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Resources For Preachers and Leaders

Welcome to all you preachers, Bible-study leaders or anyone looking for some resources.  If you need to give a message, homily or sermon then I hope you will find these posts helpful.

I have been a preacher for over twenty years, and I am steadily adding messages from my back catalogue to this site.  I have led worship and preached in Uniting Reformed, Methodist, Baptist and Anglican churches.  I have also been privileged to worship with Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Seventh-Day Adventists and members of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Therefore, I am confident that you will find Bible-based words here, without sectarian bias.

Finding what you are Looking For

There are three ways to find your way around these resources:

  1. By Title – every sermon has a title, which outlines its theme;
  2. By Tags/Categories – these describe the book(s) of the Bible that the sermon is based upon; and
  3. By Liturgical date – this captures wherein the three-year cycle the sermon belongs.

Hopefully, these three methods should allow you to find what you are looking for!

Revised Common Lectionary

These sermons are organised using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  This is a three-year calendar of Bible readings used by many churches.  Each year the RCL cycles through the Christian year – seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter & after Pentecost.  Some churches label Sundays between Trinity Sunday and Advent as ‘Ordinary’ or ‘Proper’ Sundays.

If you want to know how Bible books relate to the readings in the RCL, a helpful resource is the Reverse Lectionary.  This shows when Bible readings appear in the cycle.

Finding Sermons without the RCL

However, you don’t need to use the RCL at all, you can just find a sermon on any book of the Bible by using the post hashtags. 

Too clever for Others’ Good?

A sermon on the Good Samaritan, perhaps the best-known story in the Bible!

The Story of ‘the Good Samaritan’ in Luke 10: 25-37[1]

    One of the legal experts asked Jesus a question to test his knowledge of the religious law. “Teacher,” he asked, “what do I need to do to inherit life without limit from God?”

    Jesus replied with a question of his own: “What answer does the religious law give? What do you see written there?”

    The legal expert answered, “You must love the Lord your God with everything you are, with all your heart and soul and mind and strength; and love your neighbour as attentively as you love yourself.”

    “Spot on!” said Jesus. “Do as it says and you will live.”

    But the legal expert needed to push the issue in order to justify his question, so he asked, “But who would you define as a neighbour?”

    Jesus replied with a story… [you know the story] …Now, which of these three, in your estimation, was a neighbour to the man who was bashed on the road?

    The legal expert, of course, replied, “The one who treated him with compassion.”

    Jesus said to him, “Go and follow his example.”

Application

This famous story can be used to show many things.  Today, I am driven to look at it as a warning to clever people in the church.

  • The Bible requires ‘overseers’ to be experienced, well-behaved teachers and managers[2] (PTO, N.B. good that women are admitted now).
  • The church wants leaders to have academic qualifications!
  • We are in danger of worshipping our own cleverness (theology), which the world finds irrelevant!
  • It has been my privilege to worship with several learning-disabled folk, who have taught me a great deal.

Conclusion

We know the saying ‘too clever for our own good’, but more often cleverness seems to prevent good for others!


[1] Modern translation ©2001 Nathan Nettleton www.LaughingBird.net

[2] For example, 1 Timothy 3:2-13.

Stick to Jesus Like Glue!

A sermon on the authority of Jesus, based on Colossians 2: 6-15

Introduction

A friend once said to us ‘Stick to me like glue’ = (I will guide you and look after you).  Today’s gospel reading is Luke 11: 1-13 (the Lord’s Prayer), such a well-known passage, but let’s look at what Paul says.

Colossians 2: 6-15

We received Christ Jesus the Lord, so let’s stay on track! Put down deep roots and draw on Christ in everything we do. See that our faith grow, just as we were taught – and be thankful!

There are plenty of exotic-sounding spiritualities on offer, claiming to offer harmony with the psychic forces or spirit-powers. They contain enough truth to be persuasive, but they skirt around the truth of Christ: in Him, God is fully present as a human being, and accessible to us.

It’s also in Christ that we were marked out as people who belong to God, by baptism. Before that, we were as good as dead, because our actions and hearts made it clear that we did not belong to God, but God set about making us fully alive again, together with Christ. God forgave all that we had done wrong, and cancelled out all record of our offences and the punishments pending…[1]

Message for Today

Don’t let anyone entangle you with highfalutin theories and intellectual claptrap:

  • Atheist lies: science ‘versus’ religion;
  • Marxists/communists offering their false religion;
  • Secularists grasping for power; and even
  • Academics selling their theories and wacky theologies!

Conclusion

Dying and rising, Christ publicly exposed as a sham the various ‘authorities’ who claim to control the destiny of the cosmos. Christ’s resurrection triumph made a mockery of them.

In Luke, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray; he focussed on what they need to know: the essentials.  Today, we pray what Jesus himself taught us!

Do we need much more than that?


[1] This section is based on a paraphrase of Colossians 2: 6-15, ©2001 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net

Not Peace but Division

This is no cosy religion: a sermon on Luke 12:49-56.

Introduction

We are at the end of Luke 12.  A big chapter with sections on: warnings & encouragements, vv1-12; the parable of the rich fool, vv13-21; don’t worry, vv22-34; and watchfulness, vv35-48.  Jesus talks back and forth to his disciples and the crowd.

Now we have two sections on ‘not peace but division’ and ‘interpreting the times’.  You can feel the tension build as you read it.  Great events are on the horizon.

Not Peace but Division

Here Jesus looks forward to his ‘Passion’ his climatic week of preaching, his arrest, torture and crucifixion.   He warns his disciples, his followers then and now, that His is not some cosy religion that doesn’t really affect people, that won’t have much of an impact.  People will be for or against Jesus the Christ, there will be no middle ground.

To those listening at the time, this was a very real threat, as choosing Christ would mean rejecting Judaism (their religion, people and culture) and Roman pluralism (the state: money, commerce and power).  Today, non-Christians associate the church with the establishment, so they don’t see this conflict. 

For those who were brought up in the faith this might seem a strange passage, but not to me.  My Mother was an atheist (really, I think she was angry with God) and she could never accept my faith.  She saw it as a rejection of her.

Interpreting the Times

Then Jesus turns back to the crowd, lambasting them for being able to predict the weather, but not really see what’s going on in front of them, for being spiritually indifferent.  Here is the Messiah right in front of them, and they’re still asking him to rule about money (v13), like he’s some earthly magistrate.

Conclusion

Those of us who do know God personally through Jesus, should recognise the truth in His words.  We know that we reject the Establishment, those who manipulate society for their own ends.  We know that real faith costs.  Anyone can talk the talk and play the same games as the those in power. But real faith means making tough choices, saying no to other things to say yes to God.  It means real sacrifice, just as it did for Jesus.

The great thing is that, whatever our circumstances, choosing Jesus gives us a new Father and a whole new family.  Look around and greet them!

The Cross of Jesus Points to God

A sermon for Holy Cross Sunday, based on 1 Corinthians 1:18-24.

Aim: put human wisdom in it’s place, under the feet of the crucified Christ

Introduction

Paul writes to a Church in trouble. He corrects them on sexual immorality, divisions, one-upmanship over spiritual gifts, loving each other, orderly worship and wrong ideas on Christianity.  It’s not a pretty picture, is it?  After his greetings and thanksgiving, he begs the church to end divisions.  Then he starts to teach with these six verses: 1 Corinthians 1:18-24.

Message at the Time  

Paul tackles the religious norms of the day.  Jews want a sign from God, a miracle that fits their traditions and racial prejudice.  Greeks want wisdom, an intellectual approach to religion that explains stuff. 

Paul says here is the cross with Jesus dying on it.  No, no, no!

Jews expect to make sacrifices to God, not God to sacrifice his first born for them, let alone foreigners.  A Messiah who suffers was offensive.  Greeks found no symbols, no equations or fancy arguments, just a real dead guy on a real piece of wood; it was irrational, it made no sense to them.

Message for Today

Paul didn’t mention the Romans.  They were superstitious pagans, who made sacrifices to multiple gods ‘just in case’.  Different trades and professions identified with different gods, but they all worked together in the empire.  The gods fitted into the system so that Roman power and wealth were supreme.  Today, if God gets in the way of political power, our wealth or even our personal choices and preferences, then He must be shunted aside. 

People still want a teddy-bear god who doesn’t get in the way.  They want Jesus the nice bloke, not the son of God who knows and died for each one us.  Individuals want to make up their own mind, based on what they think is right.  Some say, ‘I have a strong moral compass’; what they really mean is ‘I know what I want’.  They forget that a compass points to north, it aligns with the Earth’s vast magnetic field.

Conclusion

Paul had to correct all those problems in the Corinthian church.  The way he began to do that was by putting human wisdom in its place: that’s so revealing isn’t it?  When we think that we have all the answers, we’re not likely to listen or observe.  We’re certainly not going to allow God to be God.  We think that the compass points where it suits us.  It does not.

The Temptation to Weed

Message: The Church will always contain more than its fair share of nastiness, but weeding it out is a temptation to abandon the way of Christ and make things worse.

This message is based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (Year A, Proper 11). Please note that this sermon is not advocating turning a blind eye to abuse or any other illegal activity in churches.

The Problem

A question then, in the fields, and now, in the church: “Why aren’t people in the church able to get along peacefully and lovingly?”  Where did all these weeds come from?

We expect advice on how to get rid of the problem, but we are told that we had better learn to live with the problem or we will end up becoming the problem.

So what is Jesus telling us about the sort of people we are and the sort of situation we face in this church and in every church?

  1. Pettiness will be in every church; where the Messiah sows good seed, Satan will try to spoil it.
  2. Places that promise healing and renewal will attract those who are damaged and unstable.
  3. Some people come to church to hide from God.  Every church has some people who talk the talk but don’t really respond to God.

Before we look around to categorise each other, we remember that these things are in all of us.  I come here with: bitterness and anger from the wounds of my past; parts of me willing to respond to Christ, but holding something back, and hiding it.  So do you.  It’s easier to spot in others!

Human Weeding will Go Wrong

We are tempted to take action to make the church holy, to make room for the good wheat of love, mercy and justice to grow.  We look to Jesus for advice on how to go weeding in his name, but Jesus says “Don’t! Don’t even try!”  Why?

  1. Weeding is not our job, but God’s. Our job is to be good wheat, not to be the gardener.
  2. We’d get it wrong.  The weed described in the story is a common grass that looks a lot like wheat. Given that we are all something of a mixture of each, no wonder.
  3. Any attempts to weed out the problem (people or things) will uproot and harm the innocent.

Conclusion: Growth, not Weeding

“Let the wheat and the weeds grow together.” It is that word “let” or “permit” or “allow”. The same Greek word also means “forgive”.  This is not just a passive ignoring of the problem. It is an active naming and forgiving of it. We are being told that the means to purge the community of malice and pettiness and nastiness is not through the violence of weeding but through the grace of courageous forgiving and accepting.

Let’s allow the weeds and the wheat to grow together until the harvest, and when the harvest comes, we may find that we have a whole lot more wheat and many fewer weeds than we thought.

This message is based on a Sermon by © Nathan Nettleton, 17 July 2005, which can be found at www.LaughingBird.net

Finding Meaning in the Story of Ruth

A sermon on finding meaning in the Book of Ruth, based on Ruth 3:1-9 (Proper 27B).

Introduction

The Book of Ruth is story about the harvest.

A fortnight ago, we heard about Naomi’s husband taking them away during difficult times: ‘the grass is always greener somewhere else’.

Last week, we heard that Naomi, embittered by the loss of her husband AND her two sons, returns to her people:

  • Ruth is extraordinarily faithful to her mother-in-law.
  • Ruth’s character attracts Boaz’ attention and brings blessing on both women. 

This story is set in a patriarchal society, yet it lionizes the women.

(N.B. In Israel, there are two harvests per year, one at Pentecost and another one later in the year.)

Meaning at the Time

We can see that this is parable about:

  • Being faithful to God, faithful to one’s people, community or group, faithful to family. Being true to oneself.
  • Naomi sees a way to secure her daughter-in-law’s future (also hers and Boaz’s!):
  • Ruth needs a husband; Boaz needs a wife – he is a kinsman: it’s traditional!
  1. Why hasn’t Boaz made the first move, when he should?
  2. It doesn’t matter: Naomi obeyed her husband, and look what happened to them!
  3. Ruth asks for a corner of the blanket (God’s wing) – marriage.

Meaning During the Return from Exile

When this story was written down (we think) it may be a story about identity:

  • The remnant of the Jewish people return to their land.
  • Some have compromised and married outside the faith.
  • Who is ‘inside’ and who is an ‘outsider’?
  • This story reminds the people that Ruth – a Moabite, a hated foreigner – was the grandmother of King David.

Meaning for Today

Today we can see all these things and more:

  • Ruth is not only the ancestor of King David but of Jesus himself.
  • This is a story about the common sense and dignity of ordinary folk being more important than dogma and labels.
  • This is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil – there are never enough of these!
  • The harvest in this life or the next is there for those who will work with God and in accordance with His will and character, and not against him!
  • How fitting that we should be reminded of this every year, or even twice a year! 

While you Wait…

Message:  While we wait between chapters, we grow closer to God, a sermon based on Acts 1:6-14 & John 17:1-11 (Easter 7A).

Introduction

Today we begin the last week of Pascha, the fifty-day celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The fifty days ends next Sunday with the Day of Pentecost. 

On Thursday was Ascension Day: after walking resurrected with his disciples for 40 days, Jesus was taken into heaven to be everywhere present. As he left, he told his followers to wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

We don’t have to wait for the Spirit – who’s already here with us. But then again, sometimes we do face similar in between times, don’t we?

Sometimes the job is done. The mission is completed.

We look to God for the next step and God says “Wait”. How do we relate to God in the times when God tells us only to wait?

The Gospel of John, Chapter 17

In our Gospel reading, we heard 11 verses from the “farewell discourse”. It was Jesus speech, 4 Chapters long, to prepare his disciples for after his Ascension. Much of it is about relationships: Father, Son, Holy Spirit and us.

If we tried to draw it, then it would messy – just like real life.

We are drawn into the mystery at the heart of the universe, life, love and meaning. I’m not keen on mystery: I like the real presence of Jesus: words; and actions.

What’s important is that we surrender to this relationship with God. Maybe that’s what the in-between times are for.  When we’re busy we don’t always have time to spend with God.

Just before Jesus Ascended into heaven, the disciples asked ‘Lord, when will you restore Israel?’  They wanted some action! Jesus told them it was not for them to know when, but that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes; they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Action and Waiting

You’ve known action.  The busyness of employment, homemaking, community building, paying bills, raising children, service, socialising and caring for others. 

You’re still doing things, perhaps the pace is a bit slower now. You’re still witnessing – witnessing to other residents, staff & family. We wait.  Like the Disciples, we ask: ‘what next?’

Perhaps we don’t feel refreshed & renewed. Like the first disciples waiting for Pentecost, it sometimes feels as though God is absent and avoiding us in these times.

But we need it.  A pause between activities.  Time for God.

Conclusion

So let’s thank God for the gift of “in-between” times, for retreat, waiting and not knowing. Let’s accept this time for growing into the mystery in God, waiting (Isa 40:31). We can rest in the unknown. A new chapter will open soon enough.

God will call us to new life and purpose and mission – we don’t know what, but that’s OK.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

This sermon is based on one by Nathan Nettleton, ©LaughingBird.net, 4 May 2008, which you can find here.

Strength and Authority

A message contrasting God’s pure, unblemished strength & authority with the way humans corrupt these blessings, based on Matthew 23:1-12 (Proper 26A).

Introduction

After the Pharisees had finished arguing with Jesus he was able to teach the disciples/people.

  • The key to understanding the Pharisees is that they were politicians!
  • Many people justifiably fear human power and authority, from experience; sadly, they assume that God will be like that, so they fear or reject God.

Teaching on Authority 

Jesus teaches us to obey the religious leaders, but not to live like them.  They have compromised their principles to gain and keep power.

  • Instead, we are to avoid worldly power and status, seek service and be modest.
  • Yesterday was All Saints Day, when we traditionally celebrate the heroes of the Faith.  Some were powerful leaders, some suffered terrible things.  All served.
  • How do we understand this?  What should we do? Is there a balance?

A Poem about Strength

The Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for. 
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. 
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

Conclusion & Application 

So, human power is not the answer. This is good news for us who are powerless!  Yet we are not powerless, we: 

  • Have the power to build up or tear down with our words.
  • Can welcome or reject new people.
  • May smile or frown, encourage and sympathise or ignore.
  • Can pray, lift others to God for blessing, or fail to do so.

We are still responsible to God for our attitudes, words and actions.

A Christian’s Duty

A sermon on a Christian’s duty, based on Romans 13:7-14 (Proper 18A).

Scripture: Romans 13:7-14

‘Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.’  Romans 13:7-14 [NIV]

Context/Structure

Chapters 13 and 14 of the Letter to the Roman church deal with issues, as follows:

  • The Christian and the State –13:1-7.
  • Christian Duty –13:8-14.
  • Balancing Liberty and Charity in the community–14:1-15:13. 

Exegesis: a Christian’s Duty

Verses 8-10

What single guiding principle should control the Christian’s life in society?

“Love.”  Not a mushy emotion, but an endless debt of charity to others.  Not just to other Christians, but to all people, particularly those in need.  We ‘love’ (care for) ourselves, constantly, faithfully to the end of our lives – for example, we breathe in and out!

Verses 11-14

C.f. Romans 12:1 ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.’

A motive for why we should live like this.

What further motive does he present here?

We now live in the age of salvation.  People no longer need to get what they deserve – God’s grace through Jesus can save all.  Therefore, we are motivated to live as generously. 

No further actions need to take place to fulfil God’s plan for humankind.  None of us know when the last days will be – except that for some of us they will be soon.

What will wearing the ‘armour of light’ mean for us, both positively and negatively? 

We have nothing to fear from living openly and plainly.  Christians do not need to play games with God or with each other.

Conclusion

We do not have the option to be ‘economical with the truth’ for our convenience! Christians may not hide their faith or stop doing their duty. This may bring trouble from those who don’t want to hear about human shortcomings, or that we can live a righteous or holy life only in God’s mercy.

Following Christ’s Example

A message exploring the true aim of life, no less, following Christ’s example in Philippians 2:5-11 (Palm Sunday, Years A, B or C).

Introduction

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday.  We have had five Sundays in Lent and now we turn to Christ’s final week before Easter.  Philippians 2:5-11 is not from that time/place, but it captures the essence of it.

Christ’s Example Then…

Paul is writing to a church that is doing good things, partners “in the gospel from the first day until now”.  Yet they are in enemy territory – a strongly Greek/Roman city (pagan).  Paul:

  • Urges the church to be of one mind, united in humility, working to complete their salvation as pure children of Christ “shining like stars in the universe” (v15), to ‘run the race’ if you will, so that his own efforts might not be for nothing.
  • Says “…Christ Jesus…did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing”
  • Describes how Jesus is humbled (vv6-8) then exalted (vv9-11).

… And it’s Opposite Today

The context for us today is just the same.  You are good people, better than the Philippians, even!  You’ve run the race of life, stuck with God and the gospel, you still shine like stars in the universe!

We, too, live in enemy territory, where things that are not god are worshipped:  

  • Individualism – it’s all about me and MY needs, MY feelings;
  • Consumerism – I am valued because I have $$; and
  • Materialism – ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’.

These three things work in an endless, aimless cycle, until we die.

Conclusion

We don’t have to reject the things of the world, just not worship them.

We have them AND the true, living God, who is alive in us.  Our aim is to be humble like Jesus, because we have a job to do alongside Him, and then we will be exalted with Christ.

Amen.

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