Sermons by Bernard Bell
Matthew 1:18-25 How can Jesus be born of Mary if Joseph is not the birth father? When Joseph found that his betrothed Mary was pregnant he pondered these things. How can this be? An angel gave him the answer: “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The same Spirit that hovered over the waters prior to the first creation, had now overshadowed Mary’s womb. God sends the same Spirit into us to birth a new creation. How can our broken pots be repaired so that they are even more beautiful than the original? It is the same answer: from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:1-17 Over the four Sundays of Advent we will follow Matthew’s account of the birth story of Jesus (Matthew 1–2). We’ll find answers to four questions about this newborn child. Who? Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. How? From a virgin through the Holy Spirit. Where? In Bethlehem. Whence? From Egypt to Nazareth. In each case this is in fulfillment of the Scriptures.
Exodus 33:18-34:9 At the Burning Bush, Moses asked God, “What is your name?” He gave the enigmatic reply, “I am who I am,” which he then clarified as “He is.” In Hebrew this name is Yahweh, usually rendered in English as “The Lord.” At Mt. Sinai, Moses asks God, “Please show me your glory.” Instead, God proclaims to him his name, Yahweh, the Lord, giving a description that became confessional for Israel.
Exodus 33:1-17 When you imagine God’s face, what do you see? A friendly face or an angry face? David prayed, “Hide your face from my sins… Cast me not away from your presence (face)” (Ps 51:9, 11). Many of us fear it’s the other way around: God hides his face from us but keeps our sins ever before his face. Maybe that’s because we’ve superimposed someone else’s face onto God’s face. For Moses, the Lord’s face (or presence) was all-important. The Lord used to talk with him face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. Moses wanted that presence to go with the people of Israel, despite their great sin.
Exodus 32:15-35 Satisfied in Him Alone. Jealousy is usually a negative trait, describing inappropriate longings. But there’s one situation in which jealousy is appropriate: a marriage. Once a couple marry, their affections belong within the marriage. Transferring them outside the marriage should arouse jealousy. Israel transferred its affections to a golden calf, breaking the second commandment. God forbids making and bowing down to an image in the likeness of anything because he is a Jealous God. His name, even, is Jealous. God has won our affections and bound our soul fast. He wants us to be able to say of him: my love he owns, I have no longings for another, I’m satisfied in him alone.
Exodus 32:1-14 Maybe some of you have made New Year’s resolutions. You’ve embarked on the year with renewed resolve to be different, to be better, to try harder, to achieve some goal. But how long do such resolutions last? The Israelites were full of resolve when they entered into covenant with the Lord: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” We return to Exodus to see how the Israelites are doing in their resolve. On top of Mt. Sinai Moses has been in the Lord’s Presence, receiving instructions for the people: “Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” We turn to the foot of the mountain where we find the people experiencing Absence not Presence. Their resolve to live a life of faith collapses and they demand something they can see. We all, like them, are prone to wander, and so we pray, “Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”
Stories and The Story The Bible contains many stories, some familiar, others unfamiliar. Our new art exhibit depicts many of these stories. The Bible as a whole tells a single story, into which these individual stories fit. Much of this overarching story is depicted in the window which was installed ten years ago. To start the new year we will consider God’s story and how it intersects our story.
PRELUDE: GOD Before God can come to his world and his people, there must be a world and a people. But before that there must be God; and so we begin at the very top of the window with God, represented by two symbols. On the left is the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In the Old Testament God declared, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isa 44:6 esv; cf. 48:12). In the New Testament Jesus applies the same language to himself: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13; cf. 1:8, 17; 21:6). Everything begins and ends with God, and so our thinking must begin and end with God, otherwise we’ll get everything wrong.