Lenten Sermon Series: A Word for “You” (RCL Gospel)

If you watch Jeopardy very often, you’ve likely seen a category title or two that uses quotation marks to indicate that a letter or word must appear in every answer to the questions in that category … or rather, every question to the answers in that category. A category titled MAY”B” has answers that begin with the letter B; a category titled “PART”Y has answers that include P-A-R-T, such as particle and impartial.

The Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel readings for Lent — with one exception — include a direct “you” in the texts, which invites the opportunity to place ourselves as readers & hearers on the receiving end of these scriptural directives. Of course, we often insert ourselves into Scripture; making use of the “you” in Lent’s lectionary is a familiar tool for reflection. As always with Scripture, don’t recommend reading/hearing ourselves in these readings without first doing our homework on the biblical context of each “you.” Moving too quickly to make a passage relevant to our own context runs the risk of misunderstanding the passage’s own context and meaning.

Sunday, February 18: Mark 1:9-15

You are my beloved.” Yes, you. And me. And all persons. Even the wild beasts and the angels (reading to verse 13). What peace might we begin to realize & embody — not only when we accept God’s claim & love for ourselves but also when we trust God’s love & affirmation for all people and all creation?

Sunday, February 25: Mark 8:31-38

You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” It’s not hard to see how often and how easily we focus on (panic over) this world and the stuff of our daily living. But in the theological complication called incarnation, that human stuff is divine stuff too, isn’t it? How do we discern? How do we focus?

Sunday, March 4: John 2:13-22

You stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (“Den of robbers/thieves” is the language of Matthew 21:13.) Recognizing the “you” in John 2:16 requires a trip down memory lane to reacquaint ourselves with imperative sentences, but to the point: How do our faith communities develop God-focused and community-transparent financial habits? And what does it look like to engage the Church (its building, its community, its global network) not as a commodity?

Sunday, March 11: John 3:14-21

Here’s the one Gospel passage that needs a bit of “you” added to it — I suggest in place of “those.” With this shift, John 3:21 for example reads (loosely): “You who do good are not afraid of Truth, because everything you do has been for the glory of God.” Are you (am I) seeking the glory of God in word and deed?

Sunday, March 18: John 12:20-33

“This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.” Jesus tried to give the disciples signs and symbols in advance of his death, so that they would have something to hold onto in the awful aftermath of catastrophe: hints of death, metaphors of life, reminders for hope. And still today we are given signs to understand God’s work: thunder and angels and stories for our sake, for our faith.

Sunday, March 25: Mark 11:1-11

“What are you doing?” I’d hazard the suggestion that this question is at the heart of discipleship. It’s the juncture at which persuasion becomes incarnation, conviction becomes commitment, belief becomes action. Why have you untied a colt. Why have you loved a neighbor? Why have you walked with someone through death?

I’ve omitted Ash Wednesday (February 14) and Easter Sunday (April 1) from this sermon series outline, as the themes for those two days are prescribed and can stand alone … yet can also fit into almost any sermon series.

Looking for other sermon series ideas for Lent? Check out my suggested #solidarity sermon series for the Narrative Lectionary or my idea for a series on Lamenting Injustice using the Revised Common Lectionary’s Old Testament texts. And because Lent and the lectionaries repeat faithfully in church life, you can skim back to my 2015 blogpost that offered eight quick Lenten sermon series ideas. You can also find Ash Wednesday liturgies on my blog, which you are welcome to use (with citation) in your worship setting.

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!