This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on December 3, 2017.
Two branches stem from this passage on the power of God. The text illustrates the enormity of God as it relates to the individual and the church. The preacher may speak to the individual in the congregation about their own path as it relates to the power of God. However, the more fitting sermon may bend toward the church. There is a strong emphasis here on the nature of the church as God’s power on earth. Either way, you go, individual or communal, the power of God is at the heart of the message.
Verses 17 and 19 provide a starting point for discussing the unimaginable power of God. God’s power is beyond us as humans. God operates in ways that are inconceivable in scope and time to our minds. This fact, however, does not limit the prayer of the text for us to know and receive that inconceivable power of God. The preacher could note two things here. One, the power of God surpasses all on this earth. There is nothing here that will overwhelm our God. You may list many hurdles that overwhelm us, recognizing that God can calm those fears with a single breath. Two, Ephesians 1:20-22 puts all this divine power in Christ. To deepen the Christology of the church, it may be fruitful to consider the supremacy of the name of Jesus Christ and that every knee will eventually bow to that name. There is a whole sermon on the grandness of God here, but practically it is worth the preacher’s time to point from the power of God to the individual or the church.
To the individual, it would be worth parking in verses 17-18. Here you find a prayer for wisdom, knowledge, calling, and inheritance. The truth is that every Christian can be filled with these things through the Holy Spirit. Most individuals in the pews are unaware of what that looks like in their life. The preacher could fill in those gaps with stories of answered prayers in these areas. Calling though may be the one that resonates with the congregation. They need to hear that the calling of God is hopeful and generous. God has surely placed a calling on each of their lives for a specific purpose in His Kingdom, and when the time is right, they will have full wisdom and authority to live out that call. God does not abandon us without purpose but gives a call. This calling into God’s work is far greater than anything we could come up with on our own. We tend to chase after other things, like Jonah, but our lives will always flourish when we recognize what God has in store for us individually. The preacher could list all the kinds of dreams that people have for themselves (e.g., sports, school, financial, recreational) and show how our dreams pale in comparison to God’s dream for our lives.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 1, 2017.
In this section of the epistle, we find the beating heart of Paul’s message to the Philippian church, which also happens to be the heart of the gospel of Christ. Although this is a letter of friendship and encouragement for the persecuted Philippians, the focus of Paul’s exhortation is the concept of humility. Yes, the diverse group of Christians in Philippi were probably suffering for their faith in their loyalist and patriotic Roman city. But this persecution serves as the backdrop for the real problem Paul is addressing here…a lack of unity in the church. The house churches in Philippi had begun to feel the pressure of hostile pagan (or possibly Jewish) opposition around them, and in response individuals in the churches were devolving into attitudes of partisanship and self-interest. These attitudes manifested in squabbling and self-seeking leadership, problems that were as destructive to the ancient churches as they are to our churches today. Paul, in these verses, tries to help the Philippians understand that the key to unity in the church, the key to understanding the gospel, and the key to the salvation process is the posture and practice of humility.
Philippians 2:1 comes on the heels of Paul’s challenge to his readers to live their lives in “a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind” (1:27). This section bleeds into the second chapter with Paul’s poetic plea to make his joy complete by being “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (2:2) Like a good pastor, Paul does not issue a challenge without explaining and equipping the people to achieve it; he goes on to explain how a church can function in one spirit and one mind. Paul’s description in the rest of chapter two makes it clear that he is not encouraging uniformity among churches or individuals but that he is setting believers on the same path to unity, a path that follows in step behind Christ Jesus in his humility and sacrifice.
Paul’s clever use of Christological hymn from the early Church in 2:5-11 sends a message of unity even as it calls readers to humble servanthood. Hymns serve to unite the church in theology, practice, and in the Spirit. Paul’s use of a hymn as a vehicle for his message is an emphatic way to communicate, in literary form, that unity is contingent upon humility.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on January 3, 2016.
I’m never entirely sure what to do when the lectionary hands me a set of verses, half of which are in parentheses. Does that mean those verses are a suggestion or does it indicate they are less crucial to the liturgical season on hand? Or does the lectionary committee simply mean to honor my skill as a preacher treating me like a quarterback with an ability to call an audible after a quick look at the congregation. “This bunch looks engaged, I think I’ll unpack the cryptic prologue,” or “This group looks like they’ve been to a Christmas party thrown by Christians who’ve found their freedom in Christ, I better stick with the basics.”
Then again I find that I’m always asking that sort of question of John, no matter what the season is or what verses I’m assigned. I have to slow down for John more than any other gospel. It has been said that the fourth evangelist provides waters in which elephants can swim and children can wade. John is consistently assigned the eagle when the church is distributing the images of the four creatures found in Ezekiel and Revelation. Why? Because with that eagle we share a high-flying omniscient perspective. That’s helpful because in John we are constantly looking at the layers of meaning. Take for example Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus in chapter three when Jesus tells him that he will be “lifted up.” The Greek word is hypso and it can me just that, lifted up, as in Jesus was lifted up off of the ground on a cross or it can mean exalted, as in being an elevated object of worship. John uses this kind of double entendre often, leaving clever interpretation to his readers.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on December 27, 2015.
Luke offers some of the most interesting material about Jesus that is unique to his gospel. The Good Samaritan and Lost Son come to mind immediately, but this text from the infancy narrative is equally intriguing if not as important. We can’t be sure that the other synoptic writers were aware of this story, but it’s reasonable to guess that they may have been. We have evidence for its prolific presence. It turns out Luke’s version is tame when compared to a version of the story that appears in The Infancy Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus makes fools of the elders and teachers with his budding rabbinical “A game.” For this reason, I think it’s interesting to look at this story in its redacted form. Why did Luke include this version of the story?
During these twelve days of Christmas the lectionary has gifted us with a window into Jesus’ twelve-year-old life. Just a year shy of the deepened sense of responsibility that comes with turning thirteen in the Jewish world that he grew up in, Jesus is likely using this opportunity to prepare for adulthood. This is an exclusive look preparing for divine adolescence. We are well aware of the fact that Jesus wore diapers and was wrapped in swaddling clothes like the rest of us, but Luke heightens our sense of Jesus’ own development with this story. Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. It’s sometimes difficult to think of Jesus having to increase in anything. The early church solved the anthropological problem for us, Jesus is God and man, but Luke reminds us that he grew into those divine and human roles.