The liturgical cycle functions both as a reassurance and as a challenge: it deepens our spiritual foundations to recall the stories of faith … and it challenges us to experience & live those stories afresh (preachers and congregants alike).
In hopes of encouraging a compelling & relevant Lenten season this year, I’m posting a variety of sermon series ideas for the Monday Muse. Last Monday, I suggested the use of artwork by Dutch painter Anneke Kaai with one’s Lenten sermons. Today, I offer a sermon series theme using the Old Testament lectionary readings of Lent (Year A).
Generally speaking, following the Old Testament lectionary readings through a sermon series is rich for any time of year because of the opportunity to retell and reteach the major events of ancient Israel’s life & faith. When preaching an Old Testament series, do not neglect to frame each sermon within the larger story. This Lent’s OT readings, for example, trace ancient Israel’s story from Abram through the Babylonian exile. Connect the dots of this narrative each and every Sunday.
For Lent (Year A), the Old Testament readings suggest to me a sermon series entitled Reclaiming “Sin.” Among some progressive Christian traditions, the word “sin” has become anathema for its collusion with the image of a mean, judgmental God. Yet the Lenten spirit of confession requires us to make some accounting for those ways in which we do not love God and neighbor as we ought. A Lenten sermon series on Reclaiming “Sin” invites discussion around this potent word and deepens our religious understanding.
“Sin,” after all, is not a word that is relevant only to conversations on eternal life. Its definition is not limited to personal transgressions nor bound by incantations of scripture verses. Just as the life of faith is communal, just as God calls us across the whole of scripture to discipleship for the sake of one another, so too the best definitions of “sin” include (even emphasize) the corporate life. The following sermon series idea reclaims this collective understanding of “sin” in order to provoke us to more faithful living as the Body of Christ.
Lent 1 (Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7). We confess that we crave what we don’t need.
Our neighbor has a newer car, newer clothes, a newer house. The church down the street has a bigger youth program. Iraq has crude oil, Indonesia has gold, the Congo has colton. People of other ethnicities and cultures have music that we want to appropriate, traditions that we want to incorporate, styles that we want to imitate. The grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Adam and Eve crave the one & only fruit that God has not granted to them. We confess that we crave what we don’t need.
Lent 2 (Genesis 12:1-4a). We confess that we are comfortable.
God said, “Leave home. Say goodbye to all that is familiar. Wander without a map until I tell you otherwise.” Meanwhile we idolize home ownership and patriotism, we sanctify liturgical traditions and church buildings, and we suspend our trust of those who lack a history among us. Crossing borders, making our homes in unfamiliar places, welcoming life changes are not often our spiritual gifts. We confess that we are comfortable.
Lent 3 (Exodus 17:1-7). We confess that our memory is short.
In the face of uncertainty, when it seems that the numbers and resources are falling short, we are quick to forget the ways in which God has remained with us and blessed us through both drought and harvest, famine and feast. When life is hard and the world’s chaos seems particularly painful, we are inclined to stomp our feet and pout, “Is God among us or not?” We confess that our memory is short.
Lent 4 (1 Samuel 16:1-13). We confess to profiling one another.
Samuel sizes up Jesse’s sons by their appearance; “Does this son look like a king? Does this one?” God admonishes Samuel, indicating “God looks on the heart.” And — God knows — David’s heart is imperfect, but in truth we are all capable of exquisite praise and terrible harm. Do we approach one another believing that here is a person whose life glorifies God, or do we approach one another suspecting harm? We confess to profiling one another.
Lent 5 (Ezekiel 37:1-14). We confess that we live as though without hope.
Here’s my confession: I doubt that any government can be fully just; I worry that humanity will always designate a scapegoat; I’m afraid that “world peace” is just a phrase for stump speeches and beauty pageants. Just two weeks before Easter, the Ezekiel text challenges us to set our minds & spirits: will we remain as dry hopeless bones even after the good news of Easter, or will we respond to the breath and come alive with hope? We confess that we live as though without hope.
Lent 6/Passion Sunday (Isaiah 50:4-9a). We confess that we believe shaming lies.
We give great lip service to Jesus’ commands that we turn the other cheek, love our enemies, forgive seven and seventy times. Concurrently, we live in and we reflect a society that believes in a strong, aggressive offense in international affairs, on sports fields, in political posturing, and in gender roles. Compromise and emotion are signs of weakness; emasculation is the greatest shame of all. Yet from his arrest to his crucifixion, our hero and savior Jesus Christ was stripped bare, exposed, shamed, and taunted as a failure. We confess that we believe shaming lies.
Easter Sunday (Jeremiah 31:1-6). We confess that we long to dance.
Our steps are made weary by daily routine, sadness and death, cynicism and violence, anxiety and oppression. We long for the freedom to kick up our heels, to grab our tambourines, and to dance as though death has no hold over us! Our Lenten confessions and our reflections on “sin” are not meant to beat down our spirits but to bring us mindfully, sincerely to this moment: the liturgical words of assurance, the good news of Easter, that even humanity’s collective sins cannot quench God’s enthusiasm for love and God’s radical action for life! We confess that we long to dance.
Next week’s Monday Muse: sermon series ideas on Lent’s gospel readings.