Submit Your Own!
Christmas Eve Sermon
By David von Schlichten
In a way, I envy the shepherds. They had the kind of experience many of us ache for, an undeniable, neon encounter first with angels and then with God. Imagine the night sky becoming like daylight, angels appearing, more astonishing than fireworks. First we see one, and then we behold a “heavenly host,” which is Bible-talk for “heavenly army.” A heavenly army of angels marches across the sky, praising God in unison, their voices deep, high, and rich. “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth among those whom he favors.”
Then the shepherds race into Bethlehem and yell and stumble through the muddy streets until they find the baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. They find him. Mary gasps when the shepherds barge into the stable. They are big, smelly outdoorsmen who fight off wolves as part of their job. Joseph goes for his staff, but one of the shepherds says, “Buddy, relax. We saw these angels. They told us about some baby. We just want to see him. Believe me, man, if we wanted to hurt you, we would have done it by now.”
Jesus is small, brown, with black hair, wrapped maybe a little too tightly. Mary keeps picking him up. “Is he okay? Should I feed him? Do you think he needs to be changed? Do you smell anything? Do you think he's cold?” The shepherds are on their knees, tearing up.
In a way, I envy the shepherds, but, in another way, I don't. We have a large advantage over the shepherds. Our advantage is that we know more about Jesus. We know what he grew up to become. We know that he healed and taught. Most importantly, we know that he died and rose so we could live forever. God has given us much more of the story than what the shepherds received on that night.
Further, thanks be to the Holy Spirit, like the shepherds, we get to encounter Christ, God himself, in real, powerful, undeniable ways today. Every Sunday, when we gather for worship, we encounter Christ, for Christ says in Matthew, “Where two or three gather in my name, I am with them.” We might encounter Christ in the mountains or at the beach, but Christ guarantees that we will encounter him in Sunday worship in special, undeniable ways that we will find nowhere else.
On Sunday, during worship, we encounter Christ when we read the Bible, for Christ and the Bible are both the Word of God. Luther says that the Bible is the manger of Christ. So then, sermons, which grow out of the Bible and are cultivated by the Spirit, also give us an encounter with Christ.
Further, we encounter Christ in a special way whenever we eat and drink holy communion. Holy Communion is the body and blood of Christ, literally. Holy communion is not pretend body and blood. It is not a symbol. It is the real presence of Christ's body and blood in, with and under the bread and the wine. Through holy communion, Christ comes to us.
Think of it. Every time we attend Sunday worship, we encounter Christ in ways uniquely powerful: Through one another, through the Bible, through the sermon, and through Holy Communion. Every Sunday is like a mini-Christmas, because every Sunday we kneel before Jesus once again. He is here, guaranteed, free of charge. We often have to pay hundreds of dollars or spend long hours waiting to see a famous person. On Sunday morning, in worship, we get to be with Christ for free. You can't beat that!
Even better: Not only is Christ here, but he is here to help us. Christ doesn't just show up and say hi; he comes to us help, us, to strengthen our souls. Through fellowship, Bible, sermon, and holy communion, Christ heals and strengthens the muscles and bones of our souls.
Thanks be to God, because we need all the healing and strengthening we can get. The world is harsh. We are in a frightening recession. The papers are saying that the military will deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The war continues in Iraq. Terrorism is a constant threat. Here in the US we also tangle with controversial issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and illegal immigration. We need help. The sky is dark, but then we come to worship on Sunday. We sing with the angels [sing], “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God's people on earth.”
Christ is here, the baby, the crucified one, the savior, who strengthens us with, among other blessings, Bible, sermon, fellowship, and holy communion. Here we receive strength like we can find nowhere else. Not even the shepherds had all that.
After seeing the angels, the shepherds say to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Let's you and me come and see, in Bethlehem, Sunday after Sunday, even when we're tired and down-hearted. Let's you and me come and see to Bethlehem, to worship, Sunday after Sunday, to see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us. Satan keeps smacking us across the face with doubt, pain, and fear. Let us come now and see in Bethlehem, in Sunday worship, to kneel before the baby who strengthens us. The baby gives us power to shove Satan aside and wield everlasting hope.
Illegal Immigrants Are Made Mary
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on Luke 1:26-38
St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Youngstown, PA
Sunday, December 21, 2008,
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B
(word count: 783)
Christ Makes Us Mary
Mary was a low-income, unwed teenager from a hick-town with one traffic light. God dedicates her by making her pregnant with Jesus, the Messiah. Imagine. The angel Gabriel sings, “The Lord is with you! The power of the Most High will overshadow you. Your child will be the Son of God.” Mary responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” God calls upon her to be the mother of God, and she replies, “I'm ready.”
How about you and me? “The Lord is with you!” “And also with you!” Christ was born to die and rise. Now we, the baptized, have eternal life for free. Christ has yanked us out of Satan's rotting mouth. Christ will return to finish salvation. Christ comes to us right this moment. The Church is Christ's body. Where two or three gather in his name, Christ is present. Christ comes to us through Bible and sermon. Christ feeds us his real presence, his body and blood, through holy communion. Christ declares in Matthew 28, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” “The Lord is with you!”
Do you believe that? Do you believe that the Lord is with you, closer to you than you are to yourself? When we declare, “The Lord be with you,” we are saying, “The Lord is with you, so act like you believe that.” Act like you believe that the Lord is with you. Right here. Do you live like the Lord is with you? Do I? Does St. James. Every day, we are holy, the saint-community. We are bearers of Christ, like Mary. The Lord is with us.
No matter how little money you have; no matter how sick you are; no matter how many dirty dishes you have in the sink; no matter how low your self-image is, Christ is with you.
Imagine the angel Gabriel standing before you, blazing, fierce eyes unblinking, smelling like spring air. With a voice like a trombone, he says, “The Lord is with you! Do not be afraid, for God has shown you favor through Jesus Christ.” You can feel God's love impregnating you with holy power. You are one of God's glowing, sacred children, baptized, full of Messiah-muscle. The Lord is with you.
Since the Lord has filled you, you have the faith to see that the Lord has filled others, too. Look around. Relatives, friends, acquaintances, strangers, enemies – the Lord is with all Christians. The Lord is with people you dislike – people who talk too much, brag, lie, gossip. The Lord never says, “I am with you, unless you have flaws.” Otherwise, Peter would be out. James and John would be out. Thomas, out. But thanks be to God that you do not have to be perfect for the Lord to be with you. Christ is with us because he loves us, not because we deserve his presence. So then, the Lord Christ is with all of us in the Church, even with those who annoy, upset or offend us. Jesus does not say, “I am with you always, unless you sin.” He says, “I am with you always, period.”
The Lord is also with people who are different from us. The Lord is with Pedro, who attends church every Sunday with his wife and two daughters, ages seven and five. Such cute girls. The one is shy, the other talks too loudly. Pedro thanks God for the infant Jesus, thanks God for Christ dying on the cross. Pedro is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. He is breaking the law. He is far from perfect, he is a sinner, but he is still a member of the Church. The Lord is with Pedro, and because the Lord is with you, you have the faith to see that the Lord is with Pedro, is with all in the Church.
As we ride into the twelve-day season of Christmas, let us remember that we are Mary, we are the ones God has dedicated through Christ. Even with our flaws, we are still Christ-bearers for a barren world. Remember that as the chatter and lights of Christmas swirl around you. The Lord is with you. On Christmas Day, take a moment to be still. Picture yourself. You are in the stable, beside the manger, holding the baby. Look down at the infant Christ [cradle crucifix?]. His round, dark face, his blue eyes, his black hair. He stares at you, and you say in a soft, low voice, “Here am I, Mary, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”
Pastor Wallace's Sermon
By David von Schlichten
Below my sermon is Pastor Wallace's sermon on Mark 1:1-8. Please scroll down to read it and offer responses. While the sermon would benefit from tightening of wording and focus, the theology is sound, the proclamation full of hope. Thank you, Pastor.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
The Dove's Song
By Pastor J Wallace, First Presbyterian Ch, Liberty Ny
Lectionary: Mark 1:1-8The Dove’s SongThis Sunday, December 7, sixty seven years ago, there occurred “a day that will live in infamy,” the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Today we remember a truth about honor, sacrifice, and the horrors of war. Nonetheless we continue with preparations about another truth; That God has come among us and announced that peace shall reign. On that day 2008 years ago the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” [Luke 2:14] announcing a day that lives in eternity.The Gospel of Mark opens with a conversation that embraces the hallmarks of Christmas: hope, peace, joy, and love, but the opening doesn’t sound like a conversation; it sounds more like a report: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” However, Mark 1:1-8 is a conversation. It isn’t a monologue, the other half of the conversation is in our hearts, and the conversation is repeated down through the generations for our benefit. In Exodus 23:20 God says, “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” That word translated “angel” in this instance is in the Hebrew Scriptures “Malak,” which is also the same word for king. Indeed God has sent a king before us to guard us on our way to the kingdom. Later God repeats, “For surely I know the plans I have for you…plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” [Jer 29:11] In Malachi the conversation repeats; “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—[is]…coming….” [3:1] The prophets tell us “the Lord GOD does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants, the prophets.”[Amos 3:7]The pattern continued as the prophet, John the Baptist, announced, “One who is more powerful than I is coming…I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” [Mark 1:7,8] And what are the fruits of that Spirit? Paul tells us, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” That sounds hopeful, doesn’t it? But soon after John’s declaration, he was arrested, imprisoned and executed. This doesn’t sound so good. It’s not our idea of Good News! But John’s idea of hope, peace, joy and love was not dependent upon the circumstances of this world, but on the good news of God. That “good news” will not be silenced. As believers, our hope, peace, joy and love does not ride on “outward conditions,” or the shoulders of politics, economic prosperity, or on the fact that our kids are not in trouble, in danger, or in jail. The “good news” is independent of our outward circumstances, as Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed, happy, blithesome, joyous, [and] spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction…regardless of outward conditions are…the humble” [Matt 5:5 Amplified Bible] This “good news” of joyous spiritual prosperity started on the first day of creation, and it hasn’t stopped. First Peter states the “good news” was “destined before the foundation of the world,” [1Peter 1:20] and the Gospel of Matthew simply calls it the “good news of the kingdom prepared…from the foundation of the world.” [Matt 25:34] Sixty seven years ago, our political and economic circumstances gave us little hope, almost no peace, joy was in full retreat, and love had evaporated. Today, if our thoughts and hearts are bound by political uncertainty, economic chains, and fear of shadow enemies, we, too, will find ourselves weighted down in hopelessness. Rather, let us prepare for the Advent child by giving thanks for all the saints of the past, present, and future. Let us pray that, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, our hope abides, our peace endures, our joy is adamant, and our love stands firm against impossible circumstance. God goodness shines in this troubled world through us. John the Baptist personally knew this “good news,” ie. Jesus, the anointed, and he introduced him to the world. He wasn’t the least bit apologetic in his insistence that this “good news” made demands. He made it clear our first proper response is “repentance.” We have focused on our losses and made little, desperate idols of our distresses. We have forgotten, in spite of appearances, God is sovereign in this world, and we have forgotten to behave like God’s children. Our repentance may start with a simple acknowledgment of missing the one who makes sense of our lives, or it may begin with a clear-cut recognition that we have lost something like the innocence of babies and the honesty of children. Jesus said, “Unless [we] change and become like children, [we] will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matt 18:3] We resist such simplicity with the protest, “yeah, but.” This qualifying, cultural preamble to our beliefs becomes an excuse for status quo in our lives. We miss the point that the word “repent” in Mark is a verb, as is “believe,” and both are imperative. [Mark 1:15] We forget the first and greatest commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” [see Deut 6:5 & Mark 12:30 KJV] We forget God is looking for a relationship with us. We forget the holy conversation God seeks with us has demands: “Comfort, O comfort my people…Speak tenderly…prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. [Let] every valley [in the lives of those you meet on the street]…be lifted up, and every mountain [blocking their hope and obscuring their joy]…be made low; [Let] the uneven ground [the injustices that dog their steps]…become level, and the rough places, [and hard times be made simple]. Then [the goodness], the glory of the LORD, shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Remember, the glory of the LORD is God’s goodness. [Exodus 33: 18-19] The message of John the Baptist is not merely words, it is words accompanied by faithful action. The way of the Lord is prepared by more than proclamation. It is prepared by holy conversation and holy action. A life lived in conversation with God is lived with “life-joy and satisfaction…regardless of…outward conditions.” John proclaimed it by word and example even though that meant arrest, prison, repudiation, and a shameful death. In his last recorded conversation with his disciples, he declared, “The Messiah must increase and I must decrease.” [John 3:30] May our Advent preparation bring home the Christmas promise where the influence of the Messiah increases in our lives to the song of irrepressible hope, peace, joy and love.
Let us stand and sing our invocation of the Murmur of the Dove, page 314 in the Blue hymnal.* [see Richard Carlson Lutheran Theological Seminary, Lectionary Homiletics, on line, which inspired this train of thought that God is in conversation with us, for us, and through us.]
The Word "Preach"
By David von Schlichten
Sermon on Mark 1:1-8
St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Youngstown, PA
Sunday, December 7, 2008,
Second Sunday of Advent, Year B
(word count: 1000)
The Word “Preach
Much of the time, when we use the word “preach” in casual conversation, we use the word negatively. For instance, your friend lights a cigarette. You say, “Those things are going to kill you. You shouldn't smoke,” and your friend snaps, “I already know that. Quite preaching to me.” When we use the word “preach,” we often mean by it a finger-wagging talk in which one person tells another that they better shape up. In casual conversation, “to preach” usually means “to scold.”
There is some biblical basis for this meaning of the word “preach.” For example, in today's gospel, Mark 1:1-8, John the Baptist is preaching in a scolding, get-it-together kind of way. The passage tells us that John proclaims, or preaches, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance. Shape up. Confess your sins. Get it together.
However, John's message is not only – or even primarily – about repentance, about getting it together. Why does John urge people to repent? Mark tells us in verses two and three when he quotes Isaiah, saying, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord [ . . . ]” Why do the people in John's day need to repent? Because repenting is how you get ready for the coming of Jesus.
At our house, when we have guests coming, we vacuum. Kim dusts everything. She scrubs the sinks and the showers. I change the cat litter and empty the garbage. The kids clean their rooms. When we have guests coming, we get ready, we prepare, by cleaning up.
According to John the Baptist, we prepare for the coming of Jesus by cleaning our lives up. We repent, meaning that we say we are sorry for our sins and that we make changes so that we do not commit those sins again. That's what John urged the people to do a long time ago at the first coming, the first advent, of Christ; repenting is part of how we keep awake for the second coming, the second advent; and repenting is an essential part of preparing ourselves for Jesus coming to us today.
Don't you want your inner house to be clean for the arrival of Jesus? Don't you want to show him your best? This is God who is coming into your life, the one who died for our sins and loves us more than anyone. Let's clean the inner house so that everything is right for Christ's coming.
Preaching can help us to get ready by reminding us that we need to repent and by helping us to see what we do wrong. It is essential for preaching to include a call for us, the baptized, to repent.
However, if all we do with preaching is speak a word of repentance, a word of “get it together,” then we miss the most important part of the Good News, which is the joy of the coming of Jesus Christ. Do you understand? The repentance, the get-it-together message, is just part of the Good News. The main part of the Good News is that Christ has come, will come, is here. Just as John's central mission was to get people ready for Christ's coming, the central mission of our preaching is to proclaim Christ's coming. Repentance is a part of the message, but it is not the main message. For John, repentance is a means to an end. The main message, the point, is the Good News of Christ's coming, past, future, now.
So then, when we use the word “preach” to mean “scolding, urging people to shape up, get it together,” then we are misusing the word “preach.” “You should quit smoking.” “Aw, stop preaching to me.” The word “preach” means far more than scolding; it means proclaiming the Good News that God has shown us the love supreme through the triple-coming of Christ. When we in the Church fixate on scolding people, wagging our fingers, and griping about what's wrong with the world, we miss the most important part of the message: God saves us with love through Christ's coming.
When you listen to a sermon, either here, at another congregation, or while watching TV, ask yourself, “Does this sermon proclaim the Good News of Christ?” Many sermons spend a great deal of time on scolding or on self-help, which is similar to scolding, but these sermons spend relatively little time on the Good News of Christ coming into our lives to save us, heal us, transform us, today.
Given how much scolding goes on in preaching, it is not surprising that, in casual conversation, the word “preach” often means “to scold.” Scolding has its place, but what if the word “preach” had a more positive meaning in our conversations? What if the word “preach” meant, not “to scold,” but “to help people see Christ's loving presence in their lives”? In our conversations, instead of the word “preach” meaning “Tell people what they do wrong,” what if the word “preach” meant instead, “Tell people what God does right”? Think about it.
Your friend never did quit smoking. Now she's in the hospital, dying from lung cancer. Her room is full of cards, flowers, balloons, and stuffed animals. Her family has flown in to be with her. The pastor has been in to give her holy communion, the real presence of Christ.
When the two of you are alone, your friend says, “All these people have been so nice. I feel loved.”
Then, you open your mouth, and you say, “One of the ways Jesus comes to us is through other people. All these people caring for you is one of the ways God comes to you and says, 'I love you.'”
And your friend squeezes your hand and says, “That was a good sermon. Thanks for saying that to me. Thanks for preaching to me.”
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