Pregnant Hope: An Advent sermon about Pregnancy

In this sermon I focus on the pregnant Mary, and how the physical act of pregnancy teaches us how to love our nieghbour as ourselves. Remarkably, the phenomenon of fetal microchimerism teaches us about loving another person at a molecular level too. Our bodies from the very inception of life teach us the main messages of what it means to be human. I use artwork to illustrate why thinking about pregnant Mary is important.

Sermon: Changing from the Outside In, a Halloween Sermon – Psalm 109, Colossians 3:1-14, Job 29:14

It’s interesting to be talking about this passage on Hallowe’en, the day we celebrate dress up.  I think part of us would resist thinking about these qualities of Christian life like clothing.  Because if they are something we put on, then perhaps we are hiding something.   Maybe our Christianity is a mask we are wearing, something that is just on the outside. But maybe clothing ourselves is a way to change who we are inside.

Sermon: Travelling Mercies on Family Journeys – Genesis 37:17-35

The story of Joseph and his brothers has captured our attention for thousands of years. It’s a story of family violence. A story of a family walking a long journey with the consequences of that violence. It’s a story of how God can take violent people and turn them around.

Why did violence happen in that family? Maybe it wasn’t the coat they saw in the distance that tipped the balance on the day Joseph was sold into Egypt. Maybe it wasn’t because Joseph was a tattle tale, squealing on his brothers. Maybe it wasn’t the father’s love given unequally, unfairly. Maybe it wasn’t because of the dreams.  Maybe it wasn’t any of those things. Maybe it was simply the weather was too hot, everyone was cranky.

Sermon: Really Listening, The Story of the Wheat and the Tares – Matthew 13:24-30

It is sometimes very complicated to read the Bible and figure out a way forward. The best way to read the Bible is not to do it alone, but to do it with open ears…to listen to how other faithful people are reading the Bible, and to pray for God’s spirit to guide us. To listen not just to how people are interpreting the Bible in our congregation, or in our own conference, but to listen to the wider church here and around the world. And, importantly, can we listen to our own history, and see where we went wrong?  Can we listen to the terrible things that happen when we read only one bible story, and ignore another? 

Sermon: Swearing Oaths: Taking Jesus’ Words to Heart – Exodus 22:10-11, Matthew 5:33-37

Truth-telling.  From the time we are very little, we know that the truth matters.   There’s a phrase from my childhood, “Cross my heart and hope to die”…words we say to show that we are really really telling the truth.  It’s actually an oath…although it’s lost its religious meaning.  “Cross my heart”…which is a religious symbol, calling God to bear witness, and “hope to die”, meaning,  if I don’t tell the truth, may God strike me dead!We need to know whether people are telling the truth.  Whether it’s the person who is selling us a car, the person we are dating, or a politician to whom we give power…we want to know that they are trustworthy.  We make decisions and base our lives on people telling us the truth.

Sermon: Reign of Christ Sunday, A Good Sunday for Mennonites – Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 1:17-23

When you are very good at doing things for God, you start to look around and you notice that other people aren’t feeding, clothing, welcoming people at all, or maybe they are not doing it efficiently enough, or in the right way. We can be like the famous do-er Martha, who was judgemental of Mary. We can become judgers. we can put ourselves in the role of God, deciding who is a sheep and who is a goat. Mennonites have been pretty quick to put their judging hat on, and it’s not just about who is working hard in the feeding, clothing and welcoming department.

Sermon: Our Bodies as Gift and Sacrifice – Romans 12:1-13

Today I want to talk about our bodies as a gift–the fact that they are a gift from God and that we are called to give our bodies as a gift, as a sacrifice, back to God.  I was asked by your pastor to share a bit about a decision I made four years ago to donate a kidney, and how that relates to our faith in God.  Why are we all called to give our bodies to God, and what does that mean?

Sermon: Take Up Your Cross on the Home Front – Mark 8:27-38, Romans 5:1-11

Having looked at the biblical story, let’s turn now to our own context.  How does our identity as followers of Jesus  lead us to take up a cross?  Today I want to share what I think “take up your cross” means in the context of family life  Everyone is part of a family at some point…a family of origin or an adopted family, and even if you grow up and live alone, you still can reflect on that intense time of living together.  Now we don’t usually put ‘family life’ and ‘take up your cross’ together. Maybe it even sounds like an oxymoron, something that doesn’t belong together.  I have never heard a wedding sermon on this text, so we might think it doesn’t have much relevance for that context.

Sermon: Jesus in the Synagogue; Terror and Hardheartedness – Mark 3:1-6, Psalm 143:3-8

If I was making a movie of this story, I’d start with a shot of Jesus and a few of his disciples walking up a dirt road in the bright sun.  They’re talking among themselves, but Jesus is looking ahead.  The camera pans around…”What is he looking at?”  It’s a road lined with white clay buildings, women scattered here and there.  No one is working, because it’s the Sabbath.  They look at Jesus and his followers with curiosity. There are no men on the street. At the end, at the top of the hill is a building set apart a bit.  The door is open, but you can’t see in.  A closeup then of Jesus’ face, there’s a determination around his eyes….

Sermon: Scripture, a Door That’s Right For You – Matthew 7:7-10, Psalm 19:7-10

 Here is where the similarity between vows and resolutions comes in. No matter how much you think and dream about being physically fit, or how many clothes you buy to exercise in, unless you actually do some physical activity, you will not become physically fit! And no matter how much you want to become a good piano player and think about the concerts you will give and dream about the beautiful music you will play, unless you actually put your hands on the keyboard and practice, you will not become a better piano player. And no matter how much you think, ”Wouldn’t it be great to deepen my faith this year, to draw closer to God,” unless there is some activity on your part, nothing will change…

Sermon: Epiphany in the Ordinary and Everyday – Matthew 2:1-15, Genesis 28:10-16, John 1:51

The story of Jacob’s ladder, and the story of the magi, are two very different stories of epiphany, from very different parts of the Bible.  But they both teach us that epiphanies are gifts.  And in some epiphanies there is choice involved.  You can choose to do the work of unpacking the epiphany. You can take the journey it calls you to.  You can embrace the epiphany, tell your family about it, and be forever changed. Or you can walk by the revelation, you can refuse to believe it’s happening in your ordinary, everyday time.  

Sermon: “What about him?” Comparisons in the Community of Faith – John 21:15-23

I picture an old, old man sitting at a table. He sits at a table near an open window.  He can see the hills of Ephesus through the window.  Another person sits with him, a person with vellum and ink.  He’s writing.  The old, old man, whose name is John, is telling a story, a story about a Saviour, a man named Jesus.  The word became flesh and dwelt among us. John has spent his life telling stories, telling about meeting Jesus by the sea, the years they spent together, the healings, the miracles, the teaching.  The terrible days when Jesus was crucified, and then about his rising from the dead, his appearances. John has been sitting in this chair, at this table, telling the story for days, weeks perhaps, trying to get it all down.  He’s been asked to have this story written down…

Sermon: Jesus Saves–An Introduction – Mark 8:27-37, Psalm 27

We are starting a sermon series where we will try to unpack how Jesus saves us. We are a Christian church, we come here and read stories about Jesus, we pray to Jesus, we sing songs of praise to Jesus…what does this mean? Particularly as we head into the Good Friday and Easter season, we wonder, what did Jesus’ death on the cross have to do with it? How does Jesus save us? How might Jesus save us?

There are as many ways to talk about being saved as there are Christians, but theologians have observed that our thinking falls into certain categories. There are word pictures or metaphors we use to describe the mystery of how God saves us, many of which are drawn from scripture. Certain metaphors have tended to be popular in certain denominations or in certain time periods.

Sermon: Praying for Fire and Brimstone – Jonah 4

An interactive sermon where I invite people to take on different characters in the story: “Jonah means dove, a book that brings an olive branch of good news to all people, especially in dark times. This morning we sat in Nineveh’s chair. We sat in Jonah and Israel’s chair. We are invited to sit in God’s mercy seat, to feel God’s compassion. As followers of Jesus, we are called to carry that olive branch of peace, that message of hope and good news, no matter what the cost.”

Sermon: Overthrown–God’s Power to Change – Jonah 3

Wholesale change is sometimes what we need.  If you have seen wholesale change, if you have seen God hapak someone’s life, then you know how dramatic this can be. I was with someone when God hapaked their heart. It wasn’t anything I said, I was just there to witness it. It was just a sudden shift in thinking, a sudden realization, a moment of clarity, and they were…overthrown! This person had spent years putting up defenses, so they wouldn’t have to face the destructiveness of their own actions. And suddenly in an hour, all the defenses just fell away, and the person crumbled. Their past was laid open to them, and they saw with new clear eyes the trail of destruction behind them…

Sermon: Jonah in the Whale–Praying When you are Down – Jonah 1:17-2:10

A sermon that uses slides of artwork to illustrate the story of Jonah: Jonah descends to the depths in this story, but he arrives, by the end of chapter two, at the surface alive again, by the grace of God. Going to the depths and coming up again…that’s something all human beings can relate to, even today. The translatability of this story to today’s world, combined with the vivid imagery may explain why this story has had such lasting power in our culture.

Sermon: Jonah…Journeying with a Man on a Journey – Jonah 1:1-16

I hope we can approach the story with curiosity and an open mind. In our reading of this book in the coming weeks, I hope that we don’t try to reduce Jonah to a pithy little nugget that we can put in our pocket. It’s polyvalent…it has many meanings; it’s a story that can journey with us, because it’s a story about a journey. A journey that involves storms and amazing creatures and amazing conversions in foreign lands. It’s a big picture story that points to God and the nature of creation. I hope you are as excited as I am to be taking flight with Jonah. What does a man named Dove have to tell us?

Sermon: Creating Sanctuaries–Abuse in the Church – Psalm 32, Exodus 25:3-9

Schools, businesses and professional organizations of all kinds have safe place policies. Now I know that we have high hopes for the church. As followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we have a lower percentage of bad behavior? We strive not just for civility and not killing each other, we strive for love in the church. Shouldn’t the church be a safer place than other places?  Yes, there is love and caring in the church but unfortunately, people bring every part of their humanness to the church, and that includes the humanness that leads to hurting each other.

Sermon: Praying for Hope in Gaza – Matthew 2:1-23, Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

Jesus was a child refugee in Gaza. We can see Jesus’ face in the many children in Gaza today. And the weeping of the parents in Bethlehem described in our scripture resonates with so many images we’ve seen in the last few weeks of Israeli and Arab parents wailing. “A voice was heard in Rama, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Sermon: A Light in the World–Faith Made Visible – Ephesians 5:1-20, 2:8-10

On January 21, 1525 a tall man with a big head of black hair knelt down. They called him “Strong George”. He asked his friend Conrad to baptize him, even though he had already been baptized as a baby. Conrad Grebel baptized “Strong George”. Strong George then baptized all of the others present…Conrad  Felix, and all the other men and women. It was their way of being a light in the world for Jesus…they formed a church that day in 1525. They came to be known as Anabaptists…rebaptizer

Sermon: You are a Greeter in God’s House – Psalm 84, Luke 15:11-32

But I wonder. Sometimes, some of our actions to newcomers can feel like we are the doorman or the gatekeeper. Things we do and say, can feel judging rather than welcoming, even if we don’t mean them that way.  I want to share a few stories of my own experiences as a newcomer…. for the visitor, every person they meet is the gatekeeper of the church.

Sermon: The Transformative Call to Welcome Strangers – Genesis 18:1-15

We look at this story, and we think, “Boy, that Abraham, he sure is putting on the ritz for these strangers, what a guy!”   But for the average Ancient Near East person reading this story, they’d just go, “So?”  Abraham was not some maverick hospitality guru breaking social norms…on the contrary, he was doing exactly what was encouraged and expected by his culture… What is our culture of hospitality?

Sermon: Not the End of the Story–An Easter Sermon – Mark 16:1-8

This gospel tells us that the male disciples flee in the garden of Gethsemane, and the same word, flee, is used to describe how the women react when they see the empty tomb. The women are described as trembling. They are afraid. But the good news that this gospel writer is sharing about is not dependent on what people do…the good news is about Jesus Christ. About the kingdom that he is proclaiming. A kingdom that cannot be stopped by anything. Not even by his own followers betraying him. Can you see how this gospel would resonate with a church that was experiencing great persecution, a church that was afraid?

Sermon: Bartimaeus–the Faithful One who Sees – Mark 10:35-52, Joshua 6:20

Bartimaeus turns out to be a prophet. He was the first one to say publicly that Jesus was the son of David.  And now he will witness the son of David suffering and dying on a cross. Jesus healed many people, there are many stories of healing. But Bartimaeus is the only healed person who is named; it’s the last healing that Jesus performs. There are different characters and groups in the story.  Bartimaeus, Jesus, the crowd.  Who do you identify with in this story?

Sermon: One Thing Lacking–Jesus Invites the 13th Disciple – Mark 10:17-34

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him”  We haven’t heard this before,  that Jesus looks with love one someone, and we don’t hear it again in Mark’s gospel.  It’s striking because, in my mind at least, this guy is not a prime candidate for someone who might stir love in Jesus’ heart.  You might think that Jesus will love the person with leprosy, or he will love the little child, or he will love one of his disciples, or how looking at his mother, he loved her…Why this man?   Jesus just loves him. 

Sermon: Downward Mobility and the Call to Welcome Children – Mark 9:30-37, Philippians 2:7

Jesus asks them, “What were you arguing about along the way?” They are all silent. I’ve been wondering why. The gospel tells us they were arguing about who was the greatest.  And why were they arguing about greatness? Two things have happened just before this argument. The most recent thing is that Jesus called the disciples “faithless” when they couldn’t cast the demon out of the boy. He told them that in front of a whole crowd of people. That must have smarted. They were disciples, they had left everything to follow Jesus, and he just told them they were faithless. Ouch!

Sermon: Prosper the Work of our Hands–Dealing with Doubt – Mark 9:14-29, Psalm 90

Right after this high point, both literally and figuratively in Jesus’ life, he comes down the mountain straight into this unholy mess that we read about in today’s gospel story. He descends into an argument. The scribes are arguing with the disciples; there is a man whose son has a demon, and the disciples have not been able to heal him. Jesus descends into the reality that his disciples are stumped, they seem to be ignoring the hurting person and instead are involved in arguing with the scribes. What was it like for Jesus to come straight off the mountain and into this messy scene?

Sermon: Transfiguration and the Story of Our Lives – Mark 9:1-13, 2 Peter 1:16-19

 Sometimes we don’t give a thought to Jesus’ mental state as he walked this road to Jerusalem. We think, “He’s our Saviour, he chose this, he was fine with it.” Was he? We know for sure that he was filled with agony in the garden. Was he entirely peaceful about his identity all the other hours and days of his short life? Think about your own life, when there is something that you dread in the future, do you save all the worry and anxiety up for one night? Or do you carry it all for days and months? Perhaps the transfiguration was an encouragement for Jesus himself…

Sermon: Crosses in the Context of the Family – Mark 8:27-38

It is hard to bear your cross, to maintain your identity on the home front. Sometimes I think the great challenge is not “Love your neighbour as yourself”, but actually, “Love your family as yourself.”  Often, we put our best effort to be kind when we have an audience in the wide world. But then we let our guard down and act unlovingly in private. Sometimes we can be people who are model Christians at church and at work, where everyone can see our loving and selfless actions, but when we get home, we act like tyrants…

Sermon: No Soil Maps in the Kingdom of Heaven – Luke 8:4-15, Isaiah 55:9-13

A sower went out to sow.  That is one crazy wasteful parable.   Didn’t Jesus mean to say, “A sower went out to sow.  He saw the path, and he didn’t sow any seed there.  He saw the rocks and he didn’t sow any seed there.  He saw the thistles and he didn’t sow any seed there.  And then he saw the good soil, and that’s where he planted all his seeds!” And how much crazier this might have sounded to the people Jesus was telling this story to.  In Jesus’ day, they sowed the grain by hand…

Sermon: Come and See! What are we expecting from Jesus? – John 1:35-42, Psalm 66:1-5

What about you?  What are you looking for?   I tell you, my brothers and sisters, that the only thing worth looking for is Jesus. You can get caught up in looking for a nicer building, or a more full building, or younger people in the building, or better music in the building, but if we spend our time looking for that, we might miss something essential. What we are looking for is Jesus. We are looking to see the power of God working in this community, through us in this city and this world.

Sermon: Supersize it! God in a Box – I Corinthians 13, Isaiah 40:12, 28-31, Job 12:7-10

As human beings we are bound to make “scale errors” when it comes to God, because our knowledge is incomplete. We see this in theology. The church in a certain century has a view of God that they think is extremely important…several centuries later, the church realizes that maybe that wasn’t as big and important as they thought it was. Conversely, something considered a little theological issue for a thousand years suddenly looms large. We can see this in our own lives as well.

Sermon: There’s a Wideness in God’s Table – Luke 9:12-17, Matthew 9:11, Acts 11:3, Psalm 23

Five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand people! But today I want to turn our attention away from the five loaves and two fishes and think for a while of the other miracle. It’s the same story, but a different focus.These people ate together. That might not seem like a very big miracle to you, but I assure you, in that time and that place, that was a miracle.There was an ancient near eastern proverb which went, “See me eat, know who I am.”

Sermon: Deliverance Before, After and In Between – Exodus 15:1-21, Psalm 105:26-38; Luke 4:18

Deliverance. I don’t know where you are at this morning.  Some of you are in a place of peace.  There is a before and after in your life.  God has delivered you, and you are so grateful for that change in your life.  Maybe it’s deliverance from pain, or from grief, or from addiction, or from sickness, or from danger, from sin. Like the Israelites liberated from Egypt, you rejoice. You have a before and after story and you thank God fervently that you are in the after part of your story.

But for others, you are stuck….

Sermon: Epiphany–A Gift Worth Remembering – Matthew 2:1-15, John 3:16, I John 3:16-18

I saw the handwritten sign on a sheet of paper taped to one of the windows: “Closed for Epiphany.” Maybe they were closed for the Christian holiday of Epiphany. But what if they were closed because they were having an epiphany?Epiphany with a capital “E” is the name of the Christian holiday celebrating the arrival of the wise men at the birth of Jesus. Epiphany with a small “e” is a word meaning a revelation from God, an encounter with God, or an insight.

Breaking down the Pretty/Ugly Altars – Psalm 139:13-16; I Samuel 16:7; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Today I want us to think about our bodies. Every body has brought their bodies to worship this morning. We are embodied; God made us this way. But our bodies are not something we talk about very often in church, except in “Prayers of the People” when we ask God to heal our sick bodies. We use our bodies all the time but they tend to be the medium not the message of our lives. I think there is a good news message in our bodies, in our embodied bodies, if only we have ears to hear. What is that good news?

Sermon: Testing, Testing–Making Sense of Testing – Psalm 66:8-20, James 1:2-4, 12; I Corinthians 10:12-13

I think Jesus, being human, needed years to prepare for the test he would face on the cross. What kind of moral muscles did it take for him to not respond with anger when Judas came with the soldiers? To call this traitor, “Friend”? What did it take for Jesus not to fly into a rage when they shackled him, when they mocked him? I think he had to go through many small tests to train for that important task. Over and over in his ministry he was tested, by situations, by people, even by his own disciples.

Sermon: The Constant Gardener–Confronting our own Sin – Hosea 10:12-13, Galatians 6:7-10, Matthew 7:15-20

This is where the image of God as a Constant Gardener comes in. God knows every stupid thing we’ve planted. God knows what kind of fruit we are eating, and the effect it is having on us. Unfortunately there is no such thing as spiritual Roundup, that blasts everything evil out of our lives, that withers the sin in us instantly. No magic answers. Jesus is a Saviour with his hands in the dirt, our dirt. God is willing to be a Constant Gardener, helping us with the digging, the rooting around, the ripping out, the discarding.

Sermon: Celebrating Faithfulness–The Bottom Line – Luke 8:1-3, Psalm 37:18-26

I don’t know about you, but this scripture really surprises me.  Many of us grew up with bible stories, we know the name Mary Magdalene.  What comes to mind when you hear the name, “Mary Magdalene”?  Usually we think, “She’s a sinner” or “she had demons cast out of her.”  But three places in scripture it tells us that she paid the bills for Jesus’ ministry! We have not given credit where credit is due! How come I didn’t learn about this in Sunday school?

Sermon: Easter–Are We There Yet? – John 20:1-18

The disciples also knew about resurrection.  They saw Jesus raise a young girl and also Lazarus from the dead. Yet when confronted with death in their lives, in front of their eyes, death in all its brutality, Jesus at Golgotha, they were overwhelmed.  They were defeated.  They knew that death had the last word.  That’s the story they knew by heart…death always has the last word.  So when they see the tomb empty, all they can think is “That’s odd.”  Mary sees the man outside the tomb and thinks, “He must be the gardener.“

Sermon: Extinction of Species–Does Jesus Care? – Deuteronomy 22:6-7, Psalm 104:10-23

Mennonites are part of a peace church tradition which means we don’t believe violence is the solution. We will not use violence to kill and we stand up for the defenceless, for people who are being attacked. Will we stand up for creatures that are under attack? They are truly the most defenceless. They cannot speak for themselves. The passenger pigeon could not write articles in newspapers to defend itself,or start lawsuits about their own demise or stage public protests in big cities. All they did was disappear.

Sermon: The Gate of Heaven – Genesis 28:10-17

There are some bible stories we can’t get out of our heads. They keep showing up; they keep tapping us on the shoulder and whispering, “Hey there.” And we meet something new and surprising sometimes as the story shape shifts, providing something we need to hear, at the moment we need to hear it.

About Carol Penner

I am a Mennonite pastor currently teaching theology at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario. I’ve served congregations in Ontario and most recently, Alberta.

I love to write and to lead worship! If you are finding my writing helpful, I would love to hear from you! Feel free to use or adapt the material here, it is all written by me. If printing material, please credit “Copyright Carol Penner” (and say whether you modified it). If publishing, please contact me for permission. Contact me at

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