Look, Lift Up Your Eyes, And See

Warfare, Containers, Harvest, Living Water, and the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws

By Justin Rossow

One of my favorite moments in the Gospels comes in John, chapter 4, right after the Samaritan woman at the well leaves her empty jug behind to share what she has seen about this Jesus guy:

So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.

John 4:28-35 (ESV)

“Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see …”

Jesus says the same thing three times in slightly different ways. I think it must have been important to Jesus. And I think it must have been easy for the disciples to get wrong. In fact, Jesus is asking the disciples to reorient, to re-calibrate, to put on Jesus-colored glasses and perceive the world differently.

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see … the fields are white for harvest.

Jesus wants to change their perception of reality at precisely the point where they are seeing and evaluating people who don’t know and follow Him.

I don’t think it is stating it too strongly to say that the disciples saw this Samaritan village as nothing less than enemy-occupied territory. They were of course products of their culture, and the Jewish/Samaritan animosity runs deep. We might catch a glimpse of their default position in the rather obscure little scene in Luke 9 when, after the Transfiguration, Jesus turns His face toward Jerusalem, and for that reason alone, He and His entourage are not welcome at the next Samaritan Motel 6.

The Sons of Thunder immediately jump to Shock and Awe: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?!”  You see, if Samaria is enemy-occupied territory, then acts of war seem like a reasonable response to provocation.

Pulled PorkIn this case, the disciples go on a reconnaissance mission to buy food, and they are somewhat aghast when Jesus says He already has food they know nothing about. I think we are supposed to imagine this Samaritan village has exactly one kosher drive-through, and the disciples have to go looking for it, knowing that their purity and therefore their identity was at stake. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Talmud says that food from the hand of a Samaritan is more unclean than swine flesh.

If these disciples had anything like that attitude hard-wired into their worldview, it’s no wonder they went on a trek to find a Jewish deli in enemy occupied territory! It’s no wonder they asked among themselves, “Did someone else bring Jesus something to eat?” I don’t think their question expresses shock at the hospitality of hostile enemies so much as shock that Jesus would eat the pulled-pork sandwich these enemies would probably have offered.

Only much later did the disciples come to understand that the teaching of Jesus declared all food to be clean, and even then it took a divine vision. At this point in the story, the food laws are the most obvious way to tell a Jew from a Samaritan. Crossing that boundary is a bridge too far.

IN and OUT, US vs. THEM

So we have an idea of the way the disciples saw the situation: there is an US and a THEM, with an IN and an OUT, and clear boundaries—like food laws—that must be defended. The outsiders are enemies, and rules of engagement apply.

And that’s the worldview Jesus wants to change. Emphatically, He says, Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see … the fields are white for harvest.

Harvest, bringing in valuable grain, giving thanks at the completion of time and labor, taking what is outside and joyfully bringing it in: that’s how Jesus wants His followers recalibrate their worldview.  A few verses earlier, Jesus has also talked about bringing salvation in terms of offering living water to drink.

The disciples look and see enemies and purity boundary infractions; Jesus sees harvest and offers living water. No wonder He has to say it three times! The disciples see the world very differently.

So how about us? When we evaluate the present and the future of our church, when we look at our situation, how do we see the people around us?

That’s not an easy question to answer. But the answer has to do with the missional heart of our Synod.

So I looked at the most recent Handbook of the LCMS (available at https://www.lcms.org/about/leadership/commission-on-handbook) to see how we talk about, how we perceive, how we frame people who don’t know and follow Jesus.

I have to admit, I didn’t do a thorough study. I simply looked at our expressed objectives, figuring that those at least should express clearly our heart for the ongoing kingdom work of Jesus in the world.

Here’s what I found.

Protection and Purity in Synod’s Goals and Objectives

The Objectives expressed in our Constitution begin by stating that the Synod shall “conserve and promote unity of the true faith” specifically by “providing a united defense.”

“Conserve” and “defense” are both protection, combat, rules of engagement kind of words that cast those who are different from us as enemies, at least to the extent that our true faith needs protecting and defending from them. The paradigm of “true faith” sets up a binary dichotomy of true and false, with a very clear delineation of those who are on the inside of the unity of the true faith and those who are on the outside, from whom those on the inside need protecting.

After one sentence, we are sounding more like the disciples with their concern for purity and their enemy mentality than I think we actually intend.

And those aren’t the only expressions that frame those who do not believe like us as either enemies or outsiders or both.

Article III section 6 says the Synod will provide resources to help congregations in “conserving and defending their confessional unity in the true faith.” Section 9 promises to “provide protection to congregations, pastors, etc.”

Likewise, Article II of our Articles of Incorporation, paragraph c., lists as one of our objectives and purposes to “protect member congregations and ministers of religion” while paragraph a. uses the container we are most familiar with, the human body, to define a very clear IN and OUT, with a very clear boundary line: “congregations that remain true to the Book of Concord of the year of our Lord 1580” are on the inside, and everyone else is on the outside, and we need to protect and defend our faith, our unity, our congregations, and our church workers from them.

In John 4, it seems to me that Jesus is combating a tendency in His disciples to automatically consider people who do not follow Him as outsiders and enemies from whom those on the inside must be protected so that they may remain in some sense pure.

As I read the way we express ourselves as an organization, I find a similar tendency to define others as outsiders from whom our faith and our people must be protected so they may remain safe, faithful, pure.

But perhaps that is not quite fair. Of course organizations, in defining themselves, will naturally use language that sets up a binary IN and OUT. I’m perhaps a little surprised at the defensive and protectionist language but again, to be fair, that’s not the only language our Handbook uses to describe the Missio Dei of which we are a part.

Article III of the Constitution paragraph 2 says we will “strengthen congregations and members in giving bold witness … and extend that Gospel witness into all the world.” Witness is certainly a good, biblical word … but I wonder if the setting of a “bold witness” asks us to imagine a hostile environment, where even those to whom we are giving a witness are primarily some kind of threat. If they were not a threat, why would a witness need to be bold? And “extending that Gospel witness into the all the world” just sounds kind of like military expansionism to me; but perhaps I am being overly sensitive.

The Purpose of the Synod as defined in our Bylaws is to assist congregations as they serve—well, first Jesus, and then His body, and finally the world: a world “which stands in need of the Word and the impact of his redeeming love.” So those outsiders are needy, and we know what they need, and we are going to impact them.  I can’t shake the image of airdropping care packages from a safe distance or hitting people over the head with a club labeled “redeeming love.”

Along with uniting and protecting, our Articles of Incorporation list as one of our objectives: “To spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world by every means possible.”  I think I like that way of putting it… though I am left wondering about the entailments of “spreading.” Does the Gospel spread like butter? Like wildfire? Like a disease? Like political influence?  I’m just not clear enough on the evaluations and expectations built into that metaphor to say whether it has military overtones or not.

Listen. I am not saying there is one right way, or that these are necessarily wrong ways to talk about our relationship with or attitude toward people who don’t know and follow Jesus. In fact, the Bible clearly uses designations of IN and OUT: there are sheep on the one hand and goats on the other; those inside the wedding banquet and those outside in darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth; both wheat and tares exist side by side in the field.

But note that these IN and OUT designations are not ones that we are invited to live by this side of eternity: the sheep are separated from the goats when the Son of Man comes in glory as judge; the wedding banquet is eschatological; our theology of the Invisible Church conforms to the Parable of the Wheat and Tares—you can’t pluck out the one without damaging the other, and in fact, you can’t even tell them apart … until the harvest.

Walking With

I think the best metaphor in our entire Constitution and Bylaws is the simply word Synod: “walking with” is exactly what Jesus does with people who don’t yet understand Him, people who do not yet believe in His atoning work or resurrection from the dead, people who constantly get their theology wrong, misunderstand His mission, and fail to grasp His promises.

Walking with.” Now that’s an approach to outsiders I could get on board with. That’s an approach to non-believers that sounds like Jesus spending two extra days in a Samaritan village because they asked Him to. “Walking with” could define a biblical, Christ-like attitude toward people who don’t pray or think or believe like we do.

But we hide “walking with” behind the Latin “Synod,”[1] and use it refer to our insider relationships, and then add objectives like “encouraging congregations to strive for uniformity in church practice” so that any walking with we are allowed to imagine is rank and file marching in lock step, defending their unity and using their bold witness to impact the world.

The language we use in our institutional documents matters. The way we talk about our objectives and purpose, the way we frame our relationship with people who do not yet know Jesus, carries along with it primary assumptions, inferences, expectations, values.

In John 4, Jesus uses the language of ripe harvest to describe what the disciples saw as enemy-occupied territory. Jesus uses the language of sharing living water with people the disciples assumed would make Him unclean. Jesus is sent by the Father, and His food is to bring about the Father’s will and do the Father’s work. The disciples are concerned that the food Jesus has will make Him unclean, unclean like those enemies and outsiders.

The Question Before Us

So my question for you is simple: what language should we use to describe our purpose and define our relationship with people who don’t know Jesus? I think defining non-believers as outsiders from whom our faith and our people must be protected hinders bringing about the Father’s will and doing the Father’s work. I’m not sure spreading the Gospel or giving bold witness is much of an improvement.

So what language should we use? White harvest, a bringing from the outside in rather than a spreading from the inside out? Living water, offering a drink to the thirsty rather than impacting the world?

I don’t know. But I think we need to find out. I think I can hear the voice of Jesus gently but firmly insisting: Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see. Jesus is inviting us to reorient, to re-calibrate, to put on Jesus-colored glasses and perceive the world differently.

Where we see enemy-occupied territory, He sees fields ripe for in-gathering. And if Jesus will teach us to see the world that way, then I am confident He will also teach us how to speak about our purpose, even in our Constitution and Bylaws, in ways that help other people see it that way, too.

[1] For more on the Latin (but mostly Greek) origin of the word “synod” as well as its interpretation as “walking with” or “assembly,” see https://justinrossow.com/does-synod-mean-walk-together/.

“Pulled pork”by sousvideguy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Airdrop photo by Melvin Heng from FreeImages


Test-Driving a New Sermon Structure

Trying something new for the first time is always a little uncomfortable.

Sermon structures are no different. The first time you test-drive a shiny new sermon structure, it’s easy to feel like you are slightly out of control. Your natural cadence, your expectations, your anticipation of what your hearers will do next, your flow–all of that gets thrown out the window and it’s easy to feel a little disoriented in the pulpit.

I know that. I’ve lived it. I’ve taught it. But I kind of forgot it.

I recently preached a sermon structure I had never used before. I chose a Relational Structure because it seemed to fit so well with what I was trying to accomplish that day in the hearts and lives of my hearers. I thought it fit the theme and the content of the sermon well. And I thought it would be good to try a structure that was new to me. After all, there are maybe a dozen or so different ways of organizing a sermon that I use fairly regularly, so I thought it would be *fun* to try something new.

That’s when I remembered: trying something for the first time is always a little uncomfortable. From the writing process to the delivery, this sermon was all uphill.

What I found most disconcerting was the actual experience of preaching. I discovered again that every preacher has a rhythm, an expectation, a give and take with the hearers. One reason you change sermon structures from week to week is so that the rhythm doesn’t become a rut. As soon as your hearers can time their pot roast by your sermon, or reach for their offering when you get to that standard phrase on page four, you’ve lost an important element of preaching.

So using a variety of forms is a service to your hearers. But using a new form is a special challenge for the preacher. Because the people don’t laugh where you expect them to. They become thoughtful at unusual times. Your internal clock that measures the time of the sermon and the Law/Gospel experience of the hearers feels like it has lost calibration.

It’s uncomfortable trying something for the first time. After worship I found I wasn’t even sure how the sermon had been received. I usually know when it feels like the sermon connected and when it feels like I didn’t quite get the message across. Thank God, sanctified ears still receive God’s Word even when I am not on my game. But this wasn’t a “bad” sermon; at least, I don’t think it was. And it didn’t feel like a “good” sermon, either. It just felt, well, different than I expected.

Which is really just what I should have expected. So next time you challenge yourself to try a new sermon structure in order to more faithfully proclaim God’s Word and more humbly serve your hearers, remember it ain’t easy. Expect it to feel different than you expected. And check out these six tips to help you screw up the courage to test-drive a different sermon structure.

Trying something new for the first time can be a little uncomfortable. But the payoff is huge. You and your hearers will both get more out your preaching ministry if you continue to add tools to your bag, one slightly uncomfortable sermon at a time.

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Mark Sermon Structures

By Justin Rossow

In 2015 we preached through the Gospel of Mark between January and Easter. And it was *awesome.*

Looking back over so many weeks in the same book of the Bible, following the same story line, preaching on the Gospel Lesson week after week after week, I am deeply grateful for the training I received in sermon structures, their variety and their purpose.

Though the development of a specific sermon structure is part of my own contribution to the field of homiletics–a structure labeled Metaphorical Movement by the sermon structure guru, David Schmitt–I found I didn’t resort to my favorite structure even once over the course of those months.

Instead, the dynamics of the text and of the message for the day shaped the form the sermon would take.

This variety in ways of proclaiming God’s work for us in Christ brought energy and vitality to my own experience of preaching. I didn’t get tired of saying the same thing over and over again. I looked forward to preaching week after week.

I didn’t get tired of saying the same thing over and over again.

And I got so much more out of Mark personally by highlighting recurring themes through the different methods available to me because of how I have been taught to approach the preaching task.

Preach itSo if you helped shaped me as a preacher, thank you!

And if you have been one of my hearers and encouraged me with your listening and support, thank you!

And if you are one of my staff partners who have prayed and processed and discussed and imagined and followed Jesus with me, thank you!

I truly love preaching, and you all are part of what I love about it!

And if you are a preacher wondering how to recapture a love for your own preaching ministry, consider how different sermon structures help bring out different aspects of any text or sermon experience. Challenge yourself to try something new at least once next month …

For the record, the sermons I preached between January and Easter had the following structures:

  • Jan 4, Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:1-13), Dynamic, Four Pages
  • Jan 11, Calling of the Disciples (Mark 1:14-28), Dynamic, Dialogical
  • Jan 25, Jesus Calms the Storm (Mark 4:35-41), Dynamic, Narrative, Lowry Loop
  • Feb 1, Raising Jairus’ Daughter (Mark 5:21-43), Thematic, Comparison/Contrast
  • Feb 8, Feeding of the 4,000/ Healing in 2 stages (Mark 8:1-26), Dynamic, Narrative, Epic Form
  • Feb 15, Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13), Dynamic, Four Pages

You can check out any of these sermons in the Prezi below. If you listen to several, you may notice that the dynamics of metaphor theory for preaching–Evoke the Source, Map to the Target, Test the Limits, and See Through a New Lens–are present within many of the sermons as I develop a moment of meditation.

But the STRUCTURE of these sermons order these moments of meditation, giving shape and direction to the progression of the sermon as a whole.

Instead of trying to do the same thing every week, these sermon structures allow me to preach both Law and Gospel in unique ways which flow from the unique texts I am preaching on–even when all of those texts are from the same Gospel!

If your preaching feels a little stale, check out different ways to Structure and Develop your sermons. It works for me!!

Mark Overview

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The 7 Tools for Development in Action

By Justin Rossow

Moments of MeditationWhen we preach, we make decision about how we are going to spend our time in the pulpit. Consciously or not, we choose how we are going to help the hearer create meaning out of the sermon. If you would like to be more intentional about how you shape the “moments of meditation” in your sermon, check out Retooling Your Sermon Development.

Here are some examples of the seven different methods of development from that blog in action. I’m sure you do many of these same things. The point isn’t how *awesome* these examples are; they are just ordinary moments in ordinary sermons. But they do evidence a variety of tools for preaching.

Your goal should not be to copy or even critique any of these examples. You don’t even have to like them. And yes, you could probably do better if you gave it some thought and effort.

That, I suppose, is the point of these examples: to encourage you to spend the thought and effort it takes to do something different in your sermon this week.

Whenever you try out a new tool, it will take longer and be more difficult than you think it should. That’s OK. The end product won’t be as good as you were expecting, either. That’s OK, too. You will probably need to work a new tool into your bag over time. In my experience, that effort is paid back in full: I preach better and my hearers listen better when I am intentional with how I develop a sermon. And it’s a lot more fun.

Whenever you try out a new tool, it will take longer and be more difficult than you think it should. That’s OK.

To help you identify and experiment with these tools, here are some examples to get you thinking in a new direction.

1. Narration

NarrationNarration puts an idea or experience into action and helps the hearers imagine what the sermon might look like it real life. Sometimes the narration is personal or historical; sometimes it is taken from fiction or created for the purpose of the sermon. Because there is such variety, the preacher will cue the hearers in on which kind of story this is (i.e. don’t tell someone else’s personal story as if it were your own, and don’t tell a fictional story as if it were real …).

Whatever the genre, narration expresses rising conflict over time that leads to a resolution. To avoid confusion, the resolution itself should tie directly to the experience and idea the preacher is conveying.

The following video segment (13:10-17:46) is taken from the end of a Frame and Refrain sermon I preached in Advent (you can read more about the sermon here). You can hear me set this story up as a fiction, and you will notice the story itself is nothing particularly heroic. Indeed, that’s part of the point: if we only ever tell heroic stories of faith, we risk leaving our hearers feeling like they just can’t connect with God’s Word in real life.

So I am making up a story that fits in the real life situation of my hearers. I build conflict over time–both in the back story and in the moment of confrontation–and the resolution is integral to the sermon itself. In fact, the resolution is stated in terms of the refrain used throughout the sermon: “It’s for me?!”

I also use a series of vivid details to help make the story concrete in the lives of the hearers. While too many details can bog down narration, every story needs enough multi-sensory details to allow the narration to form in the consciousness of the hearers.


2. Character

CharacterCharacter is obviously closely tied to narration. So what’s the difference? Even though the individual is probably embedded in a broader narrative, you are using Character as a method of development if the impact of the story–and therefore the meaning of this moment for reflection–is portrayed through the unique lens of an individual character.

The following is the text of the last scene of a Good Friday Tenebrae service. In fact, each of the seven worship moves in the Tenebrae service had been developed through the eyes of a particular character. The last scene–the entombment–is now viewed through the eyes of the Nicodemus character.

Character often focuses on a person’s response to an event and will often deal with an internal transformation as a result. Both of those features are included in this brief scene.

Nicodemus never expected a resurrection.

Well, that’s not quite correct: Nicodemus expected a resurrection of all the dead at the End of Time. But Jesus, raised all by Himself, in the middle of history? That wasn’t even a possibility.

So Nicodemus joins Joseph of Arimathea, another closet follower of the dead teacher. They carefully and lovingly prepare the body for burial.

The seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloe are supposed to cover up the stench of rotting flesh as the body decomposed. And next year, around Passover, Nicodemus planned on coming back to move the bones of Jesus to a place they would rest until the Last Day.

Nicodemus had hoped this Jesus would usher in the End Times reign of God. But that dream was as dashed and broken as the corpse he cradled in his arms.

Nicodemus must have remembered his clandestine visit to Jesus, under the cover of night, so none of his friends would find out.

What is it Jesus had said? “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”

This didn’t feel like life, eternal or otherwise. Now all Nicodemus has left to do is bury a dead body. But this time, he doesn’t do it at night. He doesn’t hide his devotion to Jesus. Nicodemus is beyond fearing the fallout for his faith.

With the death of Jesus, Nicodemus becomes a faithful, if confused, disciple.

So what does the death of Jesus mean for your life? Are you ready to follow Jesus a little more publically this week? Do you look for the resurrection of all the dead, or was the resurrection of Jesus enough for you?

What does it mean for your future, for the future of those you love, to know that Jesus became like us even in this way: His body rested for a time in a tomb?

Jesus was hidden away, removed from sight, His body planted in the ground, but only for a time. Tonight, and at every Christian burial, we lay our loved one to rest, knowing—because of Jesus—there is more to the story.

At this point in the service, the last candle still lit—the Christ Candle—was removed from view. In the darkness, the congregation heard the strepitus followed by a promise read from 1 Cornithians 15. The service did not conclude at this point, but rather continued with the celebration of the Resurrection.

3. Serial Depiction

Serial DepictionIn the same Frame and Refrain Advent sermon that closed with Narration, above, I also used Serial Depiction to develop part of the message for the hearers. In the selection below (the video starts at 9:40, but you’ll have to stop it at 12:17 yourself …), you will hear one main idea expressed in four scenes presented in quick succession. This moment of reflection is tied back to the movement of the sermon as a whole with the repetion of the sermon’s refrain, “It’s for me?!”

The main idea in this section of the sermon—that universal salvation is becoming concrete and particular—is repeated in each scene of the Serial Depiction. The scenes are also ordered intentionally, moving from the kitchen sink to a bedroom, and then from an Advent devotion to the experience of communion in worship. The variety of contexts given briefly one after another is the identifying feature of Serial Depiction.

Usually, Serial Depiction will require more than just a couple of sentences for each scene; this example is on the short side when it comes to development. But as always, the context of the sermon determines how these methods are put into practice: at this point in this sermon, a more truncated Serial Depiction seemed appropriate. At other times you may wish to extend these scenes to add a more robust move to a sermon.

What sets Serial Depiction apart from Narration, Character, or Image, however, is the sense of momentum the multiple examples provide. When the scenes do become more detailed and drawn out, pay close attention to how they fit together and build on one another; otherwise you just end up with a series of short narrations.

continued on the next page

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A Tale of Two Easters

Preachers sometimes find themselves saying the same thing over and over again. Regardless of the text or day, they feel like they are running the proclamation of the Word through the same theological ringer week after week. Yearly celebrations of the same festival can magnify that feeling: I’ve preached Easter and Resurrection 15 years in a row—what is there left to say?

If the preacher feels that way, you can imagine what the congregation is thinking …

Heresy has killed its thousands; boredom its tens of thousands.

How, then, do preachers tell the old, old story in new and engaging ways not only when the theme varies from week to week, but when the primary focus stays the same from year to year? How do you preach Easter or Good Friday or Transfiguration or Christmas or the Baptism of Our Lord again and again and again without feeling like every liturgical festival is Groundhog’s Day?

One primary answer has to do with sermon structures.

I preached the two sermons below at St. Luke, Ann Arbor on consecutive Easter Sundays. While the primary texts differ, the focus remains the same: the resurrection of Jesus and the reality of death and resurrection in the lives of the hearers.

Although both sermons say some of the same things, they feel very different. The emphasis of the content has changed because the presentation of the content has shifted. In spite of very similar themes, the difference in sermon structure changes the experience of the sermon.

Easter Sermon 1: Four Pages Structure

In 2013, St. Luke was just coming to grips with the fact that one of our long-time and well-loved staff members was not going to recover from his recently diagnosed brain cancer. Such a sudden and public terminal illness in the congregation made the law of our own mortality a very palpably part of our life together.

When I went to write my sermon for Easter, I began with this experience of the hearers: I wanted to use the text and the day to speak Gospel into that lived experience of Law.

David Schmitt suggests that every Lutheran sermon will weave four threads together to make the work of art that is the preaching event: Textual Exposition, Theological Confession, Evangelical Proclamation, and Hearer Interpretation. (You can read Schmitt’s excellent article “The Tapestry of Preaching,” here.)

While we regularly begin the preaching task by considering the text, there are times when we start with the experience of the hearers and work our way back into the text, our theological framework, and the preaching of the Gospel. In this sermon, I began with the experience of the hearers and wove the other three threads into the sermon.

So the people are facing the death of a loved one in a very real and tangible way. Easter is the answer to that experience of the Law. But how to make sure this Resurrection sermon doesn’t sound like a reheated version of last year’s pancake breakfast?

To keep that Easter sermon fresh I borrowed language from a new song we were just learning as a congregation; and I paid close attention to the structure of the preaching event.

In Lent of 2013 we were just learning Kip Fox’s compelling song, “This Dust.” The refrain captures the essence of what I wanted the Easter sermon to do.

Death is all around us;
We are not afraid.
Written is the story:
Empty is the grave.

That refrain, repeated throughout the song, served as the hook for the whole sermon. It shaped the way I phrased both Law and Gospel. It helped add connective tissue and thematic unity. It named two of the worst enemies of God’s people—fear and death—and provided the antidote to both—Jesus’ empty grave.

Armed with this phrase, I still had to decide how I would structure the sermon. In the end, I decided that the trouble and grace expressed in this refrain matched well a structure that expressed the trouble and grace in the text and in the lives of my hearers.

This dynamic sermon structure is often called the Four Pages, not because it’s limited to four sheets of paper, but because there are four distinct moves in the sermon. You can read more about Paul Scott Wilson’s The Four Pages of a Sermon here, but the four basic moves are:

  • Trouble in the Text
  • Trouble in the World
  • Grace in the Text
  • Grace in the World

These four movements can come in any order within the sermon for different effect. Weaving together Fox’s refrain with Wilson’s structure, I got this sermon outline:

  • Trouble in the Text: death was all around the disciples and they faced fear.
  • Grace in the Text: the disciples learned the end of the story—empty is the grave!
  • Trouble in the World: death is all around us and we face fear.
  • Grace in the World: we know the end of the story—empty is the grave!

The words from the song provided unity, but these four movements structured the sermon as a whole. The structure, in turn, shapes and enables the experience of the Law of death and the Gospel of resurrection. The theme is certainly not unique, but the structure expresses the theme in a unique way.

You can listen to the sermon below or read the last draft of the sermon manuscript here.  You can also read an interview with Kip Fox about This Dust here.

Easter Sermon 2: Metaphor Structure

Easter of 2014 came at the end of a Lenten sermon series called The Season of the Cross. We were just finishing a look at different crosses (Anchor Cross, Jerusalem Cross, Ankh Cross, etc.) and we wanted to keep with the theme by talking about the meaning behind a symbol for Easter.

Our preaching team decided to focus on the Easter Lily as a symbol for resurrection. Preaching on that symbol connected Easter worship to the Lenten series on the symbolism of different crosses.

easter-lilyIn terms of the Four Threads, the sermon began with Evangelical Proclamation: because I knew I wanted to preach the Gospel in terms of an Easter lily, I shaped the Textual Exposition, Theological Confession, and Hearer Interpretation accordingly. Of course, the Easter Lily connects directly to themes of death and resurrection, so it fits well with the theme for the day.

Notice that this second sermon deals with some of the very same themes as the first. Perhaps every Easter will deal with death and resurrection as part of the Law and Gospel proclamation. But changing the structure that gives rise to the preaching event changes the experience of the hearers.

Instead of working with the Four Pages structure, I chose to take advantage of the metaphorical potential of the Easter Lily symbol and structure the sermon according to the Metaphor Design. You can read up on this design here.

Briefly, the Metaphor Design takes the basic dynamics of metaphor interpretation and uses them to structure the experience of the sermon. The four moves of this kind of sermon are:

  • Evoke the Source
  • Map to the Target
  • Test the Limits
  • See Through a New Lens

Using these basic dynamics of metaphor, I crafted the sermon that explored the dynamics of an Easter lily and its relationship to a bulb and used that dynamic to look at both the text and the lives of the hearers. All four threads of the tapestry of preaching are present; the structure of the loom as changed.

This Easter sermon felt very different because it was shaped in a very different way. The structure of this Easter sermon was something like this:

  • Evoke the Source: bring the experience and knowledge of bulbs and lilies to mind.
  • Map to the Target: the dead body of Jesus is like the bulb, the New Creation, Resurrection body of Jesus is like the full-grown flower.
  • See Through a New Lens: interpret the text through the logic of bulb/flower (continuity and discontinuity; hard to believe if you didn’t know better; end result is much more alive).
  • Map to the Target: our bodies/lives are like bulbs, our New Creation, Resurrection bodies/lives will be the full-grown flower.
  • See Through a New Lens: interpret our lives through the logic of bulb/flower.
  • Test the Limits: Unlike a lily, we already experience the promise of the New Creation flower even as experience life as a bulb.

The logic of the image is central in this design. The contrast between the bulb and the flower and the inherent relationship between the two is the primary dynamic of the image and of the sermon.

You can watch the final product here:

Though both of these sermons were preached on Easter and both dealt with the dynamics of death and resurrection, the experience of each sermon is very different. This variety of expression arises from the diversity of structure: shaping the progression of the sermon over time will shape the way the hearers experience the sermon.

If two sermons on the same festival with the same theme can end up sounding so different, it stands to reason that changing the structure from week to week will also allow for a variety of expression and experience. Conversely, using the same structure week after week will lead to stagnation, even if the theme and focus change from Sunday to Sunday.

The more sermon structures you are aware of as a preacher, the greater potential for variety you have available.

If all you have is ketchup, everything tastes like a hamburger.

The tale of these two Easter sermons is simple: changing the structure of the sermon changes the experience of the hearers. Preachers can use that insight to help their preaching ministry stay fresh and engaging for their hearers. (And sermon variety is a lot more fun for the preacher, too!)



Night Vision Goggles and Blended Spaces

One of my favorite Super Bowl ads is also a good example not only of metaphor theory in advertising, but of a phenomenon called “mental space blending.” Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner developed the theory of cognitive blending in their book The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities For my money, I prefer the explanation in Bonnie Howe’s excellent Because You Bear This Name: Conceptual Metaphor and the Moral Meaning of 1 Peter. I would recommend either of those books; or, you can just watch the ad, below.

There is metaphor at work in this add, but there is also mental space blending going on. Before we can make the move to how happy Geico customers are (happier than antelope with night-vision goggles), we are presented with a fictive scenario in which antelope do things they would not “normally” be expected (or able) to do. What’s going on? From a blend theory perspective, we are reasoning and imagining from within a blended space, a combination of two distinctly different realities that combine to form a new, third thing that opens new possibilities.

Night-vision goggles can be worn by people (people who can also do other things, like talk, taunt opponents, etc.). Antelope are attacked by lions, sometimes at night. Combine these two “mental spaces”–basic scenarios and what we know about how they work–and you get the reality presented in the ad: antelope, hunted by  a lion, at night, with night-vision goggles, talking to each other and taunting their opponent. Couldn’t happen in reality, but in the blend we can easily imagine the kinds of things they would say.

This kind of blending occurs in our everyday experience all the time; so often, in fact, that we rarely notice it. Talking antelope is a little extreme, but any time you think through what could happen, or might have happened, or would happen if, you are using mental space blending to draw conclusions and set up expectations.

In the case of the Geico Super Bowl ad, the blend itself isn’t a metaphor; we aren’t thinking about hunting in terms of night-vision-enhanced warfare. Instead, we are asking to consider the good life of the antelope in the blended space and map that good life onto the domain of Geico customers. I know–it’s a bit of a stretch, and the Geico people know it, too, which is why the end is set up as a Vaudeville scene. This add has more to do with slap stick humor than marketing.

All the same, a metaphor is involved. In fact, this particular metaphor demonstrates an interesting wrinkle in metaphor theory: sometimes development is higher than the correspondence. DEVELOPMENT is simply how much is explicitly said in the metaphor; CORRESPONDENCE refers to how many or how few elements map from the source to the target domain (relatively).

Typically, the more that is said about a metaphor, the more things are intended to map. Sometimes, lots of stuff maps even though little explicit development is given. Even more rarely, the author or speaker goes on and on, even though very little actually maps from the source to the target.

This last situation–low correspondence with high development–is sometimes called an Epic or Homeric metaphor, named of course for Homer. A classic example comes from the Iliad, book 8:

Many a fire before them blazed;
As when in heaven the stars about the moon
Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,
And every height comes out, and jutting peak
And valley, and the immeasurable heavens
Break open to their highest, and all the stars
Shine, and the shepherd gladdens in his heart.

Homer’s metaphor here is simply that the campfires of the assembled army looked like the stars, but he gets kind of caught up in the moment, and ends up talking even about what the shepherd feels when he looks up into the sky on a star-lit night. Way more development here than correspondence.

My favorite biblical example comes from Psalm 133:1-2.

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.

Again, what is said about the source domain far out-paces what is intended to map onto the target; the moment of unity is like the sacred moment of anointing. But why talk about Aaron and his beard and his collar? The details of the image are simply richer than the mapping they convey. The details add depth and an experiential component, but they are certainly not intended to map en masse. 

In a way, that’s what’s going on in the Geico ad: the mapping seems to be confined to something like, Geico customers are happy in the same way antelope with night-vision goggles are happy (they are also smart, clever, a cut above the rest . . .). The mini-narrtive that arises in the blended space of talking antelope taunting a lion is more development than we are supposed to map; it adds depth, emotion, and humor, but we aren’t supposed to imagine Geico customers taunting their adversaries.


So this commercial is a good example of mental space blending and an example of an Epic metaphor, when the development is higher than the correspondence. It also makes me think of 1 Peter 5:8 (“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion …”) and Luther’s suggestion that “the best way to drive out the devil . . . is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”

Of course, that would be mapping the Source Domain (the blend of antelope and night-vision goggles) onto a different Target Domain (the Christian’s struggle with temptation rather than the Geico customer’s happiness), but it just might work. I wonder if I could use that in a sermon some day . . .

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Does Synod Mean Walk Together??

By Justin Rossow

I was recently presenting at a gathering of pastors when we went down a brief rabbit trail of a discussion regarding our English word “synod” (as in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod). I thought I was always taught that “synod” came from the Latin for “walking with,” while the other pastor pointed out that “synod” came from the Greek and meant, “assembly.”

Obviously, there is a difference between those meanings and, more importantly, between what those meanings invite us to expect from or imagine about our Synod, so I thought I would chase that rabbit a little farther down the hole to see how far it went.

According to Merriam-Webster, our English word “synod” comes from the Middle English “sinod,” which in turn comes from the Late Latin “synodus,” from the Late Greek “synodus,” derived from synodos, a combination of the Greek syn- or “with” and hodos, which means “way” or “journey.”[1] (So “synod” does come from Latin; it just came from Greek first …)


A little further digging revealed that the Greek noun synodos does not appear in the NT, though in other ancient literature it does mean something like, “where the road comes together,” and therefore, “an assembly.” The assembly in question could be a council (or clandestine group) meeting to plan or make decisions, but opposing armies can also experience synodos as they come together to fight, or lovers can experience synodos as they … well … join their roads together …[2]

On the other hand, the Greek NT does use the verb synerchomai (syn– [with] + erchomai [to journey]). Synerchomai can mean “assemble,” with the same kind of “come together” sense of synodos. However, the verb can also mean “accompany.” We use related words in English to mean those two different things: we can “come together” (assemble) or “go together” (accompany). Greek uses one verb to get at both meanings. So in Mark 14, all the chief priests, the elders, and the teachers of the law synerchomai for Jesus’ trial. But Jesus can also synerchomai with the Emmaus Road disciples in Luke 24. Those disciples weren’t meeting to vote or fight; they were traveling along the same road together.

Interestingly, the NT does use synodeuō (the verb related to synodos) exactly once, for the men traveling with Paul on the Damascus Road. Damascus Road, Emmaus Road, traveling with, taking the show on the road.


So does our word “synod” mean “walking with?” Or is it “an assembly?” It might depend on whether we come or go together. I think the “walking with” interpretation of the Latin “synod” from the Greek synodos is a clear example of relying on the verbal root of an event noun, a fairly standard way of establishing external entailments;[3] score one for Walking With. At the same time, the Greek noun synodos came to designate “an assembly” rather than “a journey together” as “come together” took precedence over “go together” in common parlance over time; score one for Assembly.

All of that etymology still leaves me wondering, when is the Missouri Synod a “synod?” I’ve heard some discussion of that, even at the District level. The Synod is certainly synod at convention, when we assemble to vote and discuss and speak with one voice. If you want to know Synod’s official position on anything, you have to go to the express will of the Assembly. In that sense, the Missouri Synod is a political entity bound together by the decisions its members made together, kind of like the Southern Baptist Convention (Latin con- [with] + venire [to come or go]) or the Assemblies of God (Latin ad- [to or toward] and similis [resemble, be similar]).[4]

But my hope is that Synod is also “synod” not only at convention, but as we journey together, as your congregation and mine and their pastors and other members of the Traveling-With group (the NT word for caravan or traveling company is synodia)—as we keep following Jesus and he keeps leading us forward. I would much prefer to think of us as a group of people headed in the same direction rather than a group of people assembled to vote on stuff.

On this journey, we will have “Avengers, assemble!” moments, where we need to experience synodos as a group before we experience synodos with the enemy armies of spiritual forces leading people away from Jesus and his Gospel. But we also want to synodeuō, travel the road together, join the Great Caravan of the faithful, pilgrim people of God and enjoy the journey, together.

There’s more we could say about “synod” and the concept of “dead metaphor” and the lexicalization of metaphor over time, but I shall refrain from that discussion in the interest of brotherly love and affection.


For now, I would just like to wonder if—or perhaps better, pray that—in an election year, when we are set to “come together” down in Tampa to be Synod, we might also find a way to leave Tampa and “go together,” as we follow Jesus down his road of cross and resurrection, on a joint journey of discovery, into a world where the Spirit still works and the harvest is still ripe and ready to be brought in.

What if we imagined ourselves as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synodia?

Grant this, Lord, unto us all.


[1] See https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/synod.

[2] See http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dsu%2Fnodos2

[3] See especially chapter 8 of James W. Voelz, What Does This Mean? Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Post-Modern World (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), 2nd ed.

[4] When it comes to denominations, the metaphor you use matters. (Ironically, the English word “denomination” is related to the Latin denominatio, which means “to use metonymy…”)

Green Man Crossing photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels
Capital Building photo by Randy mcwilson from FreeImages
Group Hiking photo by Guduru Ajay bhargav from Pexels


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Be Jesus: 42 Seconds Sermon Notes 4 of 4

42 Seconds 800x600-week 4

Editor’s Note: This resource supports preachers and congregations in the use of the book 42 Seconds: The Jesus Model for Everyday Interactions by Carl Medearis. You can visit the 42 Seconds Resource page at justinrossow.com to see more. 

The Big Idea

Jesus is absolutely unique. And, in the power of the Spirit, you are absolutely like him.

The Goal

That the hearers recognize the places they are not like Jesus so that they more fully embrace their vocation of “being Jesus” to the people around them.

The Big Problem

We claim Jesus without knowing Jesus. We think of Jesus’ activity as being beyond us. We have the Spirit, but don’t think, talk, act, pray, believe as if Jesus were present in us for the world.

The Big Promise

Jesus, the unique Spirit-bearer and Lamb of God, uniquely restores your relationship with God, so that you now also receive and bear his Spirit for the sake of others.

Quotable Quotes

Jesus “actually invites us to the same kind of deep, connected knowing of himself that he had with his father” (124). “We will follow (Jesus) right into the humility of dependence” (137).

Readings for Worship

Joel 2:28-32      The Pentecost promise of the Spirit.

Ephesians 3:14-21  The Spirit causes Christ to dwell in you by faith.

John 14: 8-20   In dependence on the Father, Jesus promises the Spirit and sends the disciples.

Sermon: Comparison/Contrast Structure

The directive to “be Jesus” automatically sets up a kind of comparison between Jesus and the people who are asked to talk, think, live, and love like he did. The Comparison/Contrast structure lets the sermon address ways we are not like Jesus in order to help the hearers see the ways in which we are. In this case, the sermon moves from part to part, rather than from whole to whole; the ways we are like and not like Jesus are considered one at a time rather than all together.

The images used in the sermon develop the comparison/contrast structure rather than providing the shape of the sermon itself. In other words, the dynamic of comparison and contrast drives the sermon forward; the images add depth along the way. For more on the Comparison/Contrast structure see: https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/comparisoncontrast/.

Sermon Outline

A. Jesus receives the Spirit (and so do I)
Like Jesus at his baptism and the disciples at Pentecost, I receive and carry the Spirit, although Jesus is uniquely the anointed Messiah.

B. Driven by the Spirit, Jesus brings the Kingdom in intimate dependence on the Father (and so do I)
The foot washing is just one example of Jesus serving in the power of the Spirit and under the authority of the Father. Jesus invites us into intimate knowing as well as active dependence.

C. Jesus lives the human life the way God intended humans to live (and so do I, except …)
Jesus lived his life as a human being filled with the Spirit. Jesus was in a human culture and crossed cultural divides, like with the woman at the well. I also live out my calling as a Spirit-filled human, though imperfectly.

D. Jesus is the sinless atonement for all sin (and I need that)
As true God and true man, Jesus’ unique job description at the cross was to be the Lamb of God and carry away my sin in a way I never could. Discipleship also includes bearing your cross daily, but not as payment for sin.

Conclusion: Jesus is absolutely unique and, in the power of the Spirit, you are absolutely like him.

Prayer for the Week

Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus, fill me again today. Drive me back to dependence on Jesus; cultivate in me a longing for his word; make Jesus present to me, and make Jesus present through me to the world around me.

Lord Jesus, pour out your Spirit on me again today. Share with me the same kind of intimate connection you have to the Father. As you were sent out, send me out; as you served with humility, invite me into the humility of dependence.

Heavenly Father, hear the prayers of your Spirit for me again today. Expand your kingdom and glorify your name in me and through me. As your cherished child, I commit my day to your service and to your glory. Amen.

The Sermon

The full manuscript is available here, or you can watch the sermon, below.

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Sermon 2: Be Present

Sermon 2 of 4: Be Present, by Justin Rossow (Multiple Story Structure)

The sermon notes for this manuscript are available here.


Much grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God, our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

I want to share three stories with you today. The first comes from Mark Chapter 10. It’s the story of that rich young man who comes to Jesus. It’s a story that helps us understand what it means to be vulnerable and, therefore, open to Authentic Relationships. And ultimately, it’s a story that points us back to a Dependence on Jesus.

And then I want to tell you a little more about a woman, a PHD researcher and storyteller named Brené Brown. She has one of the five most-viewed TED talks of all time. And she did her research right at that intersection of vulnerability and Connection through Authentic Relationships.

And then I want to go back to something I talked to you about last Sunday: the conversation I had with a woman in our lobby during the middle of the week—just kind of a random conversation on a random day, but a moment that seemed to me to express what it meant to be open to somebody. But, as it turns out, I think it also gets at what Paul is talking about in the 2nd Corinthians passage for today, that we have been made “ambassadors for Christ.” That God himself is “making his appeal through us.” So I want to revisit that story again, in light of this second section of Carl’s book.

A. Jesus being truly present to the rich young man in Mark 10

So the first story comes from Mark Chapter 10. Jesus is leaving the area in which he has been teaching and performing miracles and preaching sermons, and this guy falls on his knees in front of him and says, “Rabbi, Good Rabbi, what must I do to be saved?”

And Jesus doesn’t give the typical response that a good Rabbi would have given in his day. He doesn’t give the 12-step approach to each of the commandments, how you might fulfill those commandments better and then, therefore, be truly one of his disciples.

Instead Jesus rattles off a list of the Ten Commandments. And did you notice, he didn’t even get them all? He missed some important ones in the beginning about having no other gods and having no other idols in your life, about honoring God’s name and hallowing the Sabbath day. And he even leaves a couple off at the end, too. Did you catch that? It’s the coveting ones that Jesus kind of omits.

He gives probably the middle 6 or 7. Which Jesus says is probably a good place to start. And the rich young man says “Yeah, of course. I’ve been not murdering all my life. What else do you have for me?”

And then the text says something really specific and fundamentally important for us. The text says Jesus “looked at the man and loved him.” He gave him a hard look. He sized him up. He actually set aside his own agenda, his own traveling plans, his own preaching schedule, and he sees this man in front of him; and he looks at him, and he sees him for who he truly is.

And because he looks at him as an individual, and knows him as an individual, and loves him as an individual, Jesus invites this man into discipleship. It’s the same discipleship call that he gave to James, or Peter, or John that caused them to leave their fishing nets. It’s the same discipleship call that caused Matthew to leave his tax-collecting booth.

And yet Jesus also has something very specific for this specific man and this specific situation. Jesus sees what is getting in the way of an ongoing relationship with him, so he tells this rich young man, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. And, then come follow me.”

I like to think if this rich young man had responded the way the tax collector and the fishermen had, we would have figured out a way to have thirteen apostles instead of twelve. But he doesn’t. He goes away sad because he had much wealth.

I want to note a couple of things about that interaction with Jesus. The first is that Jesus himself is actually being open and vulnerable to this man. He is putting himself on the line. He is making an invitation; a really difficult invitation that Jesus knows full well is likely not to be received.

Jesus risks rejection from this young man in order to be open to Authentic Relationship with him. Jesus is vulnerable in a way that actually leads to the possibility of Authentic Relationship.

And that is precisely what the rich young man was not willing to do. You see, his money in the bank was what gave him a sense of security, a sense of belonging, a sense of confidence and stability. He wasn’t willing to become so vulnerable that he could only become dependent on Jesus. That was a price that was too high to pay. So because he is not willing to be vulnerable, he is not going to be able to enter into an authentic relationship with Jesus. At least not at this point.

You know the disciples are understandably amazed and surprised when Jesus says, “Man, it’s hard for rich people to get into heaven, to get into the Kingdom!” The disciples are taken back. I mean, if this guy who has not been murdering since he was a boy–if this guy who is obviously doing something right, because God has blessed him with his financial resources—if this guy can’t be saved, well then how can anyone be saved?

And Jesus doesn’t let the disciples off the hook. He doesn’t say, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” He doesn’t say, “Well, yeah, this was a special case.” Jesus actually makes it worse. Jesus admits, not only is it hard for someone who has money to actually trust and depend on him, he says it is outright impossible. “With man it is impossible.”

And then comes the sentence that gives me hope for that young man because it gives me hope for me. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.”

That’s the first story. It helps us see how Jesus made himself vulnerable in order to enter into a relationship, and how, without dependence on Jesus, that relationship isn’t possible in an ongoing way. In fact, for us it is not possible at all. And yet, Jesus promises, all things are possible for God.

B. Brené Brown’s story about vulnerability.

[You can find the whole TED Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o Published 3 Jan 2011.]

That connection between vulnerability and openness is something that the PHD researcher and storyteller Brené Brown actually spent her career exploring. It became deeply personal for her as well.

At one point in her TED Talk, she says:

“… you know how there are people that, when they realize that vulnerability and tenderness are important, that they surrender and walk into it. A: that’s not me, and B: I don’t even hang out with people like that. For me, it was a yearlong street fight. It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.”

You see what started for Dr. Brown as a one-year research project on connection became a six-year research project on vulnerability. Based not only on her depth of research, but on her own personal experience, Brené Brown shares several insights into the relationship between vulnerability and connection that I think applies to our conversation for today.

Dr. Brown tells us that one of the ways we avoid vulnerability is to “make everything that’s uncertain certain.” We take anything that is messy in our life and try to clean it up. We take anything that is maybe open-ended or complex, and we try to simplify it. We take everything that is uncertain and make it certain. Brown says:

“Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty: I’m right—you’re wrong—shut up. That’s it. Just certain.

“The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame.

You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort…”

I was struck by her reference to religion.

Do you know the kind of theological discussion she is describing? Have you seen them play out on Facebook? Have you maybe joined in on one on Twitter? Do you typically take the, “I’m right—you’re wrong—shut up” position when talking to someone who doesn’t fully agree with you on every aspect of your faith?

I am not suggesting that we should practice doubt a little bit more in our lives, or that somehow you should be less certain about the promises that you have in Jesus, or even that the theology we believe, teach, and confess is not solid and sure.

I do not want you to be less certain, but I do want to notice the fact that when we shut down a conversation with a pat answer, even if it is a correct answer—if we shut a conversation down with a pat answer, we have lost the opportunity to actually see the person in front of us, to hear what they are thinking and what they are going through. We lose the chance to be vulnerable and then, therefore, open to connection with the real person in front of us. And one thing I am convinced of when I read the story of Jesus is that connection in an authentic relationship is absolutely essential when talking to someone about following him.

It’s not like theology is not important, but having good theology AND an open and authentic relationship with the real person in front of you is absolutely essential if you want to talk to them about Jesus.

Brené Brown continues to describe how we try to avoid vulnerability. She says we try to make everything look perfect:

“And we perfect, most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, ‘Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect — make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh grade.’ That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, ‘You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.’ That’s our job. …”

I love how Brené puts it: You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging. That’s what I want to say to my kids. That’s what I want to say to my church. That’s what I want my church to say to their pastor.

Ultimately, I think that’s what Jesus wants to say to you today: “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.

Jesus—do you get that?—Jesus thinks you are worthy of love and belonging.

Just as he looked at that messed up young man who is outwardly perfect but confused, and loved him just as he was, in the same way Jesus looks at you and your life and your mess, and your priorities, and your beauty, and your sin, and your shame, and he knows you and he loves you and he is fully present for you.

Jesus makes himself vulnerable again to you today. He knows you might reject his invitation. He knows you might walk off, because you have done it before. But he makes himself open to you again and invites you into a deeper relationship with him. He takes that risk because he thinks you’re worth it.

Jesus thinks you are worthy of love and belonging.

Dr. Brown ends her TED talk with a list of things we can do to experience a more authentic relationship and connection in our life. She says:

“This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee …

“And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, ‘I’m enough,’ then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”

If Dr. Brown’s research is right, if being able to say, “I am enough,” is what it takes to connect authentically with other people, if being able to say, “I am enough,” is what is essential to being open and vulnerable, then there’s no reason why we, as followers of Jesus, can’t be the most authentically connected and vulnerably open people on the face of the planet.

You want to know if you are enough, just the way you are? You want to know if you are enough, even with all your failures and your past history and personality defects?? You want to know if you, as an individual, are enough??? JESUS THINKS YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE AND BELONGING.

On your own, you don’t have to be good enough or popular enough or promoted enough. Jesus died for you. Jesus rose for you. Jesus forgives you. Jesus is shaping you for his use in his kingdom. Jesus thinks you are worthy of love and belonging. And that is enough to make you know you have a place. You have a place where you now have no doubt whether you belong or not. You can be confident in that love, not in your love and not in mine, but in his. Jesus thinks you are worthy of love and belonging.

And when you then begin to connect authentically with other people from that place of confidence, from knowing that Jesus died for you and, therefore, you matter—when you approach people with that confidence, when you are open to them, when you make yourself vulnerable, when you risk loving someone else or being kind to them even though they may not show love or kindness in return, when you risk that kind of vulnerability in order to enter into a real relationship, then you are following in the footsteps of Jesus, who loved this messed up world all the way to the cross.

Jesus made himself vulnerable, even to death on a cross, that he might be truly present for you. Do you want to know if you are enough? Jesus went to the cross because he wanted an eternal relationship with you. You can take that to the bank.

C. Jesus present in your attention to others, as if God were making his appeal through us.

If you have been reading around in this 42 Seconds book this week then you’ve heard Carl Medearis say some things like: My new strategy, aligned a bit more with Jesus, is to exhibit patient listening in real-life conversations that go wherever the person and God want them to go” (65).

It kind of reminds me of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, Life Together: We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God” (99).

And all of that makes me think again of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, where he says, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were making his appeal through us: be reconciled to God.”

And while that is in the contexts of a founding pastor with his kind of struggling congregation, I think Paul would also admit that the ministry of the baptized is a ministry of reconciliation, that when you are in your workplace or your family or your neighborhood, you are the ones sent by God as ambassadors through Christ, that God is making his appeal through you in your everyday, ordinary lives.

And that helps me to understand the story I told you last week a little bit better. Remember, I told you I had a conversation with a woman, and it had kind of a rocky start because I didn’t really want to be in conversation with her, and I’m not sure she wanted to be in conversation with me, but we somehow ended up talking.

I had to make a conscious decision whether I was going to be open to her or not, whether I was going to take time out of my agenda with her, whether I was going to let go of sermon preparation in order to have a conversation with this woman.

I had to decide to be open to her. But once I did, then I found something take place that I wasn’t prepared for. Remember I said to her: “You know, whenever I have trouble sleeping, it is usually because I have a lot on my mind.”

Looking back, I realized that I was actually being vulnerable to her in that moment. I was letting her know that I sometimes have trouble sleeping, because I have a lot on my mind.

I know it was a small crack, just a little openness; it was a small dose of vulnerability, but she responded in kind. Because when I said that, she responded by telling me about her husband who is already living in Ohio and the 4 kids that she was taking care of while they were trying to sell their house. And about the 4 moves in 5 years and how that had been difficult for her. She took my invitation to vulnerability and opened herself up even more.

So maybe that is why it seemed natural for me to invite her into prayer, to say, “Hey, could we pray about that right now?” I mean it seemed a little bit risky, and I am not in the habit of asking people I have never seen before if I can pray for them, but it seemed natural at the time.

I think what was going on was that, as I was listening to that woman, Jesus was present, that Jesus himself was listening to that woman through me. I think that Jesus was hearing her struggle, that Jesus was sharing in her pain, that Jesus was opening his heart to this woman by opening my heart to her, as well.

So when I prayed for her, when I asked her to pray, it was no longer just me on my own trying to do the best I could to be a good pastor and Jesus-follower, but it was the Spirit of Jesus himself, the one who intercedes with groans that are too deep for words. It was the words of the Spirit of Jesus that he prayed through me for that person.

Because I found myself not praying a little prayer I had written down and had in my pocket – just in case. I didn’t pray something out of the Lutheran Service Book. I didn’t pray a pre-made prayer, but I simply spoke words from my heart for that person through Jesus. And I think the Spirit was active in that moment, praying for her as well.


So this week, as you encounter the people around you, as you kind of try to figure out what it means to be just a little bit vulnerable or open to someone, would you please imagine what it might be like, would you look for an opportunity, will you be aware of the Spirit active in you? Because the Spirit is active through you, as well.

Will you look for a conversation where you can say something that feels a little risky, where you can make an invitation that might be turned down, where you can invite someone into prayer even though the response might be, “Are you crazy? Are you one of those Christian folk?”

Would you look for a time when you can be open, when you can be vulnerable, when you can take a next step into a relationship with someone in your life because that is what Jesus is inviting you to do?

Will you join me in trying to practice Carl’s non-strategy strategy, to be open to real life conversations with the person in front of you and let that conversation go wherever that person and the Holy Spirit want the conversation to go?

Because I think you will find that, because Jesus is truly present for you, Jesus is truly present through you, for the sake of the people around you.



Editor’s Note: This resource supports preachers and congregations in the use of the book 42 Seconds: The Jesus Model for Everyday Interactions by Carl Medearis. You can visit the 42 Seconds Resource page at justinrossow.com to see more. 

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42 Seconds Bible Study

By Justin Rossow

Often, but not always, our Sunday morning bible class shares the same theme as the Sunday sermon. I like to teach and preach on the same content for several reasons. First, it helps the hearers encounter the primary message of the day in multiple formats. Second, it allows people to process out loud what they have heard. Finally, it also gives me a way to use the stuff I had to cut from my sermon or only mention in passing. The first two are about pedagogy; the third simply helps me deal with the heartache of editing down my sermons …

Our 42 Seconds Series followed that same pattern. I preached four sermons based on the four sections of the book by Carl Medearis. Then, in bible class, I expanded the content of the sermon and broadened the scope of the discussion. You can download the master copy of the handouts I used and adapt them for your own congregational use:

Download the 42 Seconds Bible Class Master

There are 5 handouts for a 4-week series. Math has never been my best subject. In this case, the first class is intended as an introduction. We handed out the book in worship for a few weeks, then pointed people to an intro bible class where we got to know each other and laid a foundation, then we walked week by week with the sermon series.

If you are thinking about using this material in your ministry setting, here are a few other things you might want to know:

It’s Pretty Lutheran

If you’re in a Lutheran context, you’re going to recognize a bunch of the names on the book list. People like John Kleinig, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther are pretty darn Lutheran! There’s even a few places where some technical Lutheran jargon creeps in to the teaching (on purpose) like when I am talking about Jesus as an example and relate that to the Third Use of the Law.

On the other hand, people like Mike Breen, Brene Brown, and Carl Medearis are pretty much NOT Lutheran. So depending on your context, this stuff might be way too Lutheran for you, or not nearly Lutheran enough.

Know this: I am trying to get people within my tribe to hear something really important from a guy who is not inside my tribe. That can be a tricky dance. Fundamentally, I believe what Carl is writing in 42 Seconds aligns well with Lutheran theology, piety, and mission. Since the content of the bible study supports and extends the teaching of the book, I actually hope you like both, no matter what tribe you are from!

It’s Calibrated to St. Luke–Ann Arbor

At my local congregation, we have chosen four values that help us express the kind of church we are trying to be. At St. Luke we value Openness to people and expression, Faithfulness to complex truth, Connection through authentic relationships, and Dependence on Jesus. Those values find an echo in the four sections of the book: Be Kind (Openness), Be Present (Connection), Be Brave (Faithfulness), and Be Jesus (Dependence). In fact, that’s a main reason I wanted to preach and teach this series in the first place!

So you’ll notice St. Luke language cropping up occasionally. Feel free to cut it, adopt it, or modify it for your context.

We’ve also identified three growth areas: My Church Home, My Discipling Relationships, and My Everyday Communities. Again, take it or leave it. Just recognize that in some ways all theology gets done at the local level. If you wouldn’t say it like we do, how would you say it? Can you say it consistently? Can others say it that way, too?

This study is calibrated to fit the way we talk at St. Luke. I don’t think the language is so unique or pervasive that you can’t use this content for your context. But if the language does sound off here or there, take the opportunity to wonder how you say things around your place, and what your local way of talking means for your values and mission.

Presentation and Conversation are Equally Mixed

I actually do appreciate a lecture format bible class once in awhile. And I kind of love a rambling, verse-by-verse, dig deep and ask lots of questions study. This isn’t either of those.

On any given Sunday, we’ll have between 80 and 120 adults seated at tables of 6-8. I encourage them to sit at the same table for the whole five weeks, and someone at every table always volunteers to bring breakfast goodies to share. (And a few tables always forgets, and several tables always have way too much, and it somehow gets sorted in the end.)

The point of this organization is to create space for conversation. We learn differently if we engage verbally. So you will find an opening discussion time in each of the weekly studies. After people have had a chance to connect, I then present new content for a chunk of 15-20 minutes. Then I ask them to discuss something a little deeper at their tables, and I actually give them time to process together. That’s one reason to limit the table size to no more than 9: get too big and not everyone can share in the time allotted. After that discussion, I present again, and then usually leave them with more time to talk at the end.

I often field questions, but not too many, because the focus is on the relational learning at the tables. Mostly, the rhythm is: talk, present, talk, present, talk. And if that feels weighted on the talk side of the scale, I know I have them as a captive audience for the sermon in worship!

The Bible Class Doesn’t Stand Alone

This set of 5 hour-long bible studies is designed to go along with a 4-part sermon series. It works best if people are actually reading along in the 42 Seconds book. And we also provided weekly Taking Worship Home resources that our people use in small groups or in their families. You can find all of these resources on the justinrossow.com 42 Seconds Resource Page.

Not everyone will resonate with all of these options. But the more possibilities they have to engage this content, the more opportunity they will have to receive what Jesus wants to give them, and to be shaped the way he intends. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!


Whether you use the bible class handouts provided or not, you mind find a helpful addition to your library in the bibliography, below. Sources listed in order of appearance.

42Seconds-cover-w250 leadership-and-Self-Deception1
 Life Together  One anothering  Breen
 Lost Everts  StTiL_cover_3D  Kleinig CTQ
 MotW B  Sw2P


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Be Brave: 42 Seconds Sermon Notes 3 of 4

42 Week 3Editor’s Note: This resource supports preachers and congregations in the use of the book 42 Seconds: The Jesus Model for Everyday Interactions by Carl Medearis. You can visit the 42 Seconds Resource page at justinrossow.com to see more. 

The Big Idea

Fear of giving or taking offense can keep us from engaging others whose first barrier to knowing and trusting Jesus may be knowing and trusting a Christian. Jesus uses us and rescues us as he brings OUR story, THEIR story, and HIS story into an intersection of grace.

The Goal

That the hearers hold their story, the story of people in the culture around them, and the story of Jesus together in order to see Jesus at work in grace.

The Big Problem

We live in a culture of distrust. Christians naturally avoid people who don’t trust Christians, or go on the offensive and attack them. For their part, people who grow up in that kind of culture won’t tend to get to know and trust Jesus until they have gotten to know and trust a Christian.

The Big Promise

Jesus restores you and releases you from the burden of having to get it right so people around you can be saved. Instead, Jesus saves you and then uses your story where in intersects with their story to bring his saving story into their lives and yours.

Quotable Quotes

“To speak out at a heart that genuinely cares. And then trust God to take care of the rest” (103).

Readings for Worship

1 Chronicles 11:12-14: Taking a stand in a barley field.

Philippians 4:4-9: “Let your gentleness be evident to all.”

Matthew 28:16-20: “As you go, disciple the nations … and I am with you.”

Sermon: Definition

I originally conceived of the Be Brave sermon as a Paradox Maintained structure: in order to follow Jesus, you need to hold on to both truth and people at the same time. But the more I worked with it, the more I wanted to hold three things together: YOUR story, THEIR story, and the story of Jesus.

Viewing the topic as an intersection of three storylines rather than a tension between two sides of a paradox led to a different kind of sermon. Here I am trying to define what it means to live out the Great Commission; that definition has three distinct but overlapping components.

The thought flow is not Paradox Maintained (hold on to A and B without letting go of either), nor is it Process (you experience A, that leads to B, that leads to C); rather, the logic is that of Definition (to grasp X you need to know A, and B, and C, and understand how they fit together). For more on Definition as a sermon structure, visit: https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/definition/.

Sermon Outline


You live out the Great Commission at the gracious intersection of
A. Your Story: “As you go…”

  1. In a Culture of Distrust, the natural response to a fear of vulnerability is to attack.
  2. The natural response to relational fear is to avoid any controversial topic altogether.

B. Their Story: “… disciple the nations …”

  1. The first threshold people have to cross today on their path to Jesus is simply trusting a Christian.
  2. True bravery means serving people who naturally distrust you.

C. The Story of Jesus: “…and I am with you always.”

  1. For Jesus, bravery meant the opposite of ego.
  2. Jesus uses your story and where it intersects with their story to bring his saving story to you both.

Prayer for the Week

Risen and ascended Lord, since you chose to enlist me in your mission,
be faithful to your promise to be with me always.

Where my story intersects the story of another, let your story be present, too.
When I encounter distrust from others, teach me to put my trust in you.
As I strive for faithfulness, give me the gift of true bravery and bold love.

In every situation, give me wisdom to be silent; give me courage to speak; and give me genuine compassion for others, both in my silence and in my speech.

As the challenge of living daily as your follower increases, continue to invite me into deeper relationship with you. And to your name be the glory. Amen.

The Sermon

The full manuscript is available here, or you can watch the sermon, below.

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Sermon 4: Be Jesus

Sermon 4 of 4: Be Jesus, by Justin Rossow (Comparison/Contrast Structure)

The sermon notes for this manuscript will be available soon.


“Jesus must be cheating.”

I know—that doesn’t sound very pious. But I think that, whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our typical response to any suggestion that we emulate Jesus, or imitate Jesus, or be conformed to the image of Jesus for the sake of others—any time we are invited to “be Jesus,” I think that we think: “Jesus must be cheating.”

I mean, Jesus is so loving, he is so kind, he is so powerful yet humble. Of course he is going to resist temptation! Of course he’s going to lay down his life for his friends! Of course Jesus can do all kinds of miraculous signs of the Kingdom, and love his enemies, and save the world: he’s God, for crying out loud!

So when I am asked to do any of the things Jesus did, when I am called on to resist temptation, or to love my enemies, or humbly engage in the powerful work of the Kingdom, my first reaction is to let myself off the hook by seeing the God/Man Jesus and saying, “Of course Jesus can do that! He’s God. And I’m not.”

In other words, Jesus must be cheating: sneaking in a little divine power to resist the devil; pulling off a second-person-of-the-Trinity magic trick to point to the Kingdom; playing his God-in-the-flesh card whenever the going got too tough for his flesh.

So when Carl Medearis or anybody else invites me to “be Jesus,” I take that invitation with a grain of salt. I mean, I can be maybe a little bit like Jesus once in a while, but he’s God, and if I’m honest, I kind of think that gets me off the hook.

The only problem with downplaying Carl’s invitation to “be Jesus” is that Jesus makes much the same invitation: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…”

If JESUS thinks I should be like Jesus, then maybe I need to reconsider who exactly this Jesus is, and how exactly I am supposed to be like him.

A. Jesus receives the Spirit (and so do I)

One of the defining features about Jesus is that he is the Messiah, the Christ. That title—Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek—simply means “The Anointed One.” Jesus is the promised Anointed One, the special representative of Yahweh who would receive and bear the very Spirit of God.

Come Holy SpiritI like this [Image of the Baptism of Jesus][1] because it captures the descent of the Holy Spirit. Remember, when Jesus was anointed at his baptism, he was named the beloved Son of God, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove. Jesus came to the waters where people were being baptized for repentance. Jesus stood in the place of sinners to fulfill all righteousness. And Jesus was declared the unique and beloved Son, who received the Holy Spirit and lived out the rest of his ministry carrying the special presence of that Spirit.

So in the one sense, you are not like Jesus at all. He is the unique Christ of God, the anointed Messiah, God’s one and only Son. But it another sense, precisely because Jesus stood in the place of sinners—because Jesus took your place, Jesus invites you to take his place. Because Jesus received and carried the Holy Spirit in a unique way, he became the one who was authorized to pour out the Spirit on all people, universally.

That’s what’s going on at Pentecost: Jesus himself, the Anointed One, the Anointed-with-the-Spirit One, is pouring out his Spirit on his followers. I love this baptism image because it could be the baptism of Jesus, with the descent of the Holy Spirit like a dove, or it could be Pentecost, with tongues of red fire dancing in the blowing of the Spirit wind.

It looks as if this person is almost inhaling, or drinking deeply of the Spirit. It reminds me of what Paul would later write: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”[2]

So although Jesus was uniquely baptized as the unique Son of God who uniquely bears the Spirit, you have now also been baptized. You have been named beloved daughter, beloved son. The same Holy Spirit that filled Jesus at his baptism now fills you. Today is Pentecost renewed again; every day, you walk in the power of your baptism; every breath, you breathe the wind and Spirit of God; every moment you drink in life, you drink of the one Spirit that empowered the life of Jesus the Messiah.

This painting by Lance Brown is simply titled, “Come, Holy Spirit.” It could be a picture of Jesus at his baptism; it could be a picture of the disciples at Pentecost; it could be a picture or you, today.

Jesus was anointed with the power of the Spirit. And so are you.

[Return to Background Image]


B. Driven by the Spirit, Jesus brings the Kingdom in intimate dependence on the Father (and so do I)

You know what happens right after Jesus’ baptism, right? The Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.[3] That’s right. The Spirit is now in charge. So that when Jesus faces temptation, he isn’t fighting with his power as God. Jesus resists temptation the same way you and I are supposed to: Jesus resists temptation as a human being who is filled with the Holy Spirit.

In fact, everything that Jesus does to bring the Kingdom reign of God from that point forward is done in the power of the Holy Spirit and under the authority of the Father.

After the temptation, Luke writes: “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, … he taught in their synagogues … [Jesus] unrolled the scroll [of the prophet Isaiah] and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.”[4]

And he says, “That was written about me!”

Jesus does what he does only in the power of the Spirit. And time and time again Jesus speaks of his dependence on the Father. “I do nothing on my own authority,” Jesus said, “but I speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone.”[5] Or again: “The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”[6]

Whatever Jesus is doing to bring the Kingdom, from his most miraculous sign to his most humble service, Jesus always is working in the power of the Spirit and under the authority of the Father.

One of my favorite examples of this kind of humble and dependent service is the foot washing in the Upper Room. [Footwashing Image] John tells us: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.”[7]

Foot WashingBecause Jesus was confident of his relationship with God the Father, because Jesus knew his future as the Anointed-with-the-Spirit One, Jesus was able to serve. Jesus serves in the power of the Spirit and under the authority of the Father.

In that same Upper Room, while the disciples’ toes were still squeaky clean, Jesus will promise his followers that same Spirit, and invite us into that same intimate dependence on the Father: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth…  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”[8]

So Carl can write: Jesus “actually invites us to the same kind of deep connected knowing of himself as he had with his father.”[9] Isn’t that amazing? The intimate knowing that exists within the Trinity from eternity is open and available to you, a sinful human being, because you also bear the Holy Spirit and live under the authority of the Father, all for the sake of Jesus.

No, you are not an eternal part of the eternal God the same way Jesus is. And, as a human being, Jesus lived out his own life in dependence on the Spirit and under the authority of the Father. When Carl asks you to Be Jesus, he doesn’t want you to imagine you are divine; quite the contrary. If we want to Be Jesus, Carl says, “We will follow [Jesus] right into the humility of dependence.”[10]

[Return to Background Image]


C. Jesus lives the human life the way God intended humans to live (and so do I, except …)

When I think of Jesus using his divine power to fight temptation, or perform signs of the Kingdom, or even to submit himself to the Father’s will, it seems, just a little, like Jesus is cheating.

But what if Jesus isn’t living as God among humans? What is Jesus is living as a human, the way God intended humans to live? That might actually be a more faithful representation of the biblical witness.

I mean, I know Jesus is God; you know Jesus is God; Jesus knows he is eternal God from eternity. But when the second person of the Trinity walks among us, he walks and talks and struggles and suffers and loves and grieves and bleeds as a human among humans, as a human the way God intended them to be.

So when we see Jesus interacting with the woman at the well [Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the Well Image][11] we see one real human being from one human culture interacting with another human being from a similar but very different human culture.

Woman at the Well

I love this version of the Woman at the Well. It comes from the “Jesus Mafa project.” The Mafa villages in Cameroon, Africa sat with the biblical text, and acted out what they heard. That interaction with God’s Word led to a series of paintings from the life of Christ, as if Jesus had come into a Mafa village in Cameroon.

That whole project contextualizes the Gospel in the culture of people for whom Christ died. In fact, while Jesus came in, with, and under a very specific human culture at a very specific time and place, his promise is intended to cross all cultural barriers.

So to the Samaritan woman at the well, outcast from her own culture, this Jewish Jesus from a very different culture speaks of living water that he will pour out on all people. He speaks of drinking in and being filled with the Spirit and being sought by the Father. This Jesus, as a human being, crosses human divides in order to bring human beings into contact with the Father and the Spirit.

And so do you.

As a follower of Jesus, your job description is to receive and carry the same Spirit Jesus received and carried; your job description is to live the same kind of human life and cross the same kind of human barriers that he crossed; your job description is to bring other human beings into the intimate relationship with the Father and the Spirit that Jesus makes possible for you.

D. Jesus is the sinless atonement for all sin (and I need that)

And you know you don’t do that well. You know you fail miserably at that job description more often than not. You know your life is so full of darkness and pain that you despair of ever reflecting even remotely the beauty of Jesus to the world.

And so you hear the invitation to be like Jesus, even to “be Jesus” to the people around you, and you see a perfect Jesus who has all the power of the Godhead behind him and you think, “It’s easy for him! He’s God! But I’m not brave or powerful or holy or perfect like that. Why even try?”

And you are right, at least in this regard. There is something Jesus is that you are not, and that you never could be. [Crucifixion Image][12]

St. Charles Bridge CrucifixThis statue of the crucifixion stands on the St. Charles Bridge in the city of Prague. The Latin letters above his head, INRI, stand for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The Hebrew letters emblazoned in gold surrounding this crucified king read: Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of Armies.

This Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, is also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. This is Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish carpenter’s son; this is Jesus, the Anointed One of God, Yahweh in the flesh.

Jesus was a human being, like us in every way, except for the fact that he had no sin; instead, he took the sin of humanity onto himself, and did what only the God/Man could do. The one who bore the Spirit of God, lifted up and bore the sins of the whole world all the way to the cross.

You don’t carry, you don’t bear the burden of your sin any longer; that is not in your job description. You do not carry your sin; you do not carry your shame; you are not the one who bears the weight and the burden of your sin. That’s the job description of the Lamb of God, who takes up and carries away the sin of the world.

Jesus took your sin to the cross and became the once-for-all, completely unique, never-to-be-repeated sacrifice that removed all sin. The one and only place where Jesus was not like you—sin—is the one place where you are not supposed to ever be like him—the one who bears the weight of sin and pays its price.

And yet… and yet this same Jesus, who lived his human life filled with the Spirit and in dependence on the Father, also told his friends: “Anyone who would come after me, must deny themselves, pick up their cross daily, and follow me.” Even though you cannot bear your sin, to follow Jesus is to bear your cross.

[Return to the baptism image]


Conclusion: Jesus is absolutely unique and, in the power of the Spirit, you are absolutely like him.

So Jesus is absolutely unique. And, in the power of the Spirit, you are absolutely like him.

You are not like Jesus in his power; no, you are like Jesus in his weakness.
You are not like Jesus in his omniscience; you are like Jesus in his dependence.
You are not like Jesus in his eternal divinity; you are like Jesus in his intimate relationship with the Father.

Come Holy SpiritYou are not like Jesus in his unique calling as Messiah, Anointed One, Son of God, Bearer and Giver of the Spirit; and yet, you are absolutely like him in your unique calling as a baptized child of God, who bearers that same Spirit into the world.

You are not like Jesus in his role as Savior of the World; but you absolutely are like him, for you are sent into the world to carry his message of salvation.

You are not like Jesus in his ultimate authority, seated at the right hand of the Father; but you are, you are, you are like Jesus, for you also have submitted yourself to the authority of his Father and yours.

Filled with the Spirit of Jesus, you are not like Jesus in his miraculous Kingdom signs; no, Jesus himself thinks you will do even greater things than these.

And before you get too carried away, it’s good to remember that you are only like Jesus because of what Jesus has done for you. Therefore, as you go out in his image to be kind, to be present, to be brave—as you go out to “be Jesus” to the people in your life, you keep your focus on his activity, not yours. For at the exact same time you are “being Jesus” to others, Jesus is there, being himself to you.

As Carl put it: “The actual presence of Jesus is in us, which means that we can be the actual presence of Jesus to others.”[13] Filled with the Spirit, “we will follow [Jesus] right into the humility of dependence.”[14] Amen.

Editor’s Note: This resource supports preachers and congregations in the use of the book 42 Seconds: The Jesus Model for Everyday Interactions by Carl Medearis. You can visit the 42 Seconds Resource page at justinrossow.com to see more. 

[1] “Come Holy Spirit,” https://jesuspaintings.deviantart.com/art/Come-holy-spirit-jesus-paintings-624727075  by Lance Brown, https://www.paintedchrist.com/ .

[2] 1 Corinthians 12:13.

[3] Luke 4:1

[4] Luke 4:14-19

[5] John 8:28-29.

[6] John 14:10.

[7] John 13:3-4. The painting is by Harry Antis and hangs in the sanctuary at St. Luke, Ann Arbor.

[8] John 14:16-17a, 20.

[9] 42 Seconds, 124.

[10] 42 Seconds, 137.

[11] Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the Well, http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48282. The Jesus MAFA project includes responses to the Gospels acted out by a Christian community in Cameroon, Africa, with paintings depicting the life of Christ as if it had taken place in a Mafa village.

“In the 1970s Mafa Christians in North Cameroun wanted to have pictures of the Gospel using their own cultural resonances. With the help of French missionaries they acted out the scenes, and sketches of the plays were worked up by French artists and given back to them – and to the world. More than 6 million copies have been distributed to date to 83 countries.” http://globalworship.tumblr.com/post/13908904724/pictures-of-the-nativity-story-in-africa-jesus.

[12] The crucifix on the St. Charles bridge in Prague, Czech Republic. INRI: “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews” Hebrew lettering: “Holy, Holy, Holy YHWH of Hosts” from Isaiah 6.

[13] 42 Seconds, 112.

[14] 42 Seconds, 137.


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