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Sermon Illustrations for Third Sunday of Advent (2020)

Illustration
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
I read these words from Isaiah and remember the gospels and Jesus reading this passage in the synagogue. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” As one ordained into ministry, I recall occasions when I have truly felt the Spirit of the Lord upon me: seminary graduation, my ordination, the first time I led worship or presided at communion or a baptism, holding the hand at the bedside of a parishioner as she died, baptizing my grandson and later my granddaughter. At all these times, in these moments, I felt the Spirit of the Lord upon me. It’s a mountaintop experience and I am not surprised that I can recall the moments as they happened even if I cannot feel exactly what I felt then. But my call is to act on the presence of the Spirit, and whether I can feel the presence profoundly, I live into the call of that Spirit - to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. That I can do.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
With the new presidential term ready to begin, it is natural to consider the state of our nation. The pandemic has worked its evil on income inequality in our nation, with all the unemployment and poverty it has caused, not just in America but also worldwide. The World Bank has estimated that 49 million more people will be pushed into absolute poverty.

The lesson addresses these matters in referring to the justice of the Lord who hates robbery and wrongdoing, and a promise to deliver good news to the oppressed (vv.6,1). About God’s justice, Martin Luther once wrote words that hit home with well-off Americans:

Many live for themselves. Meanwhile they neglect the poor, devote themselves to prayer, and consider themselves saints. Yet it is not enough to have harmed one’s neighbor. God also demands positive uplifting of the needy through love. (Luther’s Works, Vol.16, p.19)

Get off the dime, Christians, in light of all the poverty. The ancient African theologian Clement of Alexandria also offered a formula for why Christians are the enemies of poverty. It follows from the very nature of the incarnation and the Trinity:

God brought our race into communion by first imparting what was His own, when He gave His own Word common to all, and made all things for all. All things, therefore are common, and not for the rich to appropriate an undue share. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.2, p.268)
Mark E.

* * *

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
The actor Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer on August 28, 2020. He was 43 years old. The black actor is known for a number of leading roles he played in the movies. He was Jackie Robinson in 42. He played Thurgood Marshall in the movie Marshall. He played the singer James Brown in the movie Get On Up. Boseman was becoming a cult hero as he played T’Challa in the movie the Black Panther produced by Marvel Comics.

In the last weeks of his life, he helped a dream-come-true for a little boy for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. In Boseman’s last tweet before he died, having sent it to the friend who assisted him in the Make-a-Wish project, he made reference to that effort when he wrote, “It broke me, man. But we need to do that for them. People deserve abundant life, special moments. They’ve been through hell battling disease. If we were able to ease their suffering and bring joy for a moment… then we made a difference in his life.
Ron L.

* * *

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Joni Erickson Tada, a woman who’s been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in 1967, said, “Giving thanks is not a matter of feeling thankful, it is a matter of obedience.”

“The Houston Chronicle” on November 5, 2010 reported the story of Eunice Sandborn. On July 20, 2010, Sandborn became the world’s oldest living person by celebrating her 114th birthday at her church, First Baptist, in Jacksonville, Texas. The story quoted Eunice saying that she not only loves everything about her life, but she also has “no complaints.” If she had wanted to complain, she would have had many things accumulated throughout her 114 years to complain of. Sandborn, however, demonstrates that complaining is a choice.

Paul writes, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). No matter what may come our way in our walk with Jesus, we are to have an attitude of gratitude. God has a plan. It’s up to us to choose to trust and be thankful. “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.”
Bill T.

* * *

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
I don’t know how sincere we truly are, nor how dear the addressee of a letter really is to us, when we begin our letters with “Dear” and end them “Sincerely”? But these are nice words, and at their heart they express our best thoughts, or the thoughts we’d like to actually have for our correspondents.

When Paul tells the Thessalonians to “Rejoice Always” he is using a word, chairete, which literally means rejoice but which is also a perfunctory word of farewell often used in letters in the same manner we write “Dear” and “Sincerely.”

There is no suggestion of insincerity or emptiness when Paul uses the word. Here it is meant in the active sense that despite the worries the Thessalonians have regarding the future they should rejoice. Unlike the Corinthians, the Macedonians, including those of Thessaloniki, are not the richest people in the world. Life is tough -- yet they are responding abundantly to Paul’s request for an offering to be taken to the poor Christians of Jerusalem.

The good thing is that for Paul rejoicing is the default setting. This is how we should live life.

During this holiday season we will wish people a Merry Christmas many times over. Sometimes the words are spoken without much conviction. Other times these words are spoken with all the heart we can give them.
Frank R.

* * *

John 1:6-8, 19-28
In these days of protests, pandemics, injustice coming to light, racism expressed and countered, I find myself feeling a little like John, a voice crying in the wilderness. I hope I am a voice that calls for grace, compassion, kindness, hope, and love. I hope I am speaking out for the least among us and moving more closely into alignment with God and God’s hopes for the world. I, like John, know who I am not. I am not the Messiah. I am not worthy to be considered so. Yet, I hope that my words and my actions point the way toward the one who comes in the name of God – Emmanuel, God-With-Us. I can do no more.
Bonnie B.

* * *

John 1:6-8, 19-28
In church circles which prize liberal, bold critiques of the status quo, it is common to claim that you’re trying to be prophetic in your preaching and ministry. This story of John the Baptist shows that being a prophet, being a church leader, is a dirty job. Martin Luther made that clear, as he described what John did (the implication being it is what church leaders and would-be prophets are to do):

In accordance with this mission, he [the prophet] directs all, even his own disciplines, toward Christ the Lord... The true characteristic and mark for the identification of

false teachers is this, that they draw the attention of their hearers upon themselves and their lives, and not away from their person toward Christ. (Luther’s Works, Vol.22, pp.50, 52)

Martin Luther King, Jr. made a similar point concerning leadership about five centuries after his namesake was preaching. King was talking about avoiding what he calls The Drum-Major Instinct. He claimed:

And so Jesus have us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important – wonderful. If you want to be important – wonderful... But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That is your new definition of greatness... it means that everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve. (A Testament of Hope, p.265)
Mark E.
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The Immediate Word

Thomas Willadsen
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For May 9, 2021:
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John E. Sumwalt
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Contents
“Waking Up to Racism” by John Sumwalt
“Twists and Turns” by Frank Ramirez

 
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.
(vv. 8-9)

Emphasis Preaching Journal

David Kalas
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.)

The Village Shepherd

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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