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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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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Sermon 3: Be Brave

Sermon 3 of 4: Be Brave, by Justin Rossow (Definition Structure)

The sermon notes for this manuscript are available here.


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

The Great Commission gets lived out at the intersection of three stories.

Jesus says: “As you go,”…
The Great Commission is connected to your story.

Jesus says: “As you go, disciples the nations,” …
The Great Commission is connected to their story. 

Jesus says: “As you go, disciples the nations, … and I am with you always.
The Great Commission is ultimately and irrevocably connected to the story of Jesus.

As Jesus sends you out into your everyday lives with his eyes and with his heart and with his words on your lips—as Jesus enlists you to engage in his ongoing work for the sake of the world—as you encounter people at Kroger, and Chile’s, and Huron High School, people for whom Christ died, the Great Commission gets lived out at the intersection of your story, their story, and the story of Jesus.

Faithfulness to Complex Truth means holding all three of those stories together at the same time.


“As you go,” Jesus says. As you go about your everyday, ordinary, seemingly inconsequential life, Jesus is using you to disciple the nations. And when your story intersects with the nations, sparks can fly.

Just look at what kind of culture Jesus is sending you into! It wasn’t too long ago that the Christian Worldview was respected, if not assumed. Not so any more.

Listen to how Don Everts and Doug Schaup describe the people they know and the culture around them in their book, I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus: [cite page 31]

In another day and age, God, religion and church enjoyed the general respect of the culture. Not today. Religion is suspect, church is weird, and Christians are hypocrites. Distrust has become the norm. People are tired of the “sales tactics” often employed by Christians and are offended by our bait-and-switch attempts at introducing them to Jesus. In the past, the occupation of evangelist was viewed as a respectable profession, even by secular society. Today evangelist has fallen to the very bottom of the pit, among the most distrusted occupations.

When people first find out we are Christians, we often literally see them shift from relaxed to rigid, from warm to suspicious. This is because when our friends first hear us call ourselves “Christian,” several negative things often immediately flash through their minds: “Christians are self-righteous, and they always think they’re better than me.” “I’m about to be judged, so I better get my defenses up.” “Christians are always pressing politics, so watch out!”

When your story intersects with a Culture of Distrust, a couple kinds of responses seem to come naturally. And both of our typical, knee-jerk responses are based on two different kinds of fear.

When your story intersects with a person who is naturally skeptical of your faith, you might naturally experience fear of looking foolish, fear of being vulnerable, fear of losing an argument, or being offended or even marginalized.

The natural response to a fear of vulnerability is to attack, to fight back. We noticed that kind of response last week, the “I’m right—you’re wrong—shut up” approach to theological conversation. Your friend says something that belittles your faith or your Jesus, and you throw the Good Book at him, blow him out of the water with some no holds barred, take no prisoners kind of apologetics. And it might not go well, but at least you will have defended your faith.

The other natural kind of fear in the face of a Culture of Distrust is of a different, more relational character. In an environment where people you know are naturally skeptical of your faith, you might be afraid of looking mean rather than foolish. You become more afraid of giving offense than taking it, of marginalizing others rather than of being marginalized. In this situation, you wouldn’t mind losing and argument nearly as much as you would losing a friend.

The natural response to relational fear is to avoid any controversial topic altogether. They can’t take offense at your faith if you never mention it. They won’t think you are close-minded if you remain close-lipped. And that might not go so well, either, but at least you will have kept a relationship intact.

When your story intersects with naturally skeptic people who grew up in a culture of distrust of everything, but especially of Christians, two different kinds of fears lead to two different kinds of response. I know which response is more typical for me. Which one is your go-to response? Attack or avoid? Fight or flight?

While either fight or flight can help you manage the discomfort you feel, neither serves the other person well. The Great Commission isn’t simply lived out in the context of your story. The Great Commission invites you to think in terms of their story, to flip your perspective and see things also from their point of view.


One of the things I really appreciate about that book, I Once Was Lost, is that it helps me see from the perspective of the Postmodern Skeptic before they have come to faith. It sheds light on what “the nations” are thinking as my story intersects with their story. Keep the people who live in your neighborhood in mind as you listen to this paragraph:

When trust has not yet been established, lostness feels like wise skepticism and right thinking. If Christians are fanatical and narrow-minded, keeping one’s distance seems like the smartest posture to take toward us. “There is something twisted about those smarmy Christians. And they want to fix me with that twisted agenda.” Until this framework of distrust is shifted, growth is nearly impossible. (32)

Can you imagine viewing the world that way? Can you imagine viewing faith that way? Can you imagine viewing Christians that way?

Your story of faith intersects with the stories of people who naturally distrust faith of any kind, and who especially distrust “church people.” And the first threshold people like that have to cross on their path to Jesus is simply trusting a Christian. [See the chapter THRESHOLD ONE: Trusting a Christian in I Once Was Lost by Everts and Schaup.]

Let me say that again. For people raised in a culture of skepticism and distrust, the first threshold they have to cross on their path to Jesus—the first thing standing in their way to faith—the first step on their journey of knowing and loving the One who knows and loves them first—the first threshold people in your culture have to cross in order to have a relationship with Jesus is trusting a Christian like you.

You know, there’s that great section in the 42 Seconds book about Eleazar, son of Dodai from 1 Chronicles 11 (75-79). You remember Eleazar, right? He was one of David’s three Mighty Men, and he took a stand in a barley field against an advancing Philistine army, and by making that uncompromising stand, Eleazar turned the tide of the battle.

Carl Medearis uses the story of that barley field to talk about being brave, to talk about being willing to take a stand when it counts, and step out in faith even when the odds seem against you.

But Carl also cautions against using “bravery” as a cover for your own knee-jerk reactions. He writes, “Bravery isn’t bravery if your ego and need to be right get in the way” (74). That reminds me of those natural responses to distrust in our culture. Since one natural tendency is to avoid conflict altogether, I wonder if we sometimes frame “bravery” as the opposite of avoiding a fight. Maybe Christian bravery simply becomes the label for when we attack instead of avoid, when choose fight over flight.

But Carl won’t let us get away with that kind of simplistic view.  “Bravery isn’t bravery if your ego and need to be right get in the way,” he says. And then he goes on: True bravery is bold love. True bravery is being like Jesus” (74).

You might say it this way: being brave does not mean taking a stand in every barley, corn, or soybean field that comes your way. Being brave means serving people who naturally distrust you. Being brave means serving people who naturally distrust you.

If your focus is only on YOUR STORY, then when your story intersects with the story of someone who has been shaped by a culture of distrust, you are going to naturally respond out of fear. Without giving it a second thought, you will likely either attack or avoid that person and their perspective.

But if you can hold YOUR STORY together with THEIR STORY, then you can begin to imagine the world from their point of view. You can begin to serve someone who’s first step on the journey of faith is to cross the threshold of trusting a Christian like you.

Being brave means holding that other person in prayer before God instead of defending evert theological position every chance you get.

Being brave means being genuinely interested in their story and their perspective instead of taking immediate offense every time they show their natural skepticism.

Being brave means actually going out of your way to meet them on their turf, and finding opportunities to invite them into your life, instead of avoiding or arguing at every opportunity.  [The dichotomies in this section are discussed in-depth in I Once Was Lost by Everts and Schaup.]

Being brave will sometimes mean taking a stand, even if you have to stand alone; and true bravery also means letting go of your natural tendency to judge others, and finding “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise—” finding those kinds of things in the lives of your non-Christian friends and coworkers and family members and affirming them whenever and wherever possible, because their first and best chance of getting to know Jesus just might be getting to know someone like you.

I’m not saying it’s easy; in fact, it can be almost overwhelmingly hard. Holding on to YOUR STORY and THEIR STORY at the same time is a pretty high challenge. And Jesus knows it is. That’s why he doesn’t leave you to your own devices.

“As you go,” Jesus says, “disciple the nations … And behold! I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The Great Commission is all about your story. The Great Commission is all about their story. But most importantly, the Great Commission is all about HIS story.

C. The Story of Jesus

Jesus knows what it means to stand alone. Jesus knows what its like to be vulnerable, to be marginalized, to be under attack. Jesus knows what it is like to have people he cares about turn away simply because he spoke the truth and they didn’t like it.

For Jesus, bravery meant the opposite of ego; true bravery meant making himself a servant, submitting even to death on a cross, for the sake of people who didn’t trust him, wouldn’t agree with his theology, and thought his twisted agenda was a threat to their way of life.

Jesus knows your fear of looking foolish. Jesus knows your fear of looking narrow-minded. Jesus knows your natural tendency to attack or to avoid. And still Jesus loves you, still Jesus forgives you, still Jesus chooses to accomplish his mission not only to you, but through you into the lives of the people around you.

Jesus takes your story and he weaves it into the stories of people who are far away from him. At that intersection of your story and their story, His story is present and active.

By the waters of your baptism, Jesus commissions you and sends you out into a culture that won’t naturally trust you any more than it naturally trusted him. And that is scary. But it is also exciting! Because it’s not about you. Your story isn’t the most important thing going on in your life. There are people in your life who may never come to know and trust Jesus if they don’t come to know and trust someone like you first.

And instead of that being an overwhelming challenge that makes you never want to get out of bed for fear of messing it up, your story becomes an adventure of discovery, an adventure of seeking other people’s stories and wondering about how Jesus is connecting them to his story through your story.

And when you find your natural knee-jerk response back in full force, when you find yourself attacking or avoiding people who naturally distrust you, when you notice patterns of judging others, and taking offense at their skepticism, and trying to make every disagreement a hill to die on, you take all that back to the cross and leave it there.

Jesus knows your failure. Jesus knows your fear. Jesus restores you and releases you of the burden of having to get it right so the people around you can be saved.

Instead, Jesus saves you first, and saves you again and again; and then he uses your story where it intersects with their story to bring his saving story into their lives and yours.

The Great Commission gets lived out at the intersection of your story (As you go…), their story (disciple the nations…), and the story of Jesus (I am with you always, to the end of the age). Faithfulness to Complex Truth means holding all three of those stories together at a single intersection of grace. 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. 

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Sermon 1: Be Kind

Sermon 1 of 4: Be Kind, by Justin Rossow (Relational Structure)

The sermon notes for this manuscript can be found here:

1. ME (my personal interaction with the topic)

In the name of Jesus, dear friends.

I remember a cartoon. It was one of those religious cartoons – just one of those single panels. Back when, I don’t know, I must have been only two or three years into the ministry at the time. (At least I hope so.) I remember the cartoon fairly vividly. It was black and white and it had a preacher man, kind of middle age, overweight, wearing a coat and tie.

And in the cartoon there was a thought bubble. He is kind of in a hurry, running down the hall, and there is a thought bubble that says: “Oh, no! There’s Susan! I told her I was going to pray for her, and I haven’t yet. ‘Dear God, please be with Susan.’” And then out loud he says, “Oh, Susan, how are you? I’ve been praying for you!”

I remember that cartoon vividly because at the time it absolutely nailed me. I mean, I had done that very thing, probably that week, and more than once. That’s why I say I really hope it was in that first year or two of my ministry.

You know things get busy, and someone tells you something, and you say you will pray for them, and you forget. And I remember being ashamed to let the person know that I had forgotten; I was ashamed of what they would think of me, as their pastor, if they knew that I had not prayed for them like I said I was going to.

I remember doing things like, “‘Oh Lord, there’s Susan; please be with her.’ Hey Susan, I’ve been praying for you, how are you doing?” I’ve done that before to save face.

I don’t do it (at least very often) anymore. In fact, if you ask me to pray for you, I will often say, “Hey, that’s awesome; could we pray right now?” See, that’s a learned behavior. I know that if we pray right now, I’ll remember it. And if I tell you I’ll pray later I might forget. Sometimes it’s easy for me to get caught up in what’s important in my life to the point where I kind of down play the other people around me.

You see it on Tuesday mornings sometimes here at St. Luke. Tuesday we have a home school group in our building, and anyone who works in the church office knows you need to shut the door and kind of hide behind your desk if you want to get anything done on Tuesdays.

And if, heaven forbid, you need coffee (which is out in the hall, and you have to come out from behind your desk and behind like, three different closed doors) then the way to get coffee on Tuesdays—this is just how it works­—the way to get coffee at St. Luke on Tuesday is to keep your head down and go as quickly as you can to the coffee and try not to make eye contact so you can get back to your important job that you have as pastor.

The good news is that most of the people out in the hallway are trying to work on their computers and they don’t really want to be bugged by a pastor anyway. So we both ignore each other quite effectively most Tuesdays.

Maybe four or five weeks ago I had that terrible need for coffee on a Tuesday morning and so I kind of went out in my defensive position and there was a woman who was heading down the hall away from the coffee who said something to me in passing. So I noticed her and actually made eye contact with her, and she said something like, “Yeah, I needed to get that morning caffeine, too.”

And I said, “Oh, yeah; I need to get my coffee! So you like coffee, too?” She replied, “No, no; I don’t drink coffee, but I needed caffeine this morning!” And that was fine because she was moving away from me, so I was safe. We had that interchange and I knew I was not going to need to talk to her again.

So in the time it took me to fill up my coffee mug, she turned around and started walking back in my direction. And I found that I actually had a conscious decision I had to make. Do I put my head down, or do I re-engage this woman who has already engaged me?

And I don’t know if it was because I was getting ready for this sermon series, or because of a sermon I heard Pastor Matt preach that week—I don’t know, if you have gotten this idea that over the last couple of years at St. Luke, we have actually been trying to encourage you in relationships, so therefore, we’ve been trying to live out this fundamental idea that Jesus puts people in our lives and that, if we were paying attention, He does stuff.

And so I took a deep breath, and here’s my opening gambit: “So what’s your caffeine of choice?” And she went, “Huh?” So things are going really well so far, right?

I said, “Well, earlier you said you needed some caffeine, and you said you didn’t like coffee, so I was just wondering how you usually got your morning caffeine.” And she said, “Oh, I don’t really …”

Now I’m in the middle of a conversation I really don’t need to be in. There are six emails that need to be finished and I’ve got a sermon I’m working on. And I better go get the budget ready, but she begins talking: “I don’t really do caffeine very often. I guess if I really have to, I usually do Diet Coke. It’s just that I haven’t been sleeping very well lately, so I’ve been having a Diet Coke in the morning for the last week or so.”

I found I have a second conscious decision to make. I could have said, “Oh, OK; thanks… Would you like a Diet Coke?” And instead, I took a deep breath and I said, “You know, when I find I’m not sleeping very well, it’s usually because I’m worried about something important…”

And she said, “Yeah, you know, we are moving again. We have moved four times in the last six years. My husband is already living down in Ohio, which means I’ve got all four kids to myself. In fact, the last time we moved, all four kids were under the age of four, and we had one of them between houses. And moving has always been stressful, and we are doing it again, and I am kind of anxious and nervous about a lot of things.”

At that point I didn’t say–I did NOT say, “Wow. When I moved to Texas, you should have seen what happened to us!”

Instead I said something like, “That sounds pretty hard.” And she said, “Yeah, it has been a couple weeks of real struggle, and the anxiety has got me up at night, so I’m drinking Diet Coke in the morning.”

And I didn’t say: “I’ll be praying for you.” Because I knew that was a promise that I might not keep. I said to her, “I think Jesus said something about bringing burdens and cares to Him. Would you mind if we prayed together, right now?” And she said, “Sure.”

So I had just gone out to get my coffee, but I ended up praying with a woman I didn’t know at all. We prayed for her husband and his work down in Ohio, and we prayed for her kids who were really on her heart. We prayed for rest that night and for peace of mind.

That felt pretty good: to put her agenda above mine; to be open to her and her needs; to not be quite so worried about what I needed to get back to at my desk.

Now, as it turned out, she finished the conversation by telling me about her pastor, and how much she liked him, and how he was also named Justin, and how she was going to worship that week. I think she wanted to make sure I knew that, just because I had prayed with her, I didn’t need to, like, invite her to become a member of St. Luke. She wasn’t buying what I was selling. But I wasn’t really selling anything, so we just got to talk about her church a little bit, too.

So I find that there are times when I really struggle with being open to other people, to see them as real people with real needs, instead of just people that fit into my agenda one way or another. Either they are a threat to my agenda, or they are helping me get my agenda done, or they just don’t really count. I sometimes experience myself seeing people that way.

Every once in a while, I actually am open to people. I actually care what they are experiencing and I care about what’s going on in their life, even more than I care about my life.

See I wasn’t concerned in that moment when I asked the woman if we could pray; I wasn’t worried about looking foolish because I started the whole conversation with, “What’s your caffeine of choice?” (Not high on my list of effective ways of starting conversations.) I wasn’t really worried in that moment about looking foolish in someone else’s eyes; I was just worried about her, and I didn’t really care if I looked foolish or not. That wasn’t important.

So sometimes I’m pretty closed and pretty self-centered; and sometimes I’m pretty open, and I think that is a lot more fun. And that is kind of what’s at the heart of what we are talking about today.

How do we live out our lives as broken, fallen, sinful people who still are redeemed and belong to Jesus in a way that doesn’t turn us off to people, but opens us up to other people? How do we get more of the second, and less of the first?

2. WE (how the topic affects the range of people gathered today)

Because if I’m experiencing that, I know that you are experiencing it too, right? I mean, we can be honest with each other. You have those times in your life where you would like to put your head down and go get your coffee without having to look at the person in the cubicle next to you. And getting coffee can be a dangerous thing, because someone might actually say something to you in the hallway.

You know what that is like. You know what that is like in the grocery store or in the gas station line, or at a family gathering where you keep circling to the other end of the room so that one family member doesn’t engage you in conversation. You know what that’s like.

St. Augustine in the early church had a way of talking about our status and the way we behave as fallen, sinful beings. He said it is like we are “incurvatus in se,” which, when translated from the Latin means, “a circle turned in on itself.”

As human beings, according to our sinful, fallen nature, we are naturally circles turned in on ourselves. We want to defend ourselves; we value other people in as much as they help us; we protect ourselves and put our own selves first. Our intention, our attitude, our desires, turn inward naturally.

Did you know Martin Luther was an Augustinian Monk, and so he was building on some of Augustine’s work? Luther would go on to say, even in our relationship with God, we approach it as circles turned in on ourselves. We only have a relationship with God, we only desire him naturally, in so far as he does something good for us. As long as God is answering our prayers and giving us the things we thought He should give us, we are on fine terms with God. And as soon as he doesn’t give us what we wanted all along–well, then we have a real problem with our relationship with God, because ultimately, as fallen human beings, our relationship with God is motivated by self interest. We are naturally circles turned in on ourselves.

And yet, even as fallen, sinful people, we do experience those moments where we are open to other people in a way that makes our agenda take a back seat. Where, as Paul says in Philippians, we take the same attitude of Christ Jesus, where we humble ourselves because we view other people as more important than ourselves.

So how do you get less of the first and more of the second? How do you take a step forward? How do you actually be open and be kind to people in your everyday life, when we are naturally circles turned in on ourselves? I think that is where the text for today, that story from Luke, helps us out quite a bit.

3. GOD (Letting God’s Word inform our experience)

I love this story. Jairus, the text tells us, is a synagogue leader. He’s an important guy. He is a CEO of the local synagogue. And Jesus in Luke has already gotten into some trouble with the religious leaders.

So I have to imagine that the disciples are thinking, “Man, if this thing comes through with Jairus, we can maybe get past some of the early hiccups we’ve had in our career. If Jesus can just heal this synagogue leader, this CEO’s daughter, well then, we are going to kind of take a step forward here in the mission and ministry of Jesus.” I wonder if the disciples are focused on how, perhaps, this could affect their status. If so, they are not thinking much about this woman who interrupts Jesus and who, from their perspective, really brings nothing at all to the table.

Jesus stops and says, “Somebody touched me.” And you can hear the exasperation in Peter’s voice: “Jesus, I mean, there are people like, stepping on your toes all around and we’re all huddled together, and what you mean, somebody touched your robe?! Let’s get on to the important business of healing this important man’s daughter, Jesus! Keep focused here. We’ve got a real opportunity!”

But Jesus takes time out to draw attention to this woman—a woman who, because of her bleeding, should not have been there at all. It wasn’t allowed by ceremonial law for her to touch Jesus; otherwise, she would make him unclean.

For this woman, who had no social standing at all, Jesus stops and says, “Hold on, time out. I know you all have some business to do, and I know I said that I would go with the CEO and see what I could do for his daughter, but there is someone here who’s just as important to me.” He stops the crowd, and the woman finds herself called out.

Did you notice what she did? The second time that Jesus says, “Who touched me?” she feels like she has been caught red-handed. She comes forward and tells her story; she justifies her own actions. She says why she touched him, and why she did what she did. She comes trembling in fear because she knows this Rabbi is going to get her good for interrupting His busy day.

And although she comes expecting condemnation and law, what Jesus gives here is nothing but gospel. “Your faith has healed you,” he says.

You see, Jesus was interested in that woman. Jesus broke the circle turned in on itself. Jesus places this woman, who was at the margins of society, higher on his agenda than his own reputation or social standing. Jesus values her specifically, individually, personally.

In fact, nothing matters more to Jesus in that moment than this woman and her well-being. Not just the physical healing of her body, but the restoration into society and relationship. And that fact, that Jesus valued this woman, that he took time with her, must have been a shock to the crowds. It was certainly confusing to the disciples. And you get the impression that it had the potential to break a father’s heart.

Jairus, in the kind of self-centeredness that only comes with great need, must have been going out of his mind while Jesus took time with this insignificant woman. I mean, his daughter was dying. Jesus had said he would come and heal her, and now Jesus gets sidetracked with someone else’s problems.

“But what about me, Jesus? What about my needs? Don’t I matter to you, too? Certainly this little girl near death is more important than a woman who has been struggling with this problem for thirteen years. Just give it, like, another week.”

“Jesus, come on, get your priorities straight. Help me in my need right now. Because my daughter is more important right now rather than that woman is.”

And then Jairus gets confirmation of his deepest fears. Jesus has delayed too long. His daughter is dead.

What Jesus says to Jairus next, He says to you; He says to me; He says to anyone who has ever asked that question: “What about me Jesus? What about my needs? Don’t you care?”

To Jairus and to every individual crying out for affirmation and a sense of value, Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid. I’m going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.”

4. YOU (Application of God’s Word to individuals)

That’s the secret. That’s the promise. That’s the hope of breaking your circle turned in on itself, and being open to other people in a way that genuinely values them.

Does it feel like God is answering everyone’s prayer but yours?
Don’t be afraid. Jesus is going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.

Do you feel like, if you don’t stand up for your rights or religious freedoms, no one else will? Don’t be afraid. Jesus is going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.

Does it seem like our culture is spinning out of control and your voice is being lost in a sea of competing worldviews? Don’t be afraid. Jesus is going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.

Does it feel like you have to defend yourself or even take someone else down a notch just so you don’t get trampled? Don’t be afraid. Jesus is going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.

Do you feel a need to answer every question and correct every misunderstanding? Do you need to be better than other people so you can feel good about yourself? Are your thoughts and feelings telling you your actions are justified, even though they tear other people down?

What Jesus said to Jairus, he says again today to you: “There is no one I value more than you. Don’t be afraid. I am going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.”

5. WE (Looking to the future together)

When we live out of our own natural tendencies, we’re nothing more than circles turned in on ourselves, using our relationships with other people and even using our relationship with God to try and make us feel better about ourselves.

But when we live out of the confidence that Jesus values us deeply and individually, we have the chance as a community to be open to people and value others even above ourselves.

What kind of church would we be if we lived out that confidence in the midst of all of the change we see around us? We might still feel marginalized. We might still struggle. Some will still walk away.

But the more we engage in people not like us with openness and confidence and genuine kindness, the more they will experience Jesus through us.

This week, look for an opportunity to be open and genuine with someone who can’t help you get more status, or more credit, or more money. Be interested in them just because they are unique and uniquely loved.

Jesus values you deeply and individually. You are justified by Jesus! You don’t need to justify yourself.

In that confidence, you are free to break the circle; you are free to let go of having to look good, or be right, or not seem foolish. In the confidence that you are justified by Jesus, and only by him, you are free to: [The following list is taken from the discussion questions at the end of the Be Kind section of the 42 Seconds book by Carl Medearis.]

  1. Go out of your way to look people in the eye and say hello.
  2. Acknowledge the people you normally fail to recognize.
  3. Refrain from giving answers and ask another question.
  4. Do a small act of kindness or thoughtfulness for someone. Just because.
  5. Get to know the kids of some of your friends and neighbors. Ask a question about them. Learn their names. Show that you see and value them.

This week, try treating others as if their agenda was more important than yours.
And see what Jesus does with that. 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. 

This sermon also produced two other reflections:

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