Login / Signup

Free Access

1 Yr.– $79.95 OR $9.95 per month

Renew or Signup Now!

Not a subscriber?
Get a FREE 30-Day Subscription
(No credit card necessary)
Get Full Access Now!

Generosity As The Clue To Life

Sermons on the Gospel Readings
Series II, Cycle B
All the great founders of our religious traditions offer secrets to the good life. Buddha says life is achieved when we have smothered all desire. Mohammed tells us that life begins when we submit to the will of Allah. The Hindu tradition urges us to find life by understanding reality is illusionary, and behind it the abiding reality of Brahman. The Moses tradition insists that life is found through obedience to the law.

All these insights are part of our spiritual heritage. They help us to discover the meaning and purpose of life. We need to pay attention to them and to consider that these are part of God's gift to everyone.

In today's lection, Jesus offers us his clue to the meaning of life. As Mark tells this story, Jesus asks the disciples what people are saying about him. They tell him that some say he is John the Baptist, some say he is Elijah, and others say he is a prophet. Jesus then directs his question to Peter who says, "You are the Messiah." At this we might think that there would be cheering, dancing, and loud shouting. Instead, Jesus begins to tell them that as the messianic Son of Man, he will endure much suffering and rejection by the religious authorities. Peter protests, but is reprimanded for his objections. Then Jesus makes clear his clue to the meaning of life:

If any wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
-- Mark 8:34-35

For Jesus, the secret of life is giving it away. He insists, quite in contrast to popular culture, that we do not gain life through our rush for security, possessions, and the fulfillment of our ambitions.

The Disciples Were Not Too Thrilled

We do not respond favorably to Jesus telling us the meaning of life is found in giving it away. Similarly we don't like the poet Wordsworth pointing out to us that in "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." In some way or another, most of us have been taken in by our cultural attitude saying, "We can have it all." A recent newspaper story told about some women who gave this a try -- full tilt at their vocation along with rearing a family. They were told they could have success and meaning in the work place, as well as the usual parental satisfactions of rearing children. However, in time, many of them came to feel that they were not doing well, either as parents or at the office. This resulted in some of them putting their professions on hold so they could fulfill their responsibilities of child rearing and enjoying the unique joys of parenthood. It is false to say that career and parenthood cannot be joined in a meaningful way, but we need to face the difficulties involved, including the consideration that few make enough money to make a go of it.

Of course, men have the same dilemma. They try to get ahead in their career while being a responsible and caring parent; yet again, there are real dangers. In one extreme example, a successful businessman said he gave his sons a whole day spent with him once a year -- on their birthdays! The rest of the year, he was an absent parent.

The "you can have it all" slogan seldom mentions what sacrifices will be necessary and who will pay them. Choosing one good thing always means that a lot of other good things will be unavailable. And if we try to hold too many vital options together, we will risk being broken in the process. The trainer for that wonderful little horse, almost winning the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing, "Smarty Jones," said he would rather be known as a good dad than a good trainer. He has a realism that goes back all the way to Jesus, knowing we can't have it all and those who say otherwise are lying!

A young high school student went out for the football team in his freshman year. He wanted to be a dazzling quarterback, with fantasies of someday leading his team to victory, but it soon became apparent that he didn't have the talent. It was a great blow to his ego, for in sports undue attention is given to quarterbacks, strikeout pitchers, high-scoring basketball players, and 100-meter dashers. With some exception there isn't much attention given to the rest of the team. With little enthusiasm, our student wandered down to where an assistant coach was working with the linemen. He asked if he could join them. The coach said "Okay," and suggested he work out at center. In time, the student played on two championship teams, one of them going undefeated. He couldn't have his all-encompassing dream of being the star quarterback, but in letting go of his unrealistic dream, he enjoyed the team's success.

Jesus Offers The Cross As The Way To Life

The cross is the way to life. A passage in the book of Hebrews goes like this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
-- Hebrews 12:1-2

This is an interesting text. Clearly it says Jesus' sense of the rich joy of giving up his own life for others, drove him to the cross. Life is found in giving it up, sometimes totally, in the service for the needs of others.

The joy of the early Christian martyrs provided a powerful evangelistic appeal. Though Christians were burned, beheaded, eaten by wild animals, or whatever terrible torture their captors devised, they expressed a joyful sense of privilege in dying for Jesus and the faith. One of the theological giants of the twentieth century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Convinced that Hitler was an evil that could not be tolerated any longer, he joined a plot to assassinate Hitler. Things went awry, the plot was exposed and Bonhoeffer and his fellow conspirators were imprisoned. A few days before liberation he was hung, telling his fellow prisoners as he went to the gallows, "The best is yet to be." Bonhoeffer's theological writings have enriched us as we also wrestle with the meaning of the faith. Yet, as provocative as his theological insights remain, it was his willingness to give up his life in a cause that would rescue that world from the killing of war, which has called us to a serious response to Jesus. Bonhoeffer, who loved life and was a worldly Christian, nevertheless tells us that real life is found when we discover significant ways to give it away.

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States in the difficult days of the '70s. Inflation, Americans held captive in Iran, and a large national debt made his presidency difficult. One might understand that when he left office he would live the comfortable life of an ex-president -- collecting his presidential papers, writing a book or two, and enjoying life in his rural small town of Plains, Georgia. He had given himself away as a naval officer, governor, and as president. Yet the "retired" President Carter soon gave himself away to new causes. He became involved in Habitat for Humanity, building new homes for the poor. He supervised elections in several nations outside the United States. He gave himself away, working for the causes of peace, and he challenged his own denomination's hard, narrow theology by resigning from his church. President Carter is telling us that there is no time in our lives when we are exempt from the wisdom Jesus put down so long ago: Life is found by giving it away against the needs and hurts of others.

Modern Science Says Jesus Is Right

Interestingly enough, we are beginning to see modern science's affirmation of the contention that Jesus is right. Studies of the human brain indicate that when we focus on the needs and concerns of others, it affects our brain in a positive way. Altruistic behavior releases chemical brain processes making us to feel good about what we are doing for others. Now we know why the happiest people we know are those who live this way: they are always thinking about the needs and problems of others. They consider ways they can help others, either by themselves or in the company of others. Some may prefer to get their high by alcohol, drugs, or in the excitement of a great musical or sports event. What they don't know is that there are simpler and less dangerous ways to life's joys through giving themselves to the needs of neighbors far and near.

Do we ever wonder why volunteerism is so important for so many people? Obviously, there is no material reward in it. Nor do volunteers receive much publicity. Many of the tasks of volun-teerism are routine and often beneath the skills of the volunteers. Even so, the volunteers come back to their assignments -- day after day, week after week, year after year. The father of one person, living in a retirement community, became legally blind. In his late '80s he could have settled down and waited for his life to end. However, he volunteered at the medical quarters in his retirement village, taking patients in wheelchairs out for a walk around the lagoon. With sight only for the edges of the sidewalks, he gave himself to helping those patients enjoy a bit of time out in the fresh air and sunshine. One has to believe that he received joyful meaning much greater than just sitting homebound in his blindness.

If the church has any work to do in our time, it will be to challenge the dominant culture's insistence that the meaning of life means finishing first, exalting material things, and having the admiration and adulation of others. Some of these might come to us in our lives, but they will not give us the rich meanings that Jesus insists are in giving ourselves away. We are a religion of the cross. The cross is not a historic event that gains us the forgiveness and mercy of God as Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion Of The Christ, suggests. Rather the cross is the call and claim of Jesus to give ourselves away; paying little attention to riches, fame, or numerous toasts flung our way. The work of today's church is to offer a second and contrary option to the world's deceptive message.
In addition to the lectionary resources there are thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
Signup for FREE!
(No credit card needed.)
13 – Sermons
140+ – Illustrations / Stories
15 – Children's Sermons / Resources
12 – Worship Resources
17 – Commentary / Exegesis
and more...
19 – Sermons
120+ – Illustrations / Stories
18 – Children's Sermons / Resources
12 – Worship Resources
18 – Commentary / Exegesis
and more...
27 – Sermons
200+ – Illustrations / Stories
33 – Children's Sermons / Resources
20 – Worship Resources
28 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
28 – Sermons
150+ – Illustrations / Stories
31 – Children's Sermons / Resources
17 – Worship Resources
29 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
26 – Sermons
140+ – Illustrations / Stories
30 – Children's Sermons / Resources
18 – Worship Resources
32 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
27 – Sermons
160+ – Illustrations / Stories
32 – Children's Sermons / Resources
17 – Worship Resources
27 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Plus thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
Signup for FREE!
(No credit card needed.)

New & Featured This Week

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Mark Ellingsen
Ron Love
Bonnie Bates
Bill Thomas
Frank Ramirez
Bob Ove
Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18
In many European countries, early on Easter Monday, the girls come out of their homes wearing traditional red, black and white folkloric dress. The young men walk down the streets, also in traditional dress of high black boots, black hats, white shirts and cream-colored trousers. The men follow the girls playing instruments and the older women of the village have prepared a cornucopia of food.
Bonnie Bates
Bob Ove
Frank Ramirez
Mark Ellingsen
Ron Love
Bill Thomas
Isaiah 52:13--53:12
Ron Love
Bonnie Bates
Bill Thomas
Bob Ove
Frank Ramirez
Mark Ellingsen
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
The Pittsburgh Pirates had their last great baseball season in 1979. The Pirates had 98 wins and 64 losses that year and captured the National League East Division title by two games over the Montreal Expos. The Pirates then beat the Cincinnati Reds to win their ninth National League title, and they defeated the Baltimore Orioles to win their fifth World Series title.
David Kalas
From time to time, I’ll hear someone ask a speculative question that begins, “If a space alien showed up on earth, what would he think about...” The idea is to try to imagine what an outsider sees. If we could find someone without any familiarity or preconceived notions, what would he or she see and think.
Wayne Brouwer
In the blackness, in the bleakness, we need to sense God’s presence. We need to know that God is there, even if, like Job, we do not understand what is happening around us and inside of us. “The restless millions wait for the Light,” says George Bernanos, “Whose dawning maketh all things new.”

This is the dilemma of Israel in Egypt. This is the struggle of life in Corinth. This is the washing of waves surrounding Jesus and his disciples “on the night in which he was betrayed.”
Frank Ramirez
It can not only be hard, but in some cases not possible to say much at all on Easter morning, what with Easter Breakfast, perhaps a cantata, a children’s choir, and an Easter egg hunt swallowing up any space you might have for preaching. But this is the central message of our faith. Jesus is Risen. This changes everything.

Now do not despair. You can preach Easter every Sunday. For the earliest Christians every Sunday was Easter! Even so, if you’re feeling squeezed you can still take one of these passages and make an important point.

The Immediate Word

Dean Feldmeyer
Mary Austin
Christopher Keating
Ron Love
Thomas Willadsen
George Reed
Bethany Peerbolte
For April 21, 2019:
  • Why Are You Weeping? by Dean Feldmeyer — One of the reasons it’s so hard to visualize a risen Christ is that we’ve hidden him behind a mountain of hollow, milk chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chickens.


Keith Hewitt
David O. Bales
"Reflections of Grief" by Keith Hewitt
"Bearing Our Infirmities" by David O. Bales
"Abandoned?" by David O. Bales

Reflections of Grief
by Keith Hewitt
John 18:1--19:42
Keith Wagner
"Love Conquers All" by Keith Wagner
"Being together gives us Hope" by Keith Wagner

Love Conquers All
by Keith Wagner
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

For me, the heart of the psalmist’s message is his willingness to be a faithful servant, making commitments to God through sacrifice and love. It takes courage to live sacrificially, none the less our faith is strengthened and we become closer to God with our dedication and loyalty.
C. David Mckirachan
Frank Ramirez

This Doesn’t Make Sense

by C. David McKirachan
Acts 10:34-43


Arley K. Fadness
“I have seen the Lord.” (v. 18)

Happy Easter morning boys and girls,

Today I have the best news ever to share with you. Are you ready to hear it? (children respond) First, notice I have a container (box or can) with a lid on it. Inside we will find ____________.  (for example: oreo cookies, legos etc.)

So let's see what is inside. (open lid) What do we see? Nothing. What? Aren't there supposed to be ___________ inside?? (children respond)
Arley K. Fadness
“When Jesus had received the wine, he said,'it is finished,' then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.'”

Good Friday morning (evening) children,

Today I am feeling very quiet. You know why? It is a holy day, a somber day.

How are you feeling? (children respond) We call it Good Friday. That's a strange name for a sad day isn't it? Perhaps today, the day we remember our Lord Jesus died, we might call Bad Friday or Dark Friday or Sad Friday. But no, it's Good Friday.
Arley K. Fadness
“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” (v. 14)

Good morning beautiful children,

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
We Christians are often reckoned to be a sad bunch, at least in the opinion of non-Christian western society. And sometimes, I think they're right. We must seem a bit pathetic to normal red-blooded human beings as we go to church each Sunday, singing hymns and indulging in all kinds of odd rituals, when we could be cleaning the car or shopping or playing sport or otherwise enjoying ourselves.


Carlos Wilton
Theme For The Day
Our culture still "seeks the living among the dead" as it pursues security, comfort, and pleasure.

First Lesson
Acts 10:34-43
Peter's Easter Testimony
Donald Charles Lacy
So much happening in so little time! We are left gasping for breath. We stagger under the weight of the mighty arm of historical occurrence. You and I praise God because we know the rest of the story. Those present did not know how things would turn out. They must have been like awestruck children nearing exasperation.

David Kalas
We have a table before us. It is a familiar table; we have gathered around it together countless times before. It features the cherished elements of bread and wine; and taken together, those elements on this table form a sacrament.

Across the many traditions within the Christian church, we call this sacrament by different names. The Roman Catholics refer to the Mass, while the Eastern Orthodox church uses the Divine Liturgy. A number of Protestant denominations call it the Eucharist, others holy communion, and still others the Lord's Supper.

Special Occasion