Revised Common Lectionary reflection for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Year A
August 27, 2017
Lessons: Isaiah 51:1-6, Alternate: Exodus 1:8 – 2:10, Psalm 138, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize that our lives are an offering to God and a sermon to all whom we encounter.
Key Scripture: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2
Sure, you’ve heard it before: your life may be the only sermon some folks ever hear, see, or experience. Cognitively most Christians know this to be true, but in practice it’s entirely too easy to leave the preaching to the professionals. We feel inadequate to the task; clergy usually have years of academic work and professional training under their liturgical belts.
Well, here’s the deal. Preachers can preach until they’re blue in the face. They can craft elegant, biblically sound homilies with clarity and regularity. They can work from carefully drafted manuscripts standing firm-footed behind the solid wood of a pulpit, or they can walk amongst the congregation with folksy familiarity. This is all well and good. The gospel will be proclaimed, people will be convicted, uplifted, and equipped, and God will be glorified. The problem is that somehow folks first have to get through the doors of our worshiping communities before they can experience worship, before they can taste, see, and hear that God is good.
That means each one of us is called to present ourselves to God. Our lives are an offering, a witness, a confession–a 24/7 sermon. We are stewards of the gospel, called to live it, breathe it, and to embody it. Before anybody goes and gets all nervous and scared about the idea of being a living sacrifice, just remember it’s pretty simple. God gave everything for you; in return God wants all of you. God doesn’t require 10% or 25% or 80% of you, God desires 100% — every fiber of your being, every hour of your day, every laugh, smile, and tear.
What God doesn’t ask for is perfection, nor does God ask any of us to go it alone. We are called to be part of the body of Christ, working together in concert, each bringing our unique gifts and talents to the table. It is in sharing our gifts, in telling the story of how God is working in our own lives, and in loving our neighbor that our life becomes a sermon. By conforming not to the world but to God, our actions speak much louder than any words possibly could.
The world asks who Jesus is and why it matters. Jesus, in turn, asks his disciples who they see. Like Peter, we can confess that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” and in doing so, Jesus tells us who we are as disciples. We find our focus, our meaning, our purpose – our sermon – and we live it in thanksgiving and praise. Jesus becomes the center of all that we do and are, both as individuals and as a worshiping community. Jesus influences our choices and decisions. In turn, our choices and decision are what “preach” to others.
Helen Keller once said that “Each day comes to each of us with both hands full of opportunities.” Reach out your hands, giving rather than taking, holding rather than hurting, and loving rather than hating. No special training is required to make one’s life a sermon. Our Lord provides all that one needs; all that is then needed is to give one’s all. That, dear friends, makes for a powerful sermon. Now go preach it, people!
Who do you say Jesus is? Take a few minutes and practice your “discipleship elevator speech” today. How would you answer this question when out in the community and when asked to share your faith? Do you trust God to give you the words? Are you willing for your identity as a follower of Jesus to be known? Some faith traditions find this kind of exercise easier than others, but we can all use a gentle reminder and some practice. Part of worship is to proclaim God’s praise, so taking a moment to share your story and confess your faith is an appropriate thing to do. Try it during the sermon, or consider it part of the offering. You might even practice right before the sending to ready one another to go out into a world that needs to know Jesus’ identity.
Consider a study of the Old Testament reading from Isaiah (51:1-6). Be sure to set the historical context for the passage and spend plenty of time with verse 4: “Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples.” What does this mean for us today? How might we interpret this reading as one of hope in a time of worldly upheaval? You will likely end up with a powerful discussion, as youth and young adults aren’t as likely to put on the “nice” or “correct” filters that stymie meaningful dialogue. Be sure to provide some way or way your youth can respond and take action to one of the issues that is troubling to them.
Built on a Rock…
In today’s Gospel, Peter makes a great yet simple confession of faith and a statement of Jesus’ true identity. Jesus tells Peter that the church will be built on him –on the rock of his confession. Look at your own congregation. Who are the people on whose confession your congregation has been “built”? Do you have their photos? If so, make some heavy cardstock building blocks and write their names and include photocopies of their pictures. Talk to the children about how our congregations are built on the witness of Christ in each believer. Build a simple “foundation” of faith blocks. Invite each child to write their own name on a block and add it to the foundation. If you have a digital camera take their photos to add to the blocks later. Consider extending this exercise to the entire congregation and display the blocks in a visible place in your building for all to be reminded. Be sure to make one big cornerstone for Jesus’ name and another large block for Peter. End with a simple prayer of thanks and encouragement to tell everyone what God has done.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Wait! What? You mean my entire life is an offering to God, not just what I put in the plate on a given Sunday? That’s right, faithful and generous friend! We truly may be the only sermon some people ever experience, and our faithful discipleship returns to God a portion of all that God gives to us. Consider the kind of sermon you want your life to preach, and pray that God will give you all that you need to preach and live it!
Stewardship at Home
Spend some time this week talking about the faithful people who have been instrumental in your faith development and discipleship walk. Post their pictures and share their stories—at home while sharing a meal, in a small fellowship group, or even on social media. Let their lives continue to preach and inspire others, even as your own witness is strengthened and your faith is deepened.
Photos: Sharon Pruitt and Chris Yarzab used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!
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