Epiphany 4B

January 25, 2021

The Epiphany 4B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for Mark 1:21-28 from the Lectionary Gospel; Deuteronomy 18:15-20 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 111 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 from the Lectionary Epistle.

Related Reformed confession: Old Testament Lectionary: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 25 (Lord’s Day 8)

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Mark 1:21-28

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Deuteromony 18:15-20

    Author: Stan Mast

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 111

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Psalm 111 is a shook-up bottle of champagne when the cork flies off: it is effervescent, effusive, and thus it is delightfully over the top in most every way.  It’s one of those poems that tempts one to plant tongue firmly in cheek to ask the psalmist, “Don’t hold back: tell us what you really think!”   From first to last the psalm jumps up and down with enthusiasm for God, for God’s character, for God’s works.

    It is a great psalm to read but maybe it is a little tough to preach on.  Once you have noted the enthusiasm and the scope of what causes all that excitement and wonder, what is there left to say?  What might be a preaching angle on this particular poem or song?  Perhaps there are several avenues one could travel to find that angle but I will suggest one that occurs to me.

    After all, it seems like a lot of the time we live in a world—and this seeps into even the church—in which we are more likely to hear questions about God’s character—or about the very existence of God—than a joyful litany of wonder over God’s nature and works.  It seems to be easier to look at the problems in this world or the scandals involving the church and question how a good God could allow that or tolerate that than it is to develop a keen eye and ear to see and listen for the greatness of God and of God’s works.  Sometimes it seems like we spend more time defending God than praising God. Sometimes it seems we spend more time trying to enlist God’s endorsement for the causes we are passionate about than in trying to see what God is passionate about and then thanking and praising God for all that.  And then proclaiming all of that to other people too.

    One line that jumped out at me when reading Psalm 111 comes in verse 4 when the psalmist says of God, “He has caused his deeds to be remembered.”  There may be multiple ways to interpret that verse, and most if not all of them may be correct simultaneously.   One idea would be that God causes God’s deeds to be remembered by inspiring the Scriptures, which we now believe includes this psalm itself (whether or not the psalmist was conscious of the fact that these words would one day be part of sacred Scripture).  God has preserved God’s works by getting people to write them down for future generations.  That seems right.

    But a second idea is that God causes God’s deeds to be remembered when God’s people talk about such things, pass them along to the next generation.  This reminds us perhaps of those lines in Deuteronomy where Moses tells the people of Israel—and particularly the parents of children in Israel—to talk about and rehearse God’s deeds all over the place.  Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house.  Share God’s goodness and actions with your kids morning, noon, and night.  Talk about them when you are on the road and when you are around the dinner table.  God’s Word should be all-but inscribed on your forehead and written on your hands (a verse that led to the practice of wearing phylacteries, little leather boxes with Hebrew letters from the Bible inside them that people literally strapped to their foreheads and hands now and then).  God’s Word should be that pervasive.

    God causes God’s deeds to be remembered through us, in short, and through our own familiarity with and enthusiasm for God’s Word.  And that of course forces the question: does this characterize our lives?  Do our children or neighbors have a chance to see that we lean into the effervescent enthusiasm of a Psalm 111 on a regular basis?  Related to this is another question: do we train our eyes to look for signs of God’s goodness in the world?

    I have noted in other sermon starters over the years the fact that at Calvin Theological Seminary where I teach preaching, we use Paul Scott Wilson’s “Four Pages” template for preaching.  Anyone familiar with this knows that Wilson’s model focuses on both Trouble and Grace and as part of that, one part of the sermon always focuses on what Wilson calls “Trouble in the World.”  What is going on in the world or in the church today that makes us ask painful questions or encounter doubt or that causes other difficulties?  But then later in the sermon this Trouble needs to be matched with “Grace in the World.”  Where is God active today via God’s Spirit?  Where do we see signs that God is active and on the move right now?

    Alas, most of our students and most preachers will admit that it is always far easier to find examples of Trouble in this world of ours—and often right smack inside the church—than it is to find shining vignettes of Grace.  But I sometimes wonder if part of the reason for this is we have not trained our eyes to look for the evidence of God’s abiding work that are incessantly all around us.  And that is true not just of the big things.  I often tell students to not limit “Grace in the World” to Mother Theresa of Calcutta or dramatic miracles.  Look for God and for the activity of God’s Grace among what St. Theresa of Avila called “the pots and pans.”  Look for ordinary, mundane, quotidian works of God because when you do, you will find them and then can help God’s people celebrate these everyday instances of God’s presence in our lives.

    Yes, Psalm 111:4 is correct: God has caused God’s deeds to be remembered.  But an ongoing calling in our lives is to do everything we can to let the Holy Spirit jog our memories every day.

    Illustration Idea

    Full-time scientists may have the luxury of having a vocation that actually gets devoted to studying the natural world.  Most of us do not have that opportunity so readily.  But there are times and seasons when we can soak up ocean vistas, mountains, meadows, streams, and other wonders.  And when we do—perhaps on vacation or on weekends—we can do our best to study the works of the Lord.  Oh, we may not be professional scientists or anything—we may feel like we are at best amateurs.  But as Tom Long once pointed out, that’s OK because “amateur” really means in one sense being a lover of something.

    The first and great commandment tells us to love the Lord our God with everything we’ve got.  We are called to be lovers of God.  But when you love someone, you love what that person loves, you are invested in what brings your lover joy.  If your spouse is an artist, then you as a lover take a keen interest in your spouse’s artwork, gladly go with that person to art museums and then listen carefully to how your spouse describes the works of art you encounter there.

    Good lovers take an interest in each other’s work and so listen attentively at the end of any given workday when the events of that day at the office or wherever are described.  We are all called to be amateur students of God’s creation, studying the works of the Lord because the Bible tells us that God himself takes delight in those things.  Why would any of us who claim to love the Lord above all take anything other than also a keen delight in all the works of the Lord?  And when we do, as Psalm 111 reminds us, we find an ever-expanding list of reasons to praise the Lord our God!

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Corinthians 8:1-13

    Author: Doug Bratt