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C Epiphany

Here are resources for Epiphany (Revised Common Lectionary, Year C). This season focuses on God's revelation of his Son and his plan to the Gentile world. It begins with the story of the wise men coming to see the Christ child and continues to Transfiguration Sunday. This year Epiphany begins on January 6 and runs through February 10.

In the listing below, clicking on a sermon title takes you to a Google Doc of the 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 intact.

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 web page 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. That's my site's purpose. To subscribe to email or RSS notifications of new posts from this site, click IsbellOnline News.


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.

The wise men come to Jerusalem and ask Herod and the people on the street for information about the Good News of a messiah coming. Nobody had an answer. 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: God's Mysterious Plan

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 it is as clear as it will ever get; will you accept your role in it?

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

Robin and I like to watch mysteries on TV. She’s great at figuring out what is going on and even anticipates many endings. Me, not so much. 

Sometimes a scene goes by, and I realize I simply didn’t get it. It may be because I get some of the characters mixed up. For instance, if the show has two brunette women in it of anywhere near the same physical build, I can’t keep them straight. And if there are many twists in the plot, I invariably get lost. For these reasons, I love the little 8-second rewind button on our remote! Sometimes I push it several times, and that isn’t even enough. So, occasionally when we finish a show we go back through the entire thing again so Robin can explain 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 Aha Experience

Matthew 2.1-12 The 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 in Matthew 2.1-12. It develops four core dimensions of church life in four unforgettable pictures, using people from the congregation. It's a good way to start the year. At New Life, we engrained these four images into nearly everyone in all three congregations, which was key to keeping us all "on the same page." We called these the "Epiphany in Four Pictures." An artist's rendering of the four pictures hangs above the worship center entry door.

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 designed to be a lifestyle enclave, but a community that embodies 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 sincere attention to people outside their community.

1 Epiphany:

Sorry, I don't have a sermon to offer for this week. But you can easily use one of the two posted for Epiphany Day or one of the two posted for 2 Epiphany or even the ones posted for 6 and 7 Epiphany (which don't appear in 2012's calendar).

2 Epiphany: Abundance

John 2.1-11. Wedding at Cana.

Thesis: Life in God’s Kingdom is not a zero-sum-game; he is far too abundant for that.

This sermon is based on the first of the seven signs in John's gospel. It begins by lifting up the implications of abundance that thread through the story of Jesus' turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. After emphasizing Jesus' "abundance mentality," the sermon moves on to deal with the heart-wrenching question of why God sometimes allows his people such abundance and at other times expects them to sacrifice.

2 Epiphany: A Wedding Miracle

John 2.1-11. Wedding at Cana.

Thesis: If Jesus can transform washtub water into vintage wine then he can transform washtub marriages into loving marriages that honor God.

This sermon can stand alone, but if you're looking for a little mini-series on Marriage you can use this one first and follow it with the one from C 4 Epiphany: This is Christian Love.

After unpacking the text regarding God's approval of marriage, I invited Larry Wall (a New Life layman who an unusually healthy marriage) to share his thinking. He did this previously in a Men's Retreat, and I decided that the whole church needed to hear it. He used some interesting graphics, which are in the Presentation File. His speaking notes are also attached to each slide in the Presentation File. Also, I published a couple of pages that are a stand-alone resource of this material. You can find these at Larry Wall on Marriage.

3 Epiphany: Beauty - the 3rd Transcendental

Ps 1.1 (The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship) and Is 33.17 (Your eyes will see the king in all his splendor, and you will see a land that stretches into the distance.)

Thesis: It’s time to grow beyond thinking of Christian faith as just true and good, and begin to think about and share it as beautiful (elegant, ingenious).

The word "transcendental" refers to something that is beyond the physical, such as "metaphysical." The Three Transcendentals of classic Christian faith are:

  1. True
  2. Good
  3. Beautiful

For many decades, traditions like ours have over-focused on convincing people that Christian faith is good and true while mostly ignoring its beauty. Especially today, we need to lift up the beauty - even above the other two.

3 Epiphany: A Word from the Lord

Luke 4.14-21 (Jesus visits his hometown synagogue and reads from the book of Isaiah, but the town rejects him.)

Thesis: Sometimes we go to worship expecting nothing special, but then we receive a “Word from the Lord.”

This sermon begins with a powerful illustration probably used by many preachers during Epiphany:

Sunday morning in a large downtown church with a balcony the minister read scripture and took a deep breath before launching into the sermon. About that time a first-time worshiper in the balcony stood up and spoke out in a clear voice, “I have a word from the Lord!”

Heads swiveled up to see. People wondered what “Word” did this fellow bring?

Nobody ever knew. The ushers bounded to the balcony and escorted him out.
That day that church was not expecting a word from the Lord. They came expecting a tame religious lecture.

What are you expecting today?

Early on Sunday mornings some of us gather to pray that among all that happens in worship today we will all experience God. We hope that some, at least, will hear a word from the Lord.

4 Epiphany: This Is Christian Love

1 Corinthians 13 (Three things will last forever - faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love.)

Thesis: The call of the Christian life is the call to faith, hope, and love - especially love.

After doing a bit of exegesis on the Corinthian letters, including how there were probably 3 of them edited into 2 and how they respond to questions sent from Corinth, this sermon moves to a clip from the movie Jerry McGuire. It's purpose, along with the use of a loud clanging cymbal in the middle of the sermon, is to illustrate the concept that even a great cymbal alone does not make beautiful music.

The other item the sermon deals with is to do a little teaching on the language of love.

And the message wraps up with the 1 Corinthians 13 definition of the MAIN THING: love.

5 Epiphany: Leadership Lessons from a Day at the Lake

Luke 5.1-11 (Jesus calls his first disciples)

Thesis: Jesus was a very insightful leader and teacher of leaders, as he demonstrates in the way he calls his first disciples - and as they demonstrate in their ultimate impact on the world.

This message is my repackaging of a talk which I think I first heard at a Willow Creek Leadership Summit. The sermon points out six lessons we can learn from how Jesus called his disciples. In a nutshell, to grow his church Jesus looks for leaders...

  1. With a bias for action
  2. Who will receive direction
  3. Who accurately distribute the credit
  4. Who build teams
  5. Who know how to invite others into a grander vision
  6. Who pass the "Will you leave it?" test

And then the sermon asks listeners, "How about you? If you are one of these leaders, we need your leadership gifts around this church."

In the case of New Life, I preached this sermon around the time that nominees for the following year's Church Board were considering whether or not to let their names run for the election.

C Transfiguration: Living Without the Mask

Transfiguration Sunday is always simultaneous with the last Sunday in Epiphany, which in 2012 is 5 Epiphany. So preachers have the option of using either set of scriptures.

Luke 9.28-36 (Transfiguration story).

Thesis: We are invited up on the mountain with Jesus to experience the 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.

6 Epiphany: Don't Trust Me

Jeremiah 17.5-8 (Wisdom is from the Lord)

Thesis: Doomed are those whose ultimate trust is in human wisdom; blessed are those whose ultimate trust is in God.

After moving from Charlie Brown to Plato, this sermon leans on Jeremiah to make the point that real life takes more than reason; it requires trusting the Lord such as is primarily revealed in scripture. This sermon uses a wide variety of stories and eventually leads to unpacking the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. In our tradition, this essentially means that four things inform our faith. While Scripture is primary, it is accompanied by three others. In case you are unfamiliar with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, the four sides are:

  • Scripture
  • Reason
  • Tradition
  • Experience

When we Christians face a difficult decision, one wise way to process it is to consider it through the lens of all four of these. Usually, as we do this, we will experience the Lord speaking clarity through it.

6 Epiphany: If Christ Is Not Raised

1 Corinthians 15.12-20

Thesis: If Christ is not raised our hope is all in vain – but, fortunately, Christ is risen.

This sermon starts by identifying 2 groups of listeners:

Group A people

You know that you’re not perfect, but you’re convinced that Jesus rose from dead. You have already made personal and decisive commitments to follow Jesus.

You don’t always live up to it, but you are serious about moving in that direction.

You are in a daily battle with what the Bible calls sin. It’s a struggle, but you are finding that God helps you.

You are deeply convinced that when you die your spirit will go into the presence of the risen Christ.

And you understand that sometime later Christ will return and raise your body, like Jesus’ resurrected body.

Group A people are all different from each other, but all have made a life commitment to live in relationship with and to follow the resurrected Jesus.

Group B people

You come with another point of view.

You also know you’re not perfect, but you are not convinced that Jesus rose from the dead. And even if he did, you don’t see what that has to do with your imperfections.

Some of you grew up in another religious culture.

Others feel that God let you down somewhere along the way.

Some of you had a bad experience with organized religion or maybe saw hypocrisy among religious people.

Some of you self-identify as Christians, but in honest moments you know you are not fully-devoted followers of the resurrected Jesus.

For most of the sermon, the focus is on Group A people, but it turns the focus to Group B at the end.

This sermon fits this Sunday also fits the 6th Sunday in the Easter Season.

7 Epiphany: Living Free

Luke 6.27-36 (Love for enemies)

Thesis: The call of the gospel is not so much to live against the grain of culture; it is to live free.

There are three strategies for life:

  1. Swimming with the culture. It’s impossible to do this and remain a Christian for very long.
  2. Swimming against the current. Many Christians think this is the highest calling; it’s not.
  3. Swimming free. That is the offer God makes to those who freely chose to follow Jesus Christ.

The Christian life is not about trading in the sinful attachments of the world for the holy attachments of God. The Christian life is about living free. And so is this sermon.



P.S. The rose in the photo is from our backyard, December 26, 2012.

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