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Sermon Illustrations for Lent 4 (2021)

Illustration
Numbers 21:4-9
In 2012, I had heart surgery to have a mitral valve repaired in my heart. For heart surgeons, that’s not necessarily a difficult operation. There are more delicate heart procedures than repairing a valve, but that’s easy to acknowledge when it isn’t your heart. When it is your heart, everything they must do is a big deal. It was clear that I couldn’t fix this myself. I don’t want to minimize in any way the importance of prayer. I put the situation in the Lord’s hands. On the human level, though, I had to put my trust in my surgeon. I had to look to him.

I was reminded of those days when I read this passage again. As Moses is traveling with the Israelites, they begin to grumble. As a consequence, God sends poisonous snakes that bit them, and many died. The people acknowledge their sin and repent. Moses seeks the Lord on their behalf, and he tells Moses to put up a bronze image of a poisonous snake. When the people are bit, they can look up at it and live. The Nehushtan, the name of contempt given to the serpent Moses made, would later be noted in John’s gospel (John 12:32) speaking of how he would die for the sins of all people.

When you are in trouble, look up to the one who can save you. Look up to Jesus.
Bill T.

* * *

Numbers 21:4-9
The people had murmured several times during their journey across the wilderness. In this passage they seem to outdo themselves. In Numbers 21:5, after saying there is no bread and there is no water, they complain about the manna. The word sometimes translated “loathe” is based on the word nefesh, incorrectly translated as “soul,” which refers to their breath, their being, and even, as Robert Alter notes in his recent translation, their “gullet.” They are saying that they can’t eat the gift of God without gagging. And this leads immediately to God’s retribution, perhaps because of the absolute lack of respect for what God has done for them. They have gone one step too far.
Frank R.

* * *

Ephesians 2:1-10
Grace is a gift from God. How many of us really believe that? And how many of us think we need to or even can earn grace? Paul is clear that it is through faith that we are in relationship with God. Grace is freely given. There’s a tendency among human beings to think we have earned everything we have received. Sure, we work hard, and some success is a result of that, but I know many people who work doubly hard and have very little – maybe not even a home, or food to eat, or health care. We Americans, and maybe others in the world, somehow believe that if we have a lot it is solely because of our own efforts. Maybe we need to look around us and see the advantages with which we began. I am a middle class, college-educated woman who has been blessed with a dedicated family who nurtured me. Yet had I grown up with brown or black skin, the dedication of my family would not have been enough. There were, and are, systems in place that would have disadvantaged me. God’s grace is freely given to us all, but we humans need to shift the systems, open the gates, tear down the walls, and move the mountains that prevent all people from fully experiencing that grace.
Bonnie B.

* * *

Ephesians 2:1-10
God’s grace and what it does to us warrant celebration. Playwright and dramatist Eugene O’Neil said it well in The Great God Brown: “Man is broken... The grace of God is glue.” Famed American Puritan Jonathan Edwards reflected on the happiness saving grace provides:

We needed only to have God’s wrath appeased, and our sins pardoned; but we needed to have the favor of God. To have God, not only not our enemy, but our friend... We needed not only to be delivered from hell, but to have some satisfying happiness bestowed. (Works, Vol.2, p.145)

This happiness and friendship with God make people eager to do good works, for as the lesson says we are now created to do good works (v.10). Martin Luther put it this way:

Our empty Law is ended by Christ Who fills the vacuum first by being outside of us, because He Himself fulfills the Law for us; then He also fills it with the Holy Spirit Who begins this new and eternal obedience in us... (quoted in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, p.234)

It seems that when we are caught up in grace and belief in a loving God, the brain’s prefrontal cortex is activated. This part of the brain is then flooded with the amphetamine-like brain chemical dopamine. These dynamics help us to have better control of brain, feelings of rage, and render us more compassionate and sociable (Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, Why We Believe What We Believe, pp.266-267).
Mark E.  

* * *

John 3:14-21
“And this is the judgment,” says Jesus in John 3:19. But the situation he describes is one where we judge ourselves. Light comes into the world, but many people choose darkness instead of the light to hide their deeds. The word translated judgement is krisis from which we get our word crisis. Clearly, the moment of choice, when we accept or reject Jesus, is a crisis. It is a crisis that cannot be put off or put aside. Are we going to accept the light? Are we going to choose the darkness?
Frank R.

* * *

John 3:14-21
When I was a kid in 1972, I enjoyed watching the movie Poseidon Adventure. If you aren’t familiar with that movie, it’s the fictional story of a ship that capsizes and begins to sink. Passengers on the ship are left to find their way out from the top of the ship to the bottom which is now the only part on the water. The tension mounts as the ship also starts to sink. Those who are trying to get out don’t have much time. I remember that a small group, led by a minister were trying to get out through the boiler room. One of the ship’s officers was leading a larger group the opposite way. I remember the passionate pleas from the minister for the officer’s group to turn around. The path they were on was going to lead to death. They wouldn’t listen, though. The only ones saved from the capsized ship were those who went with the minister.

I thought about that movie again as I looked at this passage. We are close to celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection. I am reminded, once again, of the urgency of our message. There is only one way to salvation. It is the path articulated in John 3:16. All other roads lead to death. May we be passionate about sharing the truth with those around us.
Bill T.
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John Jamison
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (vv. 25-28)

* * *
John Jamison
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (vv. 31-33)

Hello, everyone! (Let them respond.) Are you ready for today’s story? (Let them respond.) Great!

[If you are using the monitor or cuff.]

The Immediate Word

Katy Stenta
Mary Austin
Dean Feldmeyer
Quantisha Mason-Doll
Christopher Keating
George Reed
Thomas Willadsen
For November 28, 2021:

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Frank Ramirez
Of course, we never quite return to the way things were -- because we have been changed by good fortune or bad. As we make sense of a world that has known the 2020 pandemic there are several things that can’t be undone, regardless of medical advances and a return to whatever we choose to call normalcy. First, not all of us made it through. Some of those who survived are not returned to full health. More important, the damage done by uncivil discourse, the sharp exchanges by those holding radically different views cannot be easily undone.
Bonnie Bates
Mark Ellingsen
Bill Thomas
Frank Ramirez
Jeremiah 33:14-16
The English poet Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast. Man never is, but always to be blest.” But where does man turn when hope dries up?”
Frank Ramirez
Of course, we never quite return to the way things were -- because we have been changed by good fortune or bad. As we make sense of a world that has known the 2020 pandemic there are several things that can’t be undone, regardless of medical advances and a return to whatever we choose to call normalcy. First, not all of us made it through. Some of those who survived are not returned to full health. More important, the damage done by uncivil discourse, the sharp exchanges by those holding radically different views cannot be easily undone.
Bill Thomas
Bonnie Bates
Mark Ellingsen
Frank Ramirez
Joel 2:21-27

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
Roly lay on the stone floor with his head on his paws. He wondered how much longer it was until it was time for food. Feeding time was the best time in the whole day, because then the humans came and rubbed his head and spoke to him and made a fuss of him.

StoryShare

Terry Cain
David O. Bales
Note: This was originally published in 2006.

Contents
What's Up This Week
A Story to Live By: "Signs" by David O. Bales
Sermon Starters: "Would We Recognize Him?" by Terry Cain
"Where Is The Church?" by Terry Cain


What's Up This Week
Peter Andrew Smith
David O. Bales
Contents
“The Feast Awaits” by Peter Andrew Smith
“Yes, Jesus Loves Me” by David O. Bales
“Preparing For Thanksgiving Day” by David O. Bales
 

The Feast Awaits
by Peter Andrew Smith
Joel 2:21-27

Margie sat on the edge of her bed. She hated this place and wished she was still in her own home. She should have fought the boys harder when they insisted she come here. She tried to hold the tears back, but they began to roll down her cheeks.

SermonStudio

Cynthia E. Cowen
Today we enter the season of Advent. The countdown has begun as we once more anticipate the celebration of the birth of Christ. Advent is a time to prepare, not just our homes but our hearts. What joy floods our hearts as we sing "Joy to the world, the Lord has come!" The Son of God entered our world so quietly -- no one, except those searching the heavens, saw the star that announced his birth. However, today's gospel tells us that when Christ comes again, it will be a like a hurricane or a tornado. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shine. Stars will fall from the sky.
Robert S. Crilley
Some of you may be excited to learn that this morning's scripture lesson contains a benediction. "Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with his saints" (vv. 11-13). That is a benediction.
Frank Ramirez
First Lesson: Jeremiah 33:14-16

Theme: Empires Come And Go -- God Lasts

Call To Worship (Psalm 25:14)
The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.

Collect

Special Occasion