Sermon Resources for Lent and Holy Week 2019
Year C Texts from the Revised Common Lectionary
Note: In addition to the resources below, please check our website every week for the current “Sermon Starter” articles on the Gospel, Old Testament, Psalm, and Epistle Lectionary texts for every Sunday: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/current-sermon-starters/
Additionally, remember that a wealth of service planning and liturgical resources are available at our ministry partner, The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Link to this page to see their resources: http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/lent-resource-guide/
Year C Text and the Dates of Lent 2019:
First Sunday in Lent: March 10, 2019
Text: Luke 4:1-13
—“He left him until an opportune time.” Luke’s account of the temptations of Christ ends with a thud. Yes, Jesus has neatly resisted—and what’s more, neatly outwitted—Satan and he did it in no small measure through his superior grasp on the very Word of God that the devil tried to muster for his own grim cause. Luke clearly gives us a sense of victory here. And yet . . . the devil is still watching, waiting for another opportunity—just the right opportunity—to swing back in with more temptations. As we begin the Lenten Season, could we find a more poignant reminder of the fact that we all face temptation on a constant basis than this last verse?
“An Opportune Time” by Rev. Jack Roeda based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13
Second Sunday in Lent: March 17, 2019
Text: Luke 13:31-35
—As Barbara Brown Taylor points out in her sermon on this passage, we have here a curious combination of imagery that includes a fox and a chicken. Since we know what foxes like to do once they gain entry into the henhouse, Jesus surely knew what he was doing in calling Herod “a fox” and then comparing the lost citizens of Jerusalem to chicks he wished he could gather under his wings. As a Lenten text, this lection reminds us of the sorrow of Christ’s life and ministry and the truth pathos that drove him. It also reminds us of the fate we face if we likewise refuse to see in Jesus the One who alone can save us and protect us. Of course, there are crosscurrents to it all. Death hangs heavy in the air here. Herod the fox is out to slaughter Jesus the hen. Chicks who try to take refuge under this hen’s wings might well conclude they had chosen the wrong safe house (or coop!). Indeed, by all outward appearance the chicks who refused to flock to Jesus the hen seemed wise. But in choosing to save their own lives . . . There is more gospel lurking in this semi-odd passage than at first meets the eye!
“A Butterfly in the Ghetto” by John Buchanan based on Luke 13:31-35
“Chickens and Foxes” by Barbara Brown Taylor in her sermon collection “Bread of Angels” (Cowley Publications, 1997) pp. 123-127.
Sample Sermon by Scott Hoezee
When I was a kid in the early 1970s, Saturday night meant watching my favorite TV show, Emergency! I loved that show about two brave paramedics from Squad 51 of the Los Angeles Fire Department. When Johnny and Roy were in danger, my pulse raced. Thanks to my father, who was a real-life volunteer fireman at the time, I even got an old fireman’s helmet and painted a “51” on it so it would match Johnny’s helmet. But I remember that one week on a Saturday night my parents went to visit with some friends in Holland, Michigan, and they took my brother and me along. The children of our friends were not accustomed to watching Emergency! and so come 8pm that night, they turned on another show. So I told them that my parents did not allow me to watch that particular show and so we should not have it on. The other kids relented and soon I was nicely ensconced in front of their TV watching my heroes Johnny and Roy.
As it happened, it was not true that my parents did not allow me to watch that other show. I don’t want to say I lied exactly. It was more of what Winston Churchill once called “a terminological inexactitude.” But to hide my true motivation, I made up something that pointed to an authority figure whose influence would steer things my direction. “If we do this, you’ll have to deal with my parents,” I claimed.
I think that something exactly like that was behind the Pharisees’ words to Jesus warning about Herod’s alleged plans to harm him. When we read this passage from Luke 13 a few moments ago, it should have struck you as vaguely surprising to see the Pharisees, of all people, huddling around Jesus so as to protect him from harm. After all, Jesus and the Pharisees did not exactly see eye to eye on most things. What’s more, we’re not too far away in Luke’s gospel from a time when the Pharisees will serve as Herod’s cheerleaders in not just roughing Jesus up but actually executing him! So when we read that the Pharisees appear to be protecting Jesus in Luke 13, we have to conclude that either Jesus had finally run into a group of kinder, gentler Pharisees or that something else is going on.
I think something else is going on and I suspect it’s something devious. My hunch is that whether or not Herod was really taking note of Jesus and planning some harm for him, the Pharisees mention this to Jesus only as a way to get rid of him. In truth, it wasn’t Herod who wanted Jesus out of Jerusalem, it was the Pharisees, the religious establishment. Jesus threatened so much of what the Pharisees stood for, as you can see in earlier parts of even this very chapter. He cozied up to the very sinners and tax collectors whom the Pharisees shunned. He told stories that, despite being a little hard to figure out, surely seemed to paint religious leaders in a bad light. In fact, the closer Jesus got to Jerusalem and to the very center of the Temple establishment, the more threatened the Pharisees felt. Bad enough that Jesus caused a ruckus out in the sticks in Capernaum and Galilee but they could not afford to have him within the perimeter of the Temple. That would strike to close to home. “Better get out of here,” they said, “Herod means you harm.” But it was the harm Jesus could cause to them that was their real concern.
In reply to this, Jesus says that although Herod is something of a fox, he wasn’t going to let Herod chase him away or cause his work to cease. Twice in this passage Jesus refers to a three-day span of time—“Today and tomorrow and the next day”—which is a very Jewish way of referring to a significant event. Any time in the Bible where you read that such-and-such an event took three days, with the culmination occurring on the third day, you know it is something deeply meaningful. At this point in Luke 13 Jesus is not yet referring directly to his resurrection on the third day but seems to be saying that the whole course of his ministry bears such a huge significance that no one—not Herod, not the Pharisees, not the forces of hell itself—will ever derail him. Jesus never stops.
And no sooner did Jesus say that and he goes on to reveal a key reason why he would never stop: he has a heart as big as all creation. Jesus looks at Jerusalem, and his heart breaks. The Pharisees’ attempt to chase Jesus off only added to the sadness Jesus felt for God’s children. He was coming to Jerusalem to fulfill a ministry that would offer salvation by grace to all. But the closer he gets to it, the more people try to wave him off or chase him away. Indeed, when Jesus says in verse 32 that he will soon reach his goal, that word in the Greek is the word that means “to fulfill” or “to complete.” The goal Jesus has is not some artificial finish line. Jesus’ goal is the salvaging of all creation.
But the closer he gets to that goal, the more Herod the fox and those foxy Pharisees try to chase him away. Since he’s surrounded by foxes anyway, Jesus decides to make the apt move of calling himself a mother hen. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather your chicks under my wings!” Jesus never stops calling God’s little ones to come to him, to come under the wings of his grace and salvation. He never stops. But the world keeps trying to stop him and sometimes, alas, the most religious people in the world try to stop him, too.
To get their own way, the Pharisees pointed the finger at a secular figure like Herod, using his alleged threat to advance their own agenda. But the result was a fox-like chasing away of Jesus. It seems like sometimes today some in the church make this same move. How often don’t we hear loud cries from some church leaders about the threat represented by such-and-such a political figure, by this or that organization, by the so-called “culture war” or “the war on Christmas.” Some keep saying that it’s the people “out there” who are the problem. But sometimes the longer and louder we say that, the more people “out there” feel like we don’t want them “in here.” And maybe that’s partly true. By going on and on about this world’s Herods, maybe what we’re really trying to do is keep Jesus all to ourselves by chasing away those we’re not sure about inviting in.
Maybe Herod really was making noises about roughing up Jesus. Maybe. But it wasn’t Herod who ultimately made sure that Jesus got hoisted up on a cross. That grim task was taken up by the Pharisees and their ilk. They were the ones who made sure that the dear chicks whom Jesus wished to take under his loving wing never got anywhere near Jesus. The Pharisees were the ones who made sure that Jesus was made into such an ugly public spectacle that people hid their faces from him, whisked their children out of the way so they would not have to look upon the horror Jesus became.
But Jesus never stops. He never stops calling us to himself. He never stops lamenting all the lost “chicks” out there and he wants them to come under the protection of his wings. What we should want more than anything is to help people hear the gracious invitation that comes ever and again from Christ the Hen. But do we? Do we make Jesus and his grace the focus of our energies and public testimonies or do we tend more often to rail against our enemies and all those who disagree with us? When people listen closely to us, do they hear us waxing eloquent about Jesus and his love or complaining that science or the media or the government are out to get us?
These are not easy things for us to ponder. But then, Lent is a time to think about hard things. Lent is a time to see ourselves as the people who contributed to Jesus’ pain, as the ones for whose sins Jesus died. And so Lent is a time to re-double our determination to leave our sins behind and stay in step with the Spirit as a response to the wonderful grace of Jesus that has caught up every one of us despite our ugliness, despite our sins, yes, despite even our attempts to prevent Jesus from doing what he came into this world to do; namely, to call all people unto himself.
As Luke 13 shows us, despite everything, Jesus never stops. This Lenten evening, we have the wonderful chance to see another example of that non-stop ministry of grace as Jesus calls you, calls me, call all of us to his sacred table again. Once again this evening, we are called to go under the wings of Christ the Hen. And that’s really just another way of saying that we are being called home.
At a conference on the sacraments in early January, Bishop N.T. Wright noted that according to John Calvin’s theology, what happens to us in the Lord’s Supper is that we really are elevated into the presence of Christ. Space, time, and matter coalesce in a deep mystery in which we really do go home to where Christ is at the right hand of the Father. We really do come under his wings this very night. For now, we do not remain there, but we glimpse and experience again the home that has been prepared for us by grace.
It’s a glorious thing to be a chick under Jesus’ wings. It’s a glorious thing to know we have this home. That’s why those of us who this night are blessed to be brought home to Christ the Hen need to go forth from this table to do all that we can to repent of any tendencies we have to chase chicks away from Jesus and to do all that we can to make sure that Jesus’ soulful, compassionate, deeply loving invitation to gather God’s chicks to himself is heard loud and clear by our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends, our family.
The gospels tell us that the moment Jesus began his public ministry, he found himself in the wilderness being confronted by the devil. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t five minutes old before someone tried to stop him. The opposition never relented. But Jesus never stops. Foxes abound in Jesus’ chicken coop. But Jesus never stops. He never stops. And so this night he calls you and me to this table. Tomorrow he wants to use us to call still more to join us at this table in the future. He never stops.
Third Sunday in Lent: March 24, 2019
Text: Luke 13:1-9
— For some reason on this Third Lenten Sunday the Lectionary brings us to the beginning of the same chapter whose concluding verses were the lection for the Second Sunday in Lent. Probably this text is not preached on very often (or no more than necessary!). As a Lenten text, it surely is sufficiently heavy and grim. Jesus first mentions two tragic occurrences and in both instances tries to distract people from their overly simplistic tendencies to equate suffering with a “quid pro quo” punishment for specific sins. “People live and people die,” Jesus says, “and even when they die terribly, it is not necessarily a sign that they had it coming to them.” It reminds me of a scene from the outstanding (albeit very dark) Clint Eastwood film, “Unforgiven.” Not long after shooting a man dead, a young gunslinger is trying to deal with how shook up he is feeling having just killed another human being. “Well, I suppose he had it coming,” he concludes. At that, the grizzled, much older gunslinger played by Eastwood retorts, “We all got it coming, kid.” That seems to be Jesus’ point, too. Instead of spending so much time and energy figuring out the whys and wherefores of other people’s deaths, take care of yourself, repent of your own sin, and seek the grace from God that alone can forgive. A fig tree needs to produce its own fruit, not wonder about the fruit (or lack thereof) on any other trees.
Sample sermon: ‘The Death We Breath’ by Jack Roeda, Church of the Servant
Fourth Sunday in Lent: March 31, 2019
Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
— We all know the Parable of the Prodigal Son but we do less with its two forerunners (surely we seldom get very enthused over the lost coin parable—a parable so lowly that even the Common Lectionary oddly asks us to skip right over it). But we need all three and above all we need the set-up for these three stories in verses 1 and 2 where the religious do-gooders, the holier-than-thou’s in Jesus’ midst, spend time grumbling about the company Jesus keeps. Here, smack in the middle of Lent, we find out that knowing that we are sinners is good news for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that this makes us Jesus’ kind of people. Those who know how lost they are constitute Jesus’ kind of people because it’s for just such as these that he came. But the very grace that is the lifeline and the source of holy joy for the lost who were found is, oddly enough, offensive to those who believe they had all along been too smart to have ever gotten lost in the first place. To the spiritually snooty, grace always looks unfair (which, of course it is). Grace looks unwarranted. Grace looks like the wrong thing to give to lost sheep and prodigal sons precisely because these are the very types of lowlifes who are more likely than not to abuse the gift, to exploit it. “Give ‘em an inch, and they’ll take a mile” we sneer. And God knows we don’t have any miles to spare. Lent is a time to celebrate the grace of God. But nothing takes the wind out of the sails of that grace-celebration faster than the sneaking suspicion that grace is only for losers (and that’s not us) and that, frankly, most of those losers ought not receive it, either. At the end of the Lenten day, where do we find ourselves? Are we whooping it up in God’s grand party for the lost that have been found (and that’s us!!) or are we sitting on the back porch with the elder brother and all his Pharisees friends, muttering and grumbling about how unfair the whole gospel is?
Sample Sermon by Scott Hoezee:
Luke 15:1-2, 11-32
He had a point, you know. The older brother: he had a point. And if you don’t believe that, then maybe it will help to admit that it’s a point you and I have made in the past and it’s a point we are liable to make again in the future, too. I’m not saying it’s a proper or right point to make only that we tend to think this way ourselves and if we can’t find a way this morning to deal with that fact, then the impact of this famous parable is probably going to be blunted for us.
Because be honest now: you work with somebody who always seems to get away with murder and it drives you a little batty. She doesn’t pull her weight in the office, takes extraordinarily long lunch breaks, and can regularly be heard chatting on the phone to her boyfriend even when she is at her desk. Yet somehow she keeps her job, somehow the boss seems to approve her work, and the rest of you who take 15-minute lunch breaks and put in packed 8-hour workdays just don’t get it.
Or maybe it’s somebody you know who goes to church same as you do but who manages to be very well thought of in the community despite the fact that he always declines the chance to serve on the church Council, never volunteers for anything, and hasn’t been to an evening worship service in a decade or more. Yet you serve as Elder every time the call comes (and it comes exactly every three years as soon as you’re eligible again), your family has always been involved at every level of the church’s life, you attend faithfully twice each week, and so can’t understand why you don’t seem to be as well thought of as your slacker friend.
Or maybe it’s not somebody you know particularly well yet you are aware that the husband of this one couple never comes to church except maybe on Easter and maybe when one of his kids is in the Christmas program. But every time this couple has a baby—and they keep seem to having them—there he is standing next to the pastor, holding the baby at the baptismal font as though he were Mr. Superstar Christian. And you grind your teeth a little each time and wonder why the pastor doesn’t do something about this situation and why your children have to witness such a shabby Christian act as though he’s got it all together spiritually.
Oh yes, that older brother: he had a point. He had a point and it’s the same point we make about lazy coworkers, slacker church members, wandering sinners who still manage to come out smelling like a rose. The older brother had a point and the whole thing can be summed up in a simple three-word phrase we’ve all uttered a thousand times: “It’s not fair!” That’s what it comes down to in Luke 15, but to see how and why, let’s review this most famous of all parables.
“A certain man had two sons.” No sooner does Jesus say that and we know what’s coming. Something is going to happen between these two sons, and we don’t have to wait long to see what that ‘something’ is. The next thing Jesus says is “The younger son . . .” and again, right away, we know that this is the spoiled brat kid, the typical younger child. All the “responsibility” DNA went to the older child. He’s Mr. Type-A personality, Mr. Take-Charge, the one who was the target of all the parental anxiety and discipline that we moms and dads tend to gush out onto our firstborn due to our sheer terror of making a mistake as a parent. But by the time you get to the second child (or the third or the fourth), you relax a little. Even as you probably snap fewer photos of the second kid (“Mom, why are there so many more baby pictures of Stephen than of me?”) so you tend to relax a little in other ways, too, and so the younger siblings get away with stuff the oldest child would never had dreamed of getting away with.
It happens. And so while the responsible firstborn son is off somewhere doing something virtuous, the cheeky younger kid—the one to whom Daddy never could say ‘No’ anyway—this younger kid comes up and tells his old man to drop dead. As Middle Eastern scholar Kenneth Bailey has been teaching us preachers for years now, not one child in a million in the Ancient Near East would have ever asked for his inheritance while his father still lived. The only way any father could have made it possible was to become legally dead, to activate his “Last Will and Testament” as though he had died. It was as horrid a thing as any child could do.
Yet this father grants it. He gives the little snot-nosed brat half of the estate. In those days the inheritance would not have been stocks and bonds and bank accounts but would have mostly been in the form of land, cattle, and other non-liquid assets. The only way this younger son could have made that wealth portable would have been to liquidate his father’s cherished estate, which also meant selling off to a stranger part of the precious property that, in Israel, would have been this family’s God-given allotment of the Promised Land.
Unsurprisingly, like some fool in a Las Vegas casino, it takes almost no time for this lad to blow the whole wad only to find himself hungover, friendless, and out on the sidewalk. In the blink of an eye he has gone from the wealthy co-heir of a lucrative estate to a rag-tail end of a human being without prospects. Finally the morning dawned when he found his hand sunk wrist-deep in a bucket of hog slop even as he cut his eyes at the pigs as if to say, “You’ll get yours once I’ve had breakfast myself, you little swine!” Well, he’d hit bottom all right but he wasn’t ready to be washed up for good.
He was just clever enough yet to hit on a plan he was fairly sure would work. So he engages in a little self-talk (the kind of thing Dr. Phil says is good for us). He grabs himself by his own filthy collar and says, “Listen up, you: Dad has got servants who sleep on clean sheets and eat three square meals every day. Go and apply for the job. And just to make sure, rehearse this line over and over as you trek home: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.”
And so the boy lights off for home. As he travels, he says it again and again and again: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants. Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants. In fact, with his eyes fixed on the road, he was running through these well-rehearsed lines at the very moment when he suddenly found himself flat on his back, tackled by some bearded old fellow who was giggling like a giddy child. It was his father! He had no idea that old man could run that fast. He’d even lost both sandals, having run clean out of his own shoes. If any of his father’s peers from the local Lions’ Club had seen this, he’d be voted out for sure. Because at that time respected patriarchs did not run. Not ever. It was the end of dignity and respect to do so.
But his father had just set a new record for the 1,000-yard dash and was even now blubbering with some kind of ecstatic joy and slobbering his fetid-smelling neck with kisses. More confused than anything, the young man blurts out the only thing he can think to say: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” That would have been a gutsy thing for this boy to say in any event but under these circumstances it was less gutsy and more stupid. His father wasn’t even listening! He didn’t even let him get to the part about being made a hired servant because he was too busy ordering some of those very same servants to put the best robe on the boy (which would have been the father’s own robe, which he was probably stripping off that very moment) and to put a ring on his finger and to put on the boy’s feet the very sandals he’d just run clean out of.
And then before you could say “Martha Stewart Living” the father had ordered that they lay on a feast fit for a king replete with breaded veal cutlets, steamed vegetables, a fine pinot noir, and the boy’s favorite crème brulee for dessert. Curiously, we’re never told one single thing about the reaction of the younger son to all this. Did you ever notice that? No words of gratitude are recorded. We receive no interior monologue to indicate that the young boy had converted into a pleasant and grateful son after all. For all we know, he spent the entire banquet quietly clucking his tongue and whispering to himself, “Morris, old boy, you got away with it! You landed with your tail in butter yet again. You gambled on your father’s being an old softy and, Ta-Da, here you are!
Maybe. Or maybe the kindness of his father melted that kind of thinking over the time to come. But we don’t know. What we do know is what went down when Mr. Responsibility came in from the fields. He saw cars parked all over the place, up and down the lane and on the front lawn. A catering truck was backed up to the kitchen’s back door and he could distinctly hear the sound of the local polka band making merry with accordions and clarinets at full throttle. So he collars one of the servants. “You there—sorry I can’t remember your name—but what’s going on here.”
And that’s when he hears the whole story. With gritted teeth and clenched fists, the older boy stomps away from the house and sits in the tire swing at the far edge of the property. His father was such a fool. Always has been, always would be. Goodness only knows what this party alone was costing, and naturally it was coming out of what remained of his share of the inheritance. By the time this shindig was finished, he’d have about $2,000 fewer bucks to call his own.
The father found this older son of his in precisely this snit. When the boy looked up, he couldn’t believe what he saw. There was his father wearing somebody else’s cheap robe (he could only guess where the good robe had gone), second-rate sandals, and he had this ridiculous bright-red plastic Hawaiian lei around his neck. “Sheldon, why haven’t you joined us yet?” his father asked as though the answer were not obvious.
Before he even knew what he was doing he was saying to his father the very words he had been carefully rehearsing for years. Waving a bony finger in his father’s face he fairly shrieked, “Look! I’ve slaved for you my whole life. I’ve never said no to you, never given you a moment’s embarrassment in front of the town elders or your pals at the Lions’ Club. Yet you’ve never given me anything. But now the moment my fornicating, coke-sniffing, pothead brother shows back up, you give him the biggest party this place has ever seen. So excuse me if I can’t crank up enthusiasm, Father. You’re being taken to the cleaners. Again. It’s not fair!”
Can you imagine how this hurt? Yes, it was bad that day some years back when his younger boy told him to drop dead. But this was worse. He at least thought his older boy loved him. But now it turns out he did not love his father because it was abundantly obvious he didn’t even know his father. Turns out the father had two dead sons, not one; two sons who were not really alive to who he was.
I imagine the father sat down heavily on the grass and with tears in his eyes quietly said, “Everything I have . . . everything I have . . . everything I have has been yours all along. You never did have to earn it. You surely did not need to ‘slave away’ for it. You didn’t even have to ask for it. I thought you were happy here. I thought you knew all along the love that has swaddled you from the first moment I laid eyes on you. I thought you knew that nothing you ever did—or for that matter nothing your little brother could ever have done—would ever have made me stop loving you. I never stopped loving your brother. I just missed him, that’s all. And now he’s back and I could not be happier. Everything I have, everything, is yours. Why don’t you get that? This isn’t about being fair or unfair. It’s about grace and love. How is it that you never saw that?”
“It’s not fair,” the Pharisees said in Luke 15:2. “It’s not fair that Jesus hangs out with all those sinners and gives them the kind of love he’s never shown to us.” That’s what the Pharisees said and that’s what kicked off this triplet of parables about “lost and found.” The bottom line of all three stories is joy. Whether God is a shepherd who finds a wandering lamb, an old woman who finds that silver coin that rolled under the sofa, or the father who welcomes home his prodigal son, the bottom line of all three stories is joy. God takes joy in his people all the time. God is a fountain of grace and love that won’t quit. And if we really knew who our heavenly Father is, we’d not be the least bit surprised to find him clapping his hands together with glee every time he sees even one of his weaker, less-than-stellar children.
We don’t need to imagine ourselves as the prodigal son in this story to understand this. The gospel is here to reveal to us a God who has a laughing face and kind eyes, a God who is neither fair nor unfair but is simply generous in ways that benefit every last one of us. God’s prodigal, lavish, hyper-generous grace flows to you and to me, to Christians who work hard in kingdom service as well as to those who can’t seem to get their act together, to people we could hold up before our children as spiritual role models as well as to those out of whom we’d rather make a cautionary tale for our kids.
“Everything I have.” That line was the kicker in what the father said to his pouting, surly son. And it’s the same piece of good gospel news God gives to each one of us. Everything he has is given to us, lavished upon us, through Christ Jesus his Son and our Savior. We’ve been given the greatest gift ever and we’ll never finish exploring its riches and wonders. Why would we ever fret? Why would we ever spend time looking over our shoulders and complaining that so-and-so seems shaky compared to us? Why would we ever worry that some slacker may be getting the same deal? Why does so much of our Christian living get infused with resentment and envy instead of pure joy?
In Luke 15:32 the NIV translates the father’s words as “But we had to celebrate.” We had to. That’s an interesting way to put it. Turns out that in the original Greek this is the same phrase that gets used elsewhere in the New Testament every time we are told that “it was necessary” that Jesus die on the cross. It had to be this way, we are told over and again. There was no other way to salvation. “It is necessary,” Jesus often said, “that the Son of Man suffer many things and then die.” It had to be this way.
But because that had to happen, now what remains is that we have to celebrate! This is necessary. There is no other response that is fitting when you understand who your Father in heaven is. Spoilsports who won’t get up off the tire swing to join the party don’t understand the necessity to celebrate because neither do they understand the necessity of salvation by grace alone that cut loose all this cosmic party-making in the first place.
Oh yes, that older brother: he had a point but only because he missed the point. Too often we do as well. As with most of his parables, Jesus leaves this story open-ended. We don’t know if Sheldon ever went in to join the party. For 2,000 years this story has left the older brother sitting on that tire swing as we collectively hold our breath to see what he will do.
Of course, that’s the cleverness of Jesus’ story-telling abilities. He leaves it open so that each of us can finish the story in our own lives. The kind father is in the end walking back to the house, that funny red, plastic Hawaiian lei swinging against his chest as he walks back to the party of all joy. If we know who we have become because of God’s great gift of grace in Christ, if we know who we are, we will be able to get up off that swing and follow him into the house.
“Hey, Dad, wait up! Since you’ve given me everything you have, I guess that includes your joy, too. Thanks, Dad. Thank you for the joy!” Amen.
Sample sermon: ‘Can We Go Home Again?’ by Jack Roeda, Church of the Servant
Fifth Sunday in Lent: April 7, 2019
Text: John 12:1-8
— This lection ends too soon. We need also verses 9-11 to see the real punch of this incident. Because soon a crowd gathers to see both Jesus and also the man Lazarus, rumored to have been raised from the dead by Jesus a full four days after the man had breathed his last. All those who opposed Jesus witnessed this growing sideshow, recognized how it was cinching Jesus’ reputation and authority, and so immediately laid plan to kill not only Jesus but Lazarus as well. After all, when dealing with the resurrection of the dead, Tactic #1 is to cover up the miracle by making dead again the (allegedly) resurrected person. The Pharisees’ plot against Lazarus (and you have to assume they may well have succeeded) caps off this text that is so redolent with the smell of death. Jesus is having dinner, reclining at table with the once-dead Lazarus when Mary anoints Jesus body. Why she did it is unclear but Jesus’ interpretation of the event is very clear: he’s being anointed for burial. Only Judas seems to have taken offense. A man driven by greed, a man interested only in the greasing of this life’s skids and doing what looks logical and the most likely to get ahead will always be offended by anything that looks like a non-starter. But if Judas thought that the extravagant pouring out of perfume looked silly . . . one can only imagine what he would have thought had he lived long enough to see the end-result of his treachery. Some think Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus was not nearly Zealot-like enough as to foster the political revolution Judas and others were hoping he would lead. (It’s hard to imagine anyone ever tumbling to pour perfume over Douglas MacArthur or Patton or Colin Powell, for instance. Warriors don’t get prettied up with perfume or prepared for death—they DEAL OUT death, they inspire fear, not weepy, “wash your feet with my hair” affection!) But that’s the scandal of Lent, the scandal of the cross: out of death comes life. Even as those who opposed Jesus scurried around to ensure his demise, Jesus harbored within him the secret of the universe, the “deep magic” (as C.S. Lewis put it in his Narnia tales) that the path to life abundant comes not by gathering up and hoarding this world’s goodies but precisely through relinquishing all that this world values so that the things of God can usher in a whole new world.
Palm Sunday: April 14, 2019
Text: Luke 19:28-40
— Among the amazing features of what we have come to call “Palm Sunday” is that Jesus was so willing to go along with the hoopla, even going so far as to say that this celebration was so necessary, even if he hushed up his followers, the stones would sing and shout instead. For the most part (though this comes out more clearly in Mark than in Luke), Jesus seemed quite content to lead a quiet existence, usually hushing up those who DID display a willingness to shout out his name and his identity for all to hear. But for this brief time at the head of what would be the final week of his earthly ministry, Jesus all-but encouraged this public display of affection. Whatever else we want to make of this, Luke does not allow us to wallow long in sentimentality. The Lectionary stops us up short before Jesus weeps over the city and before he tears into the Temple establishment. But the fact of the matter is that whatever Jesus took away from this big celebration, it wasn’t first and last a big, happy, whoop-it-up joyous affair. He seems to know that he is beginning a slow and steady march toward death. Knowing this, Jesus is able to receive the cheers of the crowd. Yes, they were cheering him for the wrong reasons. But Jesus at least knew the truth. So did the very creation. What was required to free this whole world from its bondage to decay (as Paul would later put it) was not a happy parade but something far more dire. We make a mistake if we allow our contemporary celebrations of Palm Sunday to become the one “bright spot” in this otherwise dark Holy Week. Instead, a true apprehension of what is going on here is the perfect set-up for all that is to come.
“A Flash in the Dark” by Scott Hoezee
“What We Believe About Jesus: His Example” By John Buchanan
“An Act of Extravagant Devotion” by Jack Roeda
Good Friday: April 19, 2019
Text: John 18:1-19:42
— John’s telling of the larger crucifixion story is filled with drama and a wealth of details on which to preach. One fruitful theme is the overarching sense of completion and fulfillment. John doesn’t allow us to see these as some unhappy series of unfortunate events (a la Lemony Snicket!). From the very beginning of John’s gospel we have been given the portrait of a very deliberate Savior who steadfastly was heading toward death. John also peppers his account with Old Testament passages, promises, and prophecies, imbuing his entire story with a sense of holy joy despite the gloomy circumstances—something long awaited and anticipated and planned is coming to fulfillment. Good Friday is not a time to cash out the sorrow and the suffering of it all but it is a time to see that none of this was pointless or gratuitous. We are marching inexorably toward something grand.
“Explaining (without Explaining Away)”: Scott Hoezee
Easter Sunday: April 21, 2019
Text: John 20:1-18
— Like all four of the gospels, what strikes you most about John’s presentation of the gospel’s grand event and miracle is how understated the whole thing is. Most churches on Easter morning do far, far more to pull out all the stops, blare the brass band, and ratchet up the drama to fever pitch than any of the four evangelists ever tried to do. There is joy and holy drama here, make no mistake. But there is something marvelous about its understated nature. As someone once noted, when you present a triumphal event in non-triumphal fashion, you create a sense of irony that, in turn, creates a community of those who truly understand the deeper meaning of it all. The fact is that like his entire ministry, so even the capstone event of the whole gospel happened quietly and out of this world’s limelight. The gospel gets revealed to women, to clueless former fishermen, to all those whom the wider world regards as bumpkins and the marginalized. There is something glorious to behold in the fact that King Herod and Pontius Pilate, though they had been deeply involved in the machinations of all that led to Jesus’ death, now simply disappear out of the frame once Jesus is raised. Jesus came, died, and rose again not for this world’s winners who are always so cocksure that they have everything under control but rather for all those lost, least, last, and lonely folks who know that without an infusion of divine grace into their lives, there is flat out no hope. Thanks be to God the gospel gives us just what we need: not brass choirs and fireworks in the sky but new life way down in the deepest parts of our hearts.
“Surprise by God” by John Buchanan from John 20
“A New World at First Light” by John Buchanan from John 20
“I Am the Resurrection and the Life” by David Davis from John 20
Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017, Shannon Kershner, 4th Presbyterian, Chicago
“While It Was Still Dark” By Scott Hoezee
“Enough” By Scott Hoezee
From Reformed Worship:
Lent & Holy Week
From Reformed Worship Resources for Lent and Year C Texts:
From Reformed Worship Resources for Lent and Year C Texts:
From Reformed Worship Resources for Lent and Year C Texts:
Other Scripture Ideas for Lent/Holy Week/Easter:
Scriptures and Statements of Faith Applying to the Theme of Ash Wednesday
The following texts are particularly appropriate for sermons or for supplemental liturgical use.
Psalm 51 (and other penitential psalms: 6, 32, 38, 102, 130, 143)
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
1 Peter 1-2:3
Heidelberg Catechism, Q&As 3-11, 88-89
Scriptures and Statements of Faith Applying to the Theme of Lent
The following texts, which focus on three main dimensions of Lenten spirituality, are especially appropriate for supplemental liturgical use.
Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143
The importance of heartfelt repentance:
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Baptismal spirituality and unity with Christ:
Romans 6:1-14; 8:12-17
2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 4:1-16; 5:20-6:2
Galatians 2:19-21; 3:27-29
Ephesians 2:4-20; 4:1-6
Belgic Confession, Art. 21
Heidelberg Catechism, Q&As 37-39
Canons of Dort, Pt. II, Art. 2-5, 8
Westminster Confession, Chap. VIII, Sec. 4; Chap. XV, Sec. 1-6
Our World Belongs to God, st. 25-28
Scriptures Applying to the Theme of Passion/Palm Sunday
The following texts are especially appropriate for supplemental liturgical use.
On Christ’s procession into Jerusalem:
On Holy Week and Christ’s passion:
Isaiah 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12
Scriptures Applying to the Theme of Maundy Thursday
The following texts are particularly appropriate for sermons or for supplemental liturgical use.
1 Corinthians 10:1-22
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
1 John 4:7-21
Scriptures and Statements of Faith Applying to the Theme of Good Friday
The following texts are particularly appropriate for sermons or for supplemental liturgical use.
Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33
1 Corinthians 1:17-21
1 Peter 1:10-20
1 Peter 2:19-25
1 Peter 3:13-22
1 John 3:16
1 John 4:7-21
Belgic Confession, Articles. 20-21
Heidelberg Catechism, Q&As 37-44
Canons of Dort, Pt. II, Art. 3-4, 8; Rej. 2, 7
Our Song of Hope, st. 4
Our World Belongs to God, st. 27