As I compile this week’s Reflectionary, I’m sitting in a hotel room looking across the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina.
A cruise ship is parked for cleaning and re-stocking before making its next departure out to sea with happy vacationers.
Behind that gigantic ship is a vision of a half dozen steeples rising up to pierce the blue sky.
The scriptures I’ve read this week all seem to share a common theme.
It’s possible to live life in pursuit of self-fulfillment and happiness and to end up with emptiness instead.
And it’s also possible to lay down our rights to our own lives, to embrace all that God freely offers in his kingdom rule, and to end up fulfilled.
It all depends on whether our vision for life is more like a cruise ship where we’ll enjoy being served by the rest of society, or a city filled with people to be influenced by the goodness of God’s kingdom rule.
Don’t misunderstand me. Going on a cruise isn’t a bad thing. Treating all of life like a cruise ship is. There’s a city that needs to observe and feel the loving presence of God and of God’s people.
But as I wrote in an article I wanted to pass along to you this week…
For this week for preachers, pastors, and ministry leaders…
Lectionary Sermon Starters
For June 26, 2022
Year C – Third Sunday After Pentecost
First Reading and Psalm
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Pastor Rick Warren once talked about how life isn’t so much a roller coaster, taking us from good times to bad times in some kind of crazy cycle. Rather life is like railroad tracks, where the good and the bad often run side-by-side together. In other words, while you’re walking through pain and struggle, you’re also growing and seeing God’s favor. When you’re suffering in one area of life, you’re often seeing the tremendous blessing in another area. This was true for Elisha. He was saying goodbye to his mentor and hero, Elijah, while also receiving the assignment to prophetic ministry himself. It was in the middle of Elisha’s deep, agonizing hunger to make a difference in the world that God showed up and worked miraculously through him.
When you’re heart hurts, look for God’s comforting presence. When you’re walking through loss and transition, keep your eyes open to the ways in which God is teaching you new lessons and giving you new assignments.
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
I love that the 77th psalm swings on a hinge. Near the beginning, the author is contemplating some pretty heavy feelings of doubt. He writes, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak,” (v. 4) and begins to question whether God cares about his plight or not with the words, “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (v. 9)
The psalm ends on an entirely different note – one of celebration of God’s gracious intervention and care for the suffering of his creatures. He proclaims, “You ARE the God who works wonders.” (v. 14)
What makes the difference? Verses 11 and 12…
Alternate First Reading and Psalm
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
You’ll never ultimately find fulfillment when you see yourself as the center of the universe.
I love that the story ends with a kind of matter-of-fact last-minute detail.
Oh, you thought you were the only one capable of doing my work, Elijah? Well, I’ve had 7,000 others like you ready to share their own prophetic words. Now get back to work.
I don’t believe God’s intention is to make us feel unimportant or belittled. But our Creator knows that our truest path to being who he intended for us to be is not through self-importance, but rather through self-abandonment.
The mantle of prophetic leadership isn’t earned. It is graciously bestowed, which is all the more motivation to live a life worthy of it.
As a race, we humans notoriously search for happiness from outside ourselves. We seek to create ideal circumstances and taste all the pleasure the world around us can offer and yet, we can be miserable in the middle of it all.
According to Psalm 16, real joy is found in our union with God. It is as we discover more of the One who created us, shaped us, protects us, and communes with us in the inner sanctuary of our hearts that we encounter the only kind of joy that lasts.
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
We don’t earn our freedom. We can’t pay for our freedom. We can’t secure our own freedom or keep ourselves free. We are entirely dependent upon a gracious and all-powerful God to make and keep us free.
But freedom, by its very nature, allows those who possess it to make their own individual choices about what to do with it. And for us, Paul lays out two potential pathways.
Jesus continually allows people to keep walking by, passing up this wonderful good news, as they search for something better. And he freely receives to himself any and all who are willing to seek and experience the kingdom rule of God in their own lives and bring God’s kingdom values to the world around them.
The big question is – are you willing to abandon what you believe life is all about to embrace and enjoy the wholeness and fullness of all that God wants to bring into the lives of those who follow him fully?
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Creative Sermon Series Ideas from MinistryPass
My favorite resource for sermon series and message ideas, complete series graphics, and video bumpers (but NOT full notes or sermon outlines) to get you started is MinistryPass! Each week, I’ll feature a series I would recommend checking out for the upcoming season of the church year. This week:
From the Description:
This four-week series explains the nature and purpose of the church. It details the origin of the church; the ordinances of the church; the roles, responsibilities, and gifts of the members of the church; and the overall mission of the church. The series is meant to assist local pastors as they share the vision for their own churches with their respective congregations.
Books, Links, and Resources for Pastors and Church Leaders
I also want to share helpful and encouraging resources each week including articles I’ve read, books I love, and practical tools for leadership. This week:
- A video by Lane Sebring: Why Conversational Preaching is Best (and how to do it)
- A post by Geoffrey Holsclow: Surrender to Love is Dangerous
- An encouraging article by Chris Maxwell: Do Pastors Care Too Much?
About the Cover Art: Each week, Vanderbilt Divinity School shares dozens of pieces of art that align with the lectionary readings. The featured piece this week is No Looking Back – the man at the plow, painted by James Tissot, painted ca. 1886-1894. (More information.)