Tag Archives: lectionary

There is hope in dark times! [First Sunday of Advent, part 1]

3 Dec

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

For Advent 2019, Faith Church will be following the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Each Sunday we’ll look at how the four readings tie together thematically, all supporting the goals of the season of Advent.  Thus we are pausing our series on Deuteronomy.  We’ll return to that after the New Year 2019.  Why does Faith Church observe Advent?  This post explains our thought. And this post from the Deuteronomy series refers to it as well.

In this series of posts we start by meeting a guy who was living in a very dark time.  It was one of those difficult phases of life that most of us know by personal experience, times when you can look all around you and seriously question whether God is real, or if he is able to keep his promises.  You look around you and you wonder, “Why? Lord,Why?” 

I was talking to someone this week who was going through a difficult and painful time in their career, and they said that very thing, “Why is this happening to me?” At times like this, it can seems like there is no hope.

Maybe you’ve been there.  The worst is when the difficulty and the pain carry on and seem like they are not going away anytime soon.  As Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  And in the waiting game,you can be very tempted to have dark thoughts.  

So let’s meet Jeremiah.  He was in one of those dark times. Turn with me to Jeremiah 33:14-16.

To get a sense of the backstory of this passage, look back at Jeremiah 32 where we learn that Jeremiah is prophesying at the very end of the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (which was the southern kingdom of Israel).  The scene takes place in the capital of Judah, the famous city of Jerusalem.  A powerful enemy force of the superpower nation of Babylon has built siege works around the city walls, and they are starving the people.  It’s only a matter of time until the city gives up, and all is lost. 

So Jeremiah, directed by the Lord, buys his cousin’s field, as a prophetic sign. Kinda weird, right? At that moment when Babylon’s armies are surrounding the city, God wants Jeremiah to buy a field? The people inside the city walls, Jeremiah’s friends and family would have been thinking, “Jeremiah, what in the world are you doing?  This is a ridiculous time to buy anything.  We’re all going to die!” But God had a reason for Jeremiah to buy the field, and he sure got their attention.

God’s message was that, though things look dire now, one day people will buy and sell property in the land again.  Through Jeremiah, God says that Israel has turned its back on him, and so he is allowing Babylon to wipe Jerusalem from the face of the earth as punishment for Israel’s sins.  But one day in the future, there will be restoration.  And that promise of restoration is what we read about in Jeremiah chapter 33. 

Specifically looking at 33:14-16, we see the words, “The days are coming!” What days?  The days when God will fulfill the gracious promise he made to his people.  Look at verses 15 and 16.  There we read of the promise of a new king.  He uses the image of a branch sprouting from David’s line.  The famous second king of Israel, David was known as a “man after God’s own heart.”  Long before Jeremiah’s time, 400 or so years earlier, David ruled the land, and God promised David that, if his descendants followed the way of the Lord, David would always have someone from his royal line on the throne of Israel.  Well, as Jeremiah looked around the city, he knew the 400 year streak of having a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem was nearly over.  The kings had turned away from God, and thus God allowed Babylon to capture them.  And that is what eventually happened soon after this passage.  Jerusalem was destroyed, and never again was a Davidic king on the throne. 

But here in Jeremiah 33 we have a new hope, a prophecy of a new Davidic king who will come, who will do what is right and just in the land.  A new day is coming, declares the Lord, a new David! And who might that be?

We find out about 600 years later,when God sends an angel to a humble unknown peasant girl.  In Luke 1:26, the angel Gabriel appears suddenly to a young lady named Mary in the Northern Israelite town of Nazareth,and the angel says Mary is highly favored, that the Lord is with her.  Mary’s life is about to change forever.  The angel tells her in Luke 1:31 that she is going to bear a child, and that child will be great, the Son of the Most High, and get this, God will give Mary’s son the throne of his father David,and her son will rule over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.  Imagine Mary hearing that! 

Mary knew that she was of the line of David, but 600 years had gone by.  That would be like a descendant of George Washington in our day saying, “George Washington is my great, great, great,great, great, grandfather.”  The lineage is interesting, but it doesn’t mean anything anymore.  So there’s Mary, knowing that David is her great, great, great, great, great, grandfather. But what is God talking about?  She’s going to have a son who will be on the throne of David?  And he will have a kingdom that will never end?  What does it mean? To get some perspective, we’ll need to turn to the second reading of the day, and we do that in the next post.

I am preaching the same sermon four times in a row…thank you Lectionary very much.

16 Mar

I don’t know a whole lot about the history of the Lectionary.  I guess I could at least do a basic search on Wikipedia, but not right now.  Clearly, someone put a lot of time and thought into the selection of passages because they fit well with the Christian calendar.

For example, it’s Lent right now.  A seven week period leading up to Easter.  This year for Lent I decided to follow the Lectionary Gospel readings which happen to all be from Luke.  Not having done a ton of digging into each passage ahead of time, I surmised that the readings would help the disciple of Jesus look inward, be penitent for sin, and seek to eradicate sin in advance of the grand celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter.

But each week what we have found is a thread around the idea of movement.  In every single reading, there is a clear emphasis on the idea of movement in our lives away from sin and toward Jesus..

Much to the glee of some in our church family, at the end of each sermon, I have called for people to make an outward physical move symbolizing what is hopefully an inward spiritual reality.

One week it was the traditional “come forward to kneel at the altar.”  We have strong revivalist roots in our tradition, and I praise God for the response.

The next week I asked people to write on the Scribble cards we have in the hymnal racks on each of our pews.  They could write a sin they were struggling with, or anything they wanted to talk about, and give it to me or another person with whom they could talk further.  Again, it was wonderful to see the response.

Last week during Silent Sunday, one of youth leaders had a great idea that we used.  We handed each person, upon entering the sanctuary, a “Hello my name is…” sticker badge, but we instructed them to wait to write on it until they received instructions in the sermon.  Being Silent Sunday the sermon was on-screen.  Just as the Prodigal Son (a wonderful story of movement) did not feel worthy to be called “son”, but instead felt he was only worthy to be called “servant,” we asked people to write a false name on the badge.  Perhaps it was a name they were called by someone, a name that hurt.  Or maybe it was a name they call themselves in the quietness of their own minds, but still a name that is not true.  They were then to peel off the badge, place it on their shirt, and walk to the front of the sanctuary where we had placed the large cross we use for our Good Friday Cross Walk.  People could then remove the badge, place it on the cross, symbolizing the new life that Jesus makes possible for us through his death and resurrection.  Then at the foot of the cross there were baskets with pre-printed badges that said “Hello my name is Son of the King” or “Daughter of the King.”  They could then take a badge that has their true name, and place it on their shirt.  This received the biggest response of all.

So here I am again, on the eve of preaching yet another sermon about movement.  Many people call this week’s passage “The Parable of the Tenants” (Luke 20:9-19).  It is better titled “The Killer Tenants.”  I’ll be honest.  There is part of me that is thinking “Enough already…people are going to get sick of what is essentially the same sermon four Sundays in a row.”  If you read the parable, you’ll see why I’m saying this.  Don’t get me wrong. These are four different passages, and I have studied and written four brand new sermons each week.  And yet I wonder if people are going to start feeling tired of it.

Before I get too far down that road, I go back to the genius of the Lectionary.  Some of you might not be aware of what the Lectionary is.  To keep it simple, it is a plan for pastors to select biblical passages to preach on each week.  Each week there are four passages, one each from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels and the New Testament. In many churches that follow the Lectionary, each of the passages are read aloud during the worship service.  The sermon might focus on one, or if the pastor is particularly creative they will weave together all four.  In three years, if you follow the Lectionary, you will have covered a wide swath of the Bible.  It is an ancient plan that has been revised over the years, and it is amazing.

As I think about the selection of these passages from Luke for Lent, I realize that they come from the life and ministry of Jesus.  People who watched him, followed him and listened to him must have thought he sounded like a broken record.  Let’s face it, he repeats himself quite a bit.  Though the Lectionary selections in Luke for Lent are purposefully chosen to emphasize the need to remove sin and commit fully to Jesus, I suppose it wouldn’t have been all that hard to come up with the instances in Luke where Jesus himself is talking about these themes.  He speaks about them all the time.  So may that be instructive to us.  Just when we’re feeling sick of being harped on for being sinful and needing to commit more fully to Jesus, he says it again.

But here’s the kicker.  Why would he do that?  To make us feel guilty?  Not at all! Instead he speaks this truth to us because he loves us and wants to show us the abundant life that only he can offer.  He sees us captivated by lesser things.  And doesn’t American culture promise us the good life, only to re-neg on that promise by giving us much less than what we thought?  It reminds of me playing all those games at our local LaserTag establishment.  Skee-ball, basketball shots, the game where you roll a token down a slot and try to get it in the bull’s-eye, or the game where you try to push the button when a light is flying around a circle and your button-push stops the light on a numbered circle, and you’re hoping to get the jackpot?  Then you get tickets for winning these games.  You turn your tickets into the ticket-eater and it pops out a receipt.  You’re all excited from winning pocket-fulls of tickets, and it feels great to load them into the ticket-eater.  You take your receipts for 368 points to the prize counter, only to be slapped in the face with the reality that you’re thousands of the points short of the iPod.  You walk away with gummy bracelets.  Jesus says I have an iPod waiting for you and your are gorging yourself on gummy bracelets.

Do you know anyone who bought into our culture’s idea of happiness and fulfillment only to be severely disappointed and disillusioned?  Maybe it was you.

We need movement.