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Sermon Illustrations For Lent 1 (2020)

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Psalm 32
When I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to participate in the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. I did well the first seven weeks, focused on love. The second seven weeks, focused on sin, were not so easy. I froze. I seemed unable to pray, unable to read or write about sin. One the second weeks, my spiritual guide encouraged me to sit with the rest of the cohort and envision walking into the dark, dank basement of my sin. I remembered the unfinished, spider-web filled basement of a home I lived in. That was my vision. As I walked down the basement stairs, I encountered a lighted figure at the base of the stairs. It was Jesus, my first vision of the Christ. Jesus opened his arms to me and encouraged me to continue down the steps. I still couldn’t move. The Jesus spoke to me, “Bonnie, come.” I raced down the rest of the stairs into the arms of my Savior and was wrapped in his embrace.

As I came out of my vision, I found the cohort laying hands on me and my own arms wrapped around me in a hug. It was at that moment that I saw my sin as God sees it, mistakes but no reason not to seek the Lord who loves me. May you feel the same.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Psalm 32
Pope Francis in his New Year’s Day sermon, preached on Wednesday, January 1, 2020, at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, he decried the “many times women's bodies are sacrificed on the profane altar of advertisements, of profit, of pornography.” He also lamented that women are “continually offended, beaten, raped, forced into prostitution” or forced to have abortions. He contended that if we want a better world in the new year, we should treat women with dignity.

Francis urged that women become “fully associated” with decision-making in order to make the world more united and at peace. The Pope continued, “And if we want a better world, that is a house of peace and not a courtyard of war, may the dignity of every woman be at the heart of it. Women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully associated with decision-making processes.” Francis concluded, “For when women can transmit their gifts, the world finds itself more united and more in peace. So, a conquest for women is a conquest for the whole of humanity.”
Ron L.

* * *

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
One of Aesop’s fables is about a turtle who envied the ducks who swam in the pond where he lived. As he listened to them describe the wonders of the world they had seen, he wanted to travel, too. However, since he was a turtle, he was unable to travel far. Finally, two ducks offered to help him. One of the ducks said, “We will each hold an end of a stick in our mouths. You hold the stick in the middle in your mouth, and we will carry you through the air so that you can see what we see when we fly. But be quiet or you will be sorry.”

The turtle loved the idea. He took hold of the stick and away into the sky they went. The ducks flew up above the trees and circled around the meadow. The turtle was amazed and overjoyed at how he now saw the world. He’d just noticed flowers on a hillside, when a crow flew past. Astonished at the sight of a turtle flying carried by two ducks he said, “Surely this must be the king of all turtles!” Filled with pride, the turtle began, “Why certainly…” As he spoke, he lost his grip on the stick and fell.

Aesop’s turtle has something in common with Adam and Eve. The temptation to be like God was great. The fruit was so inviting and the serpent so convincing, Eve couldn’t resist. She ate and gave some to Adam and he also ate. When people ignore what they are told and do what they want it leads to trouble; every time.
Bill T.

* * *

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
What is said to us is not necessarily what we hear and say. God tells Adam that he could eat from any of the trees in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. On the day he ate from that fruit he would die.

Eve told the wily serpent that they were neither to eat from that tree, nor touch it. Is this what Adam told her? Did Eve add the phrase herself? Somewhere along the way the words were added. With what result? The ancient teachers who discussed this story wondered if Eve, assuming the prohibition included touching, and having touched the fruit with no ill effects, thought perhaps that eating the fruit would cause no harm as well.

Regardless of whether this is true, it is a reminder that adding or subtracting from the word of God is not a great idea.
Frank R.

* * *

Romans 5:12-19
Billionaire Ted Turner made an observation that’s timely for this text and for our deliberations about politics with the Super Tuesday primaries on the horizon. We need to keep in mind he said that “People aren’t born givers. They’re born selfish!” In a recent study of the American economy, economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman have the data to illustrate the truth of Turner’s observation, the truth that Christian faith teaches. We are creatures who create systems which are not inclined to help those with less than we have. These economists found that between 1980 and today, almost none of the gains from economic growth accrued to the bottom half of the population. They write, “Looking first at income before taxes and transfers, income stagnated for the bottom 50% earners: for this group, average pre-tax income was $16,000 in 1980 — expressed in 2014 dollars, using the national income deflator — and still is [was] $16,200 in 2014.” These economists also found that incomes in the top 1% tripled. Nothing’s changed in the last five years.  

What can Christians do about this? Ultimately nothing. Christ takes care of our sin. And yet that insight gives Christians a perspective on politics and life that can contribute to more justice and better living standards. Famed Christian thinker Reinhold Niebuhr well explained what we can offer on Super Tuesday and every day:

Christians ought to be able to analyze a given situation more realistically than moralists and idealists because they are not under the necessity of having illusions about human nature in order to avert despair... But it is equally true that they are unable to regard any of the pragmatic policies of politics by which relative justice is achieved in history as ultimately normative. This means that Christians always live in a deeper dimension than the realm in which the political struggle takes place...It [Faith] does encourage him to the charity which is born of humility and contrition. (Reinhold Niebuhr: theologian of public life, p.130)
Mark E.

* * *

Matthew 4:1-11
A tug of war game was the climax of a neighboring school’s field day. There were two classes competing in the final match. Both classes had won preliminary matches and were now facing off to see which was the strongest. Each class had the same number of participants on the rope. I white flag, attached to the rope was centered. To win, each class would try to pull the flag across a white line on their side. The whistle blew and the pulling began. Though both classes had won before, it was soon evident that one of them was stronger than the other. The flag moved steadily toward their side until in less than a minute in crossed the line. One of the parents of a child in the losing class asked her daughter what happened. The girl responded with direct honesty. “The pull on that side was stronger than the pull on our side.”

I suppose it does come down to the pull. Satan's temptations, in this text, were real. John, in his epistle, categorized them as "lust of eyes" (materialism), "lust of body" (hedonism) and "pride of life" (egoism). These temptations were intended to deceive and corrupt three main human characteristics; to think, wish and feel which are inside the mind, soul, and heart as Jesus alludes in the greatest commandment. Jesus’ ability to resist the devil was centered on his focus and resolute relationship with his father. The pull toward his father was greater than the pull toward what Satan offered. When the pull on one side is greater than the pull on the other, victory is won.
Bill T.   


* * *

Matthew 4:1-11
The marathon, 26.2 miles, is the standard for all runners, whether elite or weekend. At major events hundreds or thousands line up, each with a different goal in mind – first place, a high ranking in their age bracket, a personal best, just plain finishing. Each expects that regardless of the result, the race will be difficult. Each runner will be pushed to their limit, but in the end what matters is running the good race and finishing the course.

Yet there are those who, for whatever reason, cheat. They may be good runners, even very good runners, but they figure out shortcuts and cut miles off the course, while trying to appear in race photographs and cross various electronic devices so their presence on the course is recorded. However, just as cheaters have grown more sophisticated, so have those organizations, sometimes private citizens acting on their own without pay, that document cases of cheating. In the end, they are exposed, and their victories are rendered hollow and worthless.

At the time when he was tempted by the adversary, Jesus had already completed an impressive marathon – fasting in the wilderness for forty days. Now the devil tempts him, with the way of the cross between him and the glorious resurrection, to take shortcuts to glory – to take advantage of his position and power to alleviate the hunger we have all felt at some time, to perform great things without having to assume the identity of the suffering servant in order to ascend to the throne of the kingdoms of God

Worthy is the lamb, we hear the multitudes sing in heaven, (see Revelation 5:12) when the lamb bearing the marks of slaughter is revealed as ready to reign. It is running the full course that made the lamb worthy.
Frank R.


* * *

Matthew 4:1-11
Joe Biden was running for president in the November 2020 election on the democratic ticket. Biden has long admitted to overcoming a stutter. But Biden said, “Stuttering gave me an insight I don’t think I ever would have had into other people’s pain.”

This seemed to fall on deaf ears to President Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, who mocked Biden’s speech. In January 2020 she said at a campaign event she said, “I feel kind of sad for Biden ... I'm supposed to want him to fail at every turn, but every time they turn to him, I'm like, ‘Joe can you get it out? Let's get the words out Joe.’”

Retired airline captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger opened up about his history with stuttering in a response to the “cruel remarks” from Lara Trump. Sullenberger, a former pilot best known for landing a commercial jet on the Hudson river in what came to be known as “The Miracle on the Hudson.” He recalled the “anguish” of being called on in grade school. Sullenberger said, “My neck and face would quickly begin to flush a bright red, the searing heat rising all the way to the top of my head; every eye in the room on me; the intense and painful humiliation, and bullying that would follow, all because of my inability to get the words out.”

It’s these same feelings that Sullenberger said “came rushing back” upon hearing Lara Trump’s comments she made about the former vice president at a Trump campaign event.
Ron L.
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For May 9, 2021:
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Waking Up to Racism
by John Sumwalt
Psalm 98

Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.
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In the mid-1960s, a popular song declared, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just too little of.”1 It was an era of both national and international unrest. And the American landscape was reeling from the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and opposition to both. Amidst headlines so marked by unrest and division, therefore, the sentiment of the song struck a chord with an American audience. 
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Acts 10:44-48
Prejudice is always wrong. Nat King Cole is a well-known artist who was the first African American to host his own national television program. In 1948, he purchased a beautiful home in an exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood. When the local neighborhood association confronted him and informed him it didn’t want any undesirables to move in, Cole responded, “Neither do I. If I see any coming in here, I’ll be the first to complain.” He lived in that house until his death in 1965.

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John Jamison
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (vv. 9-12)

Hi, everyone! (Let them respond.)

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Janice B. Scott
Call to Worship:

Jesus gave up his life for us. In our worship today let us explore how to love one another as he has loved us.


Invitation to Confession:

Jesus, sometimes our love for each other is thin and pale.
Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, sometimes we pretend to love but fail to care.
Christ, have mercy.

Jesus, sometimes we don't know how to love.
Lord, have mercy.

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John E. Sumwalt
Jo Perry-sumwalt
One evening, when I was 26 years old, beleagered by guilt for acknowledged sins, I was deep into an hour-long prayer of repentance. In despair, I grieved that I had broken the commandments and that I was not worthy of God's love.

Near me lay the Bible, unused and unfamiliar. I had never, ever read from the Bible. Yet my hands reached out and took the Bible to open it. I knew not where, nor why. But my hands knew the way. They opened to John 15:9-11 and as my eyes began to read, my mind knew the meaning with clarity. My eyes read verse 10 first:
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Theme of the Day
God's love brings us together.

Collect of the Day
It is noted that God has prepared great joy for those who love Him. Petitions are then offered that such love may be poured into the hearts of the faithful so that they may obtain these promises. Justification as a reward for our deeds (love) is communicated by this prayer.

Psalm of the Day
Psalm 98
Stan Purdum
(See Christmas Day, Cycles A and B, for alternative approaches.)

Richard E. Gribble
Once upon a time a great and powerful king ruled over a vast territory. There was something very strange about this kingdom, however -- everything was the same. The people ate the same food, drank the same drink, wore the same clothes, and lived in the same type of homes. The people even did all the same work. There was another oddity about this place. Everything was gray -- the food, the drink, the clothes, the houses; there were no other colors.

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