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Sermon for August 20, 2023 – Proper 15

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 5039 God Redeems our Misfortunes
Heber Ticas

When James Clear was in High School, he was accidentally struck in the face by a classmate’s baseball bat. The injury was so severe that he almost died at the hospital. After his horrific injury, James had a long road to recovery.

A year after the accident, James fell behind his teammates, but during his junior year he made it on the junior varsity baseball team. The next year they put him on the varsity team, but he saw almost no playing time.

James decided to find out how he could make improvements to his game. He studied everything he could find about making small daily habits that would eventually help him to succeed.

By his junior year in college, he not only played on his varsity team, but he also became the team-captain, and was named as an Academic All-American.

James became passionate about sharing his results with others and started writing a series of articles for major publications. His writings were read by coaches of various professional sports leagues, who in turn, shared those articles with their players.

His book, Atomic Habits, became a #1 New York Times bestseller which has inspired millions. He states none of this would have been possible without the tragedy that befell him on the baseball field.1 

The Bible records a similar success story of a boy who had to overcome his own tragedy. Out of jealousy, his brothers threw him into a pit and then sold him to slave merchants who sold him to Egypt.

As Joseph grew, he found favor in Pharoah’s household. He even becomes one of the most powerful individuals in the land.

Years later, during a famine, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt for grain. When they arrive, they are brought before Joseph and don’t recognize him. Joseph recognizing his brothers, decided to play a little game with them. Ultimately, he couldn’t contain his emotions and he revealed who he is.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
Genesis 45:4-5 (NRSVUE)

Despite the tragedies he went through, because of God’s intervention, Joseph was able to accomplish great things. If Joseph had just lived his life without his trials, he wouldn’t have ended up in the position to be a blessing to so many people.

Joseph recognized how God used his life circumstances to prepare him for leadership. As he gave God praise for his plan, wisdom, and graciousness. Joseph also learned to hold no bitterness towards those who were responsible for his trials.

Most of us have probably encountered events that caused us to feel helpless. Situations where we ended up thinking there can’t possibly be anything good that comes from this. However, we can look back and see that God did make something good out of the situation. What once felt hopeless, turned to another reason to praise God.

Maybe you are going through something difficult right now. Acknowledge that God is greater than your situation. Ask him to help see you through whatever it is that you are facing, all the while trusting that his intentions for you are always wise and loving.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

1) James Clear: “Atomic Habits” An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones: (New York, NY: Avery, An Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2018)

Psalm 133 • Genesis 45:1-15 • Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 • Matthew 15:21-28

This week’s theme is God’s unifying work. In our call to worship Psalm, the psalmist speaks of the beauty of unity. In Genesis, we see Joseph being reconciled to his brothers through forgiveness. In Romans, Paul emphasizes God’s mercy to Jews and Gentiles in unison, and in Matthew, Jesus heals a Canaanite woman’s daughter, showing that God’s mercy is for all people.

His Mercy Endures Forever

Romans 11:1,2a,29-32 (NRSVUE)

Read, or have someone read, Romans 11:1,2a and 29-32

A teacher is passing out graded assignments to his students. When he gets to Johnny he says, “On this assignment I’m giving you an 8.” Johnny replies, “Out of…?” “Mercy” says the teacher. “Out of mercy”.


While it’s good to have a merciful teacher, it’s way more important to have a merciful God. Some in the church of Rome assumed that God’s mercy had run out for some but was still in effect for others. Let’s dive deeper into the issue at hand and find if God’s mercy really does endure forever.

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. (Romans 11:1-2a NRSVUE)

Paul starts out this section with the question, has God rejected His people? To make sense of why Paul would ask that, we need to look at the context.

Throughout his letter to the Romans, he has been addressing the tension that has been ongoing between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. Some of the Gentiles were assuming that since the gospel had come to them, that could only mean that God has rejected the Jews.

Paul’s answers this question by emphatically stating this is not the case. Our modern versions of the Bible treat it politely, but Paul nearly swears with his response. The very idea to him was ludicrous. How dare anyone suggest such a thing!

As proof of the absurdity of arguing that God’s mercy ran out on the Jews, Paul offers himself as an example. He asserts that he, himself, the apostle to the Gentiles, is a descendant of Abraham. Not only that, but he is from a tribe (Benjamin) that, had it not been for God’s mercy, was nearly wiped out (Judges 20:46-48).

Paul had even been a persecutor of the church, and yet God chose to show mercy to him and went so far as to give him the great honor in bringing many people to faith in Christ. If God had wanted to stop showing mercy to the Jewish people, Paul would have been a good one to start with.

Throughout the Old Testament we see the Jewish people turning away from the covenant God had made with them. And each time, God spoke through a prophet to remind them that he is not going to break his everlasting unconditional covenant with them, but he will continue to show them mercy.

We can all think of things that we have done that were wrong. Things that were not at all what God would have wanted out of us. But in all our mistakes, all our sins, we can know that there is one who has shown us mercy and continues to do so daily. God has not given up on you, nor will he do so. His mercy endures forever.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29 NRSVUE)

In the verses between 2 and 29, Paul makes his case that although many Jews have rejected Jesus, he has not rejected them, but he has also extended his invitation to the Gentiles.

Paul points out that the inclusion of the Gentiles did not diminish the importance of the Jews in God’s plan, and that through the Jews, blessings of God would come to the whole world, and have already done so.

Paul concludes then that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable. What God has promised will come to pass. The calling that Abraham received in Genesis 12 to be a blessing to all nations has never been revoked. In fact, the fulfillment of that calling was accomplished in Christ.

If God has not given up on his people, Israel, then he will certainly not give up on us either. We have inherited the everlasting covenant established in Christ. God could no more give up on us than he could give up on his son, Jesus.

You may understand that God will continue to show you mercy, but do you ever feel like you have messed things up so badly that God could not really want anything to do with you? That his plans for you are to simply wait it out until eternity?

God is the God of infinite chances. Through his covenant with you, his love has no limits. He will never abandon you nor give up on you. To use a sports analogy, he will never kick you off the team or make you feel less than. Even if you are sitting on the bench, he reminds you of your significant contribution to the team. He will keep you in the game.

Earlier in Romans (chapter 8) Paul asked another rhetorical question. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? The obvious answer was “nothing,” and “no one.” It is not possible to be separated from his love. One of the things in chapter 8 that was mentioned was “the future.” Not even the things that we will do in the future will cause God to withhold his love and mercy from us. His mercy endures forever.

Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so also they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they also may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. (Romans 11:30-32 NRSVUE)

In these verses, Paul is explaining that God’s mercy extends to all people – both Jew and Gentile. He points out that the Gentiles, who were once disobedient have now received mercy because of the disobedience of the Jews. And similarly, the Jews have now become disobedient, but by seeing the mercy extended to the Gentiles, they may also long for that same mercy. The problem was that the Gentile believers were falling into the same trap that the Jews previously fell into. They started to conclude that mercy was only for them.

Paul’s point is that God’s mercy is not limited to any one group of people. God’s mercy is for all, regardless of their background or past behavior. And this is possible because God has bound all men to disobedience. All are prone to sin and in need of God’s mercy.

In WW2, a German pilot named Franz Stigler was ordered to shoot down a British plane flown by Lt. Charles Brown. Stigler saw how poor of a condition Brown’s plane was in and figured out that the Brit was just trying desperately to fly home. Brown was a sitting duck, and his death was certain.

Instead of obeying his orders, Stigler escorted Brown to a safe zone that was unoccupied by the Germans. After the English lieutenant landed safely, the German pilot saluted him and headed back where he lied to his commanders about destroying the wounded B-17.

Lt. Brown tracked down his unlikely merciful savior nearly fifty years after the war. The two remained friends until Stigler passed away in 2008.1

When it comes to mercy, God does not play favorites. His concern is not which side of the battle lines you are on, what tribe you are a part of, or where your political leanings lie. His design has always been to show mercy to all. None of us are beyond the mercy of God. Let us receive his mercy today, and let’s extend his mercy towards others. His mercy endures forever!

1) https://mindsetopia.com/inspiring-stories-of-mercy/

His Mercy Is More w/ Jeremy Begbie W3

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August 20 — Proper 15 of Ordinary Time
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, “His Mercy Is More”

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Program Transcript

His Mercy Is More w/ Jeremy Begbie W3

Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope of the month. It’s Romans 11:1-2a, and 29-32. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 15 in Ordinary Time, August 20.

So I ask you, has God rejected his people? Absolutely not! I’m an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God hasn’t rejected his people, whom he knew in advance. Or don’t you know what the scripture says in the case of Elijah, when he pleads with God against Israel?

God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back. 30 Once you were disobedient to God, but now you have mercy because they were disobedient. 31 In the same way, they have also been disobedient because of the mercy that you received, so now they can receive mercy too. 32 God has locked up all people in disobedience, in order to have mercy on all of them.

I’ve heard it said Jeremy, people don’t abandon people they love, they abandon people they use. God doesn’t use us in the ways we often think about using in our fallen human condition. He loves us and his love doesn’t recoil even in our rejection of him.

So how should this inform our understanding of God, our understanding of the human family? And I know this is again, another big one. And how we bear witness to the kingdom of God? And you’ve got five minutes.

Jeremy: I have to ask for extra money for this, I think.

Yes. I don’t have the answers to all these things. That’s the first thing to say there. I think there is a real mystery going here. Just to back off a bit or back away from Paul’s argument at this point and look at the bigger picture. I think that Paul’s argument, in my mind, very crudely and broadly is that yes, the Jews have rejected the Messiah, but because of that rejection, through that rejection, as a result of that rejection, the gospel has, so to speak, bounced to the Gentiles. And the Gentiles have received it, or many have, gladly.

And then his hope is that the Jews will re-receive it or will rehear it and receive it, I should say, rehear it and receive it through the ministry of the Gentiles. So, there’s a wonderful pattern there, as it were, from one to the other. One rejects, so it goes to the other in order that it can come back to those who reject.

And that’s what Lesslie Newbigin, the great Presbyterian minister and missionary—I recommend anything he writes—but he talks about the logic of election. It’s not a case of choosing one and rejecting the rest. It’s choosing one for the sake of the rest. And then the rest, they’re chosen for the sake of yet others, and they’re chosen for the sake of yet others and so on.

I think that’s what’s going on in [Romans] 9, 10, 11. What he’s been saying earlier in particular in chapter 9, is the gospel. This is how God has always worked. It seems that some have their hearts hardened, and then the gospel or good news goes elsewhere. But then it can come back to those whose hearts were hardened.

Now, the trouble with this—and I’ll be honest, I don’t have any easy answers to this—that language of “hardening of hearts,” that’s hard language, or “locked up in disobedience.” I do believe that when we reject God, God, so to speak, confirms our choice in some way, in some mysterious way. I can’t work out all the ins and outs of that, but there’s a kind of confirmation of the decision that we’ve taken.

But Paul’s great hope for someone in that position, when we see someone doing that, is maybe this will enable someone else to come to faith, who can then share their faith with the person who has rejected God initially. That’s Paul’s hope. So, I see the whole thing basically as about hope.

Just a little story that might relate a bit to this, my brother, he’s been—all his adult life—a chronic schizophrenic, very ill and very unlikely to recover or be cured from this, of course. He may or may not be a believer, I don’t know precisely. But I often asked myself, why have I had such a wonderful life in comparison to him?

Or to put in the language of election, why have I been chosen and not him? And that great “why” that things have turned out this way, I have no answer to, particularly. That is, of course, a mystery. But the question, of course, that I ought to be asking, what can I do or say for the sake of my brother, in order that love of God might work through me to him?

That’s the question. The metaphysics of choice, I can’t work out. But that God is at work in love for the salvation of the world in this strange and interesting way where the gospel bounces from one to the other, I can believe in that. I can believe in that because of Jesus.

So that’s a roundabout way of going. But it’s a hard, hard problem because it seems to make God slightly manipulative on this.

Anthony: Yeah. This is where Tom Torrance has really helped me to think through Jesus as the elect one of the Father on behalf of all humanity. And that allows us to have hope even when we don’t understand.

Jeremy: [inaudible] in Ephesians, Christ is called the beloved. We can just skip over that very easily. But hang on a minute. That’s election language. That’s the language God uses of Israel. So, Christ now comes into Israel’s place and becomes the elect one, and yes, indeed the rejected one as well.

So, election or rejection, they’ve all been taken care of in Christ so I can trust his mercy, his way. And I think that’s what Paul’s relying on here. It’s a great message of hope, [Romans] 9, 10, 11.

Anthony: Let’s bring mercy and Israel together since you just mentioned them. Verse 32 states that God has mercy on all.

So, what does all mean? This is another one of those contested areas. Does all mean Israel? Does all mean Israel and those who confess Christ? Or does all mean the totality of humanity? What say you?

Jeremy: Indeed, there are about five or six different views on this. Some want to say this means every Jew then and every Jew then and now, some would say, and every Jew of the future without Christ. No. I can’t believe that’s what Paul is saying. Salvation through Christ is so critically important for Christ.

My own line on that—I changed my mind on this a number of times—I think would be something that all believing Jews and believing Gentiles and that salvation comes to Jesus Christ. All the true heirs of Abraham might be another way of putting it, but it’s contested.

But one thing I don’t think it means, no, I can’t believe it means. It doesn’t mean the totality of humanity. It couldn’t mean that. Sometimes this has been used to justify universalism. No, Paul lives in hope. He doesn’t ever, in my own view, ever get the position where he’s saying every single person will be saved.

That would be dogmatic universalism. I think Tom Torrance actually uses that kind of language. That seems to me to go well beyond what Paul is actually saying. I think Paul lives in hope, as we should. And it’s not for us to judge. Mercifully, I’m not in God’s position. Being God is a very exhausting business, by the way.

And a lot of us try to be God, forgetting it’s a very tiresome, it’s a heavy responsibility trying to be God and make divine judgements about everything. It’s not for me to judge the eternal destiny of this or that person. It’s my job to hold out hope—the hope, as it is in Christ.

So, am I dodging that? Probably. I don’t know exactly what it means; that would be my line.

Anthony: I didn’t know where you were going to play dodge ball, Jeremy. That wasn’t on the assignment for today.

No, I hear you. And this again is why we look to Jesus Christ, don’t we? Because we see who he had mercy on in his physicality in the historical Jesus. And he had mercy on people I wouldn’t have mercy on. And in that mercy, he was wooing them to himself.

It’s so interesting to me that people that were nothing like Jesus, liked Jesus. They were drawn to him. They wanted to be with him. And that is good news.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Share a time when you felt that there was no way out, yet God made a way out for you.
  • How has God worked through your circumstances and tragedies to help others?
  • Where do we find the ability to trust God during unfortunate events in our lives?

From the Sermon

  • What would cause the Gentile believers in Rome to think that God’s mercy ran out on the Jewish people?
  • Share a time when you struggled with having to show mercy towards someone. Also, share a time when someone showed you mercy.
  • Find a few Old Testament passages that describe God’s enduring mercy towards his people.
  • What are some ways that we can extend mercy towards others, especially towards those who are very different from us?

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