Sermon Options: January 2, 2022

September 2nd, 2021


JEREMIAH 31:7-14

The beginning of a new year is always a period of refreshment and renewal. No matter how many bad things may have come your way in the last year—no matter how many problems, how much illness, how many family difficulties, how many notices from the IRS—that year is now history; and 2014 is here—fresh, clean, and full of promise. (Although you still have to answer those letters from the IRS!)

Even as Israel is in captivity in a foreign land, the prophet Jeremiah writes of a new beginning—a day when God will restore and renew his people, giving them a fresh start. Despite what has gone before—the nation’s sin and rebellion, their lack of faith and vision—God will bring them home and establish a new covenant with them. It will be a joyful new beginning.

Could you use a joyful new beginning in your life right now? Just as God gave Israel a new beginning, God is willing to give you one as well. You can enjoy a new covenant, a new beginning with God through Jesus Christ.

What was that new covenant, that new beginning like for Israel?

I. A New Beginning Produces Praise (vv. 7-9)
God would bring a remnant back to the land of promise. None would be excluded who were willing to come—even the weakest and most vulnerable among them: the blind, the lame, those who had just had children or who were about to have children.

And what was the result of Israel’s salvation? Resounding praise! They would “sing aloud with gladness” and “raise shouts.” They would “give praise” and celebrate the greatness of their nation—not because of any inherent value in Israel, but because God’s covenant relationship gave them significance.

Verse 9 is important because it reminds us that an important part of authentic praise is sincere repentance. Israel was to know a new kind of greatness, based not on political power or military might but based on a covenant relationship with God.

If you wish to have a new beginning with God, it must include repentance—a godly sorrow for sin and a willingness to allow God to turn your life in a new direction.

II. A New Beginning Is Based on Grace (vv. 10-11)
It was important for Israel to understand that their new beginning was not produced by their own efforts; it was a gift of God’s grace—unmerited, undeserved, flowing out of divine love. And Israel was to demonstrate God’s grace to all the nations.

Two important words are used here: ransom and redeem. To ransom means literally “to loose”—it involves paying a price to receive ownership of something, often something once owned or possessed. God was willing to pay the price to ransom Israel and give her a new beginning. To redeem is an act of deliverance, usually relating to a family member; for example, one might redeem a relative who had been sold into slavery by purchasing his or her freedom, or one might redeem a piece of land that had been sold away from the family.

Just as God was willing to ransom and redeem Israel, so he offers the same deliverance to us. God wants us to be a part of his covenant family, and he has already paid the price—through Christ’s death on the cross.

III. A New Beginning Results in Joy (vv. 12-14)
Now freed and restored to their homeland, Israel would rejoice in celebrating God’s abundant gifts. Israel was to be a new community focused on worshiping God.

A new beginning with God always results in joy. That’s why Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” ( John 10:10) . Through a relationship with Jesus Christ, you can experience that joy which God alone can produce in the human heart.

Are you ready for a new beginning? There’s no better day than today for a fresh start with the Lord. (Michael Duduit)



Timothy William Hennessy, a child of the promise, was baptized on the Sunday that this scripture came up in the lectionary many years ago. And in his baptism on that particular day, we found a perfect explication of this reading from Ephesians.

Many months before that, his mother, Susan, herself a child of this church, stood up during the sharing time to announce another birth in their family. Wistfully she added, “All we need now is an heir.” In due time, in God’s good pleasure, an heir was born to Sue and Tim, Sr., and they requested this date for his baptism. None of us knew then what the lectionary scripture for the date was. It was thrilling to find the answer to Sue’s prayer from so long before, already given beforehand by the Spirit, so clearly in the scripture for the day of their “heir’s” baptism.

We could even call this passage “Susan’s Song,” as it rejoices in the riches of our inheritance of redemption, forgiveness, and boundless grace as heirs through Christ, which, as Paul says, is “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; [which] is the pledge of our inheritance” (v. 13).

I. Our Inheritance Is Cause for Thanksgiving
All eleven verses in this scripture seem to have leaped from Paul’s heart, in one single exuberant sentence in the Greek! It is as if the effervescence of joy and thanksgiving that Paul is feeling can hardly be spoken in words. So it flows out of him in a song that his soul “speaks.” The contents of God’s mysterious “will” (vv. 9, 11) have been revealed to Paul, and he is overwhelmed by the generosity of his benefactor—the boundless riches of his inheritance! Here is the passionate gratitude of one who knows what it means to be truly guilty of great sin and then experience the life-restoring redemption of being made “holy and blameless before him [Christ] in love” (v. 4).

II. Our Inheritance Is Couched in Mystery
Paul also realizes the incredible synchronicity of this as a blessing for which he had long before been “chosen.” This is not the kind of predestination that the Presbyterian woman was talking about when, after she fell down the stairs, she said, “Thank goodness that’s over!” Rather this is the destiny that is part of a vision of spiritual blessing planned from the beginning and offered, mysteriously, as the inheritance to many. Yes, it is mysterious; but perhaps sometimes we make it more oblique than necessary.

Do you know what you get when you cross a Mafia leader and a theologian? An offer you can’t understand! But that’s not the kind of offer Paul wants to advise us of here. The full extent of the blessings in our inheritance is beyond our comprehension, to be sure. But these blessings are being revealed to us daily, and Paul extends God’s invitation to exalt in being open to receive all that is offered to us in these blessed promises that are our rightful inheritance.

III. Our Inheritance Is the Basis for Abundant Living
It is a great sadness, and one of the most insidious forms of evil, that the systems of this world lead so many “children of the promise” into blind alleys, where the great promise and the hope that was in them are lost. Most unfortunately of all, even the church itself has often been in confusion about what it means to be called and blessed by God. Too often “Give your selfish will to God” has meant, “Give your will and resources to this person who rules in the church in the very same way others rule in the world, by imposing their will, not by helping you to find God’s.”

Like a child whose baptism functions also as an elucidation of this scripture, we were all created out of God’s love and similarly destined for the fullness of love’s expression, each in our own unique way. It is our birthright, in Christ. Praise God who has made us blessed heirs to such a glorious inheritance! (Kathleen Peterson)


JOHN 1:1-18

There are days when it happens unexpectedly. When the Spirit blows like a cool breeze on a sweltering afternoon. When you hear the voice of angels in the prayers of your colleagues or friends. When you know—really know for sure—that what you hope and believe and trust in is true.
I had shuffled into my liturgy practicum a few minutes late. What we were doing—what we had been doing all semester—was rehearsing the rituals. Over the twelve weeks each student was to baptize a Cotton Patch Premie, offer a Great Thanksgiving over a fictional Eucharist, and “marry” a couple of fellow students. The professor would make suggestions and critique each student along the way, and then the class members would have their shot after the ritual was performed. It was pretty dull stuff, to tell you the truth—except on one day.

I arrived late, not altogether excited about another round of eucharistic prayers to be offered, as they were, over water and a wadded up paper towel. I slipped into my seat, only to be called on to assist a student, a candidate for episcopal orders. With a certain chagrin, I took my place at her right shoulder, ready to endure as best I could, when suddenly, almost ethereally, I heard music. Heavenly music! The celebrant was singing the prayer. Chanting it! I stood transfixed.

The usually chatty professor was speechless. The mouths of most class members hung open; they were barely able to utter the congregational responses. The celebrant’s plainsong had floored us. When the ritual ended, everyone was silent. After a few moments the professor said, “And that, class, is why, in the early church, nothing was said that could be sung.”

Prose comes after the poetry, explanations after the arias. Mere speech is no match for a love song, and especially when the beloved is God.

Christianity is a faith that sings. Look no further than our lesson scripture, where John the evangelist sings the beginnings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although this text is most often referred to as the “Prologue,” I have come to regard it more as the “Overture,” for in it all the themes of the balance of the gospel are sounded.

Consider it a hymn with three stanzas, with two descants regarding the Baptist thrown in for good measure. The first stanza, verses 1-5, sings of the creating God’s relation to all creation through the Word. The second stanza, verses 9-13, sings of the intervening God’s relation to all humanity through the Word. The third stanza, verses 14-18, sings of the redeeming God’s offer of salvation to all who receive the Word.

Of course, the gracious theme of these stanzas is counterpointed with rejection, hatred, and darkness. But the overture’s climax is one of mutual Christian confession; for while many, even of God’s own people, did not receive the Word, “we did.”

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory . . . we have received grace upon grace . . .” It’s a song more than a syllogism, poetry more than prose. And though we have lost the original tune, we can, in faith, still find the glad rhythm of this song of salvation.

We all learn our faith by singing it. By singing our faith, we learn more of it. And the Scriptures, by example and exhortation, remind us that the Word became flesh is a truth that has to be sung to be believed. (Thomas R. Steagald)

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