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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.

Introduction

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.

A. YOUR STORY

“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.

B. THEIR STORY

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:
https://justinrossow.com/be-kind.

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:

1 Comment

Be Present: 42 Seconds Sermon Notes 2 of 4

42 Week 2Editor’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

Paying real attention to real people leads us to be vulnerable enough to enter into genuine relationship. Because Jesus is enough, we can say, “I am enough,” and engage others authentically.

The Goal

That the hearers pay real attention to Jesus and the person in front of them in order to enter into a moment of authentic relationship.

The Big Problem

Our priorities and agenda are more important to us than other people are. Authentic relationship takes time and especially vulnerability, and we don’t want to be vulnerable.

The Big Promise

Jesus truly present with us and for us enables us to be truly present for others. Jesus is enough to meet our need to feel valuable. Jesus with us means he is listening to others through us.

Quotable Quotes

“Real conversations involve really listening, to the person and to the Holy Spirit” (63).

“So 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).

Readings for Worship

Genesis 16: 7-14   Hagar: “You are the God who sees me.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-21  “As if God were making his appeal through us …”

Mark 10: 17-31 The Rich Young Man

Sermon: Multiple Story Structure

Brené Brown is mentioned in this section of the book and finds her way into this week’s sermon. She identifies as a Researcher and Storyteller. Her webpage even says, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” Working with a narrative text in Mark 10, a section of a book written by the storyteller Carl, who cites the Researcher and Storyteller Brené Brown, it seems like a Multiple Story Structure would align with the sermon to the vibe of the “Be Present” section.

For a synopsis of the structure, see https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/textual/genre/narrative/multiple-story-structure/.

Sermon overview

  1. Jesus being truly present to the rich young man in Mark 10
  2. Brené Brown’s story about vulnerability
  3. Jesus present in your attention for others, as if God were making his appeal through us.

Prayer for the Week

Jesus, when you look at me, you truly see me. You see my failures;
you see my sin; you see my shame.

And yet, when you see me, your heart goes out to me.
With all my baggage, you still think I am worthy of love and belonging.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you for forgiveness and undeserved love.
Thank you for a new identity as your chosen follower.
Thank you for your ongoing presence in my life.

I relinquish control of my faith journey to you again today:
Jesus, take the initiative and make me receptive to following wherever you lead.

Today I will live in confidence that I am worthy of love and belonging in your eyes. Amen.

The Sermon

The full manuscript will be available soon, or you can watch the sermon, below.

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Be Kind: 42 Seconds Sermon Notes 1 of 4

42 Week 1Editor’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

“It’s basically impossible to introduce people to Jesus if we’re not kind to them” (page 2).

The Goal

That the hearers engage others in open, authentic, curious, gracious conversation.

The Big Problem

By nature we are self-centered, self-interested, self-important people who value answers not questions. We are defensive, insecure, turned inward (incurvatus in se), always seeking self-justification.

The Big Promise

In Jesus, we have no need to be right or to defend ourselves, our positions, or even Jesus. We are free to adopt others’ values (as far as possible) and to humbly place other people above our need to feel right. Jesus goes with us, and the story isn’t over yet.

Readings for Worship

Proverbs 16:18-24, especially verse 24: “Gracious words are… sweet to the soul.”

Philippians 2:1-11 “In humility value others above yourself…”

Luke 8:40-50 Jesus takes time with a woman while an important and influential leader is waiting.

Sermon: Relational Structure

The Relational Structure seems like a good way to start off a sermon series that hinges on authentic relationships. This way of preaching asks the preacher to be open and vulnerable in a way that allows the congregation to be open and vulnerable, too. In this way, the sermon itself embodies one of the key teachings/experiences of the sermon series: your genuine openness invites openness from others.

For a more detailed look at this structure, read Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (2006). For a brief overview, check out https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/dynamic/relational/.

This was my first time using a Relational Structure, and that experience resulted in two reflections: Test-Driving a New Sermon Structure and 6 Tips for Preaching a New Structure.

Sermon overview

  1. ME
    My personal interaction with being kind (or not) to others.
  2. WE
    Our state as sinners: incurvatus in se, a circle turned in on itself, mixed with moments of real joy.
  3. GOD
    Jesus breaks the circle, seeks the good of others before himself.
  4. YOU
    In Jesus, you have no need for self-justification. You are free to be open to others and value them. Don’t be afraid. Jesus goes with you. And the story isn’t over yet.
  5. WE
    What if we were, more often than not, a community of people who value others above themselves?

Prayer for the Week

Father, I know that all people in this fallen creation are by nature self-centered, self-interested, and self-important people. But it’s hard to admit that I am self-centered; I am self-interested; I am self-important.

Like a circle turned in on itself, I want to protect my self-esteem; I hide my faults, even from myself.

Set me free, Lord: free from the need to defend or justify my failures.
Give me confidence in the forgiveness won for me by Jesus on the cross.
Give me the courage to live as a true sinner who has received true pardon.

Then shape in me the humility of my Lord Christ. Give me the freedom to value others above my need to be right. Amen

The Sermon

Read the full manuscript, or watch the sermon, below.

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6 Tips for Preaching a New Structure

I forgot how uncomfortable it can be to test-drive a sermon structure you’ve never used before. Before you buckle up and take a new design out for a spin, here are some tips to get you–and your hearers–home safely.

1. Keep Your Goal in Mind

I find the best way to use sermon structures effectively is to have a clear sense of what you are trying to shape in the hearts and lives of your hearers before you ask which structure helps you get that done. In other words, figure out what you are trying to say before you figure out how you are going to say it.

So the structure isn’t the most important thing about a sermon; the structure helps you do the most important thing: bring God’s Word to God’s people in a moment of grace.

When you go to try a new structure, make an intentional choice. Pick one that seems to help you accomplish the goal you have in mind. Of course, since the structure is new to you, you aren’t exactly sure how it’s going to play out. But not knowing all the details won’t stop you from making that choice intentionally.

Once you know the goal you have for the faith and lives of your hearers, keep that destination clearly in mind as you experiment with a new structure. Be willing to change structures if the one you chose just isn’t working. The first time I tried to preach a Relational Structure, it ended up being a Multiple Story Structure. That’s OK. It just means it might take you more than one try to get the hang of something new.

Keep the goal of your sermon in mind, and make sure the structure serves the goal.

2. Pay Attention to Your Transitions

If I have trouble remembering what comes next in the sermon, it’s probably a structure problem. If the transitions don’t keep the flow moving naturally, the structure itself will be less effective for the preacher and hearers.

In fact, you can identify many sermon structures simply by the transitions. As you move from Oops! to Ugh! in a Lowry Loop, or from the first inadequate answer to the second, better-but-still-inadequate answer in a Question Answered design, or from one side of a seemingly contradictory truth to the other in a Paradox Maintained sermon, the transitions all sound and feel identifiably unique.

[Side note: I like to play a Sunday afternoon game with my 9th-grade daughter where she has to guess the sermon structure from worship–and tell me her reasoning (Best. Dad. Ever.). A few weeks ago I started the sermon by saying, “I’d like to share three stories with you today …” She had the Multiple Story Structure nailed before I got through my first sentence.]

All that is to say, transitions are the most unique and identifiable part of any sermon structure. So if you are preaching a structure that is new to you, spend some extra time paying careful attention to how one section of the sermon flows naturally into the next.

Transitions are a roadmap for your hearers; if you are less familiar with the terrain, make sure the map makes sense to you before you try and take your hearers on a tour of the surrounding countryside.

3. Give Yourself Extra Time

You’ve got four weddings and a funeral scheduled, and the voters meeting got moved on top of the confirmation parent meeting, and that’s when you have three unexpected crisis counseling sessions. We’ve all had those kind of weeks.

At the risk of being obvious, that’s not a week to try out a new structure. When time is tight, you want a comfortable sermon flow you know inside and out. Chances are, you’ll be lucky to have a complete outline by Sunday morning, so you need to know it well.

Plan an extra 20-25% for prep time if you are using a less familiar structure. You’re going to have to do more rewriting and even some rethinking. Your patterns of preparation are refined through well-worn usage to get the product you are currently producing. Try something new and the old process just doesn’t work the same.

And that’s OK. In fact, it’s exciting. Who wants to preach (or listen to!) the same sermon week after week? Just plan ahead, cut out an extra meeting or two, pencil a rewrite into your calendar, cancel a staff meeting–intentionally plan margin. With a new structure, you just might need it.

4. Trust the Process

Have you ever taught a kid how to ride a bike? It seems completely ridiculous that moving forward would keep you from falling over. Your first reaction when that bike starts to wobble is to back off, protect yourself, slow down; and that’s when you bite the dust.

Preaching a new sermon structure is like that.

You’re trying to make the thing work. You get a little forward momentum, and all of a sudden it feels like you are going to crash and burn. It doesn’t hold together the way you thought it would. The transitions don’t feel natural. It’s like you got up on the bike for a second, you saw the 3D treasure chest at the bottom of the magic picture, and then, all of a sudden, you lose perspective and come to a grinding halt.

Your first reaction will be to scrap this silly new structure and revert to your go-to sermon outline just to get it done by Sunday. (That’s one reason you need more time, time to start to succeed, and then to fail, and then to work through it.)

Sometimes, you really should scrap this draft and start over with a different structure. And sometimes you need to trust the process and shape the sermon in ways that others have found helpful, even if you don’t quite see it yet.

If the goal of your sermon fits the new structure, don’t give up too easily. Trust the process. Don’t evaluate the structure based on what you imagine will go wrong; try it out and evaluate what actually happens.

5. Don’t Judge By Feel

When I preached that new sermon structure a few weeks ago, I realized something that is often hidden from my conscious experience: I evaluate a sermon while it is happening.

How are people responding? What non-verbals are they sending? Did they get quiet and focused at the right spot? Did they laugh when that tension was released? Did they experience the Gospel where I thought they would?

All of these and many more minute data points are observed and processed in the act of preaching. The preacher uses that feedback loop to pick up pace, dwell longer on a topic, make a clarifying statement, or rephrase on the fly.

But that feedback loop is tuned to the sermon structure. When you are familiar with a structure, you know the contours of the whole, what to expect when, and how you can make natural adjustments based on the input you are receiving from your hearers.

I found that my feedback loop was disrupted when I preached a new structure. I felt slightly disoriented as I engaged the people and evaluated their response. I didn’t have a set of expectations on which to evaluate the sermon. I wasn’t sure how it was going, or even how it went.

I imagine most preachers have a sense about whether they preached the sermon they intended or not. Of course, we trust the Holy Spirit to work in the Word whether we have a good day in the pulpit or not. And since the hearers bring almost as much to the sermon as the preacher does, we can’t take too much credit (or blame) for what gets heard and lived out.

But still, there are times when you leave the pulpit with a prayer of thanks, and other times when you leave praying for divine intervention; some sermons “work” while some “fall flat.”

When I preached a new structure, I discovered I wasn’t able to evaluate the same way I usually do. If I trusted only my experience of the sermon, I might never use that structure again. But I sought input from trusted listeners and was able to evaluate based on their input as well as my own.

When preaching a new structure, don’t jump to conclusion based on your experience of the sermon. Your sense of the sermon will be less accurate precisely because the structure is new.

6. Get Right Back in the Saddle

The first time I tried to preach a Relational Structure, I ended up defaulting to a more familiar structure because it just wasn’t working. It took me almost a year to try again.

I used that Relational Structure four weeks ago in a sermon, and it went–well, it was hard to evaluate exactly how it went. But outside input leads me to believe it went just fine.

This weekend I am preaching, you guessed it, a Relational Structure sermon again. I didn’t force it, but the goal of the sermon and the topic at hand seemed to make it a natural possibility. So I opted to preach that new structure again soon after I gave it a shot for the first time.

You probably aren’t surprised that the  process went a lot smoother this time around. I had a much clearer idea of what should go where, and how to make the transitions seem natural and obvious. The structure shaped what I wanted to say in ways that helped me say it and, I think, will help the hearers experience it.

The second time around is way more natural than the first.

Obvious, right? Just remember that obvious truth the next time you use a structure that’s new to you. The first couple attempts might be a bit bumpy, or even painful. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get right back in the saddle.

Your hearers will be grateful you did. And so will you.


Looking for a new sermon structure to try? Consider experimenting with Frame and Refrain, Question Answered, or Metaphorical Movement structures. These and many more are described succinctly at https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/

You can find other blogs related to sermon structures on this site by going to the tag Sermon Structure.

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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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That One Time I Accidentally Said, “Kiss My A**” Three Times During the Gospel Lesson

I plead ignorance on this one.

But the situation still brings up legitimate questions of communication, cultural norms, and offense as a preaching technique that Jesus seemed to use, but maybe we shouldn’t …

OK; here’s the situation. I’m preaching on Luke 14, the Parable of the Banquet where the rich guests who were invited (and RSVP’d, by the way) all give the lamest of excuses for not showing up after the caterers have already put the food on the serving table.

As a lead in to the sermon, I am reading the Gospel Lesson, Luke 14:1-24. Now, friends, 24 verses is a lot of reading to do straight up from the pulpit, so fearing an onset of sudden narcolepsy, I chose to present the lesson as much as read it. Those verses include several different conversations and interactions and at least two different parables, so using the space of the sanctuary seemed like a good way of breaking up the reading and making it more understandable for the hearers.

And that was the goal, making it more understandable for the hearers. So I played the opening scene with the man with dropsy to one side of the congregation. The table with the Pharisees I imagined on the other side. The conversation with the host of the banquet was demonstrably an aside. A teacher of the law piped up from back at the table, and Jesus answers with a parable. So far, so good…

Here’s where I ran in to trouble.

I wanted the hearers to get a handle on just how offensive the guests were when they reneged on their RSVP. I mean, “I just bought a field and now I have to go see it???!!!” How lame can you get? I have to go watch the paint dry, I have to go trim my nose hairs, I have to go feed my fish, Mr. President, so I can’t make it to the ballroom for the dinner now that the food is being served!

It’s not only rude, it is a conscious rejection of the relationship and equal social status implied by accepting the invitation in the first place. These guys aren’t just too busy, they are intentionally trying to ostracize the host!

So I wanted to get some sense of that across to the congregation as I read the Gospel Lesson. So after each, “Please excuse me,” I added a hand gesture.

Mind you, it was not the first hand gesture I thought of in this context. Nor was it the second, I might add. Overall, I thought my filter was working quite well.

So I was mildly surprised when my own Mother graciously asked me afterward, “Justin, what does sticking your thumb on your nose and wiggling your fingers mean to you?!”

I told her I thought it was roughly equivalent to sticking both thumbs on your temples and waving moose antlers at someone, kind of like saying Na-na Na-na Boo-boo, or sticking out your tongue. That’s when dear old Mom dropped this one on me: “I always thought it meant, Kiss my a**.”

Oops.

Thanks, Mom.

Now, to her credit, my Dad thought the same thing. I did a non-scientific poll over the next couple of days, and it came back about 50/50: half the people thought the gesture meant a more general disrespect for authority, the other half thought it was a specific invitation for lips to meet glutes.

In my own defense, I’ve done as much Google searching as I can stand on the subject, and I cannot find the more narrow meaning listed, though “thumbing your nose” does have some interesting variations and etymology.

But it doesn’t really matter if I can find it in a dictionary; meaning is in the eye of the interpreter. Some of the people in a worship service at my church are sure they saw their pastor use a hand gesture that meant something specific and vulgar while reading the Gospel lesson!

So the real question is, is it ever OK to give offense as a communication device?

Is it ever OK to give offense as a communication device?

When I considered presenting the Gospel lesson in a somewhat dramatic format, I risked offending some people. I know our crowd, and that was not a concern for me.

When I chose even a mildly disrespectful hand gesture to accent the meaning of the text, I risked offending some people. In this case, the risk seemed small to me and defensible based on what I wanted to do in the sermon.

Had I thought my people would think the gesture was more vulgar and rude than I intended, I would have chosen differently.

But why?

Because giving that kind of offense in this context would have gotten in the way of hearing the message.

At least I think it would have. But the people hearing Jesus speak would have certainly been offended–if not scandalized!–by some of what He said and how he said it. There are times Jesus seems to go out if His way to say something offensive or shocking to wake people up, or tear down their defenses. In those cases, Jesus met hardness of heart and closed ears with a kind of holy offense designed to unclog the hearts and minds of His hearers.

Is it ever OK to do that today? Would you intentionally give offense from the pulpit to make a point?

For me, the preaching ministry of the Church hinges on mutual love between the one preaching and those seeking to hear Jesus in the sermon.

Loving your hearers means not giving unnecessary offense, not putting any stumbling block in front of those who need to hear a Word from the Lord.

Loving your preacher, on the other hand, means listening for Jesus not only because of, but sometimes in spite of, what’s coming out of the preacher’s mouth; putting the best construction on everything; being slow to take offense and quick to understand the best possible intention.

Having a relationship of trust, love, and respect between hearers and speakers in the preaching ministry of your congregation means the preacher will be willing to take risks and the hearers will be willing to overlook failure. Love covers over a multitude of homiletical sins.

Preaching the Word on a Sunday morning is a joint effort of the hearers and the speaker, and Jesus’ Spirit is active in and through both. I don’t think intentional offense fits in that model, though risking offense in order to present God’s Word it almost necessary.

So if you are a member of my family of faith and I offended you with my delivery of the Gospel lesson, I trust you have already given me the benefit of the doubt and forgiven me for whatever offense I gave.

And if you thought the reading of the Gospel lesson was awesome and helped you understand the text better, great! That’s what I intended.

And if you weren’t offended this time around, give it time; I am willing to take risks in the pulpit because I trust your sanctified ears and hearts. Which means I will also occasionally make the wrong decision, or cross the wrong line, or simply mess up.

Please love me and forgive me and know that my heart and soul go into helping you know and follow Jesus, and I could never get in the pulpit in the first place if we didn’t already have that in common.

And if you missed it, you can see the Gospel lesson, and the sermon, below. Just listen with baptized ears…

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