.

Rather Jesus said to his disciples, take no thought for tomorrow for you have more important work to do, the work of proclaiming the kingdom.  At the time that he sent his disciples out to all the regions of Judea to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus instructed them, do not take with you two coats, do not carry with you any provisions.  Your needs will be provided for, and you have more important things to do.  Yours is the business of proclaiming that God is giving you the kingdom, he is at this very moment assuming the authority as absolute ruler of his world, he is giving you absolute security.  That is the kingdom that you must proclaim, and because there is so little time and so much to do, take not thought for tomorrow, and the needs of it, lest you be delayed in this most important business of all.

The summary of these verses which constitute a single lesson which we read this morning comes not at the end of them, but at the beginning.  Jesus introduced this radical statement about being absolutely secure in the hands of God in  these words “No man can serve two masters, for he will hate one and serve the other or he will cling to one and despise the other.”  To seek after the things which fulfill or physical needs is to become the servant of those needs, to become the servant of the things of the world.  To be anxious about tomorrow is to seek after the things which will fill tomorrow’s needs, but Jesus elsewhere taught his disciples to pray, and to pray believing, Give us this day our daily bread, our bread for tomorrow.  To seek after the things of tomorrow is seek be secure tomorrow by our own efforts.  For to serve the world, to be anxious and concerned about these things is to ignore the absolute security that God offers, is to fail to serve God.  No man can serve two masters.  You cannot be bound to your own daily needs and serve God.  In the end unless you trust God you will despise him, and spurn the absolute security that he offers.  Take no thought for tomorrow, is the ever present radical demand to trust God absolutely.

The issue, finally, then is not our survival, but is, “Do you trust in God?”  The illustration of that issue writ large in this sixth chapter of Matthew, a hard saying, and writ large before our very eyes in this instruction that we take no thought for things that make for our physical life.  Not because Jesus despised this life.  But because in this world also in the hands of God you are absolutely secure.  You as a Christian, as a disciple, have much m,ore important things to attend to, things which ought to consume all your effort and all your resources.

You may think that such instruction is unrealistic and naive, and that it has nothing to say to you.  Let me agree with you.  It is a hard saying.  I am just as accustomed to think in terms of security as you are.  I have insurance policies and am involved in retirement plans just as you are, to make the future secure.  Neither do I think that we can simply ignore the very real possibility that all of our civil defense will be put to the extreme test.  Nevertheless, what you and I think does not change the gospel one bit.  Hard as it may be to accept, the gospel is God’s announcement in Christ, through his death and resurrection, and made plain beforehand in his preaching, that the kingdom of God is at hand, and the meaning oif the kingdom is that in the hands of the Father we are absolutely secure.

As hard a saying as it is, we dare not soften it, lest we pervert this word which is called not the bad news , but the good news.  No man can serve two masters.  The issue is as always when it comes to being a Christian, do you trust God?  I say this to you with all humility, but with all firmness…. Hear this good news and believe!

This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch at Trinity Methodist Church in Stony Point, New York on October 7,1962.  This was in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time that is considered to be the closest that we have ever come to nuclear war.  If you would like to receive Rumors of Angels posting by e-mail you can subscribe for free in the upper right corner of this blog.


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When we talk about the ministry to children, here is the problem that we are talking about.  It has two parts: First of all, that although Christians, and especially Protestants, depend for their very life on knowing and interpreting the scriptures, there is among us a very heavy burden of Biblical illiteracy, and that many of our young people who grew up in Church School, so to speak, do not know the scriptures, and do not have much speaking acquaintance with them.  The problem is increased by the fact that nobody seems to care much that this problem is remedied.  With a few exceptions, parents do not care much.  The rest of us don’t show much either, and I am afraid that it must be said, especially in Trinity Methodist Church.  About the only people who care are the teachers, and it is always difficult to find teachers to fill a staff of no more than thirteen teachers.

Now that is only half the problem.  We usually defend ourselves against this charge by being very liberal and saying, well, it is more important to teach children how to live than it is to teach them Bible stories anyway.  And of course, there is some truth there.  In the text book that we have been using for our Adult Bible Study Groups, some one pointed out a very pithy phrase the other night, in which the author said that the Bible is like a window, and if you just look at the window itself you miss what you are supposed to see on the other side.

This is a morally confused and confusing time, and in spite of the difficulty of the decisions which our young people have to make, I believe that many of them have a very high maturity and moral responsibility.  But the real point is, that we ought not let this defense obscure the failure of the Church to minister properly to its children.  These are not two different problems, but one problem with two faces.

Now, what are we going to do about it?  Every Methodist Church has been asked to observe last Sunday or today as “C” Day.  The “C” stands for two things, for children, meaning there is a call for new concern about our ministry to children.  It also stands for curriculum.  One of the ways in which this concern has expressed itself is in the decision of the General Board of Education of the Methodist Church to issue a new curriculum, new teaching and study materials for children, that means three year olds up through the 6th grade.  The change will take place in September this year.

Let me say a few things about what this new curriculum means.  Probably the most radical change is that the children’s division will be broken down into two year divisions instead of three.  At the present time we have a Primary department, with first, second and third grades, and a Junior department consisting of grades four, five and six.  Under the new system there will be a nursery class for three year olds, a kindergarten class for four and five year olds (as we have now), but there will be a class for grades one and two, together, grades three and four together, and grades five and six together.  Now the interesting thing about this new division for us here, is that this kind of division is ideally suited for our new building.

Several other changes will be made.  The teachers sand pupils books will be issued in magazine form so that they can be revised every time they are used.  Over the past several years our material has suffered from the lack of revision.  The quarter system will changed to begin in September.  That is especially good for us because in the past the quarter began in October and we have tried to get along without teaching material in September.  At the present time there are three kinds of material, Broadly graded for small church schools, Group graded for medium sized ones and Closely graded, for the larger church schools.  Now there will be just two kinds, Wesley Series and Asbury Series, and both will deal with the same subject matter, so that if you take your children to visit another Methodist Church School somewhere or if we have visitors they will feel right at home and be familiar with what is happening.  The new material will have more and better teaching aids for both teachers and parents.  It will require more teachers and better trained teachers, both very important.  If you think getting more teachers is a problem, training teachers should solve it.  Already the Commission on Education is making plans for a training session, and if all this time you have used the excuse not to teach that you did not feel qualified, you can become qualified, don’t hesitate any longer.

If all these details about new curriculum do not interest you, it probably shows how we came to have our problem in the first place,  a low degree of interest in Christian education of children.  On the other hand, you may be thinking, “Why all the fuss, is there really is not anything revolutionary about that.”  And surely it is true that the problem which we stated earlier, a Biblical illiteracy and a lack of moral integrity will not be solved by changing the curriculum, for curriculum is what a teacher uses, and if a teacher hhas something to say, a faith to witness to, he can say it through any material.  Obviously, we are under the obligation to get and use the best material available for teaching our children and the Commission on Education has taken that obligation quite seriously for many years, but that is not the answer.

There are two more things about this “C” day and its new emphasis on the ministry to children.  First of all, families, and especially parents, are called to a new responsibility.  That is why we wanted parents to be here today, to hear about it.  Parents are being asked to decide, are you really serious about Christian education?  There has seemed to be such a lack of seriousness about it, parents are going to be asked to take the responsibility to decide about this seriousness.  The Commission spoke the other evening about how parents could demonstrate that seriousness.  The talked about requirements, requiring, for example that all parents who enroll their children in the Church School buy certain books, or subscribe to the Christian Home magazine, which the parent’s magazine.  But there were some practical problems with either one of those.  They talked about devising a kind of home curriculum which parents could use to instruct their children at home in the Bible, or Church history, the Apostles Creed, and soon. (I must admit that this one appeals to men, and if anybody else is interested we might try to do it yet.)  The idea was rejected because the Commission recognized that the family and the Church School each has its own specific job to do and neither ought to expect the other to do its job.  Formal teaching is probably the job of the Church School.  The Commission did recommend these, though, making sure that children give some time to preparation.  Teachers have said that occasionally they give the children an assignment, and it would help if parents would see that it is done.  The other requirement is to see that the children get here every Sunday.  Regular attendance is very important.  But if parents are going to be asked to decide whether they are serious about Christian education or not, it would be most important of all for it to issue in an understanding of the indispensable character of Christian education.  Your children simply cannot do without it.

That is one thing that families are being called to do.  The second is that they are being called to a new responsibility to be a family.  That is more difficult, because it is not easy to know in these days what a family is.  And so an attempt will be made to provide help in the way of books and pamphlets.  One that was suggested, for example, was a pamphlet on how to have family devotions.  Families, especially parents, are being called to a new responsibility for Christian education.

But if you are not a parent, then do not think that you are off the hook, or even if you are a parent that that is all your responsibility.  Most important of all, the Church is being called to a new responsibility.  Here, I think is the meaning of the whole thing, the whole observance and emphasis, in the scripture lesson and the text.   Jesus’ family came to take him home because they thought he was psychotic, out of touch with reality, crazy.  They said, your mother and your brothers are here,  and he looked around him and said,  “These are my mother and my brothers; whoever does the will of my father is my mother and brothers.”  And the meaning of that verse from that day until this is that the church fellowship is so important and so close  and so radically new, that it is like a family and that it replaces a man’s or a child’s natural family.   It is as if those who are baptized into the Church have been adopted by new parents, and they learn through their experiences the the common heritage and worship and fellowship, the common experiments in group living, the common mission and hopes and destiny of that family, but like an adopted child, they are brought into the companionship of that family where they learn many things without being told, about how these Christians love one another, how they will sacrifice many things for one another, how they are not even afraid of death.  Some may say, the Church is that kind of family, but that is not true.  It is that kind of family by the grace of God or not at all.

For parents that means are hard thing.  It means that a Christian’s family is the Church, and if we have had our children baptized they are ours because we are also in the Church, and the important relationship that we have to them is that the Church is also in our home, where Christians are also gathered.

For the whole church it means something too.  It means taking seriously the responsibility to teach the children, both formally in a Church School, and informally by example.  Now all of you were not here last week to participate in the Covenant Service.  You will have a chance, however, to make those promises.  I understand that there were some by that Covenant.  I heard a preacher say once, if I offended you I am sorry, if the Gospel has offended you I am glad.  If someone was offended by the Covenant Service then that is probably a sign that it presented the Gospel to us.  We can be even more specific, now, if you are not a teacher, then why not?  Christian education is your job, and you must treat it as if it were yours along and ask yourself, what am I doing about it?

In the beginning we state the single problem with two parts, Biblical illiteracy and the breakdown of moral integrity.  The solution is not simple, it is painful, and requires something like being born again into your new family, by the grace of God.  It is easy to become sentimental about children, and talk about doing something for the little things, without any real concern for them as people.  If you are a part of the Church then they are as much your responsibility as if you had borne them of fathered them.  What are you doing about Christian education?  Are you teaching?  Are you learning?  In this as in any other family the children learn many things without being told.  Are you witnessing to the grace and goodness of God in your life?  We are the family of God by the grace of God alone, and so the cost is double and the responsibility multiplied.  Here  are my mother and my brothers.

This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch in 1960 at Trinity Methodist Church in Stony Point, New York.   Bill Crouch often said that the members of Trinity taught him how to be a pastor.   If you would like to receive copies of Rumors of Angels in your email, you can receive a free subscription in the upper right corner of this blog.


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The Unfinished Sentence

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All this week you have talked about last Sunday’s service, at least all of you to whom I have talked. I said to someone the other day, we have been doing the same thing for nine or ten years now, but every year it is as if we were doing it for the first time the way you respond. If you were not here last week, for the last several years we have read the whole of the story of the trial and death of Jesus on the Sunday before Easter. We add a little drama and a little music now and then. But it always seems incomplete, doesn’t it. One of our members said this week that he wanted to stand and from his place on the back row there and call out, “Go on, finish the story.” Well, we are here today to finish the story.

We forget from year to year how moving, how poignant the story of the death of our Lord really is. It requires no elaboration, no explanation. It only requires reading and the words leap off the page and become the Word of God.

Some years ago my brother was here on Palm/Passion Sunday and when someone
remarked what a good service it was and how well his brother had done, he said, “After all, he had a good writer.” That’s what brothers are for, I guess. But it always seems incomplete: Go on, finish the story. We are here to finish the story today.

Let me do a little technical Bible study with you about the end of the story. If you have a Bible with you it may note in one way or another that the oldest manuscripts end the Gospel of Mark where we ended the reading today. The King James will not do that, but most modern versions will. And that’s a bit of a puzzle. The eighth verse reads literally like this, “They were afraid, for….” It doesn’t work any better in English than it does in Greek. It seems at least an incomplete sentence. It is hardly appropriate to end the Easter story with words about fear. It doesn’t work grammatically either.

Keep your place there in the Bible, I want to come back to this verse later. Meanwhile, let your imagination run over that puzzle with me for a few minutes. Why do you suppose the story breaks off like that? What would it take to finish the unfinished sentence? Scholars have speculated that once upon a time the Gospel did not end like that. None of the other Gospels does.

Once upon a time it ended more like them, but for some reason the original ending was lost. Perhaps it was written on a scroll and constant rolling and unrolling and the ending simply wore away. It makes sense, doesn’t it. That would explain that strange half sentence at the end. It is sort of like reading a magazine article. You come to the bottom of the page and it says in the middle of the sentence, “continued on page 122.” But you turn to page 122 and it is gone. Somebody wanted the recipe printed on the back of page 122 and it is gone. So what do you do? You might rummage around in the recipe file to find page 122. You might go out and buy another copy of the magazine. Or you might sit down and write your own ending to the story.

Evidently that’s exactly what happened. Some fifty or sixty years after the Gospel was written someone sat down and wrote a more conventional ending, in fact, two endings and some of your Bibles have them both as footnotes. Now, that’s right. The Easter story does not end in fear but in joy and faith and peace.

But I regard both those new endings as unsatisfactory. They overstate the case. To read them is like watching a beautiful sunset with someone standing at your elbow giving you a running commentary on the atmospheric conditions that produce those gorgeous orange and pink and purple hues, or having someone tell you that you can’t appreciate the smell of a rose without it’s scientific explanation. Perhaps miracles are to be contemplated and enjoyed.

So maybe this really is the ending. The Gospel writers are all writers of great skill. Mark is one of the most skillful, we could easily say that he is indeed inspired. Perhaps his facility
with words deserted him when he pondered the resurrection. He was left speechless and so all that he could do was to tell about the women who had nothing to say. What do you say in the presence of the resurrection? Silence.

You see, Mark has already pronounced his final word. As the centurion stood and watched Jesus die he said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” That’s what Mark wants you to know. It is not that he disbelieves the resurrection, it is that he believes the cross. What do you say about human tragedy? What do you say when you go to visit your friend whose child has died? Nothing. Isn’t it most appropriate to say nothing. It does not mean that we are
stupefied by death. you may have on your mind volumes of comforting words, if you are a Christian you will remember that death does not have the last word, but sometimes it seems unnecessary to say so.

I think this is the ending, for all the grammatical problems. Look at all of that last verse with me for a moment. “They fled from the tomb.” It is the same word used when the
Gospel says that all his disciples “forsook him and fled.” They ran away and sought safety. From what did they seek safety, what was the threat? “Trembling and astonishment had come upon them.” Another word for astonishment here is ecstasy. It is the New Testament notion for the shaking and shattering presence of God. It was what came upon the disciples at Pentecost when their young men saw visions and their old men dreamed dreams, when they were thrust out into the street by the Spirit to tell about Jesus raised from the dead.

In all of Paul’s churches this ecstasy was the sign that the Spirit had indeed come upon them.  What they ran away from was the great and magnificent possibilities of their own life. And it is no wonder. Run away, people, get out of this place before it is too late. Get out as fast as you can. Who can look God in the face and alive. Run for your life. Do you want to be healed? No, I like my soul and body and shrivelled up like this. I have gotten used to it. They ran away from their own immolation. This is the fire that will consume your whole idea of what it means to find yourself, and you will die, and be raised from death to life. Run away, run away.

That’s the way of the world, isn’t it. So the story of the death of Jesus leaves us speechless, leaves us unfinished. It left the Gospel writer speechless, too. And we are here today to finish the story. Mark believed that the disciples were living out the ending. They ran away, but they came back. We are here to finish the story, you are here to finish the story.

Here is the pen. It is yours to write. It is a terrifying experience to stare into the emptiness of the tomb, but ecstasy, and peace and hope. “They were afraid, for…. Finish the sentence, you finish it.

Acts 10:34-43, I Cor. 15: 1-11, Mk. 16:1-8

This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas on April 3, 1989.  Rumors of Angels is available for delivered by email.  Subscription information is available in the upper right hand corner of this blog page.


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Let me explain to you about the lectionary again.  What we read here for our scripture lessons on Sunday morning comes from a three year list of readings drawn in such a way that the whole Bible is read in a three year cycle.  I use the lectionary for the sake of my personal discipline.  It forces me to deal with the whole Bible and that is good for me.  But it is good for you, too.  It enables you to see and hear and feel the wholeness of the scriptures without someone having pre-selected what you will hear and what you will not hear.

For example, if it had been up to me, I might not have chosen to read this long Gospel lesson this morning.  I might instead have read the Palm Sunday story to you about the triumphal entry  and the Palm and the children.  I think the lectionary asks us to read the crucifixion story for two reasons.  The first is that if you and I hear today were to hear only the triumph of Palm Sunday and not come again until we hear the triumph of Easter, we should think that Christianity is all victories.  It is not.  If we read only the Palm Sunday story we could easily deceive ourselves.  The second reason for reading this long story is that the passion story is in itself without a commentary a moving and powerful sermon.  Sometimes it is better not to explain the wounds of Christ.  Sometimes it is better just to gaze upon them and let the sight heal our wounded soul.  Just three images, then before I read the Gospel for you.

The first image is a parable from Soren Kiekegaard.  Once upon a time in a church in Denmark the long three hour Good Friday service was coming to a close.  From 12 until 3 the congregation and the pastor had followed the story from beginning to end.  They had been moved to tears, but the pastor perceived that they were moved less by the cross than they were by the tragedy of the crucifixion, this nice young man who had died thus.  So, he leaned across the pulpit and he said to them,”Don’t weep little children, it might all be a lie.”  And he meant to awaken them to faith.  If we are moved only to sadness by the story then we have failed to perceive what are its spiritual dimensions.

I am convinced, however, that the story itself has the power to break through that surface tension.  The way to hear the story is just to hear it.  Do not think that you must strain yourself as if by some physical exertion, by some squinting of the eyes you could probe into its deeper meaning.  Instead, let its waves of healing wash over your exhausted soul.

The second image comes from Martin Luther who one day stood before one of the many paintings of the crucifixion and Christian piety has painted.  As he gazed on the suffering all he could say was:  “Was it all for me? Was it all for me?”  It was all for you.  LEt the unrelieved power of the story touch that place in your soul.

The final image is this.  From John Donne.  His poem called “Crucifying.

By Miracles exceeding power of man,                                                                                          Hee faith in some, envie in some begat,                                                                                          For what weake spirits admire, ambitious, hate,;                                                                           In both affections many to him ran,                                                                                            But Oh! the worst are most, they will can can,                                                                        Alas, and do, unto the immaculate,                                                                                         Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a Fate,                                                                                Measuring self-life infinity to a span,                                                                                                 Nay to an inch.  Loe, where condemened hee                                                                        Bears his owne crosse, with paine, yet by and by                                                                  When it bears him, he must beare more and die.                                                                     Now thou art lifted up, draw mee to thee,                                                                                 And at thy death giving such liberall dole,                                                                                        Moyst with one drop of thy blood, my dry soule

Let the story moist thy dry soul.

Luke 22:14 – 23:56

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.[a] 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.[c]

45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”

54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

63 The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. 64 They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” 65 And they said many other insulting things to him.

66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 “If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.”

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

70 They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”

He replied, “You say that I am.”

71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

Luke 23:1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

5 But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”

6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” [17] [d]

18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”

23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then

“‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Cover us!”’[e]

31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[f] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[g]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[h] When he had said this, he breathed his last.

47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

The sermon was preached by Bill Crouch at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas on Palm Sunday (March 30, 1980).

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