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Sermon Illustrations for Epiphany 2 (2021)

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
The story of God’s revelation to the young Samuel is a reminder that God works in the most surprising of ways. Of course life is full of surprises. It’s like Loretta Lynn says: “I’ve been around a long time, and life still has a whole lot of surprises for me.” It is not surprising then that the one who created us would be the master of surprises. Another famed country singer, Carrie Underwood, seems to believe the surprising character of life is a function of God’s style, as she is quoted as saying, “God put us here, on this carnival ride. We close our eyes never knowing where it'll take us next.”

A surprising God surprises us. He certainly does not follow our agendas, just as he did not in the case of Samuel. It is as Martin Luther once noted: 

God must often say: If I gave you what you ask for I would be a fool, as you are. (What Luther Says. p.1097)

Another great saint of the Church, Corrie ten Boom, a heroine of the Holocaust, advised the faithful to “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” Even Pope Francis in recent homilies has spoken of God as a God of surprises. But the greatest surprise is that God even loves sinners like you, me, and our congregants.
Mark E.

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1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
“Here I am,” Samuel replies to the voice he hears in the darkness. He presumes it is his mentor Eli. Little does Samuel know that this voice is a call from God. How often do we hear a call from God and presume we imagined it; it must be a mistake. Who am I that God would call me? I felt this questioning and uncertainty for more than 6 years as I was hearing a call into ordained ministry. God could not possibly be calling me. I was not worthy, capable, prepared to move in that direction with my life. Yet here I am nearly 20 years later serving in ordained ministry in ways I could not have imagined. I hear a quote, whose source I do not know. “God doesn’t call the equipped. God equips the called.” Believe it my friends and respond to the call of God on your life.
Bonnie B.

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1 Corinthians 6:12-20
I came across this story from Friends’ Intelligencer that captured the essence of this passage. A young lady who was attempting to defend her attendance at questionable places of amusement told her friend that she thought a Christian could go anywhere. Her friend replied, “Certainly she can, but I am reminded of a little incident which happened last summer when I went with some friends to explore a coal mine. One of the young women came wearing a fancy white dress. When her friends ridiculed her for her choice of attire, she turned to the old miner who was going to guide the group. ‘Can’t I wear a white dress down into the mine?’ she asked petulantly. ‘Yes, ma’am,’ returned the old man, ‘there is nothing to keep you from wearing a white frock down there, but there will be considerable to keep you from wearing one back.’”
Ravi Zacharias once wrote, “Pure morality points you to the purest one of all. When impure, it points you to yourself. The purer your habits, the closer to God you will come. Moralizing from impure motives takes you away from God.” May we remember the message of 1 Corinthians 6:20, “For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.”
Bill T.

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1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Christianity is not a solitary faith. It’s not enough for us to look after ourselves. Let us recognize not only our own weaknesses, but take into account those of others. If someone has a gambling problem don’t send them down to the convenience store to get a soda or a coffee for you because then they have to go by the lottery machine.

Just because you have will power when it comes to sweets doesn’t mean you should bring a dozen donuts every morning to the office.

Changing our lives requires living, working, caring for, and loving each other. Sometimes we have to bear each other’s burdens. Whether it’s AA, or a trauma group, or a weight loss support group, we need to remain accountable to each other, rather than use our particular strengths to remind others about their weaknesses.

And isn’t that what it is to be part of the Body of Christ? We are all sinners, enslaved to our bad habits, seeking to create and reinforce the good ones with each other. One reason we love to come to church is because we’re reinforcing this good habit with others. We miss each other if we’re not there. We inspire each other to greater things.
Frank R.

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John 1:43-51
Nathaniel cannot believe anyone of power or influence could come out of the village of Nazareth. His life experience tells him that. His life is about to be turned upside down. His experience of Jesus, of Jesus’ knowledge of him and his comments and heart, move Nathaniel to proclaim Jesus. What experience of the Holy have you had? How have you encountered Jesus in unforeseeable ways and in unexpected places? Are your eyes even open to see?

In my own life, the love of God, the call of Jesus, the presence of the Holy come in unexpected times and places, and through unexpected people. The homeless man who, blessing me as a response to a few dollars and a warm drink, is a voice of the Holy. The child smiling and running up to hug me, even in these pandemic days, is an experience of the Holy. The clear sky and sunrise on a winter day is an experience of the Holy. Like Nathaniel we need to open our hearts and remove preconceived notions about how God shows up. Just know that God does.
Bonnie B.

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John 1:43-51
Miracles are not just extraordinary events that seem to violate scientific principles. They do contradict reason, but they can look like rather ordinary events. There are a lot of miracles in this Gospel reading, not just Jesus’ ability to identify Nathaniel, but also the fact that Jesus just chose ordinary human beings as his disciples and the great job these all-too ordinary men did. Martin Luther put it this way:

Now Christ comes along and shows that He wants to select as His disciples the beggars, ignoramuses, and fools... He wants it apparent that no one acquires God’s mercy because of his gifts, such as riches, wisdom, and power. And why should we be so conceited as to suppose that God might favor us on accounts of these gifts? (Luther’s Works, Vol.22, p.192)

Saint Augustine makes a similar point:

No noble was chosen in the first place, no learned man, because God chose the weak things of the world that He might confound the strong. (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol.7, p.54)

To call these actions of God and Christ miracles, might seem extreme, until you look at life like American novelist Willa Cather advises. She sees love as a miracle and writes: “Where there is great love, there are always miracles.” If you want to see more of God’s miracles in life, Albert Einstein’s advice is good to follow: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Mark E.
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“Nice sign,” Kevin said from beside her. “Where did they come up with those sayings?”

She turned to him. “They’re words of Jesus from the Bible called the Beatitudes.”

“Huh.” He squinted at the sign. “Usually I like what he has to say about love and all of that. These are just confusing. If I’m mourning or poor in spirit, how does that make me blessed?”


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* * *

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the people how they could be blessed by God and experience God's kingdom. In our worship today let us explore the Sermon on the Mount.

Invitation to Confession:
Jesus, sometimes I'm full of pride instead of being poor in spirit.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I'm overbearing and pushy, instead of being meek.
Christ, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I'm not exactly pure in heart.
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Who may dwell on your holy hill?
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