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Sermon Illustrations for Lent 1 (2021)

Genesis 9:8-17
The last four years of the Trump administration have not been good for creation with all the environmental protection rollbacks (though the pandemic did stop some of the pollution). The Black Lives Matter movement has taught us about the racial character of our environmental pollution techniques. The Environmental Protection Agency found that air pollution in much worse in the typical black neighborhood than in a nearby predominantly white neighborhood. In 2019 The New York Daily News did a report on how more trash is dumped in black sections than white sections of the city. Christianity does indeed have something to say about this matter, and our story reminds us that caring for creation is God’s business. He’s made a promise.

The Catholic Church in its catechism (2415) reminds us of our responsibilities as Christians. It reads:

The Seventh Commandment [pertaining to theft] enjoins respect for the integrity of creation...  Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the creation is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

Famed modern theologian Karl Barth offers a beautiful image for mandating concern about  creation. He writes:

And if we inquire into the goal of creation, the object of the whole, the object of heaven and earth and all creation, I can only say that it is to be the theatre of His glory. (Dogmatics in Outline, p.58)

The star actor (God) deserves the very best work from the stagehands in getting the stage ready and keeping it in good shape.
Mark E.

* * *

Genesis 9:8-17
Covenant can be a difficult concept in our transactional culture. Covenant is not contract; it is so much more than that. Covenant is promise, commitment, vow, and as such so much more transformational than transactional. In the United Church of Christ, we have a covenantal polity. Our structure is not hierarchical but covenantal. We promise to listen to, respect, and attempt to understand all the various settings of the church – the national setting, the regional conference, the smaller groups of association and the local congregation. There are no edicts. Rather there are commitments, promise to be in conversation, in relationship. This is the promise God makes to Noah. “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” What is your sign of covenant with God?
Bonnie B.

* * *

1 Peter 3:18-22
Sometimes we can get caught up in doing things and thinking about things in a worldly way. We know we ought to live transformed lives, as a follower of Jesus, but it isn’t easy. Consider this story.

A wealthy businessman was shocked to see a fisherman sitting beside his boat, playing with a small child.

“Why aren’t you out fishing?” asked the businessman.

“Because I caught enough fish for one day,” the fisherman answered.

“Why don’t you catch some more?”

“What would I do with them?”

“You could earn more money,” said the businessman. “Then with the extra money, you could buy a bigger boat, go into deeper waters, and catch more fish. Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets. With the nets, you could catch even more fish and make more money. With that money you could own two boats, maybe three boats. Eventually you could have a whole fleet of boats and be rich like me.”

“Then what would I do?” asked the fisherman.

“Then,” said the businessman, “you could really enjoy life.”

The fisherman looked at the businessman a bit puzzled and asked,

“What do you think I am doing now?”

When a person is baptized into Jesus Christ, s/he is a new person, and s/he has a new outlook on life. Baptism pictures dying to self to live for Jesus. It is the answer of a good conscience toward God; the expressed desire to live as Jesus would. The things of this world “grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
Bill T.

* * *

1 Peter 3:18-22
Unfinished business. There’s a strange and brief story in Genesis 6:1-4, about the sons of God lusting after human daughters. This illicit union results in the birth of the giants. There’s something fairly primeval and mythological about the story. It seems to be about crossing the boundary between the divine and human, and it’s kind of the last straw before the flood wipes the world clean.

The story had a lot of traction outside our scriptures. In both the Book of Enoch and Jubilees, two Jewish apocalypses, we learn more about how these beings taught humanity evil arts and practices. In these non-biblical books, it was Enoch who pronounced sentence upon them, consigning them to the underworld. God rejected their appeals.

Some think this passage in 1 Peter addresses the fate of these beings. By suggesting that Jesus preached to them in prison, and possibly even forgiving and elevating them, the apostle was demonstrating just how complete his victory over death truly was!
Frank R.

* * *

Mark 1:9-15
Lots of problems in America. We’re still plagued by systemic racism, the wars everybody but our GIs forget continue, lots of Americans continue to suffer the economic downturns caused by the pandemic, and most of us aren’t ready for retirement or ready to pay our kids’ college costs. Jesus calls us to repentance, says it’s urgent. With Jesus, Martin Luther taught us that we need to be repenting (changing our minds) every day (Ninety-Five Theses, 1). He also explained repentance this way:

To probe and ponder how bad you have been is not enough if you do not ponder and probe much more how good you desire to become. (What Luther Says, p.1214).

With repentance comes forgiveness, which like repentance is itself future-oriented. Dutch botanist Paul Boese nicely makes this point, as he writes:

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. I would go so far as to contend that forgiveness can even change the past.

Consider how embracing the forgiveness Jesus provides might help heal our lives, heal this nation.
Mark E.

* * *

Mark 1:9-15
Where does God’s spirit drive you? For Jesus, after baptism, the Spirit of God called Jesus into the desert, the wilderness to experience temptation. I believe that living in the contemporary world we can sometimes feel as if we are in a wilderness of temptation: temptation to hate, temptation to judge, temptation to pre-judge, temptation to make idols of wealth and power. We live in the wilderness of temptation. Jesus goes to the scripture, to the word of God to defeat the tempter. We can do the same – relying on the word of God, the faith our communities share, the mission and vision of being followers of Jesus. This Lent in our wilderness of temptation let us cling to the word – and the one who brings it to life for us, Jesus.
Bonnie B.
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John Jamison
In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (vv. 14-16)

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David Kalas
At the beginning of his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, John Milton articulates a part of his task in writing as to “justify the ways of God to men.”1 That may be an ongoing task for us. Fallen humanity is like a perpetual adolescent, always questioning and challenging (and disobeying) the parent. And so there is a continual need for the ways of God to be explained and justified to human beings.
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Exodus 20:1-17
None of us are thieves. And so the commandment forbidding stealing does not condemn us! Oh, but it does if you have ever tried to cut a smart business deal, suckered someone to get them to buy your product, or failed to help those in need. Jonathan Edwards explained it this way in his exposition of dishonesty and theft:

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
There once was a report in "The Sunday Times" about the claims of Francis Crick to have located "the cells of our soul." Fifty years ago, Francis Crick and James Watson won a Nobel prize for their discovery of the DNA double helix, which has been responsible for huge leaps forward in health care and criminal detection.


Elaine M. Ward
It was a new church for Sam. It was his grandmother's church, and because Sam loved his grandmother, he sat on the edge of the pew and tried hard to listen. "Are you saved?" the preacher asked from the pulpit far away. Sam remembered when he had saved pennies for a new plant for Mother on Mother's Day. "Maybe Mother saved pennies for me," Sam thought. The preacher continued, "Will you give your heart to Jesus?" Sam wondered where his heart was. But if Jesus needed Sam's heart he would be glad to give it.
Elizabeth Achtemeier
In this season of Lent, we are Sunday by Sunday approaching the foot of that executioner's cross on Golgotha. And I think that sometimes we wonder why it is necessary for us to make that journey. After all, it does not have a pleasant destination. To be sure, human beings often have a morbid curiosity about disasters. We flock to the site of an auto wreck, thereby holding up the traffic with our rubber--necking. Winston Churchill told of the time when a woman remarked on the crowd that had gathered to hear him speak.
Nancy Kraft
There are some people who have the gift of persuasion. If you've ever seen the Music Man, it's a gift that Professor Hill had as he sold musical instruments to all the kids in town by convincing everyone that they could make beautiful music by just thinking the notes. He was what you'd call a smooth talker, which is a valuable skill for a salesperson. There are also other professions where it helps to have strong verbal skills that can be used for persuasion. Take politicians, for example. Bill Clinton was known as a smooth talker.
David T. Ball
Jesus in the temple -- oh, didn't he show those money-changers who were desecrating the temple grounds with their money-grubbing business? Not to mention the mess that all the livestock were making! Out! Out! Out! He cleared them all out, those traders in things that didn't belong in God's house. And he had every right to do it, we tend to think. Serves them right, despoiling sacred space with their commerce -- profiting off of the desire of the faithful to do something pleasing to God. Exploitation. Good riddance!

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