Based on: Romans 10:18-11:6
Grace. You will hear that word often in this sermon so let’s first make it clear what grace is. The definition we use in catechism class is God’s undeserved love for sinners. If we think about grace in human terms, we could call it grace when you make a mistake at work that costs the company thousands of dollars, but your boss still gives you a raise. You didn’t deserve it, did you? Here is another example. If there is one person you hate most in this world or someone you always treat like dirt, grace is when that person saves your life by donating a kidney or by pushing you out of the way of an oncoming car. Grace is a love you don’t deserve and the result of grace is getting something good when you deserve just the opposite.
Based on: John 2:1-11
Last Monday when I came into the office I had an e-mail from someone asking me to perform their wedding. I also had a message on the answering machine from someone else asking about a different wedding, and then during the day I had a call from a third person asking about yet another wedding. I thought, "is God trying to tell me something?" Is he giving me a sign that I should preach on the only verses recorded in scripture where our Lord is an invited guest at a wedding, the wedding at Cana?
And here I am, preaching on those very verses from John Chapter 2. But, I have to admit, I had already made the decision to use these verses for my sermon today, even before those people contacted me. The interesting thing is that these verses are not primarily about a wedding. Certainly, Jesus gives his blessing upon marriage and even on the wedding celebration by attending this wedding at Cana, but the main reason John records what Jesus does here is that Jesus, by turning water into wine, is giving a sign, a miraculous sign.
Based on: Ephesians 3:2-12
Do you know what day of the year has the shortest period of daylight and the longest night? It is the day in which the winter solstice occurs. Last year it was December 22nd. In the past, many centuries ago, before certain changes were made to the calendar that we use today, the winter solstice would occur on December 25th. It is possible that Christians started celebrating Christmas on that day to take the place of pagan festivals that celebrated the winter solstice.
Based On: 2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman was a great and powerful man. He was a leader in the army of Aram (also known as Syria) and he worked closely with King Ben-Hadad – the king of Aram. It is difficult to determine exact dates, but he lived more than 2800 years ago – somewhere between 900 and 800 B.C. Because of his position he was one of the most powerful and influential men in one of the most powerful and influential countries of the time.
But Naaman had a problem. He had leprosy. The word leprosy was sometimes used for other skin diseases, but most often we think about the disease that eats away at the body and eventually brings death. Today we have a treatment for this type of leprosy and so to understand what Naaman was going through it might help to think of a terminal form of cancer. Except that instead of destroying the body from the inside out, the leprosy was destroying Naaman from the outside in. As far as Naaman know, he would one day die from this disease. And yet, this leprosy was a gift from God.
Based On: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
“Do not be afraid.” That is one of the first things the angel said to the prophet Daniel when the angel appeared to him. And when an angel appeared to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and to the shepherds to announce the Savior’s birth, what were the first words those angels spoke? “Do not be afraid.” Why do the angels need to tell people not to be afraid? If the angels were the cute and sometimes baby like little creatures as often depicted, would they really need to say, “Do not be afraid”? No, probably not. Those visited by angels knew these creatures were powerful and holy. A visit from an angel would certainly be cause us to be afraid, but to stand in the presence of the almighty God would be even more terrifying. Not just because he is powerful, but because he is also holy. God knows his appearance in glory would literally scare us to death and therefore instead of coming to us in his glory or sending an angel, the Lord raised up a Prophet from among us to speak his words to us.
Based On: Mark 1:4-11
(In the Gospel we heard about Jesus being baptized by John. For today, we will end up talking more about our baptism than Christ’s baptism, but the two are certainly related.)
Imagine being the subject of one of Christ’s miracles. What would it be like to be blind Bartimaeus when Jesus called for you and gave you your sight? Or what would it be like to be the paralyzed man who needed his friends to carry him wherever he went? What would go through your mind after Jesus tells you to “pick up your mat and walk” and you suddenly find yourself walking out the door carrying the mat that has carried you for so many years? Perhaps it would be just plain cool to be Lazarus as you wake up to find yourself in your own tomb dressed for burial and you hear the voice of Jesus calling you from death back to life. (Actually, you and I will have that very cool experience one day.)
Based On: Ephesians 3:2-12
Imagine going to a place where you did not know the language. Not only did you struggle to understand and be understood, but they did things differently too and you didn’t understand why. When someone agreed to meet with you it seemed like they were always late. When people talked to you they stood too close to you and put their hand on your shoulder. You felt very uncomfortable.
Based on: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Our second lesson for today came from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and in this lesson we see that the goal of faithful preaching is to reveal Christ and to reveal the cross of Christ. In this lesson we also see that as we reveal the cross of Christ we build unity. The theme of division verses unity in this lesson is very strong, and even though we will celebrate Unity Sunday in just two weeks, today we will look at what this portion of God’s Word has to say to us about that topic and then we will come back in two weeks and visit it again.
Based on: Acts 10:34-38
Do you know what it means to be ethnocentric? It simply means to believe that your ethnicity is at the center. It means that you believe that your culture and your way of doing things is better than anyone else’s. Of course all of us grew up doing things a certain way, eating certain foods, saying certain expressions, and so forth. There is nothing wrong with those differences. The problem comes when we start to think that we are better than someone who is different from us. This kind of ethnocentric thinking leads to bigotry, racism and discrimination.