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
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!