Read an Excerpt
The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2013
By David Neil Mosser
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
If the gospel can be proclaimed visually, why should it not be? Color helps form general expectations for any occasion. Traditionally, purples, grays, and blues have been used for seasons of a penitential character such as Advent and Lent, although any dark colors could be used. White has been used for events or seasons with strong christological meaning such as the Baptism of the Lord or the Easter Season. Yellows and golds are also possibilities at such times. Red has been reserved for occasions relating to the Holy Spirit (such as the Day of Pentecost or ordinations) or to commemorations of the martyrs. Green has been used for seasons such as the Season after Epiphany or the Season after Pentecost. The absence of any colored textiles from Maundy Thursday to the Easter Vigil is a striking use of contrast. Colors and textures can be used most effectively in textiles for hangings on pulpits, on lecterns (if any), for the stoles worn by ordained ministers, or for ministerial vestments.
Advent: Violet (purple) or blue
Christmas: Gold or white for December 24-25. White thereafter, through the Baptism of the Lord. (Or, in the days between January 6 and the Sunday of the Baptism, green may be used.)
Ordinary Time (both after Epiphany-Baptism and after Pentecost): Green
Lent Prior to Holy Week: Violet. Black is sometimes used for Ash Wednesday.
Early Holy Week: On Palm-Passion Sunday, violet (purple) or [blood] red may be specified. For the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, the same options exist, although with variations as to which color to use on each day.
Triduum: For Holy Thursday, violet (purple) or [blood] red may be used during the day and changed to white for the evening Eucharist. Then the church may be stripped.
Good Friday and Holy Saturday: Stripped or black; or [blood] red in some churches on Good Friday.
Great Fifty Days: White or gold. Or gold for Easter Day and perhaps its octave, then white for the remainder of the season until the Vigil of Pentecost.
Day of Pentecost: [Fire] red
Annunciation, Visitation, and Presentation of Jesus: White
Commemoration of Martyrs: [Blood] red
Commemoration of Saints not Martyred: White
All Saints: White
Christ the King: WhiteCHAPTER 2
SERMONS AND WORSHIP AIDS
JANUARY 6, 2013
* * *
Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:(1-9), 10-18
Light in the Darkness
John 1:(1-9), 10-18
The first Sunday of the New Year dawns with Epiphany Day. By church tradition Epiphany is the day we celebrate the arrival of the wise men who come to worship the newborn Christ. The Gospel text is John's great symphonic opening. With all the grandeur of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the text presents us with the full glory of the incarnation. "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (NRSV). The phrase "lived among us" means literally that the Lord pitched his tent in our midst.
On one level we give casual allegiance to this great truth. On another level, it is easy for the best of Christians to forget the full impact of the gospel's great claim. God is not out there at a distance watching us but living in our midst. Faithful preaching on the text from John's Gospel challenges us to embrace again, as if for the first time, this great truth. God incarnate (in the flesh) in the person of Jesus has taken up residence in our neighborhood—next door. This is not an invitation to a Pollyannaish ignorance of evil, destruction, and pain. Nor is it a whistling by the graveyard. Evil strides across the world. War still rages. Disease, hunger, prejudice, and death are still real. The difference, the huge difference, is that if we understand 2013 as A.D. (Anno Domino, the year of our Lord), we can embrace the New Year with grace and truth guiding us. Is the birth baby we celebrated twelve short days ago the inauguration of a new age or an interlude in the harsh chaos of life? Consider two true stories.
The first is the well-known story of Delta Airlines Flight 253 preparing to land in Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009. As a terrorist attempted to set off a bomb, heroic passengers threw themselves on the terrorist to extinguish the flames and save the plane. By all accounts it was a chaotic scene. Reporting on the incident, Time magazine, notes that as some aided in subduing the terrorist and putting out the flames, "Other passengers screamed; some ran to other cabins. 'I don't want to die! I want out!' yelled one." ("The 4 Lessons of Flight 253," Time magazine, January 11, 2010, p. 28).
The second story comes from personal experience. Worshiping on the first Sunday of the New Year in 2010, the congregation celebrated Holy Communion. My wife and I were sitting close to the front and were among the first to take the sacrament. After returning to our seats, I sat listening to the beautiful music and meditating. My quiet reverie was broken by a young family that knelt at the altar rail. The two little girls (probably ages seven and five) enthusiastically took part in a winsome way that evoked smiles. Finishing, the family turned and walked back down the center aisle to their seats. The girls walked on either side of their father holding his hand. The five-year-old on the dad's left broke into a huge smile and started skipping down the aisle. Somehow she got incredible joy from Communion and worship that we more serious adults had trouble embracing.
Now I ask you, of the two stories, which one best captures the essence of the gospel? Which one brings us into the New Year with the fullness of what has just taken place at Christmas? Which one recognizes that this is A.D. 2013?
Before us is a question of perspective. Do you scream, "I want out of here!" or do you skip down the aisle? I must confess I have sometimes felt like running down the aisle yelling, "I want out!" In my more faithful living, however, I embrace the joy of the skipping little girl.
Epiphany Day we celebrate the light of God entering the darkness of our lives in the person of Jesus. Faithful proclamation invites us to once again embrace both the word and way of God.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning" (John 1:1-2). This is not a static sentence. It recalls how the Bible opens—"In the beginning" (Genesis 1:1 NRSV). So too, this great gospel—great good news—opens with a reminder of the creative life-giving God at work. The text pulses with action. The term "Word of God" translates the Greek term Logos. New Testament scholar A. M. Hunter put it this way: "It meant the ruling fact of the universe and that fact as the self-expression of God" (A. M. Hunter, The Gospel According to John [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965], 16). God is active in our world and in our lives!
"What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:3b-5 NRSV). The biblical image of creation is that it comes from primordial soup. Again, recall Genesis, "The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light" (Genesis 1:2-3 NRSV). Life and light are God's creative genius at work.
But don't miss this. Darkness and chaos are real, both at creation and now; both at the beginning of year 1 and at the beginning of the year of our Lord 2013. They are real, but not evil. The earth was just a formless void. Now darkness and chaos represent the pain, the evil, the sin, the anguish in this world and in our lives. We know darkness. We know the terror of chaos. We know it in us and around us. We know darkness in the haunting legacy of greed and prejudice. We know darkness in the anguished hurt of death and the sting of broken lives. We know it in the reality of divorce and the struggles facing all families, in our own country or in countries around the world. We know darkness in the hate of a terrorist sitting in a plane trying to blow up himself and others.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." By way of analogy, imagine yourself in pitch darkness. Years ago we walked through Carlsbad Caverns National Park for the first time. In a certain very narrow, short corridor, the ranger had us stand still and then turned off the lights. We couldn't even see our hands in front of our eyes. Then he flicked on a powerful flashlight. Its beam shot out, literally overcoming the darkness. Something like that is the image the Gospel writer is reaching for. John is saying: Look, I know the darkness of life is real. But from God there is life and light that overcomes darkness in the person of Christ through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. God in Christ triumphs over darkness, pain, and evil. We can skip down the aisle of life after we have partaken in the body and blood of Christ. (Mike Lowry)
This is a text of restoration and celebration. It is also a prayer—"Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel" (v. 7 NRSV). Throughout the text the primary actor is God. The Lord alone ransoms and redeems God's people. Human response to God's powerful action is joy and praise.
There is an unmistakable connection-of-restoration theme with the Epiphany joy of the Gospels. God in Christ acts to redeem the new Israel—the church. The light comes to the Gentiles, to "all nations." Tertullian connected this passage with the Pentecost. Other early Christian writers linked the themes of ransom and redemption for all nations to the great commission and the church as the spiritual Israel. Rejoice, for the Lord has acted, is the order of the day. It is at once reflection on current reality and future promise. God has acted and is acting to save people. The Light shines in the darkness.
Along with John 1:1-18, this passage from Ephesians is a grand, sweeping overture of the gospel of salvation. Verses 3 through 14 are a lengthy opening prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God. There is exultant emotion conveyed in the prayer offering. The opening thrust of verse 3 is lifted in celebration throughout the passage (and the whole letter). The true God has lavished divine love on us through the person and work of Christ the Son. The high christological emphasis pours forth. God in and through Christ has acted in love on our behalf. Christ's actions leap off the page and can form the foundation of a sound doctrinal sermon— blessing (v. 3), chosen (v. 4), adoption (v. 5), grace (v. 6), ransom and forgiveness (v. 7), wisdom and understanding (v. 8), and purpose and inheritance (vv. 10 and 11). Epiphany is the revealing of God to the Gentiles, and this is done through Christ. Let the faithful preacher lift up Christ as Lord and Savior.
The careful reader and preacher will note the deep sense of plan and purpose that breathes through the words. In Christ, we encounter the one true God in action for us and our salvation. It is worth carefully noting that "our salvation" is for the higher purpose of redeeming all creation (v. 10—"to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth."). All this is sealed by the Holy Spirit as a pledge of inheritance and redemption. (Mike Lowry)
Call to Worship (Based on Psalm 147:12-15)
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
The Lord blesses your children within you.
The Lord grants peace within your borders:
The Lord fills you with the finest wheat.
The Lord sends out his command to the earth.
Prayer of Confession
Lord God, we gather at the precipice of a new year with an unfounded confidence in our own goodness. Forgive, we pray, our unmerited pride in our accomplishments. We confess before you in our silence our errors, failures, and misdeeds of this past year. (Pause for silence.) Open our eyes again to see by the light of your grace upon grace. Open our hearts again to love through your greater love. Guide us this new year to live by the light of your revelation in Christ Jesus our only Lord and Savior. Have mercy upon us and grant us your blessing. This we pray in the name of the one true God who reveals himself for us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Come on this Epiphany Day and receive again the great news of God's mercy and love. The Lord God lives among us! "We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Enter this new year of our Lord as recipients of God's overflowing grace and love! Amen. (Mike Lowry)
Back to the Future
First in a Series of Two on Beginning a New Year with the Lord's Prayer
Epiphany is considered "ordinary time." It is the time between Christmas and Lent, the time when life is as "normal" as it can be. A new year has begun, and everyone speaks of expectations, hopes, and dreams. This is a new year. The calendar changed, and we expect that at some point this year our lives will change. There can be newness of life in this year. We are excited about the possibilities. There are new projects to complete, new goals to achieve, and new horizons to look over.
Yet for many persons, the ordinariness of life means that the new year begins just as the last year ended. Nothing has changed; nothing is different. Our worries and uncertainty remain, and we exist in ordinary time, lacking the excitement of a major event or experience. Someone is still trying to adjust to a devastating diagnosis. Someone is still looking for a job. Someone is longing for the conflict in a relationship to end. For some people, the New Year is simply last year warmed over.
I have experienced this myself. With job cuts and hiring freezes, life had become uncertain. But as I reflected on God's promises, I knew God would not abandon me in my time of need. I knew God had a future and a plan for me. I needed to revisit my days in Sunday school and the lesson of "Jesus loves me, this I know." I had to remember my days in young adult Bible study, where I learned that God provides in times of need. I had to go back to my call to ministry and remember the assurance I received that when God calls, God also qualifies. In looking back I could move forward.
I invite you "back to the future." Remember the blockbuster movie series from the 1980s? A mad scientist named Doc Brown experiments with time travel. One of his students, Marty (played by Michael J. Fox), joins him in his adventures. Marty meets Doc Brown at a time when Marty's family is dysfunctional, his school life is difficult, and his sense of direction and purpose are nonexistent. With Doc Brown, Marty moves back in time and finds his parents as teenagers getting to know each other. He interferes with his parent's planned meeting and, in a panic, Marty must try to reestablish what he messed up to ensure his own existence. Over the course of the trilogy of movies, Marty and Doc move back and forth from past to future and back to the present. They try desperately to reconnect events so that the future happens as it should.
All of us have a future that we need, at one time or another, to "get back to." We lose our way, we mess up our relationships, we become misguided and misdirected trying to do things our way. When we go back, our vision can be cleared for the future ahead. By going back, we can reclaim what we've lost and recapture a future that excites us in the ordinary time. Come back to God's future.
Jeremiah writes of a time of exile in the lives of the Hebrew people. They have lost their homes, their jobs, and many of their traditions. They have strayed from God's future for them. Nebuchadnezzar has car- ried away prophets, priests, elders, and others from their homes in Jerusalem to Babylon. Jeremiah, writing to those exiled, offers them words of comfort and hope as they face the future. Jeremiah's words from God tell the people to increase rather than decrease, to adjust to their circumstances, to be hospitable to their captors, and to pray for the land. Jeremiah tells the people that God has plans for them. God's plans will see to their prosperity and their peace. God's plans will not cause them harm. God's plans will recapture their hope and their God-ordained future. Jeremiah invites the people to look beyond their present circumstances back to God's future.
I believe that same invitation is extended to us this day. Come back to God's future. Look beyond your present circumstances, look back at the time you separated from God, stopped believing in God's work on your behalf, and then reenvision God's future for you. That future is exciting even in ordinary time. That future is secure even in times of psychological insecurity. The plans God has are for peace and prosperity, not for harm or evil. Come back to God's future.
Excerpted from The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2013 by David Neil Mosser. Copyright © 2012 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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