Category Archives: sermon preparation

The Season of Advent

advent-vespers-2Advent is an early New Year. It is the beginning of a new liturgical year for those churches that follow the lectionary readings. A new cycle of scriptural readings begins. This time the Gospel readings come from the Gospel of Matthew, carried throughout the Year A cycle of readings. (See Liturgical Calendar.)

There are four Sundays in Advent which tell of the coming of Jesus. At first the emphasis is on his second coming and end-times, but then the emphasis shifts to the first coming. They offer a powerful progression of how Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets of the Old Covenant while establishing the New Covenant through the Incarnation of God.

Advent is a season of expectation. It is a season of hope. It is an opportunity put away the old and put on the new. It is a time of preparation for the Bride of Christ to prepare for the millennial reign of Jesus.

Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I challenged a friend in ministry to preach on the lectionary readings of Advent. He had never done so. He found himself preaching on subjects he had never preached on before, such as the second coming of Jesus and the end-times. Later he told me that Advent had caused him to grow in the faith. That is the beauty of the lectionary in general and especially the beauty of the Season of Advent.

We do not want to rush into Christmas prematurely. Rather, we need to prepare spiritually for a joyous Christmas. Christmas is so over-commercialized in this nation. It seems to be more a pagan celebration than a religious one, rivaled by only by Halloween.

Let us use Advent to recommit ourselves to Christ as Savior and Lord. And let us explore new insights and meanings that wash over us as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child.

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Thanksgiving Day

breaking of breadA Sacrifice 0f Praise and Thanksgiving

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 100
Philippians 4:4-9
John 6:25-35

Observing a day of thanksgiving is an ancient tradition. While the Children of Israel were still in the wilderness, God instituted a day of thanksgiving, Moses announced:

The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.   (Deuteronomy 26:8-11)

The Israelites had not yet received the promise land and did not have any first fruits to present to God. Nonetheless, God instructed them to remember that he had brought them out of Egypt with signs and wonders and protected them on their journey. They were to celebrate and remember what God had done in an annual celebration called First Fruits.

During hard times we may find it difficult to celebrate. How do with give thanks in time of lack?  The Apostle Paul wrote that we should begin by counting our blessings. When we make our requests before God we should do it with thanksgiving:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

Thanksgiving and praise is a way of entering into the presence of God. The psalmist wrote:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.

For the LORD is good;
his mercy is everlasting;
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.   (Psalm 100:4-5)

During times of great material blessings we face a different challenge. We may become too satisfied with those blessings. The tempter will always try to distract us with temporal things as he did with Jesus:

The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   (Matthew 4:3-4)

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus warned us against putting temporal blessings ahead of that which is eternal:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

The people who had received a miraculous feeding from Jesus and were looking for more of the same. They equated this miracle with the miracle of the manna that God gave to Israel in the wilderness. Jesus taught them that there would be a greater blessing in store for them if they could receive it:

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”   (John 6:31-33)

Jesus was referring to receiving his body and blood through Holy Communion. The word that is used for Communion in many liturgical churches is “Eucharist.” This word comes from the Greek noun εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) which means “thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving Day in America is a special day of celebration with family and friends. We remember that America is a gift to us from God, and not to us only, but also to the world. There are dark forces that want us to ridicule and curse America, and even God. We are told that it is wrong to celebrate America. It is out of place to give praise. This is so far from the truth of God’s Holy Word.

Let us continually celebrate and remember what God has done for us. Let us remember that God is the one who established America, though our founding fathers had to understand what he was doing and be willing to sacrifice their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. What are we prepared to sacrifice today? Are we still willing to give even a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving before the naysayers?

America is still a work in progress. Liberty and justice for all is still a dream. But should that stop our praise? In Hebrews we read:

For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.   (Hebrews 13:14-16)

Perfection will be attained only in the Millennial Reign of Christ. Let us strive together, as a people, to work toward that perfection which only Jesus consummate. Let us do so with prayer and thanksgiving unto God.

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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 9

Track 1: A Love Story

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45: 11-18
or Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Today we read about a servant of Abraham who was sent out on a mission:

Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.”   (Genesis 24:2-4)

With fear and trepidation the servant set out to search out a bridge among Abraham’s own people. Let us read a partial account of his journey:

“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” — let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’

“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”   (Genesis 24:42-49)

The servant was wise enough to seek God in prayer. And he was attentive enough to read the signals which God was giving him. Is that our approach in important assignments? God has the answers and he gives guidance to those who seek him. From today’s Gospel reading:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.   (Matthew 11:25-27)

God wants to reveal things to us. He does not want us to be the dark. If we are wise in our own eyes we will miss what God is saying.

Back to the servant’s account:

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.   (Genesis 24:58-67)

This was a great journey of love which God, himself, orchestrated. Will God do the same today for those who seek a  spouse in prayer? Yes, if we seek him in prayer. Yes, if we listen to him carefully and not relying on our own preconceived notions. We may even use a dating service because God is sovereign. He is in charge of all aspects of our lives. As long as we are relying on him he will guide our every move.

What can we learn from this beautiful account? If we are looking for a souse, we need to look in the right place, not among the heathen. We must seek God and trust God in all things. We must not lose patience. We must follow through with God’s help, not getting ahead or falling behind.

There is even a greater love story here. This is the story between a loving God and a trusting bride. We, the Church, are the bride of Christ. Let us follow Jesus through our life as attentively as Abraham’s servant followed his master’s instructions. God makes promises to those who follow him:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,   (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

 

Track 2: This Generation

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-15
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Jesus lived in challenging times. He observed the behavior and speech of those around him, even the religious leaders. What God had intended for Israel and what they had become were so far apart.

Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”   (Matthew 11:16-19)

In the vernacular we might say: “I can’t win for losing. What ever I do is wrong.”

Israel was missing something. Nothing was satisfying them. They felt no inner peace, but they were not sure where to turn. What were they to do?

Jesus was describing a generation. He may have well been describing ours. Something is missing. What do people do when they fell that everything is out of control? Do they not cover up their feelings by seeking to control others? They make up rules for others to follow, hoping that what others do might be pleasing to them.

But then the rules change. What was once acceptable is no longer valid. People must now act and talk in a different way. Those who have become drunk on power must check to see if people will follow them no matter what they ask them to do. And when people comply they are all the more delighted at first, but boredom and depression soon follow. Something is missing. Something feels empty. This may be the way kids act at times. But should not kids grow into adulthood?

Perhaps the first step to recovery is a recognition that there is a problem. Something is missing which is vital. What must a person do? The Apostle Paul wrote about finding order and peace in a chaotic life:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:21-25)

Paul knew his struggle was a spiritual one. He also realized that, on his own, he could not overcome what he was experiencing. What was Israel missing? Perhaps we might ask what are we missing.

Israel was missing Jesus. He was in their midst, but many either did not recognize him or refused to recognize him. He came that they might have life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10). But they were addicted to power and control. They wanted to control others, but they could not even control themselves.

Is this how we feel? We observe chaos all around us. Some are contributing to it while others are trying desperately to stop it. We may all want order in our lives in some way, but we cannot agree on what to do. Surely it is not the control others so that they may conform to some Utopia which we have imaged as possible. Others have different desires which may not agree with ours.

Israel was missing Jesus. He called out to them:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   (Matthew 11:28-30)

Can the world make this promise? Perhaps we are missing Jesus. Our culture promises to eliminate chaos. How can it when it is so chaotic itself?

Jesus is our rest. Jesus is our teacher. His way seems gentile to all who put their trust in him. When we turn away from him the world seems over whelming. That is because the world is ruled by Satan. He rules us through chaos, all the while lying to us that he will fix everything if we follow him. Jesus  said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Today, let us seek Jesus with all our hearts. He is still calling out to us. Will we come to hm in faith and find our reset. Will we discover our purpose in life in him?

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Saturday in Easter Week

192Witnesses to the Resurrection

The disciples who had heard the testimony of the women concerning the resurrection of Jesus, did not believe them. Unbelief is one of our greatest sins. It keeps us from receiving word from God. And it also prevents us from boldly testifying to the resurrection of our Lord. We worry about appearing out of the norm. The resurrection of the dead is radical and we need to become comfortable with it.

Jesus has called us out of our comfort. He  wants to assign us with a radical mission:

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.   (Mark 16:14-15)

The Apostles Peter and John, when they discovered the truth of the resurrection, became very bold in their faith. Without their witness the Church would never have survived or grown. So vital is the witness of the Christian believer that Satan will do all in his power to thwart it. We see this in today’s reading from Acts:

When the rulers and elders and scribes saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.   (Acts 4:13-21)

Today, are we believers in the resurrection of our Lord? Are we bold in our testimony? If we are then we soon discover how much the enemy comes against us. Now in America, Christians are beginning to experience persecution that only existed in others parts of the world. As times goes on the persecution will become more intense. What will be our response? Will we still be able to speak of Jesus with Joy? The psalmist wrote:

Open for me the gates where the godly can go in.
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord.
    Only those who do what is right can go through it.
Lord, I will give thanks to you, because you answered me.
    You have saved me.

The stone the builders didn’t accept
    has become the most important stone of all.
The Lord has done it.
    It is wonderful in our eyes.
The Lord has done it on this day.
    Let us be joyful today and be glad.   (Psalm 118:19-24)

We find ourselves strengthen in our faith when we do express it to others. Not only that, but we encourage others in their faith as well. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.   (2 Corinthians 13;11)

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.   (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11)

 

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