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Sermon Illustrations For Epiphany 2 | Ordinary Time 2 (2020)

Isaiah 49:1-7
Clare Boothe Luce once said, “There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”

Hope is important. It mattered to God’s people a long time ago and it matters today. As we pick up the text today, we understand God’s people have been defeated and their temple destroyed. They are taken in chains to Babylon, separated from their land and their God. Amy Oden, of St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City notes, “This exile is a crisis of identity and faith. Are they still God’s people? How can they worship in this foreign land?”

Into this crisis, Isaiah speaks a word of hope. God will send a servant who will do justice. The exile is replaced by a new life that is more than just returning to the way things were before the exile. Truly, God has something much more in mind.

Isaiah wants to spread the news. This message not for Israel alone, but for the whole world, even “you peoples far away” (verse 1). And this is the message: God has raised up a servant, one hidden and unknown. God has made a servant in whom he will be glorified (verse 3). From Rahab to David to Mary, the story of God’s people is full of unlikely servants raised up by God. In a poignant reminder of the value and worth of the preborn, Isaiah notes this servant was called and named while still in his mother’s womb. Hope in the womb that “his salvation may reach the ends of the earth” (verse 6).
Bill T.

* * *

Isaiah 49:1-7
Evelyn May was near death with cancer. Distraught, her four-year-old daughter, Barbara, climbed up on her father’s lap and asked him about her mother’s illness. In order to calm and reassure the child her father, Bob, began to tell her a story each night. It was the same story about a reindeer, but each evening the story expanded. On a cold December night in 1938 he told his daughter about an odd-looking reindeer, named Rudolf, who lived with Santa. The reindeer was small, and his voice was weak.

As Bob’s story grew, so did his curiosity about reindeer. One evening he went to the Chicago zoo. The neon lights along the shoreline of Michigan Avenue illuminated the fog covering the lake. Rudolf was now given a red nose that acted like a fog light. After her mother’s death Barbara made a book of the story. A book that she showed everyone.

Bob worked for Montgomery Ward as an advertising copywriter. Stewell Avery, the chairman of the board, became aware of the story and wanted to know more about it. The reindeer angel would capture the hearts of his shoppers during the Christmas holiday season. He had the book expanded and in 1939 published Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Avery gave the book away to shoppers. By the time World War II broke out, over six million copies were freely given to customers. But then the giveaway stopped. The name Rudolph sounded to German, and it appeared that Montgomery Ward was not fully supporting the war effort.

After the war the book was no longer used as a holiday giveaway gift but was sold year-round. The book, a worldwide best seller, had many product deals. Rudolf appeared on jigsaw puzzles, socks, shoes watches and stuffed animals. Rudolf was even displayed in banks and other businesses.

By this time Bob had remarried, and his new brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, was a song writer. Bob allowed Johnny to create a musical version of the story. The song was rejected by everyone, except for one man, Gene Autry, who was known as the “singing cowboy.” Unlike other artists, Gene and his wife Dinah had children in their home. Also, cowboy star Gene Autry had a strong following among children. Gene recorded the song in 1949, and it sold two million copies that year.
Ron L.

* * *

Isaiah 49:1-7
The prophet describes his tongue as a sword. sharp, biting, effective. His words sting. They hit the mark. More to the point, it is God who has made the prophet’s powerful. It’s interesting that he adds that when God weaponized his tongue he also made it a secret weapon. Its power is not immediately apparent. This is a weapon that will not be revealed until the right time.

In terms of thinking about Jesus, it’s easy to see why the faith community interpreted the words in terms of the Savior. In the gospels, we read that the disciples heard his words but didn’t understand them until later. Jesus explained to his disciples on the road to Emmaus how they should have known that the scriptures referred to him. From the cross he asked his Father to forgive them, for they didn’t know just what they were doing and by extension, who it was they were doing it to.

Our words as preachers are also meant to sting – and sometimes the sting is immediate. Other times it seems as if we’re having no effect, but we may discover, especially in the case of young people who don’t seem to be paying attention, that our words are heard and are having exactly the effect we desired. It’s hard to be content when it seems like we’re hidden in the palm of God’s hand, but all will be revealed in its time.
Frank R.

* * *

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Loyalty and faithfulness are in short supply today. Divorce Magazine suspects that 50% of marriages include at least one episode of adultery. Survivor is a hit TV show which glorifies  

the virtues of not remaining faithful in a committed relationship. But this in not God’s way, our lesson teaches. God does not back down on his promises. He is faithful to them; we can count on God. Famed Christian martyr of the 20th century, a man who himself did not back down on his promises, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, put it this way:

God does not give us everything we want, but He does fulfill His promises, leading us along the best and straightest paths to Himself.

An evangelical writer Josh McDowell elaborates nicely on the comfort of this awareness of Paul’s observation concerning God’s faithfulness that makes everyday life happier and better. He wrote:

Knowing that God is faithful, it really helps me to not be captivated by worry. But knowing that He will do what He has said, He will cause it to happen, whatever He has promised, and then it causes me to be less involved in worrying about a situation.

This wonderful message of God’s faithful love led medieval mystic Bernard of Clarivaux to offer a powerful testimony that we might want to sing with him:

He [God’s Word] is living and full of energy. As soon as He entered into me, He has awakened my sleeping soul. He has stirred and softened and wounded my heart which was torpid and hard as a rock. (Elmer O’Brien, ed., Varieties of Mystic Experience, p.105)

Mark E.

* * *

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Paul’s opening to his letter to the church in Corinth is an introduction of praise for the church. It’s a recognition that the church has welcomed their spiritual growth and grace shared with them. Paul talks about their strength in following Jesus. It is a letter I would like to write to the churches with which I work. I want to thank them for their faithfulness to Jesus. I want to thank them for their works for the community and for their neighbors, some of whom have little. I want to thank them for acting with hope, love and grace. I want to celebrate their focus on spiritual development and the celebration of the richness of their faith.

Could I write this kind of letter to you or the church you attend? Are you focused on hope, spiritual growth, love of God and love of neighbor? Are you offering time, talent and monies for mission? Is your focus on being the church in the world? If so, I celebrate and thank you. If not, I wonder what is keeping you from being the church as Paul proclaims. Is it fear about the budget, about having enough volunteers, about the building you are housed in? Is it the news which says the church is in decline and fewer people think church is important? This week make a commitment to become a church like the church in Corinth: rich in faith, praising God, deepening faith, identifying and using your spiritual gifts. Be the church my friends. It is our calling.
Bonnie B.

* * *

John 1:29-42
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Think not that humility is weakness; it shall supply the marrow of strength to thy bones. Stoop and conquer; bow thyself and become invincible.” Humility matters. Knowing who and what is important and finding our own place is valued.

George Whitefield was a powerful speaker and a humble man. Although he disagreed with John Wesley on some theological matters, he was careful not to create problems in public that could be used to hinder the preaching of the gospel. When someone asked Whitefield if he thought he would see Wesley in heaven, Whitefield replied, "I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him."

The humility that Whitefield demonstrates is also seen in John in our text. John 1:29-30 note, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’” John knew who Jesus was and what he was to do. Do you?
Bill T.

* * *

John 1:29-42
John Gutenberg was a goldsmith from Mainz in southern Germany. In his spare time, he experimented with developing a printing press that could mass produce literature. He secretly worked on this project for many years, making slow advances as he experimented with new ideas.

In 1437, Gutenberg relocated to Strasburg. In 1439, the city was planning to exhibit its collection of relics from Emperor Charlemagne, but the event was delayed by one year due to a severe flood and the money for the exhibit had already been spent and could not be repaid. When the question of satisfying the investors came up, Gutenberg promised to share a “secret.” It has been widely speculated that this secret may have been the idea of printing with movable type.

Gutenberg first began the development of his moveable type printing press in 1436. Having previously worked as a professional goldsmith, Gutenberg made skillful use of his knowledge of metals that he had learned as a craftsman. He was the first to make type from an alloy of lead, tin and antimony, which was critical for producing durable type that produced high-quality printed books and proved to be better suited for printing than all other known materials. To create these lead types, Gutenberg used what is considered one of his most ingenious inventions, a special matrix enabling the quick and precise molding of new type blocks from a uniform template. His type case is estimated to have contained around 290 separate letter boxes, most of which were required for special characters, ligatures and punctuation marks.

Prior to the Gutenberg press, everything that people read had to be copied by hand or printed from hand-carved wooden blocks.

The Gutenberg press followed the design of the screw-type wine presses of the Rhine Valley. Under the Gutenberg system, individual letters were composed into words, locked into wooden forms and inked. The paper was then pressed against the raised surface with the screw device. The only time restraint was changing each piece of paper to be printed. And unlike the old woodblock prints, these same pieces of type cold be rearranged and used over and over again to quickly print a different text.

By 1450, the press was in operation, and a German poem was printed. It was possibly the first item to be printed on the Gutenberg press. Gutenberg continued to print pamphlets and poems as he worked on printing his first book.

It is not clear when Gutenberg conceived the Bible project, but for this he borrowed more money. The work on the Bible began in 1452. At the same time, the press was also printing other more lucrative texts. There is also some speculation that there may have been two presses, one for the pedestrian texts, and one for the Bible. One was for profit-making and the other was for Gutenberg’s dream project.

In 1455 Gutenberg completed his 42-line Bible, known as the Gutenberg Bible. About 180 copies were printed. This was the first book to be printed in quantity. The Bible was published in two-volumes. The Gutenberg Bible was sold at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The book cost three times what the average worker earned in a year. Only fifty copies of the Gutenberg Bible remain with us today.

Having borrowed money to finance his inventive enterprise, Gutenberg could never pay back his investors and in 1468 he died in debt. To regain their investment, the investors confiscated the pamphlets and books that Gutenberg published.
Ron L.

* * *

John 1:29-42
When John points to Jesus and calls him the Lamb of God, the full significance of which will be revealed in his death on the cross, he describes Jesus as the one who takes away the sin of the world. That’s singular. It’s important our individual sins be confessed and forgiven, but Jesus is pointing to the state of sin the world is in that causes us to sin despite our best efforts. How many of us recycle, and then hear that the system is supposedly so overloaded it’s not clear if our recycle doesn’t end up in a landfill somewhere? How many of us try to buy fair trade items, ensuring that those who grow, build, or craft various products get their fair share of the profits, and yet our actions may hurt other people, closer to home? Even something as wonderful as the scriptures we carry around in the palm of our hands – that previous generations of believers had no access to personal copies of the Word of God like we do – leave a carbon footprint.

And that’s not even talking about the things we say without knowing that they hurt the people we want to help, or the things we do that harm those we love the most.
Frank R.
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