“You didn’t begin your sermon with the reading of the scripture text. You are always supposed to read the scripture as the beginning of your sermon.”
This is a very close approximation to something a colleague of mine was told recently. This colleague is soon to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry for commissioning – a major step towards ordination.
Part of the qualifying process is submission of a sermon – both manuscript and video recording.
My colleague asked for my insights as to whether such a particularity could, in fact, derail his quest.
I shared that I cannot remember the last time I read the scripture text as the beginning of my sermon.
For me, anyway, this rarely if ever happens in part because our liturgist reads one of our texts immediately before I stand to preach. Re-reading the scripture myself would give in to the notion that preaching is not really a part of the worship service as a whole, but rather a stand-alone event thrown into the midst of a worship service.
I encouraged my colleague to continue to preach the Word, and to preach the text for the service, whether or not that scripture text was written into the sermon.
A much larger concern for me is that someone would suggest so simple a component done differently would disqualify a sermon altogether. What I think really happened was an incident of either
- “You didn’t preach the way I was taught to preach” or
- “You didn’t preach the way I like to hear someone preach.
Are there specific mechanics that you believe are absolutely essential to the successful preaching of a sermon? Do Jesus’ and Peter’s and Paul’s preaching always follow your rules?
Here is the manuscript of my sermon for this past Sunday. It was Pentecost. The scripture readings were Acts 2:1-21 and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
For seven weeks now we have been focusing on the presence of God’s Kingdom.
Many have been sold a bill of goods that eternal life is only about what happens after you die.
Just because someone is selling a bill of goods doesn’t mean you have to buy it.
Jesus never offered eternal life as something you pick up or receive after you die. He said that he came that we might live life to the fullest (John 10:10) Jesus himself defined eternal life this way, in his prayer for his followers in John 17: This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent. (verse 3)
And this “living life to the fullest” and this “knowing the obly true God and Jesus Christ whom God sent” become real – reachable, attainable, graspable – for us in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus being raised from the dead means that God’s victory over death starts now!
Or, more accurately, Jesus being raised from the dead means that God’s victory over death started almost 2,000 years ago.
And, just in case this isn’t clear, God’s victory over death isn’t just for God: it is for us!
It is for God because God created humans for fellowship – for partnership in caring for the beautiful world God has given us to live in! But it is also for us because God loves us and wants us to learn to live in the freedom and joy that comes from living as we were created to live in the first place!
This is why we are invited daily – maybe even more often than that – to come, enter the Kingdom! Because this is what God wants for us.
And we have all seen the Kingdom of God. Many of us, if not all of us have spent some time there. Many of us have had the great pleasure of opening the presence of God’s Kingdom to others and then received the indescribable joy of watching them, listening to them know the love of their Creator!
You’ve been there!
- You volunteer in so many ways at South Euless Elementary.
- You collect change to support the United Community Centers in Fort Worth.
- You teach Sunday School
- You help feed people at Arlington Life Shelter.
- You travel up to 14 hours to spend a week sleeping on floors and taking cold showers to serve people you’ve never met.
- You sing in the choir.
- You work harder than your doctor probably wants you to to stock our Food Pantry and to serve food to those who, for WHATEVER reason humble themselves to come here looking for food.
- You visit people in prison.
- You smoke hams in December.
- You serve in dozens of different ways in your church and community because you feel like following Jesus calls us beyond ourselves.
You’ve SEEN God’s Kingdom from here. You’ve BEEN God’s Kingdom from here.
Ah, but today, today, we raise the bar.
Today we celebrate that God lives IN us. With us ALWAYS and FOREVER.
Today, we welcome the Holy Spirit – our Companion, the Comforter, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth!
Today we celebrate Pentecost, derived from the Jewish Festival of Weeks, which was held 7 weeks following Passover.
You probably know this story: it was read for us this morning from Acts 2. It’s known sometimes as “the birthday of the Church.”
Church starts when the Holy Spirit shows up. We traditionally remember this every Sunday with the presence of the open flame – on candles – on the table.
When, the Holy Spirit showed up “ They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.” Then they heard them all speak in other languages.
There’s a lot to be made of speaking in tongues. There’s a lot of debate about speaking in tongues. While I enjoy discussion over differences, and sometimes even debate, today isn’t about debate. Today is about the Holy Spirit coming and empowering us to live in the Kingdom of God now.
So whatever you think of speaking in tongues, look what happened thereby: people gathered from the known world ALL heard the good news!
May you and I, by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, speak the Good News so that everyone may understand it!
May those who feel trampled on by all us religious folk be able to hear the good news through us!
May those who feel trampled by the world: economic, political, whatever, be able to hear the good news through us!
May those who do not have family or friends close enough to consider family be able to hear the good news through us!
May those estranged from their parents, or estranged from their children, be able to hear the good news through us!
May those dogged by addiction be able to hear the good news through us!
May those bearing the weight of depression be able to hear the good news through us!
May the hypocrite in each of us be able to hear the good news through us!
May the ones among us who feel they’ve been part of the church too long to actually open themselves to the kind of change and healing God and God alone can bring be able to hear the good news through us!
The Holy Spirit is here, among us! God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. (John 3:8)
The Spirit took Peter to the book of Joel (from the Old Testament):
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Two more points, then I’ll let you out of this thing. First, let’s go back to the reason all these folks were in Jerusalem to begin with. The Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. referenced in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy (Exodus 23 & 34, Leviticus 23, and Deuteronomy 16) came to mark both the celebration of thanksgiving for the grain harvest and of Moses’ returning from Mt. Sinai with the law.
Here’s how Deuteronomy explains it:
Count out seven weeks, starting the count from the beginning of the grain harvest. At that point, perform the Festival of Weeks for the Lord your God. Offer a spontaneous gift in precise measure with the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Then celebrate in the presence of the Lord your God—you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites who live in your cities, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows who are among you—in the location the Lord your God selects for his name to reside. Remember how each of you was a slave in Egypt, so follow these regulations most carefully. (Deuteronomy 16:9-12)
Offer a spontaneous gift in precise measure with the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Then celebrate in the presence of the Lord your God….
So, these people had come from all over the known world: Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs. They were here to offer a spontaneous gift “in precise measure with the blessing” God had given them.
What blessings has God given you? What would offering a “spontaneous gift in precise measure” look like?
All these people had come to do their duty, their religious duty. Shavuot was one of three annual festivals jewish men were expected to come to Jerusalem to celebrate. They came as they had likely come many times before.
They came to give to God “in precise measure” according to how God had blessed them.
They came to give, and in return they received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
They couldn’t outgive God. We cannot outgive God.
Today is Pentecost. We celebrate and remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, our Advocate, the Spirit of Truth.
The law expected God’s people to give back in precise measure as they had been blessed by God.
And then, God blesses them beyond their imagination with the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the very presence of God.
They all heard and they all understood in their own language, in a way that they each could accept and receive.
Ok. I think that’s a lot to grasp. Let’s take a moment before concluding.
Take a moment just to breathe.
In. Out. Slow breathe, deep breathe. Repeat.
Did you know that the average human takes 26,000 breaths a day? While we ought to breath deeply and take 4-6 breaths per minute, most of us breath shallow quick breaths at a rate of 15 per minute.
No matter how fast or slow, how deep or shallow you breathe, if you stop breathing you stop living.
Here’s a funny thing about that – about breathing – that I want you to know today. Breath and Spirit are closer than you think.
In fact, in both Hebrew and Greek, the words from which we get “breath” and “spirit” are related.
So much so, in fact, that in Psalm 51:11, which says, “Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me,” the word translated “spirit” is the same word as “breath.”
Here it is in context:
Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.
Could the Holy Spirit be God breathing into you?
Remember in Genesis 2, where God creates the first humans? What does God do after they were formed out of the dust? Breathed the breath of life into them.
No breath, no life.
And breath and spirit come from the same word. Breath and spirit come from the same place.
Every time you breathe in, you welcome the gift of life that God has given you. Every time you breathe in, you can also welcome the Holy Spirit.
Please notice that life is more than just breathing in all the time. If you breathe in, you must also breathe out.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t come into us, like breath, to be held, but to be let out, to be shared.
Take a moment just to breathe.
In. Out. Slow breathe, deep breathe. Repeat.
Let us pray
For Lent, I’ve been preaching a series based on Jan Hatmaker’s book 7. We’ll finish this Sunday.
Stress is the final topic.
I’ve had some this week. Maybe I’ll tell you about next week.
I think it will make for a good sermon this Sunday. If you don’t have a church home and live in the DFW area, visit Euless First United Methodist Church this Sunday and we will make it worth your while.
If you live elsewhere, or just can’t make it this Sunday, check out our webpage Monday or after where you can find and download the sermon.
But you would rather be there Sunday. Our choir is worth the trip.