baptismal preaching

It was Will Willimon who taught me that all preaching is baptismal preaching. Either the preacher is talking about what life is like because you are among the baptized or the sermon is a description of what it would mean to decide to be baptized. Suddenly every sermon is about baptism. What, then, of the Sundays when the service includes baptism? On those occasions I decided to address the sermon directly to those who were baptized on that day. I would invite the congregation to overhear the sermon. In the cases where the baptized were young children I gave a copy of the manuscript to the parents and asked them to include it with the baptism certificate and photos of the day so that their child might read it in the years to come. I imagined the scripture readings of the day as a gift to them. In this way the congregation was encouraged to see the baptism as the most important event in its life on this day. Some examples of sermons preached on a baptismal Sunday are posted here at "Benedictus"We went through fire and water, yet ...""Lamb and Shepherd" and "Tested". Here is another, titled "When You Pass Through the Waters" (from 2007), that hosts Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:15-22 ...

Today we are witnesses to the baptism of Jakob. It is particularly appropriate that Jakob is baptized on the Sunday when we mark the baptism of Jesus, since it was young Jakob who took the part of the newborn Jesus here on Christmas Eve. With all the festivity of Christmas it is easy to forget that in the early church the baptism of Jesus was more celebrated than his birth. In the third century there were three major Christian festivals - Easter, Pentecost and Epiphany. Then Epiphany was not a celebration of the arrival of the magi but of the baptism of Jesus. Imagine our life built on a threefold rhythm that marked Jesus’ Baptism, the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. That is how it was in the church in the second, third and fourth centuries. Today we are back at the beginning. Back at the river. And we are here as witnesses of young Jakob’s immersion in the water.


easter preaching

Easter preaching begins on Easter Sunday and then continues through the celebratory fifty days of the Season of Easter ("Easter Times Fifty"). Some samples of my attempts to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection can be found posted here - "Not Enough Security""An Idle Tale" and "A New Beatitude". And here is an Easter Sunday sermon titled "Preaching to Cornelius" that hosts Acts 10:34-43 ...

Cornelius. Have you heard of Cornelius? All Easter preaching is finally preaching to Cornelius. We have become accustomed to Easter preaching that takes us to the tomb and to the women and to the first dawning recognition that something unbelievable is now the believable truth. It is no surprise that the narratives of Easter morning are the compelling location for our singing and dancing for joy today. But we are not at the tomb or back in Galilee. We are far removed from that point of origin. That is where Cornelius comes into the picture. He doesn’t appear in any of our Easter morning texts. But he is always here. Over the years the church has, wisely decided that there is one text that is always to be read on Easter Sunday morning. It is the nine verse sermon that Peter delivers in the tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It isn’t an Easter Sunday when he preaches. But the occasion of his sermon is critically important, nonetheless. You see, he preaches to Cornelius.


easter vigil preaching

I was introduced to the ancient tradition of the Easter Vigil by University Hill Congregation. For twenty years I was privileged to lead the congregation in its first celebration of the Resurrection each year. It meant preaching an Easter sermon in the darkness, waiting for the sun to rise. One sample of those sermons is posted at While it Was Still Dark. Another, titled "Fear and Great Joy" (from 2002 on Matthew 28:1-10), follows here ...

It all happens so fast. That is the first thing you notice when you pay attention to the text: “Suddenly there was a great earthquake ... Go quickly ... they left the tomb quickly ... Suddenly Jesus met them”. It is fashionable to imagine that the resurrection takes shape slowly in the lives of the disciples as it begins to dawn on them that Jesus present once again. But the text makes no room for a slowly emerging truth. It insists that it happened all of a sudden. One minute the two Mary’s are mourning and the next they are overcome by events beyond their comprehension. Easter is a radical departure from the expected and explicable routines of our days. It is no simple equation, not simply a story of bulbs waking from winter sleep to bloom once again. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a sudden act of God that sets in motion a rush of activity. The women do not linger. They run!


good friday preaching

For twenty years at University Hill Congregation I was in the habit of preaching a Good Friday sermon every other year. We shared our Good Friday observance with St. Anselm's Anglican Church. On the years when we would visit our Anglican neighbours I would be privileged to preach. I consistently found this to be one of the most powerful and challenging preaching assignments of the year. Looking back, I recall three of those sermons in particular. Two have previously been posted on this blog: "Ecce Homo" and "The Seven Last Words". A third, titled "Despised" (from 2002), hosts the crucial passage from Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and is posted here ...

We are not surprised that on this Good Friday we read the gospel narrative of that black day. This is at the heart of the matter for us. Yet from the earliest days the church has looked elsewhere to make sense of it all. Remember, what we call the Old Testament is the only Bible the first Christians know. It is their ‘Word of the Lord’. When they tell the story of the mob and the judgment and the cross, they turn to the peculiar passage that bridges the fifty-second and fifty-third chapters of Isaiah. Recall the story of Philip encountering an Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:32-33). This seeker asks Philip to interpret a key text in his Bible. Remember? It is from the ancient poem by Isaiah: “Like a sheep was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him.” Written in the humiliation of exile six centuries before Jesus’ final humiliation, Isaiah's prophesy becomes the interpretive lens for the church that gathers at the foot of the cross. It is no accident that four of the six texts used by George Frederick Handel to portray Good Friday in the oratorio “The Messiah” are taken from this very passage (Part 2 - Is 53:3-6; also in Part 3 - Is. 53:8). This is the church’s original interpretation of the events of Good Friday.


a palm / passion sunday prayer of intercession

I offered this Prayer of Intercession for Palm/Passion Sunday when I served as Worship Elder during Holy Week at University Congregation. It followed the singing of the hymn "Ride on! Ride on in Majesty!"

Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
         You who shape the stars and sky.
         You who hold the sun and sea.
         You who shape today and tomorrow.
         You who hold neighbour and stranger.
                    Your steadfast love, your tender mercies, your startling grace
                             suffers all, bears all, hopes all
                                     and we are in awe, speechless in gratitude.


a palm / passion sunday prayer of approach & confession

I offered this Prayer of Approach and Confession for Palm/Passion Sunday when I served as Worship Elder during Holy Week at University Congregation.

You come to us in humility.
You enter the gates of the city on a donkey.
You pass through the doors of our hearts as long-awaited guest.
We cry: “Hosanna … Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Blessed are You, for You know the truth about the trouble
          in our world,
          in our city,
          in our soul.