Editor’s Note: This article provides suggestions for a 6-week preaching series that departs from the Revised Common Lectionary. Dates are matched to Epiphany 2024, but it can be adapted to any season.
This preaching series (with faith formation components) focuses on the spiritual life and growth of present-day disciples of Jesus. The season of Epiphany is an appropriate time to preach on this topic as the congregation takes a breath between Advent, Christmas, and Lent. It is a green season, anticipating growth and deeper life. It would also work well in any part of Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar.
This series responds to the question, “How can we grow spiritually deeper?”
Jesus made it very simple for us. He said, “Love.”
The framing text for this series is Jesus’ response to the teacher of the Law in Mark 12:28-31:
One of the scribes … asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
It really is that simple, but it is not easy. It begs one important question:
This series is an attempt to provide practical activities that the congregation can fold into their daily lives that will help them learn how to grow deeper in the love of God and neighbor. The imagery of the series is framed in one key word and two key metaphors that help us visualize what Jesus is saying.
The key word is Relationships. To love God and to love neighbor is to cultivate relationships.
The key visual metaphors are:
- the fruit-bearing tree or vine, and,
- overflowing pots or a cascading waterfall.
The preacher might consider finding one or both of these visual elements to incorporate into the worship space throughout the series.
Get started with the series
Relationships are not an option. They are the fabric of life. Jesus invited his disciples to prioritize their relationship to him; to remain in him like a branch remains in the vine. If they do, he said, they will bear much fruit. The fruit is the overflow of the relationship between the branch and the vine. When we love God with our mind, spirit, and body, the love of God will overflow from our lives into the neighbors around us, both comfortable and uncomfortable.
Healthy relationships take work. They must be cultivated. Each week of this series is built around one aspect of loving God and loving our neighbors that is associated with basic spiritual practices that help cultivate the relationship.
- Introduction to the Overflow Principle.
- We love God with our mind through Bible Study and Prayer.
- We love God with our Spirit through worship.
- We love God with our body through service and giving.
- We love our comfortable neighbor through Christian community and fellowship.
- We love our uncomfortable neighbor through sharing our faith and creation care.
The preacher and leader of spiritual formation in the congregation might consider pairing this sermon series with the course at Faith+Lead Academy titled Overflow: An Introduction to Growing in Faith. This would be an excellent time to launch new small groups and encourage them to gather around the corresponding lesson related to the week’s sermon.
Week 1: The Deep Life of Overflow
Jan. 7, 2024: Baptism of Our Lord
- Psalm 1:1-3 | “…like a tree planted near streams of water…”
- Philippians 1:9-11 | “…that your love may overflow…”
- Luke 6:43-45 | The fruit is the overflow of the tree
- John 15:1-15 | Jesus is the vine, the disciples are the branches. “Remain in me…”
- Mark 12:28-34 | Love God with your whole heart—mind, spirit, body—and love your neighbor as yourself.
The purpose of this week is to provide an overview of the sermon series and help the congregation understand that cultivating an ongoing and deepening relationship with God is core to our identity as disciples of Jesus. If we want to be a congregation that has a wide canopy to offer healthy, nourishing fruit to our neighbors in need, then we must devote time to cultivating deep roots in our relationship with God. The spiritual practices of loving God with our mind, spirit, and body are the root structure that will allow us to love our neighbors as the love of God organically overflows from our knowledge that we are loved by God.
Key Words: Relationships, Cultivation, Depth, Fruitfulness, Overflow
Key Images: Fruit-bearing tree/vine. Overflowing and cascading pots or fountain
Week 2: Loving God with Our Mind
Jan. 14, 2024: Second Sunday after Epiphany
- Romans 12:1-2 | “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”
- 1 Peter 1:13 “…prepare your minds for action…”
- Luke 2:39-40 | “…Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom…”
- Mark 12:28-34 | “…Love the Lord…with your mind…”
Many quality relationships begin with the mind. When we meet an interesting person we become a student of that person. We ask questions like: “Where are you from?” “What are your hobbies?” “What makes you tick, what ticks you off?” Learning about someone requires conversation involving listening and speaking.
The same is true in our relationship with God. Loving God with our mind is about committing to be in a lifelong conversation with God. We listen to God by studying scripture through Bible reading, sermons, podcasts, courses, etc… We talk to God through prayer.
The preacher may want to offer a simple challenge to the congregation. Commit to setting aside a few minutes, at least three days a week, to read a passage of scripture, reflect on it through journaling, and talk to God with praise and petition.
- Bible Study
Week 3: Loving God with Our Spirit
Jan. 21, 2024: Third Sunday after Epiphany
- Psalm 95:1-7 | A topography of praise
- Colossians 3:14-17 | A portrait of a worshiping community
- Matthew 6:5-8 | Prayer as an authentic conversation with God
- Mark 12:28-34 | “…Love the Lord…with your spirit…”
The spirit is the beyond-rational, emotional, experiential center of the human soul. It is where we feel our relationships. This week offers an opportunity to examine the purpose of worship. Each person has been given a unique personality and expresses emotion and connects with God as part of their natural mode of being. Worship is an authentic expression of praise and gratitude for the loving relationship we have with God. Encourage the congregation to explore various forms of expression. Some people are quiet and contemplative. Others are boisterous and demonstrative. What would it look like to allow various modes of expression in the worship service?
Week 4: Loving God with Our Body
Jan. 28, 2024: Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 | “…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…”
- 1 John 3:16-24 | Love is an action for the good of the other
- Matthew 7:24-27 | be doers, not hearers only
- Mark 12:28-34 | “…Love the Lord…with your strength…”
The love of God is embodied action. It is important to remind the congregation that we cannot separate the mind, spirit, and body. We can’t think or feel without a body. Our body can’t move without a mind.
The body is the connective tissue between loving God and loving our neighbor. Our texts this week remind us that love without action for the good of the neighbor is not love at all. We cannot love God without loving our neighbor and we cannot truly love the neighbor, especially our enemies, without the love of God overflowing from our lives.
The life of the disciple is a life called to service for the good of the other. How can the congregation use the gifts of their physical resources to serve the world?
Week 5: Loving Our Comfortable Neighbors
Feb. 4, 2024: Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
- Acts 2:42-47 | An ideal portrait of the church
- 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 | one body, many parts
- Matthew 12:44-50 | Jesus redefines family
- Mark 12:28-34 | “…Love your neighbor as yourself…”
This week we shift our focus from loving God to loving our neighbors, always remembering that loving our neighbors is loving God and vice versa. Loving our comfortable neighbor is a focus on the importance of having a healthy faith community. People who share a trust in Jesus are called to participate in a local congregation, recognizing that they are one part in a dynamic body. Each person has a unique set of spiritual gifts and natural talents that can contribute to the overall health of the congregation.
This week offers the congregation a great opportunity to promote small groups outside of weekly worship services. These groups are the place where individuals can truly be known and given an opportunity to fully participate with their giftedness in the life of other people.
- Vital Relationships/Fellowship
Week 6: Loving Our Uncomfortable Neighbors
Feb. 11, 2024: Transfiguration of Our Lord
- 1 Peter 3:13-17 | “…always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you…”
- Matthew 5:43-48 | Love your enemy
- Mark 12:28-34 | “…Love your neighbor as yourself…”
Perhaps the most difficult part of being a disciple of Jesus is to follow his instruction to love our enemies. It is good to remind the congregation that Jesus’ disciples were people who experienced great persecution for their faith. Peter’s words in the epistle exhort his church to always be ready to give a reason for the hope they have … to the people who are abusing them for having that hope.
This is a massive topic that cannot be adequately addressed in one sermon. The preacher may take various approaches.
- A simple call to specifically pray for people who are on “the other side” of whatever heated division a person may have.
- A call to remember how every human deserves to be loved and try to see the humanity in the “other’s” life and situation.
- A call to remember the interconnectedness of all things. This can be a call to creation care and the acknowledgement that we all share the same home.
- Sharing My Faith
Suggested faith formation add-on
Consider using the Faith+Lead Academy course Overflow: An Introduction to Growing in Faith as a faith formation accompaniment to this preaching series. This could be an excellent way to launch new small groups and encourage them to gather around the corresponding lesson related to the week’s sermon. The self-paced online offering is available for individuals or groups who want to dive deeper into the concepts and practices outlined in the series.