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A Ordinary Time (early)

After Pentecost Sunday begins Ordinary Time, but this doesn't mean we're entering a season for mundane sermons! The lectionary use of "ordinary" refers to the word's Latin root which means items that are "ordered." Ordinary Time begins on Trinity Sunday and proceeds through several numbered weeks Proper 4, 5, 6... 26, 27, 28, finally finishing on Christ the King Sunday, right around Thanksgiving. This is such a long stretch of Sundays that I've divided it into 2 pieces. This first piece stretches through Proper 17.

Ordinary Time Sundays have two sets of Old Testament readings. The first is a continuation of the "typological" set, meaning the Old Testament readings either compliment or contrast the gospel. The second set is a stream of "semi-continuous" readings, meaning the Old Testament scriptures works its way through a book or books in sequence. Lectionary preachers choose one or the other of these Old Testament paths or bounce between them.

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 prior to 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 what it is for. To subscribe to email or RSS notifications of new posts from this site, click IsbellOnline News.



Trinity Sunday: In the Beginning... the Trinity

Genesis 1.1-2.4 (lifts up the Trinity and some of its implications)

Thesis: God impresses a radical worldview into an ancient culture, which is that there is one God in 3 persons who created all things, the greatest part of which is people made in his image. 

Proper 4: The Result of Right Worship

Jeremiah 2.5 (… They worshiped worthless idols, only to become worthless themselves.)2 Cor 3.18(And we… are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.), Psalm 115.8 (And those who make idols are just like them...)

Thesis: Understanding the 10 big ideas of Christian faith helps us build a prevailing life, grow a heart like God’s, and witness more fruitfully. (or, if used as a stand-alone sermon: We become like what we worship.)

This sermon serves two purposes. It is the introductory sermon for the series: The 10 Big Ideas of Christian Faith. Or you can also easily adapt it as an extraordinarily strong stand-alone sermon to make the point that we become what we worship. It's one of the very best sermons God ever gave me. It includes great stories to make an incredibly important point. While editing it for posting on this site I ended up in tears of joy.

(This lection Sunday does not appear in 2014, due to the late Easter.)

Proper 4: 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 distributed series.

Rom 3.21-28 (... God himself is fair and just... [but] ... God did not punish those who sinned in times past...)

Thesis: Grace is not cheap; offering it is very costly to God but necessary if we are ever to have an intimate relationship with him.

This is a theologically deep sermon while remaining understandable to the average parishioner. It deals with the dilemma of God sometimes overlooking sin in the Old Testament, and also doing the same thing today. It's the complaint in the middle of suffering when someone asks, "Why did God let this happen? Doesn't he care? Is he impotent?..." Or, "Why does God let this awful person get away with something so bad as this?" The sermon offers a biblically and intellectually solid rationale regarding why a holy and just God puts up with sin as long as he does. In doing so, the sermon leads to a fresh understanding of the crucifixion - the work of God the Son on the cross. It also draws the listener towards a deeper intimacy with a God who values his relationship with us even above his demand for justice.

Even if you never preach these concepts, I hope you will read the sermon. It's essential when dealing with secular people who are investigating - or cynical about - God's nature.

(This lection Sunday does not appear in 2014, due to the late Easter.)

Proper 6: Living with the Weak, the Strong, and Even with Our Enemies

Luke 10.25-28 (the most important commandment), 2 Peter 1.1-11 (... Supplement faith with moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, and love for everyone.)

Thesis: God’s love for us is “unprovoked” and he intends for all disciples of Jesus to also extend unprovoked love to those weaker, stronger, and even to our enemies.

This sermon unpacks the concept of "unprovoked love," which is love with no apparent payback. It is loving someone who doesn't deserve it and doesn't appear to offer anything in return. 

The sermon uses 3 stories to illustrate this sort of love in regards to people weaker than we are, stronger than we are, and even our enemies. Then it moves on to the concept that God's love for us is not only unprovoked, but his instruction for us is to become the kind of person who extends unprovoked love to the world around us.

Proper 7

Unfortunately, I don't have a sermon to post for A Proper 7. However, since there are no Propers 4-6 in 2014, lectionary preachers can substitute any of those for Proper 7.)

Proper 8: Leaning Against Culture

Genesis 22.1-18 (Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac.)

Thesis: The perennial call on God's followers is to lean against many of the winds of prevailing culture, trusting God with everything (even including the “gifts” he gave us).

This scripture is difficult for most people to accept. It can make us uncomfortable with God. So in this message, the preacher takes a careful look at Abraham, Isaac, and God to see what we can learn. Even though Sarah doesn't show up in the story, she must have been livid during it or when she found out about it. So the sermon also takes a look at what we can learn from her. 

In the final analysis. we see a God we can trust, even when we can't trust our parents. And we learn the importance God puts on our trusting him with even our most beloved possessions.

Proper 9 or 10: Holiness, Romance in the Christian Life

This sermon fits either Proper 9 (Romans 7) or Proper 10 (Romans 8). This particular sermon stands apart from most of the others in that it unpacks my most complete understanding of Christian holiness.

Thesis: It is impossible to live a holy life by administering the Law within ourselves. Holy living is possible only as a by-product of a passionate love affair with Jesus leads us to relinquish our own sovereignty and trust all dimensions of life to the Spirit of Jesus living within us.  

As we live in this “space” the Spirit graciously administers the Law in our lives.

While preaching on Romans 7 is always a challenge, it is hard to preach holiness without visiting this difficult passage and showing people that this passage does not describe the normative Christian life. To grasp the fullness of the Good News, we need to understand Romans 7 as a step on the journey to the life of Romans 8. If you haven't preached holiness lately, here's a great chance to do it.

Proper 10: Farming 101, the Soil and the Farming Life

Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23. (Jesus' story of the farmer who cast seeds on a variety of soils)

Thesis: God values extravagance above efficiency so he casts his grace on all kinds of people, and invites his followers to join him in the "farming life."

This sermon is designed to help people share the good news with friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. To do this it unpacks the scripture, which leads to a 5 step process for sharing our faith:

  1. Build some relationships with unchurched people.
  2. Learn the stages people generally go through on their way to Christian faith, and the appropriate kind of evangelism for each stage (Presence, Proclamation, Persuasion, and Participation).
  3. Build a BLESS a FRAN prayer list and start praying.
  4. Be on the lookout for spiritual conversations.
  5. Be patient.
I revised and preached this sermon again in 2011 as The Farming Life. The 2011 version includes a more personal anecdote at the beginning that you would need to replace with your own. Still, it's worth a read.

Proper 10: Renovation of the Soul (5th of the Renovation 5-sermon series)

This is not a sermon to preach in isolation of the other four sermons in this series. But this is a very powerful series that you'll probably want to fit in somewhere, and this summertime is as good a time as any. 

Proper 11: Farming 201, Managing Weeds

Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43. (Jesus' parable of the wheat and the weeds)

Thesis: There are many areas of life where we’re not capable of sorting good from the evil, but God is, and we can trust him to do right.

This is another sermon that lifts up the extravagance of God. In the process, it encourages parishioners to be slow to label things as evil and slow to pull the "weeds" of evil that they see. While weed-pulling makes perfect sense to the human mind, Jesus cautions us to be slow to pull the weeds we see, and instead, trust God to sort the weeds from the wheat at harvest time. This is a very good sermon for churches/parishioners who have a tendency to connect their ideas of Christian holiness with political actions designed to limit the evil they perceive around them.

Proper 12: Hope in the Present Age

Romans 8.28-32 

Thesis: We can live with hope in the present age because we know God’s story from the past age, we have the Spirit of Jesus to accompany us in the present age, and we have Jesus’ promise of place with meaning in the future age.

This sermon traces the Kingdom of God theology from Abraham, through Jesus, and to Paul. It addresses the issues of election and predestination by providing an alegory that helps those of us in the Wesleyan-Armenian traditions articulate these challenging terms.

Proper 12: The Bad, the Good, the Best

Romans 8.28-30 (All things work together for good...)

Thesis: Christians can live with a deep joy because we are confident that God uses the bad things to bring about good, this good will never be lost because it is independent of circumstances, and the best is yet to come when God will give us new circumstances. 

In this sermon, I borrow from Timothy Keller's "A Christian's Happiness" to unpack the dilemma of Romans 8.28-30. Most know that Christianity is supposed to include a deep joy in spite of circumstances. But when things go, bad it's hard to see what good God is doing in it. In the final analysis, it comes down to understanding that our joy does not come from our circumstances but from God using the circumstances of our life to develop our heart to beat more like Jesus' heart. In this sense, God uses all the bad that happens to us to do the good work of shaping our heart to be more and more like Jesus'. This is the source of deep joy.

Proper 12: The Grand Adventure 

Matthew 13.34, 44-46 (Jesus' illustrations of the treasure in the field and the merchant finding the pearl.)

Thesis: The Kingdom of God, like and an individual’s Christian faith, begins as something very small which grows into something very large and valuable.

This sermon and "The Kingdom Is Like..." (the previous sermon) are similar, but they were preached in different years and using different stories. This one includes the great story of the Massachusetts Humane Society, the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard. While this was once a heroic, volunteer adventure it faded to just a social organization that holds gatherings for its members. Many preachers have used this over the years, and for good reason - it is a great illustration of what can happen to a church that once had a passion for lost people but now is just a social gathering point. The message invites the congregation to rekindle their evangelistic fires. This is another sermon that uses the BLESS a FRAN form. Again, you could also incorporate some elements of Ordinary Practice Evangelism in this message, or point the congregation to this material on the website as supplemental.

Proper 12: The Kingdom Is Like...

Matthew 13.31-33, 44-46 (Jesus' illustrations of the mustard seed, yeast, treasure in the field, and the pearl.)

Thesis: Lifesaving is a Grand Adventure, worth giving our life to.

This sermon and "Lifesaving - the Grand Adventure" (the next sermon) are similar, but they were preached in different years and using different stories. This one starts with the story of Saint Patrick (Ireland) as an example of God's tendency to start with something small and humble and grow it into something large and valuable. The direction of the message is to invite people to give all of themselves to fully live in the Kingdom.

Proper 12: Learning from Leah

This is the 1st of 3 similar sermons based on the life of Leah. I preached this one in 1999. 

Genesis 29. Jacob marries Leah and Rachael.

Thesis: Someone important to you may not love you, but the Lord does.

This is a sermon that lifts up an otherwise obscure Old Testament character - in this case, Leah, the first wife of Jacob. As you read it you will probably discover things you never noticed about Leah's story and connections between those things that will profoundly influence your understanding of God. It's a great sermon for those in your congregation who identify with Leah, meaning they are married to someone who loves something else more than they love their spouse. It also packs a message for those who are not yet married. Finally, it helps the rest of us notice the Leah's in our midst. But most of all you will discover the beautiful ways God blessed Leah - ways that will surprise many of your parishioners.

Proper 12: Adjusting to God's Story

This is the 2nd of 3 similar sermons based on the life of Leah. I preached this one in 2005.

Genesis 29.15-28 (The story of Jacob marrying Leah and Rachael)

Thesis: The smartest thing we can do is trust God in EVERYTHING.

Many people struggle with the apparent injustices of some Old Testament stories. This sermon helps people see the Jacob/Leah/Rachael story in a new light. Jacob received unjust treatment from his uncle Laban, but then you might say he deserved it because of his own similar injustice to his brother Esau. In today's scripture, Leah receives a huge injustice from her father Laban, and humiliating treatment from her husband Jacob. But as she adjusted to living in God's story he blessed her in wonderful ways. In the end, even Jacob showed a degree of preference for Leah over Rachael. If you are looking for a chance to help people see God's grace in the Old Testament, try this one.

Proper 12: For a Lasting Legacy - Collaborate

This is the third of three similar sermons based on the life of Leah. I preached this one in 2014.

Genesis 29.14b-30. The marriage of Jacob to Leah and Rachael

Thesis: The only way to build a lasting legacy is to intimately collaborate with the God of Leah.

I designed this sermon to preach on a Sunday when I was preaching in the Watsonville Nazarene Church. The pastor needed pulpit supply in the middle a series on Outlasters, which was designed to help people build lasting legacies. So I remodeled the previous two Leah sermons to fill this need.

Proper 13: Abundance Mentality

Matthew 14.1-21 (Feeding the 5,000)

Thesis: The mentality in God’s Kingdom is not one of scarcity; it is one of abundance.

This sermon starts by unpacking the preceding passage where Jesus fed the 5,000, and the passage before that about receiving the news that Herod Antipas kept a foolish oath and broke a great law in beheading John the Baptist. When Jesus tries to get some privacy, probably to process this loss, a crowd followed him. Instead of ignoring them or chasing them away like many of us might do, he healed the sick and fed all the people. It's an example of life in the Kingdom. The abundant life goes on even during hard times. Jesus' example is a good one for us.

Proper 13: What's Beyond Conversion?

Isaiah 55.1-3 (Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink.)

Thesis: Beyond conversion lies the invitation to a romance with God in which we experience increasing intimacy, freedom, and fruitfulness. 

This sermon flows from work I am doing to re-interpret the Nazarene Article 10 (entire sanctification) with a pastor I am mentoring through the ordination process. Early, it lists six "marks" I've noticed on mature Christians. Then I move to some post-conversion teaching about the role that the redemption cycle plays, throughout all our lives, in growing our hearts to beat increasingly like Jesus' heart. The sermon also touches on the opportunity we have to become full players in the "family business" of redeeming the world. 

About a month later, in a different church and using a different scripture, I preached a similar sermon: God's Redemptive Loops.

Proper 13: A Time to Surrender

Genesis 32 (Jacob wrestles with God)

Thesis: Like Jacob, we often must surrender to the Lord before receiving his blessing.

This sermon ties Jacob's story to my personal experience that preceded launching the Chinese congregations at New Life. In the process of this venture, I realized that in some key ways my personality resembles Jacob's. Like Jacob, I had to wrestle with God over a problem for a long time, then I gave up, only to then see God bless us with precisely what I had striven so hard to get.

Proper 13: The Key to Mastering Money

This is part of a 2-sermon series on money. For more about the sermon, and to find more sermons on the topic of money, go to Money Sermons.

Proper 14: Salvation by Faith

This sermon is part of a distributed series. For more on this please go to the 6th sermon in the 10 Big Ideas of Christian Faith series.

Proper 14: Surviving an Imperfect Family

Genesis 37 (The story of Jacob's family, especially the brothers selling Joseph into Egyptian slavery and its aftermath.)

Thesis: We may not get a special robe in this life, but in the life to come all God’s children get a robe designed just for them!

This sermon leans on a section in John Ortberg's book, If You Want On Water You Have To Get Out of the Boat. It connects extremely well with listeners who came from an imperfect family which still causes them difficulty. It also provides indirect parenting advice to parishioners - both by highlighting Jacob's dysfunctional parenting and by the wonderful parenting available to us as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Proper 14: Living the Baptized Life

Matthew 14.22-32. (Jesus (and Peter) walking on water)

This was a sermon that I preached on a Sunday when we were baptizing three people. At the beginning, each one gave a brief summary of their personal journey to faith. Then I preached this sermon that unpacks 3 times when Jesus invited Peter to step out of the boat and follow him. It wraps up by reminding people of the progression to mature Christian faith usually is:

  1. Exploring Christ
  2. Growing in Christ
  3. Close to Christ
  4. Christ-centered

Proper 15: Praying Through God's Silence

Matthew 15.21-28 (The faith of the Gentile woman)

Thesis: Sometimes God is silent in the presence of our prayers for a long, long time. Eventually, he will break the silence.

This sermon deals with that difficult scripture where a Gentile woman comes to Jesus and he responds with cold silence, and then harsh words. We don't like to read about Jesus treating the woman this way and we don't like it when we feel like he's treating us this way. If this strikes your curiosity, I hope you'll read the sermon.

Proper 15: Suffering

1 Peter 4.1 and Genesis 45.1-15

Thesis: This sermon uses Judah’s willingness to suffer for Benjamin as an illustration of 1 Peter 4.1, “For if you are willing to suffer for Christ, you are ready to stop sinning.”

This sermon leverages heavily off lessons God taught me through my own suffering experience: a life-threatening heart attack in 2005.

The only place 1 Peter shows up in the lectionary is Holy Saturday, so it seldom gets preached. But God spoke to me through this passage in a very critical time in my own suffering. So in late summer 2005 when this Genesis passage came along in the lectionary, and 1 Peter was still so fresh in my mind, God connected them. So I preached them together on Proper 15. When you are ready to preach on suffering, give this sermon a read. If you are suffering, this sermon will help you.

Proper 16 or 17: Life's Inflection Points

Exodus 1-4 (A fresh look at the Moses story)

Thesis: God loves to come to ordinary people living ordinary lives and then confront them with a decision, which if followed leads them to the next inflection point.

This sermon is quite a different framework than most of my others. It interrupts scripture with preaching, looking especially at how God interrupts ordinary days with an invitation to act. This phenomena is all through the Bible, but even Christians who read the Bible are often skeptical that God still does this. He does.
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