Each week of sermon resources includes:
2. Theme title
3. Introduction to the Readings
4. Encountering the Text
5. Proclaiming the Text
6. Relating the Text
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About the Author
Will Willimon has published many books, including his preaching subscription service on MinistryMatters.com, Pulpit Resource, and Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love, both published by Abingdon Press.
Read an Excerpt
First Sunday of Advent
Advent is the apocalyptic, eschatological season of the church year. In Advent the church celebrates a God who not only cares but also acts, a God who not only hears but also intervenes, interrupts, and interjects. Herein is our great hope. Jesus Christ, whose advent we celebrate in this season, is the grand, loving, divine interruption.
Introduction to the readings
"The time is coming," says the Lord, when humanity will see the long-awaited justice and righteousness of God made manifest as God intervenes and saves Israel.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Paul intercedes for the suffering early Christians at Thessalonica, praying that God would strengthen them as they await their full redemption.
Jesus speaks of "signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay" when the earth will be radically changed, a time when "your redemption is near."
Almighty God, on the whole, we are rather well fixed down here. Our families dwell secure, without great deprivation or danger. Our friends live lives that are reasonably well off. Our church, while it has needs, does not suffer persecution or peril.
The world, this world, has been good to us. Therefore, we praise you for giving us such a good and pleasant time.
And yet, we know that you are not just our God but also God of the whole world and all humanity. Judge us, Lord, for our uncaring and unconcern for the plight of our less fortunate neighbors. Forgive us when we benefit from the status quo without feeling even a twinge of conscience that our benefits are often obtained through the suffering and deprivation of others.
Interrupt our status quo, Living God. Intervene, shake, dismantle, and renew us, we pray. Even if it hurts. Amen.
Encountering the text
One of the things that we do well in the church is continuity. We worship in buildings that look as if they are older than they really are. We do fairly much the same things every Sunday, just like we did them last Sunday. Last year, last century. We call it an "Order of Worship," because that's what it's for — to order our acts of worship into a continuous, flowing whole. Church specializes in continuity.
And here we are, just like clockwork, again at the season of Advent. We could have predicted it. Advent is the beginning of the church's liturgical year, but not much about it feels like a true beginning. It feels like something in the middle, one more thing in the orderly progression of the church's year, which makes all the more remarkable the stories we have to tell during Advent. Advent is God's great discontinuity worked on a world in which many people believed that we were going along rather fine on our own devices. Our Advent texts — especially the texts for this first Sunday in Advent — speak of a God who steps up, steps in, and interrupts the flow of human history.
The apocalyptic, revealing ending that Jesus describes in today's Gospel contains some fearsome, cataclysmic events. And yet Jesus dares to speak of such a time as a time of "redemption." How can it be that the ending of a world, the destruction of the status quo, is a time of hopeful redemption?
Such is the world we live in, which God interrupts in order to intervene.
Proclaiming the text
He was looking forward to a pleasant Saturday morning with the family. On his way to run an unimportant errand, he looked in the sky and saw a passenger jet in flames, soaring across the sky. Was this the work of terrorists, or was this merely a tragedy due to mechanical failure? More important, was this a sign of something larger? Was this only a small, isolated tragedy that would affect only the people on that plane and their families and friends? Or did this mean something else?
This begins a day of interruptions for a man in London in his story told by Ian McEwan. During the course of the day, a deranged man will break into the placid life of this family and change everything. McEwan writes about this in his novel Saturday. If you've ever read him, you know that he specializes in observing the disrupted, interrupted lives of people.
In another novel, Enduring Love, McEwan tells about an Oxford science professor. The professor is a rational, modern sort of man, who likes his world orderly and explained. And yet, on a fine summer's day, he looks up into the sky and sees a hot air balloon racing out of control across the landscape. A little boy is in the balloon, screaming. A man is dangling from the balloon, trying to stabilize it. A number of onlookers join in and together try to pull the balloon down, but they are unsuccessful. And the man who was holding on to the chord of the balloon falls and dies. The little boy eventually lands safely in the balloon. But all of this proves to be terribly disrupting in the life of this staid Oxford professor. He knows that he will never be the same after that afternoon. Welcome to the world of the novelist Ian McEwan.
In fact, when you think about it, this is a definition for a good story. A good story begins quite normally, and moves along its expected ruts, but then something happens, something intrudes, and things are disrupted, turned upside down.
It is interruption that makes for the stuff of a good story. Interruption surprises, dislodges people, disorients them, and they spend the rest of the story trying to get back into more accustomed locations.
But what if an orderly story with no surprises and interruptions is not only boring but also a lie? What if interruptions are the true stuff of our lives? It is interesting how we like to think of our lives as an orderly progression of birth, childhood, youth, adulthood, and so on. First you have this, and that is always followed by that, and so on.
We say that someone dies "unexpectedly." But is the death of the human animal ever really "unexpected"?
What if our sense of order and progression is only a human delusion? I remember the good but disturbing novel that became a movie many years ago, Girl, Interrupted. It is a true story about a young woman's struggle with mental illness. The title suggests that you have a fairly stable young woman who, because of the unexpected assault by mental illness, has her life turned upside down and terribly interrupted. She goes through years of treatments for her illness, eventually survives, comes out on the other side, and resumes her life.
I thought the title was unusual because from everything that I could read in the book, this young girl had never known "normalcy." She had always suffered from severe mental illness. What we call "severe mental illness" was normal for her.
Isn't it interesting how we think of God, when we think of God, as the divine source of order and stability? That's how we generally conceive of what is happening in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. The world begins out of a "formless void." There is chaos, confusion, and disorder. And then God speaks and there is order, the progression of seasons, seedtime, and harvest. But a closer reading of the text suggests that that is really not the story. God speaks and there is light. Not order but light in the darkness. Presumably darkness can be orderly until light bursts on the scene, and once the light is switched on we discover that the darkness is disordered. So maybe creation is bringing a disorder or at least a different kind of order. Maybe we think of creation as the bringing of order because we sense that there is such disorder in our lives and in our world, or at least not the kind of order we would like.
But in a good novel, or at least in the novels that I like, the story really doesn't get going until something falls from the sky or there is a knock at the door — an intrusion, an interruption that makes the characters' lives, while more difficult, certainly more interesting.
And when you look at scripture from this perspective, including this morning's text, you are reminded how much of scripture deals in interruptions. For our world to fundamentally change, something has got to fall from the sky.
Today's Gospel, and for that matter all of our biblical texts during the season of Advent, speak of a God who loves us enough to interrupt us. Here we are, proceeding down our comfortable runs, creatures of habit and routine, getting by just fine on our own. And then, in a place we don't expect, in a way we don't expect, God comes. God is born among us in a form we didn't ask for.
Emmanuel, God with Us, is God's grand, gracious interruption. There are times when it's as if God disrupts and interrupts in order to make room in our lives, room for God to come among us. Advent points to such moments.
I know that some of you think you are here at church in order to bring some order and stability to your lives. And I hope that church is sometimes that way for you.
But Advent suggests that many of us also yearn for a genuine disruption, for some divinely induced instability too. Many of us are caught in situations for which there is no humanly conceivable way out. Some of you are enslaved to habits that are literally killing you. Others face some dilemma for which there is no answer, at least no answer that is human. We live in a world in which the problems on the world stage are larger than our collective resources for addressing the problems.
And just as we get all settled in and accommodated to things as they are, just when we learn to face facts, to accept reality, to think that this world is as good as it gets, we are surprised by the intrusions of God. Somehow God interrupts our comfortable adjustment to the present and offers us a considerably disrupted future. Our notions of what can and what cannot be are turned upside down. This is Advent.
Advent says that our God not only cares about us but also comes to us. We don't have to get everything together on our own. We don't have to make the world work out right. God moves, acts, creates, and recreates.
A friend of mine says that the main difference between a living, true God and a dead, false god is that a dead, false god will never surprise you. So perhaps Advent is a yearly reminder to our church that God is able to reach in and to surprise us. Perhaps we ought to think of church as training in the skills required for following a living, surprising, interrupting God!
Let us therefore begin Advent with a prayer:
Lord, give us the grace to be prepared for the interruption of your grace among us, give us the courage to receive you when you intrude into our lives, and give us the wisdom to follow you into the future that only you can give. Amen.
Relating the text
Life consists of a series of interruptions. One day you are doing just fine, then there's the telephone call from the doctor after your yearly physical, there is that odd pain in the chest, or you turn on the evening news and some new disaster has just occurred and your world is rocked.
And what do we do at such moments? Most of us reach out or dig down for resources to deal with the crisis in an attempt to get life "back to normal," in order to achieve homeostasis and balance.
Fred Craddock tells of a person who, in a time of crisis, reached down but had no resources upon which to draw:
"I went to see a lady in our church who was facing surgery. I went to see her in the hospital. She had never been in the hospital before, and the surgery was major. I walked in there and immediately saw that she was a nervous wreck. She started crying. She wanted me to pray with her, which I did. By her bed was a stack of books and magazines: True Love, Mirror, Hollywood Today, stuff about Elizabeth Taylor and folk. She just had a stack of them there, and she was a wreck. It occurred to me, there's not a calorie in that whole stack to help her through her experience. She had no place to dip down into a reservoir and come up with something — a word, a phrase, a thought, an idea, a memory, a person. Just empty.
"How marvelous is the life of the person who, like a wise homemaker, when the berries and fruits and vegetables are ripe, puts them away in jars and cans in the cellar. Then when the ground is cold, icy, and barren and nothing seems alive, she goes down into the cellar, comes up, and it's May and June at her family's table. How blessed is that person."
— Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories, ed. Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001), 30
* * *
I've got a friend who is one of the most creative biblical interpreters I know. I once asked him what was the most difficult challenge in biblical interpretation.
Mastering Greek and Hebrew? Keeping abreast of the latest trends in biblical scholarship?
"The greatest challenge is not to let your presuppositions, your expectations for what the text says or cannot say get in the way of the revelation of a living God. The most difficult thing is not to stifle God's sovereign freedom with your careful study of the biblical text."
* * *
Theologian Karl Barth once said that "Christians go to church to make their last stand against God." In the light of today's Gospel and our proclamation I might paraphrase Barth to say that sometimes we Christians go to church for the purpose of stabilizing and taming the incursions of a living, interrupting God.
How do we pastors, in all sorts of subtle ways, become enlisted by our congregations in that project?
* * *
Our Gospel today is from that genre of biblical literature called apocalyptic. Strange images are set before us in Jesus's interpretation of the times. Apocalyptic literature is metaphorical, pushy, symbolically charged, and just plain strange. It's — how shall I say this — unbalanced.
Things are overstated in apocalyptic, the colors are too vibrant and strong, and the tone is too strident. This sort of literature is therefore a challenge for us preachers, not only because it seems primitive and archaic, but also because it is unbalanced. Many of us think our job as preachers is to take a biblical text and explain it, lessen the tension, soften the blow, in other words, to balance out strident, overly pronounced biblical texts with our moderating, balanced sermons.
I've got a friend who is a pastoral counselor. Once I heard her define balance as "the illusion that the world is under your control."
Second Sunday of Advent
Baruch 5:1-9 or Malachi 3:1-4
Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 3:1-6
The prophets speak of that day when God will at last come to redeem a lost and fallen world. The world, as it is, is not the world that God intended when God began creating the world. So the prophets preach fierce judgment against our unrighteousness. God is angry at the way we have misrepresented God to the world. There can be no redemption until there is the honest recognition that we are those who need redemption. In order to prepare ourselves for the advent of the Christ, we must face God's judgment against us. God loves us enough not to leave us to our own devices. God comes to us, reveals the truth to us, and enables us to bear the truth in order that we might be able to receive the Christ who comes to redeem us.
Excerpted from "Will Willimon's Lectionary Sermon Resource, Year C Part 1"
Copyright © 2018 Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
First Sunday of Advent-Interruption 1
Second Sunday of Advent-Advent Anger 11
Third Sunday of Advent-The Politics of Advent 17
Fourth Sunday of Advent-The Invasion 25
Christmas Day-Hoping for Christmas 33
Christmas Day-Light into Our Darkness 43
First Sunday after Christmas/Nativity of Our Lord-Reckless Love 53
Second Sunday after Christmas-line Real Meaning of Christmas 63
New Year's Day-The Right Time 73
The Epiphany of Our Lord-Epiphany 81
First Sunday after the Epiphany/The Baptism of Our Lord-Jesus: God and Humanity Meet 91
Second Sunday after the Epiphany/Second Sunday in Ordinary Time-Some Saw Glory 101
Third Sunday after the Epiphany/Third Sunday in Ordinary Time-People of the Word 109
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany/Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Pardon Me While I Offend You with My Sermon 119
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany/Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Depart from Me 127
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany/Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Get Real 137
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany/Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time-Choice, Chance, or the Hand of God? 147
Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany/Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Blessed and Cursed by Jesus 159
Transfiguration Sunday/Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Blessed Befuddlement 171
First Sunday in Lent-Tempted 181
Second Sunday in Lent-Repent 189
Third Sunday in Lent-Judgmental Jesus? 195
Fourth Sunday in Lent-What Is God Like? 205
Fifth Sunday in Lent-The God Who Saves 213
Passion/Palm Sunday-Shouting Rocks 221
Passion/Palm Sunday-Fools for Christ 229
Good Friday-The Thirst of God 237
Good Friday-Pontius Pilate 247
Easter Day-Seeing Is Believing 255
Easter Day-Holding on to Easter 263
Second Sunday of Easter-Lockout 271
Third Sunday of Easter-Surprised by God 279
Fourth Sunday of Easter-Arise 287
Fifth Sunday of Easter-A Heavenly Vision 295
Sixth Sunday of Easter-You Don't Need to Be a Disciple by Yourself 303
Seventh Sunday of Easter-The Glory of God 311
Scipture Index 321