Happy New School Year!

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Ahh! the smell of new books and pencils; there’s something enticing about it! At the beginning of a new school year kids exude excitement as they take another step on the journey to adulthood. They get to hang out with friends they’ve not seen since the beginning of summer. Some students will even be eager to learn new things. Parents are super-excited because they can recover from a summer of “relaxing” vacations and the responsibility of constant childcare. Teachers are glad to be back in the classroom, because, like students, the school calendar and the potential of new beginnings has shaped their lives. Even in church we’re fired up because midweek programs come back online and children and youth advance into new grade levels.

Everyone’s excited. This newfound energy might not last, depending on the circumstances, but in the rhythm of family life, the new school year—more than the liturgical New Year of Advent or the turn of the civil calendar—is the dominant New Year. I choose to capitalize on this season of renewal with an appropriate sermon series.

My “New Year” sermon series play off themes of fresh starts, new beginnings, or a plan to re-focus on what’s most important. I try to present a series that is relatively seeker-sensitive. I’ve found that during this season the people we want to reach with the Good News are more open to an invitation to worship. As the wider culture is investing in a new school year, folks are interested in how to improve their lives. This is a time to build momentum in the life of the church as we seek to spread the influence of the Kingdom of God in our communities. These circumstances present a great opportunity to teach Biblical concepts of renewal, hope, and second chances.

Dare to Be Different

One year I preached a series titled “Dare to Be Different.” The series aims at students, but is broad enough for everyone. It’s easy to slip into conformity with the dominant culture in a new school year. Christ calls us to a different life, a better life, a higher life.

I started “Winning the Rat Race Without Becoming a Rat” on a Labor Day Weekend. The series teaches ethics and mission for both the workplace and the halls of our schools. I wanted to capitalize on the renewed energy invested in work and learning following the vacation season.

“Back to the Three Rs” Sermon Series

School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hick’ry stick

Will Cobb and Gus Edwards wrote this in 1907 when teachers used hickory sticks in the classroom to maintain discipline. I know teachers who wish the hickory stick was a live option today. They would be free to teach more readin’, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic!

The Three Rs are the basics. They’re fundamentals of education which form the basis of life in civil society. People need to be able to read, write, and master basic arithmetic. Our faith journey also requires mastering basics. We need to learn and enact fundamentals of the faith to become the persons God calls us to be, following Jesus in his mission. The series consists of three sermons, each covering one of the three “Rs”: Repentance, Redemption, and Restoration, largely following the Wesleyan Ordo Salutis.

Three Rs: Repentance – Mark 1:14-15

Repentance is fundamental to the faith. By the Holy Spirit, God reaches out to us with prevenient grace, calling us into relationship with himself. Jesus’ first word to us was a call to repent. “Repent” means to change your mind, or change your way of thinking. We respond to God’s gracious call by repenting of our sins, turning our lives over to his care and direction.

Three Rs: Redemption – Romans 3:21-26

Redemption is the work of God through his covenant faithfulness and the faithfulness of Jesus. The ancients used the word “redemption” in the context of prison or slavery. To redeem someone was to free them from their imprisonment. It was especially used for prisoners condemned to death. Jesus has been faithful and wants to redeem us from slavery to sin and death.

Three Rs: Restoration – 2 Corinthians 13:9-10

Far too many Christians stop with only Two Rs. The third fundamental represents the heart of the Wesleyan way, the way of holiness. The word translated as “restoration” means “maturation.” A disciple is one who learns from, and through emulating, becomes like his or her teacher. Jesus is our teacher. Paul urges us to grow up in the faith. The finest athletes in the world become great by returning again and again to the fundamentals. We can allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and lead us into maturity, to learn the words and the ways of Jesus.

We want to take advantage of seasonal momentum. A sermon series focused on renewal, new beginnings, and fundamentals pairs well with the beginning of a new school year, the true New Year in the rhythm of our congregations’ lives. Happy New Year!

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Dr. Chris Howlett serves as the Senior Pastor of Lebanon United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Ky. He and his wife, Roz, are the parents of Chloe, Josiah, and Lydia. Chris loves soccer, coaching goalkeepers at the high school level. He coaches clergy and laity to discover and utilize their God-given talents and strengths for ministry. Catch up with him at www.chrishowlett.me.

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