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At first glance this week’s texts seem to be saying, “My God is better than your God” and that doesn’t sound quite right to modern ears. We tend to trust that everyone finds a path to God that is right for them and don’t worry too much about whose God is greater. But when it comes right down to it, don’t you want a display of God’s power like the one Elijah elicited? I mean, Baal didn’t even show up, but the God of Israel consumed the offering, the altar, and the water. Who doesn’t want to see that?

Of course, the alternate reading from 1 Kings just emphasizes that there is no God greater and the Psalm sings out God’s greatness. If you are reluctant to preach that our God is the greatest, where else can you go?

Galatians, of course. In the middle of this short passage is the ultimate question – Whose approval do we seek? Paul makes it quite clear that if he were seeking human approval he would not be a servant of Christ. This question puts the first reading in a different light.

Think of a time when you knew, beyond any doubt, that you were serving God, doing exactly what God wanted you to do. Did it not feel like the Holy Spirit was in and through all things? Didn’t it feel as if God’s power consumed everything, stones, wood, water, and all? When we are in that spiritual zone, serving God with no strings attached, even the display of power granted Elijah seems dull in comparison. Of course, if Elijah had only been showing off for the Baal worshipers, then nothing quite so spectacular would have happened.

The centurion of the Gospel reading knew this. He didn’t need Jesus to come to his house to believe that the impossible was possible. He was in that spiritual zone. He did not care what his fellow centurions or those who served under him thought. All he sought was God’s approval and the people around him could shake their heads and avoid him all they wanted. It simply didn’t matter because Jesus mattered more in that moment.

Now I’m thinking of all the times when I was seeking only human approval and how poorly those times turned out. Because it is an election year here in the US, I can’t help but wonder how certain candidates would present differently if they were looking at something other than human approval ratings. Imagine presidential candidates running solely on a platform that would be pleasing to God… Moreover, imagine a body of voters voting in ways that please God…

On the one hand these texts are complex and mysterious. On the other hand, they are beautifully simple:  serve only God, seek only God’s approval. It would be nice if it were as easy as it is simple, but we humans are complicated creatures and we need approval. Too often we look for it in all the wrong places.

Here’s a thought:  What would you preach if you were concerned only with God’s approval and not so much with what folks in the pews might think?

Whatever you’re preaching, wherever the Spirit is leading you, please join in the conversation here. Perhaps together we can sort out what is pleasing to God.

Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, vlog, and books at Beachtheology.com.

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15 thoughts on “RCL: Approval Ratings

  1. After churning wheels yesterday and today, I think that I have an idea of something. The current passages were not speaking to me, so I jumped ahead to next week’s passage from Luke 7:11-17….the widow from Nain and the healing. It bothers me that Jesus says “Do not weep.” Which led to a question of why it was bothersome…which led to a contemporary reading of Psalm 42 (poem by Rael Mason) and a contemporary song by Mandisa (gospel singer) entitled, “Just cry.” Sometimes not expressing our emotions (safely and in healthy ways) can make us really sick. So there is the sermon theme…and the place of wrestling… But I think that it relates to being a people pleaser too. Next week we have a Children and Youth service, which has multi-faith passages, so I felt okay about jumping ahead. I may try to work in some of this week’s lessons into the sermon…we’ll see.

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  2. Dee, it sounds like you’ve got some good ideas going. If the youth aren’t using the lectionary for next week, you’re good to go. Most lay folk aren’t that attentive to the lectionary.

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    1. The Children and Youth are off-lectionary next week— I know this because I incorporated various readings from a multi-faith perspective when helping the volunteer coordinator, so I am safe in using next week’s passage from the gospel. 🙂 One exciting thing about next week’s service is that the children/youth will be helping me with communion…love that.

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  3. I have just returned from the Festival of Faiths, an interfaith gathering that explored Paths to Nonviolence this year. The major issues addressed were anti-Muslim and other forms of racism. My folks will get a summary of what it’s like to gather with such a group, and Luke is a perfect text for the occasion.

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  4. Working with the idea of Jesus being surprised and the connection to faith from unexpected places/people. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. A bit stalled out now.

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  5. Joy, that sounds like fun. I like the image of a surprised Jesus and find myself wondering if I’ve ever surprised him… I know faithful people in unexpected places often surprise me, but how often do any of us surprise Jesus with our faith?

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  6. 9pm and I’m just sitting down to begin to write the sermon. I’ve spent the last 4 hours helping the contractors try to unclog the main drains, sopping up sewage, and then cleaning the basement up. (Drains still aren’t clear, more work ahead tomorrow.)

    But, it’s not like this Sunday’s sermon is THAT important…it’s only my first Sunday filling in for my Senior Pastor who has just begun a 12-week sabbatical. Sigh.

    Yes, I’m nervous, Yes, I can see the humor in the situation. No, I don’t know how I can weave sewage into the story of the centurion. I did come up with a title, (in order to satisfy the office manager’s need to complete the bulletin) “Simon Says.” Perhaps Simon Says, “No more sewage!”

    I’ll be back…

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    1. Only your first Sunday filling in? No worries – you’ll have 11 more weeks to write awesome sermons, this one just needs to be functional. Hope it’s going well for you!

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      1. Thanks to you both for well wishes! I was nervous, as usual, and as usual skipped a section in the Order of Worship. Today’s miss was the Prayer Of Confession, which some folks mentioned from the pews, so we went back and said it. Lol Nice that they wanted to say it, eh?
        Sermon was Ok. I was so nervous that I forgot to mention the sewage. lol Received some nice comments so that always feels good. Hope your Sunday’s were blessed. 😃

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        1. Glad you made it through, nerves and all. Congregations are usually forgiving and most people find it comforting when they see that the pastor is just as likely as they are to be nervous and make mistakes. Here’s to a sewage-free week! Blessings!

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  7. Ummm, wow! I think if you tell folks what you’ve been up to, they’ll accept any sermon and forgive whatever it might be lacking! Clogged drains and cleaning up sewage are an adequate hindrance for sermon prep, not to mention what it might do to one’s morale. Good luck with all of it and my your congregation be blessed with understanding!

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