Sermon Ideas For Zephaniah 3:14-20 Part 2
Christ has come--Christ is coming--Christ will come again. Here again is the prevailing Advent theme. The texts for this day, particularly Zephaniah 3:14-20, describe Advent attitudes and behaviors in the restored kingdom of God. The Lord God is already in our midst promising victory over the forces of evil. (Zeph 3:17)
How can Christians live faithfully in these times where corruption, injustice, and war seem to prevail? What are some implications for Christian action in the face of the struggle against forces of evil? Who is in control anyhow? This essay provides some suggestions for pastoral ministry in response to these questions.
The Lord is in control. As stated in our Old Testament text (v. 17), "The Lord your God is in your midst; a warrior who gives victory." God has indeed taken the initiative to enter a broken world. The saving and restoring action of God has already occurred in Jesus Christ. The overwhelming and frequently paralyzing effects of fear and anxiety need no longer be the significant determining factors for Christian perspective and action.
The church must celebrate the ultimate victory that has already been won. The season of Advent offers many opportunities to celebrate the victory of the Lord over the forces of evil. God as mighty warrior, has already assured us of victory. Pastors may wish to use this season as a time in which to identify and to celebrate specific joys and victories in the congregation. Pastors can use this occasion to enable parishioners to "rejoice and exult with all your heart," to "sing aloud and shout for joy" over the continuing actions of God in the midst of the congregation. (Zeph 3:14) Within all parishes, there are numerous opportunities to celebrate particularly significant victories. Pastors must be prepared to acknowledge and to celebrate specific examples of the victory of Christ in the parish community. Some persons describe this as using "any excuse to party." The Old Testament text for this day encourages us to discover contextually specific reasons to party!
Pastoral implications here are related to building or enhancing of a positive climate for ministry within congregations. Pastors will want to be alert for various examples of the "foretaste of the feast to come" within the parish. In addition to the sermon, remember that people gather during Advent for committee meetings, choir rehearsal, church school classes, youth groups, etc. Here are excellent opportunities for asking participants to share with one another how they have experienced the inbreaking of the reign of God.
During the past year I have been conducting research involving effective ministry. Twenty-eight pastors and congregations comprised the sample population. One of the striking results was that in each case, pastors and lay leaders worked very hard to develop and maintain a positive climate. The common method used by all was the provision for the mutual sharing of instances of Christ's presence. The principal facilitating criterion for this sharing was the willingness of pastors and leaders to model this for others, often as part of pre-meeting devotions or in temple talks during worship.
It is far too easy to become trapped in the cold, murky swamp of broken promises, unmet goals, and unrealistic expectations. Too often meetings and relationships seem to become boring and meaningless when we give our exclusive attention to the mundane and negative.
The church is the community in which the promises of God are being fulfilled. It is the community in which heaven and earth do meet in healthy relationships. Sin indeed abounds. Nevertheless, the victory has been achieved. The reality of Zephaniah's prophecy is being realized now. Pastors will mark and celebrate examples of the presence of "The Lord your God is in your midst." (Zeph 3:17).
The church must identify and encourage specific examples of ministry in the new kingdom. It is difficult to live in the "even now and not yet" context of Advent. It is easier to allow ourselves to "grow weary in well doing." (Gal 6:9) Zephaniah encourages us with a similar reminder. "Do not let your hands grow weak." (Zeph 3:16)
Today's texts challenge Christians to concrete deeds of service.
John the Baptizer warns against hypocrisy and encourages a sincere search for God's will. Tax collectors and soldiers are given specific moral obligations. Fairness in relationships and sharing food and clothing with the poor are examples of right living based on repentance in the kingdom of God (Lk 3:7-14). What specific ministry opportunities are possible within this particular community? Who are the lame and the outcast? Who are the shamed and the weary? (Zeph 3:19)
In all communities there are many who suffer experiences of exploitation, brokenness, and isolation. Persons growing up in addictive and/or abusive families learn to keep this terrible experience a secret from the world in order to survive. They live painful lives overwhelmed by a sense of shame and isolation. As a result of family dysfunction, these persons often are not able to allow themselves to participate in and to experience the renewing love of God within the community. They feel ashamed, lame, and outcast. In Christ, and the church, those who believe themselves to be forgotten and alone, receive a new family name and status. (Zeph 3:20)
Pastors will find in Zephaniah a charge for ministry to all those persons whom society and even the congregation would rather forget. This text offers visions of renewal (v. 17), hope, and renewed community (v. 20), that have been promised by God and can be realized within the church.
The church points to the renewing acts of God in individual and community experience. With the coming of Christ, fear and anxiety need not control our lives. They exist in an imperfect world. Yet, the Christian need not remain in bondage to anxiety. Pastors and trained laity must develop opportunities where anxiety, fear, worry can be shared and accepted. In the context of this acceptance, persons trapped by painful emotions begin to feel acceptance and empowerment. As one experiences the acceptance of others, that person becomes more open to experience the renewing acceptance inherent in the grace of God.
Here is a wonderful opportunity to consider developing support groups within the community for those suffering the paralyzing anxieties in grief, addiction, abuse, family violence, etc. Teams of lay ministers can be organized and trained to reach out in renewing love to those experiencing painful life crisis.
Within accepting Christian relationships new awareness of the honorable, just, pure, gracious, and praise-worthy can be realized. (Phil 4:8) This is indeed cause for rejoicing in the Lord always. (Phil 4:4)
It is not just we who rejoice in God. Zephaniah reminds us that God rejoices over us. Many people cannot remember specific examples of a parent rejoicing in them. They recall more frequently memories of punishment, unrealistic expectations, rejection, or ridicule. Here, the God, the powerful warrior, rejoices over the chosen people. "He will rejoice over you with gladness" and "He will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival." (v. 17)
Pastors will point to the great festival of incarnation as a day of rejoicing, not only for us, but for the Lord God.
Daryl S. Everett