Rev. Johan Olivier Last Three Sermons:
Scripture Reading Luke 17:11 – 19
Thanksgiving Sunday reminds us that life is out of joint when we fail to give thanks.
A rabbi once said: Gratitude is the key to a functioning faith - I did not make the air I breathe, nor the sun that warms me; I know I am not a self-made man.
The way by which some people receive and receive and receive yet without ever saying “Thank you” is perplexing – perplexing it seems, even to Jesus in our reading today: Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Does only this foreigner return to give glory to God? (17,18)
I know it’s not true of everybody but there are people who act much like the little boy who was given an orange by a man. The boy's mother asked: What do you say to the nice man? The little boy thought for a moment and then handed the orange back to the kind man and said: Peel it.
Failing to express gratitude sooner or later fosters a sense of entitlement.
After being surprised at the fact that only 1 out of 10 had returned with thanksgiving, Jesus says to the Samaritan who did come back, Stand up and go. Your faith has made you well.
All ten lepers were healed, but there is a hint in Jesus’ final words that maybe just the one who came back to say “Thank you” was also healed in some deeper sense. Perhaps Jesus is hinting that only those who properly respond by giving thanks to God for his goodness show that they “get it,” and that they have a spiritual understanding of how the universe works and through their gratitude everyone can see that salvation is operative in their lives.
The Samaritan in our reading today sets a wonderful example for us all.
He saw a reason to praise God. He saw that his life was forever changed for the better. He saw a change that only Jesus could have made possible.
His trip to the priest at the temple was suddenly a pointless trip. He realized he had just encountered the very presence of Almighty God. He had just received the very best gift anyone could ever hope to receive.
And the only place he needed to go was back to the source of that presence, back to Jesus, back to the one who makes all things new and possible.
We never hear about the other nine lepers again. They were cured. They took the traditional path and were ritually declared “clean” by a priest; but they never returned to Jesus. They were re admitted into the world they had been banished from, but they missed out on their ticket to a new existence, to a new reality that was beyond anything they had ever known before.
The challenge of our reading and a true Thanksgiving celebration is not to keep our gratitude within our carefully structured lives but to turn around and step into the holy presence of Christ the bringer of healing and new life!
Jesus is able to reach us and save us. When these lepers could not get to Jesus, Jesus got to them and we come to understand Jesus comes to us as well and we should turn around and we give thanks!
There are so many obvious things we give thanks for today – our wonderful safe country, enough to eat and drink, a home or an apartment we live in etc.
I want to close – in my preparation for today I came across a story of a father and mother of a young soldier deployed in military service overseas and he unfortunately lost his life in action. His parents came to their pastor wanting to give a monetary gift as a memorial to their son who died in battle. The pastor said: what a wonderful gesture and asked if he could share their gesture with the congregation. They agreed and the next Sunday he told the congregation of the gift given in memory of the diseased son. On the way home from church, another couple was driving home when the husband said to his wife: Why don't we give a gift because of our son? And his wife replied: but our son didn't die in any conflict! Our son is still alive! Her husband replied: That's exactly my point! That's all the more reason we ought to give in thanks to God.
Let’s all look into our lives – we will find a reason to thank God today and every other day of our lives!
Scripture Reading 1 Corinthians 10: 14 – 22
A shared meal is considered a sign of friendship. Many a time one of the first things a couple does when they start dating is to go out to dinner. Frequently executives from companies that merge would seal the deal with a meal. One of the functions of a wedding reception, with all its food and drink, is to draw the bride and groom's families together.
There is something fundamentally human about eating together. In fact, sharing meals is one thing that separates humankind from the animals – do yourself a favour and watch some YouTube clips on lions or hyenas or wolves feeding on a carcass. Human beings turn eating into a social event, where it's considered an insult to "wolf" your food or eat "like a pig."
Sharing a meal together has a way of breaking down barriers and bringing people together.
No one understood this better than Jesus.
No meal has greater power to unite people than the Supper of Our Lord where we receive the bread and juice, symbolizing the body and blood of Christ and in some special, mystical way, people are brought together in Him not divided by age, gender, race or social status because we are all the guests of Jesus at his table.
Listen to verse 17 again: we all eat from one loaf, showing that we are one body.
When I observe the world we live in, I see so much "division". Nations are divided against another. Countries are divided within themselves, the worldwide church is divided, many denominations are divided amongst themselves; some congregations are divided and many people find themselves in divisive camps in society and sometimes in congregations.
The Lord's Table is not a place of division but a place of love, unity and solidarity; a place of oneness for all of God's people.
In John 17:21 just after Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper; he prayed to the Father that his disciples "may all be one."
World Communion Sunday – we share our unity with Christians of all denominations and we share our unity as Christ’s body at Knox.
This unity is constantly threatened - today as it was when Paul wrote these words to the congregation in Corinth.
One threat for unity then and now is idol worship.
Idols are things that replace or overshadow our love for God and our love for one another as members of Christ’s body.
In an Old Testament perspective idols are the creation of human imagination. This is true of modern day idols as well - creations of human imagination. The dangerous and sad part of allowing idols to start running our lives are the fact that they should be subject to us as their creators but people allow them to develop a power and life of their own that brings about the folly that people choose to start obeying their own creations instead of the God of creation, the God who sent his Son whose table this is.
Isaiah 44: 9 How foolish are those who manufacture idols to be their gods. These highly valued objects are really worthless. They themselves are witnesses that this is so for their idols neither see nor know. No wonder those who worship them are put to shame. 19 – 20 The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?” 20 He trusts something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”
Friends this table and Christ who is the owner of this table who invited us to join him at his table is no piece of wood that we can treat as if we have created it – he is the creator and we never should forget this. Holding bread and grape juice in our hands today is not a lie. When we are part of the one bread and body Paul says: we cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of idols; we cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of idols (21).
How many divisions are caused amongst Christians because we prefer to highlight our differences – which might be our own little idols we have manufactured over a period of time and now cling to - rather than our unity as one family in Jesus Christ?
I sometimes really struggle with congregational realities where the Christ family can't just enjoy the fact that we are a united family and deal with our differences in the light of our unity prayed for by Jesus in John 17 and reiterated by Paul in our reading today?
I am deeply saddened when families are torn apart by those in a family who want to bicker, argue and constantly complain; maybe you have firsthand experience of what I am talking about.
I wonder how it must sadden our Lord when he sees the same thing going on in his family - the Christian Church - when one group won't commune with another because of some minor issues.
When we come to the Lord's Table today, let’s set aside all bickering, pettiness and anger from our hearts.
The common loaf reminds us of Jesus Christ who is the Bread of Life and it is the Bread of Life who unites us!
In reaching out to bread and grape juice today we are doing something radical.
We are participating in and are witnesses to the New Creation in Jesus Christ. Yes, this world is still torn apart by racial, social, economic, and political divisions. Yes, sometimes you still may not like your neighbor very much, but this World Communion Service is a rehearsal for the time when all creation shall be united under the headship of Jesus. It's a glimmering of the glory which is to come, through the grace of God. That Kingdom of peace and justice and righteousness, the "New Jerusalem," coming down from God "like a bride adorned for her husband," will arrive, in God's good time, and you and I are meant to be part of it.
Scripture Reading Psalm 90
Time flies we say. Pretty much what Psalm 90 also says.
Yes that time and tide waits for no man is a saying that older people can agree with but teenagers and children find it difficult because for many of them time goes by too slowly. I can still recall how long a year felt when I was a child – moving from one Christmas celebration to another or one birthday to another felt like a lifetime.
That’s why you often hear human beings young and old say: I wish. I wish I was done with elementary school; I wish I was 16 so I can start driving, I wish I was done with high school; I wish I was done with college or university; I wish this baby was old enough to tell me what’s wrong instead of just crying; I wish the kids are done school; I wish I could retire.
Then something strange happen, for many seniors a new wish list appears: I wish I was still younger, I wish I could still do what I did when I was twenty and as older people we ask: where did the years go?
I will never forget what my grandmother many a time said when we her grandchildren started wishing that time would move a bit faster; she would say: don’t wish your life away because she understood and quoted Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90 for us - Seventy years are given to us! Some even reach eighty. Soon our days disappear, and we are gone (10).
As we age we know from experience that whatever we do to try and turn back the clock, it doesn’t work.
Time is like taking an elephant for a walk, leash around one hind leg, but if the elephant gets spooked and starts running it’s better to let go because we know there is no way we will be able to stop it – true of time isn’t it – we as modern day people can travel wherever we want in this world but there is nothing we can do to turn back the clock – time is like taking an elephant for a walk.
Moses realized this when he prayed this prayer and he had a wish which I believe is a wish God wants all of us to include in our spiritual wish list for our lives in the light of the time that flies reality: Teach us to make the most of our time so that we may grow in wisdom (12) and (17) may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!
This prayer, this wish is to be read against the background of this limited resource know as time. As human beings we won’t be on earth forever (2-6) - (1) Through all the generations God is like our home! “All the generations” of verse 1 stands in contrast with (2) before the mountains were created, before you made the earth and the world, you are God without beginning or end. Generations come and go, and all generations are subjected to (5,6) - people are swept away like dreams that disappear or like grass that springs up in the morning. In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered.
We have all kinds of metaphors to refer to old age – we hear people refer to old age as the golden years, or the evening of life or the winter years.
I try and refrain from referring to older people in this way, not because I qualify for seniors discount at some stores myself, but because experience in ministry have taught me that many a time it’s not always seniors who find themselves in the evening of life or in their winter years, many younger people find themselves in this season, they just don’t know it.
Wednesday morning I received a what sup message from my sister in SA informing me that one of our cousins passed away because of septic shock – he went in for a minor operation and nobody would have ever guessed that this would happen – he was in his winter at age 64 and he didn’t even know it, neither did we as a family.
Psalm 90 teaches: we are all in a sense living in our golden years; none of us knows what awaits us tomorrow or next week or a month or a year from now.
Moses in his prayer is well aware that there is a spiritual reason behind the time limitation on life here on earth.
Death wasn’t part of God’s original plan with his creation, but because of human disobedience and turning our backs on God, death entered the good world God created – the Bible story about the origins of time limitations to life is to be found right at the beginning of this Book – the first 3 chapters of Genesis – death wasn’t something that God wanted for us but we humans choose it for ourselves. This is what the words in (7-9) refers to – words that we sometimes try and avoid in our ministry and modern day world but words that give a spiritual perspective on life’s time limitation - We wither beneath your anger; we are overwhelmed by your fury. 8 You spread out our sins before you - our secret sins - and you see them all. 9 We live our lives beneath your wrath. We end our lives years with a groan.
These verses doesn’t mean God is angry with us or hates us, the Good News sounds loud and clear from the Bible John 3:16,17 For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.
These words in Psalm 90 means disobedience had consequences – Gen 3:19 - All of your life you will sweat to produce food until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.
This spiritual perspective on our time limitation enables us to pray (12) whether we are old or young – Teach us to make the most of our time so that we may grow in wisdom. This is the wisdom of Proverbs 1:7 - The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction; or we can paraphrase: Start with GOD - the first step in learning is bowing down to GOD; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.
This wisdom enables us to live each stage of life with thanksgiving, because life is a gift from God and He has given beauty in each stage of life – from the youngest present today to the oldest present today.
To live through each life stage with God’s wisdom relieves us from constant worries about how long we will live and how we will meet all our basic needs. Biblical wisdom makes us more concerned about how we fill the gift of life given to us with meaning. Is this world a better place because I lived?
Jesus asked the question in Matthew 6:27: Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And he answers: in (33) Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need; saying seeking the Kingdom and living righteously is living a wise life of meaning and adding value.
We all have a limited amount of time given to us, which we can use to build a better world, a better congregation, better interpersonal relationships in a positive way; or we can be indifferent to the limitations of time and choose to not make the best use of our time at all; or we can use most of our time to break down our world, our congregation or interpersonal relationships in a negative way.
Nobody’s life, at least the people I know, always run smoothly. Sometimes we experience life as Moses did in (10) Seventy years are given to us! Some even reach eighty. But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble.
As a New Testament people we know that Christ came to fill these times of pain and trouble with His presence Hebrews 4: 15,16 Jesus understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testing we do, yet he did not sin. Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.
We can pray as Moses did in (17): may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!