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A Epiphany

by Tim Isbell

This page provides sermons for the Epiphany season, which begins on Epiphany Day and continues through Transfiguration Sunday (Last Epiphany). The texts are based on the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A. Feel free to extract ideas, outlines, or the entire sermons.

In the listing below, clicking on a sermon title takes you to a Google Doc of the sermon notes. You can view/print these from any browser, or download the file in various formats (such as Word, RTF, or PDF). If you are using a version of Word before 2007, you may need to download it in RTF. Then it will open with most (if not all) the formatting in tact.

You can also access any of these sermons from the Sermon Chart, which displays them in the context of the entire 3-year lectionary cycle. Browse down the second column until you see the lectionary season of interest. To access the sermon notes just click on the sermon title.

Not a lectionary preacher? You can change the Sermon Chart so that it lists the sermons in the order of the primary biblical text for each sermon. In the Sermon Chart, browse down to the chart and look at the right-hand column. Click on Sort: Ascending. Notice that many sermons list additional scriptures. If you want to find all entries for a particular biblical book from the whole list, just use your browser's Find function. The top of the Sermon Chart webpage explains the biblical text abbreviation system I use.

For more about the Revised Common Lectionary, click on Lectionary Basics and Lectionary Preaching.

Feel free to extract any ideas, outlines, or entire sermons from my site. To subscribe to email or RSS notifications of new posts from this site, click IsbellOnline News.


Epiphany Day: God's Mysterious Plan

This year Epiphany Day is on a Monday, January 6. So a good lectionary time to preach a sermon using Epiphany Day scriptures is Sunday, January 5. 

Matt 2.1-12 (Wise men visit), Eph 3.2-11 (Saint Paul describes God's mysterious plan.)

Thesis: God is writing a mystery, and now it is as clear as it will ever get; will you accept your role in it?

Here's the starting excerpt, which hints as the sermon's trajectory: 

Robin and I like to watch mysteries on TV. She’s great at figuring out what is going on and she often anticipates the ending. Me... not so much. 

Sometimes a scene goes by and I realize I simply didn't get it. It may be because I mix up some of the characters. For instance, if the show has two brunette women of anywhere near the same physical build, I can’t keep them straight. And if there are many plot twists, I'm lost. So I love the little 8-second rewind button on our remote! Sometimes I push it several times and that still isn't even enough. So, occasionally we go back through the entire show again and Robin explains to me the connections I missed.

You can imagine the difficulty I have in going to a movie where there is no 8-second rewind! It’s no wonder that if I hear of a great mystery or complex movie coming out that I’m not even tempted to go to the theater. I just await the video.

With that in mind, realize this: God is writing a mystery.

Epiphany Day: Epiphany - an Ahah Experience

Matthew 2.1-12 Wise men visit from the East

Thesis: New Life is a Christian community where God transforms all kinds of lives, especially through sharing the Good News of Jesus, table ministry, the ministry of the towel, and worship.

Based on the wise men story this sermon develops 4 core dimensions of church life in 4 unforgettable pictures, using people from the congregation. It's a good way to start the year. At New Life these 4 pictures were ingrained in the heads of nearly everyone in all 3 congregations, playing a vital role in keeping us all "on the same page."  We called these the "Epiphany in Four Pictures." An artist's rendering of the 4 pictures hangs above the worship center entry door.

Epiphany Day: Let's Do Better than Herod

Matthew 2.1-13 (Visitors come from the East) 1 Peter 3.15 (Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks for the reason for the hope they see in you.)

Thesis: We have good news, and if we invite Jesus Christ to live his life through our ordinary practices then the people around us will receive the Good News, too.

The wise men came to Jerusalem and asked Herod and the people on the street for information about the Good News of the arrival of a messiah. Nobody had an answer for them. The point of this sermon is to encourage people to have an answer. Part of this is an unpacking of the concepts of Ordinary Practice Evangelism, a form of outreach we taught at New Life.

Epiphany Day: A Biblically Functioning Community

Ephesians 3.10-11 (God's purpose for the church in the broader world), Acts 2.42-47, 4.32-35 (The believers form a community and share their possessions.)

Thesis: The church is not a lifestyle enclave, but as a community embodying the characteristics of Acts 2 and 4.

At the core of this sermon are these six components of a biblically functioning community:

  1. They devoted themselves.
  2. They were of one heart and soul.
  3. They shared with each other.
  4. They lived in awe of God's activity among them.
  5. They devoted significant attention to people outside their community.

1 Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus: Living as the Beloved

Matthew 3.13-17 and 26.26-30. Jesus baptism and Jesus serving at the Last Supper.
Thesis: God invites us to live as his Beloved.

This sermon flows from Henri Nouwen's excellent book: Life of the Beloved. This sermon aims at the listener's heart.

After applying God's words about Jesus: "You are my beloved" to the parishioners, the message moves to the Matthew 26 passage. The remainder of the sermon unpacks just how we are to become God's beloved. This keys around four words in Matthew 26.26: Take (or Chosen), Blessed, Broken, and Given. To become God's beloved we are chosen, blessed, broken, and given to our world.

2 Epiphany: Intimate Ally

John 1.35-46  Jesus calls the first disciples to be his allies.

Thesis: Soul satisfaction is available from only one source; it requires the soaking in of scripture, silence, solitude, and prayer.

This one encourages people to "soul satisfaction" as a reasonable expectation in this life.  It nurtures soul satisfaction through the practices of soaking in scripture, experiencing silence, solitude, and real prayer.

The last 2/3 of the sermon contains two true stories, one mine and one from Gordon MacDonald. Both are practical illustrations of the Christian life, lived as an intimate ally to the Triune God.

2 Epiphany: Finding Direction

John 1.29-42  John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God; then Jesus calls the first disciples.

Thesis: God and heaven applauds and rejoices every time a Christ-follower makes another God-honoring decision.

The sermon begins by briefly unpacking six ingredients to making a God-honoring decision: scripture, prayer, seeking Godly counsel, promptings, circumstances, and patience. Then it tells a fictional (sort of) story to affirm the hearts of Christ-followers. The end is a strong application to every-day life.

3 Epiphany: Going Fishing

Matthew 4.18-22.  Jesus recruits the early disciples

Thesis: Jesus invites us to fish for men and women, but when we catch them they don’t wind up dead or trophies on our wall, they end up set free in a much healthier and bigger lake.

If you are a fisherman or fisher-woman, you'll find it easy to replace my anecdotes with your own and this sermon will suit you well. Otherwise, it's still worth a read because it unpacks Jesus' use of the fishing metaphor as a form of evangelism.

3 Epiphany: What Kind of Old Person Do You Want to Become?

Psalms 27.4-6  The one thing I ask of the Lord is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Thesis: Becoming the kind of old person we want only happens when we put ourselves in a place where God can complete the love of Christ in our hearts.

This is an attractive topic for people of any age because to become this kind of person we need to start as young as possible! My primary source is Gordon MacDonald's book The Life God Blesses.

After an introduction, the sermon moves to unpacking a list of 10 particularly attractive characteristics God wants to build into seniors:

  1. Grateful
  2. Enthusiastic about the younger generations' accomplishments
  3. Nurtures a sharp and agile mind
  4. Thinks "big picture"
  5. Never retires
  6. Tender and compassionate
  7. Loves their spouse dearly
  8. Does not hold onto institutional power
  9. Knows how to pray
  10. Not afraid of death

4 Epiphany: Prophetic Messages for the Church

Micah 6.1-6  The Lord brings his case against Israel.

Thesis: For leaders around our church, “walking humbly with your God” means expressing our leadership gifts in the body metaphor of church.

This sermon provides some perspective on Old Testament prophets through the stories and messages of Micah and Balaam. I also used it just before our annual leadership elections, to deliver a prophetic message to our church. My prophecy has to do with arbitrating between the 2 New Testament metaphors for how churches organize:

  • Shepherd/Sheep
  • Body of Christ

Even if you never consider using this sermon in your church, I urge you to have a look at the last part of it for some (likely) fresh insight into the organization of a church in the modern context.

4 Epiphany: Why Prophets Are Cranky

Based on Micah 6.1-8.  The Lord brings his case against Israel.

Thesis: Prophets are cranky because they see the brokenness of the world through God’s eyes; Micah’s message is to do right, love mercy, and walk humbly.

This question of why prophets always seem so cranky bothered me for a long time. This sermon not only answers the question about biblical prophets, but it also addresses the issue of cranky parishioners. This one is worth a read!

4 Epiphany: It Doesn't Just Look Upside Down; It Is

Matthew 5.1-12  The Beatitudes

Thesis: God does not call most of us to emulate these eight types of people; he calls us to have hearts like his towards these kinds of people.

I suspect this is an unpacking of the Beatitudes such you have never seen before. Hope you'll have a look, and have the courage to give it a try.

5 Epiphany: Balancing Private Compassion and Social Justice

Isaiah 58.1-12  True and false worship.

Thesis: God’s call to his people is to live lives of private compassion, social justice, and mellowness of heart.

This sermon starts with lots of scriptures and then uses four powerful stories to teach about God’s call to simultaneously live lives of private compassion, social justice, and mellowness of heart. I preached this first in 2005 for a special Local Compassion Sunday at New Life. My primary source was The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser.

5 Epiphany: Powers of Darkness sermon series

Evil is an important topic that every church needs to hear. The link above provides several ways to present it, from a robust 4-sermon series to a single stand-alone sermon.

6 Epiphany: Anger Management

Matthew 5.21-26 (Jesus teaches about anger) and Ephesians 4.26 (... don't sin by letting anger control you...)

Thesis: Here is a 5-step process for managing our anger without sinning.

This sermon is designed to help people manage their anger. It's very straight-forward and includes excellent anecdotes to help people understand that anger is a secondary emotion arising from fear, frustration, or hurt. You can have some fun with this one.

At the end of the sermon I showed a clip from the movie: Father of The Bride. It's a scene where Steve Martin, who has been having a very hard time with his daughter's wedding planning, is shopping for hot dogs and buns and realizes that the number of hot dogs in the package never equals the number of buns. He finally has hit the "end of his rope" so he goes ballistic in the middle of a grocery store! In the same segment, his wife (Diane Keaton) is also angry. Steve does everything wrong; Diane does much better. The clip is a strong and light ending to the sermon.

It's a good clip, but you might benefit from taking a look at my commentary (for preachers) at the end of the sermon regarding the showing of video clips of popular movies in a public worship setting. I did it for a season, and then thought better of it. If nothing else, it may get you thinking about this topic.

7 Epiphany: Gossip, Slander, & Coarse Language

Ephesians 4.29 (speak for the edification of others), Leviticus 19.1-18 (holiness in personal conduct)

Thesis: God calls Christ-followers to speech that is humble, true, and loving – this precludes gossip, slander, profanity and coarse language.

This sermon is part of the Interactive Series on Character & Conduct in the New Life. It is a straightforward Christian teaching on several forms of inappropriate speech:

  • Profane
  • Coarse (near profane)
  • Gossip
  • Lying
  • Slander
As you would expect, after unpacking the list the sermon helps the listener come up with a strategy to do better.

8 Epiphany: Three Ways Christians Give

For a synopsis of this sermon see Money Sermons.  

Transfiguration (Last Epiphany): Mountaintop Experiences

(The number of Sundays of Epiphany changes from year to year. So the last Sunday in the season often has two scripture set options. One is numbered. The other is Transfiguration Sunday.

Matthew 17.1-19 (Transfiguration), Exodus 24.12-18 (Lord meets Moses on the Mt. Sinai), 1 Kings 19.7-16 (Lord meets Elijah on Mt. Sinai)

Thesis: It is good Christian practice to make time to go to the “mountain” because that’s where God often meets us and gives the strength and enlightenment to live in the valley.

This Transfiguration sermon connects the Old Testament stories of Moses and Elijah meeting the Lord on the mountaintop, and their New Testament meeting with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. It suggests that what went on at the Mount of Transfiguration was not Moses and Elijah counseling Jesus on what was ahead, but of them thanking and worshiping Jesus for what they realized he was going to do - in full recognition of how much more powerful that will be than anything they did. This sermon will connect 3 great biblical stories in a way you may not have seen before. Hope you'll take a look at it!

Transfiguration, Last Epiphany: Living Without the Mask

Luke 9.28-36 (Transfiguration story).

Thesis: We are invited up the mountain with Jesus to experience glory of the Lord, and also follow him down the mountain to our own Jerusalem, challenges, and sufferings - and throughout all this radiate the presence of the Spirit of Jesus.

This sermon starts with Luke's Transfiguration story on the Mount of Olives and then gives the preacher the opportunity to tell connecting stories of Moses (with a unique view on the veil) and Elijah (on Mt. Sinai). Then it returns to the New Testament to stand beside Peter in his interchange with Jesus. The challenge of the sermon is to experience Jesus and then come down from the mountain with him to live something like Moses, but without the veil, as we embody the Spirit of the New Life in the context of our world.

9 Epiphany: Grace, One of the 10 Big Ideas of Christian Faith

This is a strong stand-alone sermon, and it is also part of The 10 Big Ideas of Christian Faith (follow this link for a synopsis of the sermon, and to find out how it fits into the distributed series).

9 Epiphany: The Result of Right Worship

This is also a strong stand-alone message, and the introduces The 10 Big Ideas of Christian Faith (follow this link for a synopsis of the sermon, and to find out how it fits into the distributed series).

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