Login / Signup

Free Access


Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit
Series VI, Cycle A
What a mess! Put yourself in Joseph's sandals. A simple man, a carpenter. He is about to be married. It would be the normal Jewish three-step procedure. There was the engagement, which was often made when the couple were only children, usually through the parents or a professional matchmaker. And it was often made without the couple involved ever having seen each other. Marriage was considered far too serious a step to be left to the dictates of the human heart. Then there was the betrothal, which was the ratification of the engagement into which the couple had previously entered. It lasted for one year during which the couple was known as man and wife, although they would not live together. Betrothal could only be terminated as a full-blown marriage could be -- by death or divorce. The third stage was the marriage proper, which took place at the end of the year of betrothal.

Joseph and Mary were at stage two. Suddenly, Mary turns up pregnant. And the baby is not Joseph's. Joseph knows it is not his. What a nightmare!

What a jumble his feelings must have been! Rage? Unquestionably. Fury at her unfaithfulness. Fury at whomever had defiled the marriage bed with her. Embarrassment? Of course. Half his friends would think he was a fool for having been cuckolded, and the other half would think that he did not have enough self-control to wait until after the marriage feast. Sorrow? No doubt. His life was planned out -- it was going to be with Mary. Now that would not be possible. Sorry for her, too, even though this was something she had brought on herself.

Now what? Jewish law allowed stoning as the penalty for adultery, but that was a sentence not often carried out in practice. Joseph could have made a public spectacle of Mary to prove his own innocence in the affair. No, finally, the decision was made to handle the situation quietly, to give her a Bill of Divorcement in the presence of two witnesses as the law required, and then let her go her way. Perhaps she would return to the home of her cousin Elizabeth to avoid the shame of having the child in Nazareth. One way or another, the nightmare would be over.

But we know the story does not end there. He was asleep, but sometime during the night, was awakened with a start. "Joseph. Joseph. Wake up."

"What?" He looked around in the dark of his room, the only light from the moon beaming through the window. He saw the silhouette of a man. But there was something about him that told Joseph there was no reason to fear.

The silhouette spoke. "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Joseph had no chance to reply -- the visitor disappeared. What would Joseph have said anyway? We can see him lying there thinking until morning, then, at daybreak, trying to figure out what had happened. Had there really been anyone there the night before? Perhaps it had been a dream. Just a continuation of the nightmare? No. The message was from the Lord. It was too strange to have come from anyone else.

We know the rest of the story. Joseph came through. The betrothal was resumed. There was that trip down to Bethlehem for the Roman census, not much fun for a very pregnant young lady. The baby came. Joseph named him -- that was the prerogative of the father, and Joseph accepted this child as his own, "of the house and lineage of David," as the old King James has it. Good man.

Howard Chapman is a Presbyterian minister in Iowa. He tells of an exercise he has used with his confirmation classes. He begins by letting them know that scholars think that Mary was the same age as they were, about fourteen or so. He then shows them Deuteronomy 22:23-24, where according to Jewish law Joseph could have brought charges against Mary, and if found guilty, she could have been put to death. He then divides up the class with all the boys on one side and all the girls on the other. The girls' assignment is to list all of Mary's options, while the boys are to list Joseph's.

This usually generates a lively discussion, especially once they realize they do not have to stick to nice, neat, happy-ending choices. With not much prompting, they generate quite a list. Mary could have ... had an abortion, claimed she was raped, committed suicide, run away, and so on. Joseph, on the other hand, could have ... brought her to trial, quietly sent her out of town, left town himself, eloped with her, made up a story, and the like.

In one particular class, when all of these options were listed on the chalkboard, Howard stood back. He asked, "What does all this tell you?"

The class was very quiet for a moment or two. Then John, the worst troublemaker in the bunch, said, "Wow! Look at all that could have gone wrong. God was really taking a risk."

Smart kid. Indeed, since the beginning of creation, God has been willing to risk. But note one thing: this very first story in the New Testament, this story about Joseph, this story about the nightmare his life had become, this story about the angel's midnight message, this story ... is really God's story. From the first story until the last, the essence is caught in something as simple as a name. Emmanuel. God is with us. Remember that the next time your own life has become a nightmare. Emmanuel. We are not alone. God is with us.
In addition to the lectionary resources there are thousands of non-lectionary, scripture based resources...
Signup for FREE!
(No credit card needed.)
Easter 6
30 – Sermons
110+ – Illustrations / Stories
26 – Children's Sermons / Resources
20 – Worship Resources
25 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
25 – Sermons
160+ – Illustrations / Stories
22 – Children's Sermons / Resources
18 – Worship Resources
23 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Easter 7
30 – Sermons
160+ – Illustrations / Stories
27 – Children's Sermons / Resources
25 – Worship Resources
27 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
29 – Sermons
140+ – Illustrations / Stories
27 – Children's Sermons / Resources
28 – Worship Resources
32 – Commentary / Exegesis
4 – Pastor's Devotions
and more...
Trinity Sunday
27 – Sermons
140+ – Illustrations / Stories
29 – Children's Sermons / Resources
29 – Worship Resources
30 – 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


John Jamison
They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (vv. 16-18)
John Jamison
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (vv. 50-53)

The Immediate Word

Dean Feldmeyer
Christopher Keating
Thomas Willadsen
Mary Austin
George Reed
Bethany Peerbolte
Katy Stenta
For May 16, 2021:

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Mark Ellingsen
Frank Ramirez
Bonnie Bates
Bill Thomas
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Frank Ramirez
The resurrection of Jesus takes center stage, rightfully so, in the church calendar. By contrast, Ascension Day often falls by the wayside, unless it happens to fall on a Sunday. It’s something Jesus did, but it’s not necessarily a significant event in the lives of many churches. These three texts, however, illustrate the central importance of this event, which is the capstone of the ministry of Jesus.
Mark Ellingsen
Bonnie Bates
Frank Ramirez
Bill Thomas
Acts 1:1-11
There is still a lot to be in despair about in America. Racism is not gone, as the families who lost loved ones to wanton police shootings continue to mourn. Those who lost jobs, incomes, and businesses in the pandemic continue to suffer and remain in despair. It is all so tragic, as the German-born philosopher Theodor Adono once wrote: “But he who dies in despair has lived his life in vain.” Martin Luther saw this text and its account of the ascension as a time to preach on faith and the comfort from despair that that Word brings:

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Many years ago I met a churchwarden who had grown up within a Jewish background but who had converted to Christianity quite late in life. She had had an amazing conversion experience which had affected her deeply and as a result had become an ardent Christian. She was particularly zealous about Christian mission to the Jews, wanting to convert all Jews to Christianity. When I asked whether she thought Jesus was the only way to God, she looked astonished and said yes, of course!


Constance Berg
Brian could feel the heat of anger rising in his neck. His left hand curled into a fist and he hit the palm of his right hand. He felt dizzy as he looked around.

Clothes, towels, and sheets were scattered all over the living room. A glass of orange juice was empty, the contents still dribbling down the side of the coffee table. A towel landed at his feet. His one-year-old looked up at him and giggled, making Brian even more angry.
E. Carver Mcgriff
We Americans have long had a love affair with winners. Successful undertakings of nearly every sort quickly receive the admiration of those around us. As a group, we take great delight in banquets and other ceremonies at which honors are distributed. People who come in second are rarely remembered in our culture. The runner-up usually receives a brief word of recognition and then is quickly forgotten. If you happen to be a sports enthusiast, you'll remember the poor old Buffalo Bills of the NFL.
Paul E. Robinson
How many of you know what BASE jumping is? BASE jumping is the very scary sport of jumping off Buildings, Antennae, Spans, and Earth objects. If you want to do it more than once, you jump with a parachute or perhaps a hang glider. Some of you may have seen examples of this daring sport on television.

An example:
John W. Clarke
Ascension Day is a good time for the Christian community to assess where it has been and where it is going. We need to ask ourselves why we are here and exactly what is it we are supposed to be doing. Our lesson for this day provides us with much needed information on what we should be doing and what our final destination as we travel this road in ministry with Jesus is.
Erskine White
When people are confused or afraid, when they feel that things are out of control, or when they feel helpless to overcome the problems which confront them, they often resort to "pie in the sky" religion. They look for Jesus to come and fix what they can't fix for themselves. They figure that one day, as if by magic, Jesus will make everything right for them in the "sweet bye and bye."


Peter Andrew Smith
David O. Bales
“Not the Hour or the Day” by Peter Andrew Smith
“Closer To Heaven” by David O. Bales
“Power To Change Nature … and People” by David O. Bales

Not the Hour or the Day
by Peter Andrew Smith
Acts 1:1-11

“God, I know that I’m supposed to have faith and trust,” Paul said softly as he sat on the bench outside of the nursing home. “Yet a part of me wishes you would tell me when.”

Special Occasion