Formations 06.18.2017: Everybody Has a Sermon

2 Chronicles 15:1-7

From 1993 until 2004, CBS News ran a feature called “Everybody Has a Story.” Someone would throw a dart at a map of the US. Then correspondent Steve Hartman would go visit the place where it stuck, pick a name at random from the local phone book, and do a story on the person he found (assuming they were willing, of course).

The idea for this feature came from newspaper reporter David Johnson of the Lewiston, Idaho Morning Tribune, who has been doing the same thing in his hometown for more than two decades. Hartman admits he started doing the same thing as a joke. “I never dreamed you could actually find good stories like that. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

If everybody has a story, we might suggest in a religious context that everybody has a sermon. In today’s lesson, we hear the sermon of Azariah.

In all the Old Testament, Azariah son of Oded has only one recorded sermon. To be honest, his sermon isn’t particularly unique. It hits the main themes of Israel’s ancient theology: God will bless those who are faithful but withdraw from those who are not. As he concisely tells King Asa, “The LORD is with you as long as you are with him” (v. 2). He reminds the people of hard times that now lay in the past and encourages them to press on in the confidence that their work will be rewarded.

This passage is one of several where prophecy is directly associated with “God’s spirit.” Isaiah 48:16-17 and Micah 3:8 also make this connection. When the Spirit comes upon a prophet, he or she delivers a word from God that can bring both criticism and encouragement.

It’s the same, I think, with our sermons, whether they are proclaimed from pulpits or on assembly lines or across dinner tables. The Spirit moves in us, transforms us, and communicates through us. The stories Hartman discovered all have uplifting messages about hope, love, kindness, or some other virtue. During this season after Pentecost, we might do well to reflect on where those stories, those sermons, come from.

Everybody has a story. Everybody has a sermon. What’s yours?

Steve Hartman, “Everybody Has a Story, Flashbacks,” CBS News, 11 Jan 2013 .

Discussion

• What are the “sermons” that have most touched your life?
• How many of these sermons were delivered through preaching, and how many in other ways?
• What is the sermon of your life?
• Can a fairly traditional, ordinary sermon like Azariah’s still be life-changing? Explain.
• What is the role of the Holy Spirit in shaping and proclaiming our stories?

Reference Shelf

The Nature of the Israelite Prophet

The OT prophets were not so much predictors as they were proclaimers. Their major interest in the future grew out of their concern with the present. They had been sensitized by the voice and spirit of God and proclaimed God’s special word to their specific historical situation. When they spoke of the future, it was not so much in terms of general prediction as in terms of what must happen if their people did not change their lives, repent, and turn to God.

The Hebrew prophets were people who felt deeply. They were devastated by the suffering of oppressed people and by the anger of God over sin and rebellion. Frightened by people with power, they were more afraid of what was going to happen and so proclaimed their message with audacity. The prophets were not philosophers thinking about what was going on in their world. They were activists, concerned with life as it is, with people as they are, with blindness that did not see God at work and with deafness that refused to hear God’s warnings.

Perhaps the most amazing feature of the Hebrew prophets was that they were tolerated at all. Their stinging rebukes and scathing denunciations were of such a nature as to be expected to bring violent attacks upon them. The very fact that they survived and that their messages were kept and passed on is a measure of the awareness of the Hebrew people that they did in fact hear the voice of God in the words of the prophets.

Robert L. Cate, “Prophet,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 716.

The Sermon of Azariah

After his victory over Zerah, Asa is met by a prophet of Yahweh. The prophet Azariah son of Oded appears only here. His oracle is a sermon to Asa and the people (v. 2a) that reflects the preaching ministry of the Levites…. According to von Rad, the sermon is divided into three sections. The first section, “doctrine,” declares that Yahweh would be with Asa and the people as long as they remained faithful to Yahweh (v. 2b). The second section, “application,” uses Israel’s past history, probably the period of the judges, to show that abandoning Yahweh leads to adversity and national defeat and that loyalty to Yahweh leads to blessing and victory (vv. 3-6). In the third section, “exhortation,” Azariah admonishes Asa to continue his work because God will bless him.

Claude F. Mariottini, “First and Second Chronicles,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 353.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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