Lenten Sermon Series: #solidarity (Narrative)

Sermon series ideas for the upcoming Lenten season continue with a reflection on the Narrative Lectionary’s challenge to our understanding of & willingness to be in solidarity with one another — through life and death, through questions and heartaches. (If you’re a Revised Common Lectionary preacher, check out this sermon series suggestion on the RCL’s Old Testament readings for Lent.)

Sunday, February 18: John 11:1-44

Perhaps we believe that Jesus had a perfectly good reason for not visiting his friend Lazarus while he was sick and dying. Perhaps we have good reasons for not being present in those awful, rending moments after a death has occurred. But when we cannot (or choose not to) show up for one another, we must also bear to face the question, “Why didn’t you come?”

Sunday, February 25: John 13:1-17

In the footwashing, Jesus provides an unnecessary service for his friends. They’re capable of washing their own feet (I’m pretty sure), but Jesus demonstrates his care … and simultaneously turns upside down the social norms of worth and servitude. To stand by one another in solidarity is not only an act of kinship but also an act of humility.

Sunday, March 4: John 18:12-27

One disciple went inside with Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest, because that disciple “was known to the high priest.” Another disciple, Peter, notoriously stayed outside where he refused to be known as one of Jesus’ disciples. Solidarity includes a willingness to be known by the company we keep.

Sunday, March 11: John 18:28-40

As Pilate abdicates his authority for judgment — first to those who bring Jesus to him and then to the crowds — we see the difference between solidarity and crowd-think. Solidarity is a choice of heart & mind & action, while crowd-think (or “following the crowd”) is the abandonment of choice in favor of accepting others’ direction without critique.

Sunday, March 18: John 19:1-16a

As Jesus refuses to persuade Pilate of his innocence (although he’s not really innocent, is he?), I find myself wondering whether it would’ve even made a difference if Jesus responded to Pilate’s questions. The systems of political power were already set against him: one man, one prisoner, one ethnic minority, one soldier, one woman, one loudmouth is always expendable for the normalcy and preservation of the powers that be. Solidarity may strengthen us & keep us company, but it does not save us from the crush of powers.

Sunday, March 25: John 12:12-27 & 19:16b-22

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Our lives are not our own — this is foundational to discipleship and to solidarity. We belong to God. We belong to one another. We live our lives for the sake of Another, for the sake of each other. To do otherwise is to choose death.

As with the sermon series idea for the RCL’s Old Testament passages, this sermon series suggestion for the Narrative Lectionary does not specifically include Ash Wednesday (February 14) or Easter Sunday (April 1). The themes for those two holy-days are prescribed and can stand alone … yet are also so basic to Christian faith that they can fit into most any sermon series.

More ideas to come as the week continues!

Lenten Sermon Series: Lamenting Injustice (RCL OT)

With the arrival of Epiphany Sunday — Theophany, Three Kings Day, Orthodox Christmas — the liturgical season of wondering and wandering begins. We follow stars, we listen for wisdom, we watch for prophets, we get lost about as fast as we lose our New Year’s resolutions, we wonder over God’s call on our lives, we marvel at Jesus’ baptism and (just before Ash Wednesday) we awe at his transfiguration.

For many pastors, the arrival of Epiphany Sunday also marks the wondering and wandering of rushed Lenten planning as we suddenly notice on our calendars that Ash Wednesday is only one month away. For such as these, I offer brainstorms for Lenten sermon series, which also suggest worship themes for the upcoming season. Ash Wednesday and Easter are not included in these sermon series, as their themes are prescribed and can stand alone … yet are also so foundational that they can fit into most any sermon series.

First is a suggested sermon series centered on the Old Testament readings of the Revised Common Lectionary — an intentional & confessional Lenten call to examine the injustices within our world and within our hearts.

First Sunday in Lent (Feb 18): Broken Promises

Consider the decades & centuries of broken promises between colonizing governments and indigenous nations/First Peoples, and/or the broken promises between today’s governments and immigrant & refugee populations. In contrast, consider the promises of God (Genesis 9:8-17), made not only to people but also to creatures and the earth herself. Pray & preach this Sunday for the ways in which we have broken promises to one another and the ways in which our governments broken promises to communities.

Second Sunday in Lent (Feb 25): Sinful Tongues

God gives new names to Abram and Sarai (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16), but too often we reject or ignore people’s names and thereby their personhood. We call each other names to categorize & dehumanize. We don’t bother to learn people’s names; some of us say Tchaikovsky with ease but believe we don’t need to correctly pronounce actress Uzo Aduba’s name. Some of us feign burden when asked to use a trans person’s new name or to use plural pronouns (they/them) for a genderqueer person. Pray & preach this Sunday about the ways we speak of & to one another, recalling that God knows our names & claims us as beloved.

Third Sunday in Lent (Mar 4): Chasing Capitalism

Pastors often wait until stewardship season to preach about money, but Exodus 20:1-17 invites a frank examination of our idolization of money & labor at the expense of worship & compassion. What influences our desire for personal gain? How do our choices about income & employment reflect the Ten Commandments … or the values of capitalism? How do we recognize when our pursuit of (or anxiety over) money & labor overtakes our passion for the worship of God? Pray & preach this Sunday against our idolization of money & work as measures of worth — not only of ourselves but of people around the world and in our own towns.

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Mar 11): Healthcare Crisis

In Numbers 21:4-9 and throughout the Bible, God is understood as both the cause of illness and the cause of healing. Today with modern medicine, we outline the causes of illness and health differently, and healing is not only a matter of faith but also a matter of access: especially financial and geographic access. Health insurance and health care are expensive. Medical facilities are limited in some regions, highly concentrated in others. Race & gender & class impact our well-being and treatment too. Pray & preach this Sunday about the disparities in our healthcare systems.

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Mar 18): Biased Hearts

“Sin” by Anneke Kaai

Can we say honestly that God’s law is inscribed on our hearts so long as bias has its home there? Bigotry and racism are learned not only at a young age but all throughout our lives, carved into our hearts daily by the words & gestures & people & social systems all around us … and inscribed as our hearts’ laws when we do not challenge them, practice living contrary to them, and welcome accountability for change. Preach & pray this Sunday for the conversion of our individual & collective biased hearts and actions, that God’s law might become foremost within us (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Sixth Sunday in Lent – Palm/Passion Sunday (Mar 25): Turning Our Cheeks

I used to imagine “turning the cheek” as a choice of non-resistance. Perhaps it can be, but I also know that turning the cheek is an unavoidable movement caused by the impact of a smack or hit. Sometimes we turn our cheeks and our backs not because we are so righteous but because we are so injured & shamed — whether by acts of random violence or domestic violence or hurtful words or moral injury. Pray & teach this Palm/Passion Sunday with an awareness of the violence experienced not only by Jesus but by your congregants & your community, believing that goodness comes not from suffering but from solidarity (Isaiah 50:4-9a).

Blessings to those preparing to preach this Lent — and more sermon series ideas to come!

Famine

Go away from me!

Christ, have mercy. I am broken and beaten down, worn and weary, and too discouraged to brave the sight of you. I am starved by the hatred of the world. Go away — your glory only reminds me of my imperfection, your grace shames my sin.

Come closer to me!

Christ, be near. I am broken and beaten down, worn and weary, and too discouraged to be alone without you. I am starved by the demons of my own heart. Come closer — your glory reminds me that there is beauty, your grace distills my soul to peace.

Speak to me here.

Spirit, guide me where I am. Amid shifting sands and swirling winds, through change and grief and torment, be the roots that hold me fast to all creation. Patience is scarce, and I am hungry for wisdom. Call me to be present here where I am, here where you are.

Provide for me there.

Spirit, equip me where I am going. Amid shifting sands and swirling winds, through change and grief and torment, be the promise that compels my journey. Imagination is scarce, and I am hungry for direction. Embolden me to go where I am sent, to go where you are.

Do not delay!

Most Holy God, be swift. These days are fleeting, this life burns like grass, and your children long for redemption more than the morning sun. Where healing is hoarded and miracles squandered, take up your name with urgency — creation weeps loudly for you.

Persist forever!

Most Holy God, be faithful. These days are fleeting, this life burns like grass, and your children long for justice that endures the deepest night. Where hope is hoarded and forgiveness squandered, take up your name for all eternity and generations will praise you.

on Genesis  45:-15 and Matthew 15:21-28

cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

Love Supreme

O Love Supreme,
our foundation and our irritation,
our comfort and our chastisement:

The earth quakes with the marching of racism
(in every generation, new boots carry the same hatred)
but we who know Love Supreme will not be shaken.

The air blisters and scorches with words of hatred
(old words, dusty words, dead words to spark torches)
but we who know Love Supreme will not give up life’s zeal.

The demons burn with the consuming madness of fear
(delusions of supremacy, rationalized and normalized)
but we who know Love Supreme will not be afraid.

The waters rage and teem with threats of war
(vanity & selfishness multiplied by megaphone & weaponry)
but we who know Love Supreme will not surrender peace.

O Love Supreme,
our strength and our humility,
our direction and our deliverance:

Let the peace of your lips
be the confession of our hearts
and the fierce joy of our lives so that no one
is threatened or isolated by the accomplices of evil.

Let the glory of your name
be the rebuke of every prejudice
and the mercy of every hand so that no one
is degraded or violated by the mechanisms of sin.

Let the promise of your word
be the measure of your faithfulness
and the tattletale against death so that no one
suffers in this world without your attention and relief.

O Love Supreme,
our defiance and our determination,
our broken and tortured and resurrected one:

We seek your healing love for Charlottesville.
We seek your unfailing love for those afflicted by bigotry.
We seek your abiding love for the mourning.
We seek your convicting love for the rich and powerful.
We seek your redeeming love for the Church.
We seek your impatient love for white folks.
We seek your supreme love and your transformative presence
always always always.

O Love Supreme,
our hope and our dance,
our sass and our satisfaction. Amen.

“Love Supreme” as an honorific for God
is borrowed 
directly from John Coltrane’s
album A Love Supreme, which I commend
for your spirit’s comfort & groundedness.

Cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

Listening (Lent 8)

Turn away from my prayers, O God,
but do not neglect to bend your ear
to the prayers of those who mourn.

Listen and be convicted, O LORD,
by the prayers of those to whom
the world is unjust and unforgiving.

Let your heart be broken
and healed again
by the prayers of children.

Hear with compassion the prayers
of the sick, of those living with chronic illness,
and of those with a terminal diagnosis.

Be ever near to the prisoner,
to the hungry and the poor,
and to the brokenhearted.

Blessed be the LORD, who saves us all.