The following preaching notes are for use with the Laity Sunday 2016 Worship Resources — Order of Worship developed by Jodi Cataldo (Director, Laity in Leadership); Taylor Burton-Edwards (Director, Worship Resources); Dawn Chesser (Director, Preaching Ministries); and Jackson Henry (Director, Music Ministries)
See additional resources for use with this service:
- Order of Worship
- Worship Leader Notes
- Music Leader Notes
- Laity Sunday 2016 theme and promo materials
Instead of one person offering the sermon for this service, consider having four or possibly even five people contribute to the Proclamation of the Word. For each section of the sermon, a different person will share a story from his or her own experience. Each of these people could also read the Scripture lesson for that section and provide introductory comments on the Scripture lesson. Alternatively, a fifth person could be recruited to read the Scripture lesson and give a brief “preaching introduction” component for each section, with the other four people giving only their personal testimonies.
There are two keys to making this sermon-in-four-acts work. The first is careful selection and preparation of participants. Choose participants based not simply on who is willing to stand up and speak, but rather on who exhibits the dimensions of discipleship that will be highlighted by the Scripture lessons. This way, each contributor will serve as a living example as he or she tells the story of how he or she answered God’s call to discipleship. After each person speaks, the congregation will sing, allowing for a smooth transition to and from the pulpit and from one person to the next.
The second is timing and rehearsal. Each participant will have no more than five minutes. It will be important for individuals to practice what they want to say, time themselves, and if needed, edit what they have prepared to stay within the five-minute time frame. This will help keep the sermon moving and ensure a smooth and balanced flow from beginning to end without bogging down anywhere along the way.
Preacher #1: Worship Is Love—To put love of God and neighbor above all else
Scripture Focus: Matthew 22:37-39 (The Great Commandment)
Sometimes when we hear a sermon on this text, the focus is not on the Shema—the centerpiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer that comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NRSV) and reads, “Hear O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your might.” Instead, the focus is on Jesus’ addition of “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NRSV). Often, preachers will focus on the second part and interpret the addition from Jesus to mean that loving our neighbors is the primary way that we love God: loving our neighbors IS the way we love God. I have often interpreted it this way myself!
But for this reading, I suggest that the first lay preacher focus on what it means to love the Lord our God with all our heart and strength and might. Who in your congregation demonstrates a passion for loving God? If you had to think of someone in your church who really loves the Lord, who would it be? If someone comes to mind for you, it is probably because you have seen how this person loves the Lord by the way he or she lives.
The sermon could begin by sharing that Jesus spoke these words in response to the Pharisees’ question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus’ answer comes from the Shema, which is the centerpiece of the prayer that all observant Jews are taught to pray at the beginning and the end of each day (see comments above).
It is these words from Deuteronomy that are written on tiny pieces of paper and rolled up and inserted in decorative scroll holders, called mezuzahs, and attached to the doorframes of the primary entrances of Jewish homes. The mezuzah reminds them of this commandment whenever they come and go from their house. Scrolls with these words are also inserted into phylacteries, little leather boxes that Jewish men attach to their foreheads with a head strap to wear during morning prayer. These words are of critical importance to the Jewish faith. They were critically important to Jesus.
How do we love the Lord our God with all our heart and strength and might? Here are some things that I was taught to do.
At this point, the individual should offer a first-person witness as to how he or she loves God in everyday life. What are some of the things the person does to demonstrate his or her love for God? What was the person taught to do? What are the person’s practices of prayer, Bible study, devotion, tithing, fasting, and attending to the ordinances of God? If the person feels shy about drawing attention to himself or herself, please encourage the individual to share as a way of helping others to live out this commandment. The person should speak for a total of 3-5 minutes. At the conclusion, the congregation will sing:
Sung Response: Love the Lord, W&S 3116
Preacher #2: Worship Is Discipline—To embody God’s love individually
Scripture Focus: Matthew 16:24 (The Great Commitment)
Let us recall the situation that led up to Jesus speaking these words to his disciples. Jesus had been healing people and teaching great crowds as he made his way toward Jerusalem for the last time. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had just multiplied seven loaves of bread and a few fish to feed four thousand people. The Pharisees and the Sadducees heard the news of his latest miracle and began demanding that Jesus show them a sign from heaven, which he refused to do. When Jesus asked the disciples who people were saying he was, Peter declared that he was the Messiah, the son of the living God. After this, Jesus began telling the disciples what fate awaited him in Jerusalem. When they protested, Jesus spoke harsh words and then and said that if they wanted to be his followers, they would need to take up their own cross. He said that those who wanted to save their lives would lose their lives, but those who lose their lives for his sake would find their lives.
The way to discipleship is not free. It costs us to follow Jesus. We who call ourselves his followers must give up some of what the world teaches us to have in order to find a richer, more meaningful life in Christ.
The second preacher should tell a personal story of a time when he or she had to give something up to follow Jesus. This doesn’t have to be a big, earth-shattering thing. It might be something small, or something that happens every day, but might not automatically be connected to a person’s faith. For example, at one point in my own life, I had to make a decision about whether or not to stay married to my first husband and the father of my two children. A primary reason I made this choice had to do with my Christian faith. My former husband was not a Christian, and he had even asked me if I would consider giving up my call to ordained ministry to become a public school teacher instead. I remember telling him that he put me in an impossible situation by asking me to do this. It meant, for me, that I had to choose him over my relationship with Christ, which was integral to my identity as a person. It meant that I had to choose him over the very essence of who I was. I couldn’t choose him over myself. I tried very hard for many more years to make the relationship work, but in the end, the distance between us was too great. I needed to follow Jesus first, even if it meant that I had to ask my husband for a divorce, and in doing so, cause our children a great deal of pain. As I look back over my life, I know that if I hadn’t made this choice, the way I would have been able to answer God’s call would have been very different. Certainly, I would have had less freedom to go wherever God called me to serve. It would have been much more difficult for me to to say “yes” to many of the twists and turns my journey has taken.
Sometimes it costs us to be disciples of Jesus Christ. What cross have you had to bear to follow Jesus? What cost have you paid? What has happened to your life as a result of your willingness to take up your cross and follow Jesus?
The second preacher should speak for 3-5 minutes. At the conclusion, the congregation will sing:
Sung Response: Take Up Thy Cross, (Words: UMH 415) Sung to tune of GIFT OF LOVE, UMH 408
Preacher #3: Worship Calls Us to Justice—To live God’s love through our actions
Scripture Focus: Micah 6:8 (The Great Requirement)
What does justice embodied through the actions of a person look like? How about kindness and humility? I know there are people in every congregation who live out their call to discipleship through social action.
During the time of Micah, the people of Israel were doing a good job of worshiping God. In our context, they were the ones that we might call “active members.” They showed up for worship services most of the time. They received Holy Communion at least once a month. They attended Sunday school. They gave regularly to support the church. Maybe they were even in a small group or a member of United Methodist Women. They might even have volunteered in the nursery, or taught the children, or sung in the choir. They were not criminals (at least not the kind who got caught). They didn’t drink or gamble or cheat on their spouses. They took care of their families and paid their bills. They were, by all accounts, good church members.
But, the Lord says, it isn’t enough to be a good church member. If you show up for church every Sunday, but Monday through Friday you mistreat the people who work for you, then you are not doing what the Lord requires. If you refuse to speak out against injustice, or fail to advocate for those whose voices are oppressed, or if you actively engage in practices that cause harm to a group of people, then your life is not pleasing to God.
So it was to this kind of a situation to which Micah spoke a bold and prophetic word: The Lord God requires more than empty rituals. God desires God’s people not to just talk the talk, but to walk the walk, every day, in their own communities and as a witness to the wider world.
The third preacher should share a story (3-5 minutes) of something he or she does to live out Micah’s call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. It will be important to tell a single, clear and focused story that highlights how the action a person has taken relates to God’s call for justice, kindness, and humility.
Sung Reponse: What Does the Lord Require of Us, TFWS 2174
Preacher #4: Worship Calls Us to Evangelism: To go and take God’s love into the world
Scripture Focus: Matthew 28:19-20 (The Great Commission)
How is it that we mere mortals are able to go out into God’s world and make disciples by baptizing people into Christ’s holy church? What guides us as we go and take God’s love into the world?
The answer to this question is that we don’t do these things by our own power. It is only by the power of God working through the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to respond to Jesus’ commission on our lives. It is through the power of the Spirit that Jesus stays with us to help us, giving us the right words and teaching us the right way to bring his good news to the people we meet.
The final preacher should tell a story (3-5 minutes) in which he or she gives a specific example of how he or she shared God’s love with another person. Sometimes when we share our faith with people, they do not respond affirmatively; and the story that is told here need not have a “happy ending.” The important thing to hear is that it isn’t our job as Christians to convert a heart. That is God’s job. Our job is to share our faith in such a way that we communicate the joy and passion we have for being disciples of Jesus Christ. The heart of this final section of the sermon should be sharing of the person’s excitement about being a Christian. We go and take God’s love into the world because God first loved us, and we want to others to know that feeling of assurance. We give our testimony because we can’t help but want to share it with others! We don’t worship God in order to feed our own needs. We live our lives as an ongoing act of worshiping God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer!
Sung Response: Go Ye Go Ye into the World, TFWS 2239