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Sermon Illustrations for Trinity Sunday (2018)

Psalm 29
This is a lesson to highlight the glory of God; such glory is associated with the mystery of the Trinity. Modern Reformed theologian Karl Barth well describes this glory:
In view of what has been said so far, this ‘in the highest’ means quite simply that he is the one who stands above us and also above our highest and deepest feelings, strivings, intuitions, above the products, even the most sublime, of the human spirit. (Dogmatics in Outline, p.37)
Great Puritan leader Jonathan Edwards extols God’s majesty this way:
But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honorable. (Works, Vol.1., p.669)
God’s reign over the waters in this Psalm (v.3) is reminiscent of how some ancient theologians used water as a way of describing God’s oneness and still his diversity. We can compare him to water in three forms -- the father as the source of a river, the son as the river itself, and the Spirit as the cup of water drawn from the river (see Athanasius, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol.4, p.84).
Mark E.

Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah is called as a prophet of God and has a vision of the throne of God. Isaiah, like most of us, does not believe that he can follow through to the call of God. He is only a man, after all. Only a sinner, not really ready or capable of being God’s prophet. Yet, the seraphim, who have been singing and praising God, bring a coal from the altar and touch it to Isaiah’s lips. Isaiah is purified. When God calls, Isaiah responds with hope and courage, "Here am I; send me!"

Do you feel unworthy to answer the call of God on your life? Be in prayer my friend. Have no fear. Respond to God. God takes the broken and mends. God takes the lost and finds. God takes us, each as we are, and uses us. Be willing to respond, "Here am I; send me!"
Bonnie B.

Isaiah 6:1-8
Encountering God led Isaiah to confess his sin (v.5). John Calvin nicely explains how encounters with God make us know our sin:
Accordingly, until God reveals himself to us, we do not think that we are men, or rather we think that we are gods; but when we have seen God, we then begin to feel and know that we are. Hence springs true humility, which consists in this, that a man makes no claims for himself and depends wholly on God... (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol.VII/1, p.208)
Martin Luther notes that Isaiah’s mouth was then cleansed with a burning coal (vv.6-7). In his view:
The glowing coal is the word kindled by the Holy Spirit in love... To touch the mouth is to strike the heart with the Gospel, which is sweet to the bitter heart. Then the heart is a fit vessel for honor, because it will... be His instrument for teaching others... (Luther’s Works, Vol.16, p.77)
This quote makes clear that the mission to which Isaiah and we are called must come about through God’s work and grace. On that matter Luther adds:
Of good works I have said and still say: No one can be good and do good unless God’s grace first makes him good... Just so the fruits do not make the true, but the tree bears the fruit. (What Luther Says, p.614)
Mark E.

Romans 8:12-17
While there is value to knowing the original Biblical languages when doing Bible study, let us not lose sight of the fact that if you read the gospels in an English translation you are still reading the scriptures. That’s because, when it comes to the New Testament, the original authors already wrote in a language different from the one Jesus spoke. What you are reading is a translation from the Greek, the world langauge of the Roman Empire in that time. The evangelists translated the original words of Jesus, probably first spoken in Aramaic, a regional language. At that time Greek was everyone’s second language. It was necessary to know it to engage in commerce.

However, every now and then an Aramaic word sneaks though, like in this passage. “Abba” is related to the word “ab,” “father,” but it really represents the sound a child would make not unlike daddy, or da da.
Frank R.

Romans 8:12-17
I saw it first on my social media feed. I later found that USA Today had written about it, too. It's a moment of pure joy committed to film. A young girl realizes she will be adopted. Her foster family will become her permanent one. Security footage from at American Heritage School in South Jordan, Utah, captures the moment when 11-year-old Tannah Butterfield learned from Jackie Alexander, her school's office manager, that courts had approved her adoption. Alexander had received a call a few moments earlier from Tannah's mother about the news.

"Her mom knew she would want to know right away because she had been so worried," Alexander wrote. "I don't think even I could understand myself what that moment would feel like."

What is shown on the camera is heartwarming. Tannah flings herself into Alexander's arms, kicking her legs in excitement as she's carried across the room.

Alexander said Tannah's parents had fought to adopt her "for as long as I can remember," and Tannah told CBS News she dreamed of the moment for years

"They are just caring, loving, they take really good care of me," she said. "My heart was so happy, it was like, 'Ahhh!' It was screaming."

There is such joy in an 11-year-old girl finding a permanent family. She belongs and that feeling overwhelmed her. I thought about that video and report again as I read this passage in Romans. Followers of Jesus do not have the spirit of fear. We have the spirit of adoption. Those who are led by the spirit of God are children of God. We’ve been adopted into his family. We are not just workers. We are children of the King! The phrase “Abba! Father!” speaks of an intimate expression a child would say to his or her father. It’s like saying “Daddy.” Do you remember the joy you felt when you recognized God’s love for you and that you were a part of his family?
Bill T.

Romans 8:12-17
Presbyterian minister Reverend Benjamin Weir, in his book Hostage Bound, Hostage Free, reveals what it was like to be held hostage. He was captured on the streets of Beirut by a group of Shiite Muslim extremists, in May, 1984. Weir was imprisoned for sixteen months. During those torturous months he was often chained and held in solitary confinement. Weir’s devout faith and trust in God sustained him during those perilous times. One routine in particular sustained Weir’s reliance on Jesus. Weir realized that if he dared to stand on the toilet, always in fear of being caught, he could look out the window. Doing so, he could see beyond the Bekaa Valley to the Lebanon Mountains. The snow-covered mountains and rays of early morning sunlight strengthened his faith. Weir confessed, “That sight, and the memory of it throughout the day, spoke to me of the grandeur of the Creator and his good intensions for the world and its people. This gave me hope and a sense of harmony.”

Application: Many things in life hold us hostage, whether it is an addiction to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, money, sex, television, workaholic or a hobby out-of-control. In our daily living we feel ourselves in bondage to pain, health problems, grief, difficult decisions, unruly neighbors, inconsiderate coworkers, and an uncompromising boss. For all these problems and others, each robbing life of its joy and satisfaction, we call upon the name of Jesus for help. We should seek liberation by living with the Holy Spirit. Then we can say with confidence, “Abba! Father!”
Ron L.

John 3:1-17
For sermons on the theme of being born again, John Wesley offers a striking observation on what it takes for someone to be entitled to the blessing’s of the Messiah’s kingdom:
An entire change of heart as well as of life is necessary for that purpose. This can only be accomplished in man by the almighty power of God. (Commentary On the Bible, p.457)
In the same spirit John Calvin also stressed that an entire change must transpire:
By the phrase born again is expressed not the correction of one part, but the renovation of the whole nature. Hence it follows, that there is nothing in us that is not sinful; for if reformation is necessary in the whole and in each part, corruption must have been spread throughout. (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol.XVII/2, p.108)
Martin Luther sees the lesson as having implications for the Trinity doctrine, should this be a sermon direction:

Christ wants to prevent us from thinking of him as separate from the Father. Therefore, he again directs our mind from himself to the Father and says that the Father’s love for us is just as strong and profound as his own... (Luther’s Works, Vol.22, p.355)
For images to illustrate the Trinity, see the image drawn from Athanasius above in the exposition of  Psalm 29 or the following parts of a hymn attributed to early African theologian Marius Victorinus:
O Blessed Trinity...

O Blessed Trinity...

O Blessed Trinity...

Free us,
Save us,
Justify us,
O Blessed Trinity
(The Fathers of the Church, Vol.69, pp.324ff.)
Mark E.

John 3:1-17
There are so many passages in the Bible that should not be taken literally or you will miss the point. The earth was not created in seven 24 hour days. Bread and wine are not literal, but symbolize Jesus body and blood. Baptism is not just water, but water and the Spirit. We should not kill our enemy -- we should love them. The Bible is full of examples that can’t be taken literally. Nicodemus was taking Jesus words about being born again literally. Some denominations take many statements literally, like the creation story or like looking. Nicodemus was normal in that sense.

Sometimes there are some unbelievable statements that must be taken literally. Even the disciples had trouble with Jesus statement that he would rise from the dead -- literally! We need the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read. Even in our church there are individual differences. Just one example you may not want to use is the strong statements in both Old and New Testaments against homosexuality! It has divided our church!

The most important sentence that must be taken literally in this text is verses 16 and 17. This is God’s promise for us.

Our lesson is rare in that it tells of one Pharisee who believed in Jesus. He saw literal miracles performed by Jesus. Some today believe that healing miracles can still happen as Jesus promised and believe because they saw it happen, but others doubt it. We should not need a miracle in order to believe God’s word for us but we also need to be born again. We usually think of this as our baptism in water and that is important. Maybe Jesus was thinking of John’s baptism which the Pharisees rejected because it hurt their pride. Maybe Nicodemus rejected it when he first heard it also. It sounds like Nicodemus had come to believe in Jesus because he stayed to witness and didn’t just run off.

You wouldn’t be in church if you didn’t believe it. But in every church I have served there was always at least one who shared his doubts with me. It was my job to change his or her doubts and sometimes I could only do it through prayer.

A dear friend of my wife and I was in in depression when she lost her faith because of some problems in her life. When I gave her a booklet with some scripture in it, she read it over and over again until she began to believe. “That and prayer were the answer!
Bob O.

John 3:1-17
Be born again! What does it truly mean? How does it come to be? These are questions Nicodemus asked? There are things we do not understand, us humans. We do not know how being born of God works. There are those who believe that one single moment of choosing to follow Jesus and the resulting power of the Holy Spirit they feel is the moment when they are born again. They remember the occasion, the date and the time. For others of us that born-again moment is harder to identify. Is it when we were baptized or confirmed. Is it when we felt God stirring in our hearts the first time. Is it a specific moment or a time of spiritual growing and developing?

My friends, it does not matter how you encounter the life you have been given by God in a faith-filled and faithful way. What matters is that you seek to align your life with God, with God’s love and grace and hope. What matters is you accept that you are a beloved child of God and that in thanksgiving for that giftedness you live a life of righteous love of God and neighbor. This is the born-again moment that Jesus speak to Nicodemus about.
Bonnie B.
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The Immediate Word

Mary Austin
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For August 18, 2019:
  • Seeing the Signs, Taking the Steps by Mary Austin — Jesus tells the crowds listening to him to see the signs, and watch for change in the world. We can interpret the weather, but seeing change in our communal life is much harder.

Emphasis Preaching Journal

Wayne Brouwer
The Desert Fathers told of a father and a son who were traveling together. They came to the edge of a forest. Some of the bushes were loaded with berries. They looked so delicious that the son asked if they could stop for a while and pick berries.

The father was anxious to be on his way, but he saw the desire in his son’s eyes and agreed to stay there for a short while. The son was delighted. Together they searched the bushes for the biggest, plumpest, juiciest berries.
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Isaiah 5:1-7
In the passage from Isaiah, God is the owner of the vineyard, which represents God's people. The coming destruction (verses 5-6) results from the people's failure to do what God "expected," and hoped for (verses 2, 4, 7). That is, the failure to enact and embody justice and righteousness invites catastrophe.

God’s judgment is just and would ultimately come for the recipients of the prophecy by means of the Assyrians (if the recipients were, as many suggest, the Northern Kingdom).


Peter Andrew Smith
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“A Cloud of Witnesses” by Peter Andrew Smith
“A Mind of Their Own” by Frank Ramirez

A Cloud of Witnesses
by Peter Andrew Smith
Hebrews 11:29--12:2

Pastor Will stormed out of the board room.

“Is everything okay, Pastor?” Linda called from the office. “Are you finished already?”

“We’re just taking a break,” he said. “We all need a few minutes”

Will walked into the sanctuary, sat in a pew, and closed his eyes.


Arley K. Fadness
Jesus said, ‘I came to bring fire to the earth,’...” (v. 49a)

Good morning girls and boys,

It is a good morning, isn’t it? It’s good because you and your family are here at worship. It’s good because I get to talk with you. It’s good because God is here. How awesome is that? Can you think of other reasons why today is a good morning? (children may respond)

What secret do you think I have in this special box? (children guess)

(presenter removes and shows a candle on a candlestick)

The Village Shepherd

Janice B. Scott
All prospective Church of England clergy are obliged to attend a three day selection conference to determine whether or not they are suitable candidates for ministry in the Church. This can often cause real difficulty for those candidates who are told at the end of the conference that the selectors have decided not to recommend them for training at this time. The candidates feel themselves to have been called by God, but the selectors don't agree.


Lee Ann Dunlap
Some of the best prophetic voices of any culture are its troubadours. Historically, the term refers to traveling musicians who once strolled the streets and pubs of medieval Europe singing love songs in exchange for food and lodging. Today they travel by jet or private coach filling auditoriums with screaming fans and recording "greatest hits" albums. Regardless of the time or language, music has an almost supernatural power to affect the human soul and even change the course of the human community. It lifts our spirits, bolsters our courage, and points out injustice.

Special Occasion