Fortress Press

For Every Matter under Heaven: Preaching on Special Occasions

For Every Matter under Heaven

Preaching on Special Occasions

Beverly Zink-Sawyer (Author), Donna Giver-Johnston (Author)


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"For everything there is a season," as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, and that includes preaching. Beyond ordinary Sunday morning worship, many other "seasons"--special occasions--arise for preaching in the life of the church, whether by virtue of the secular calendar or celebrations or circumstances in the congregation or community. For Every Matter under Heaven: Preaching on Special Occasions offers preachers a process for creating sermons that are biblically grounded and relevant to the occasion.

Two obvious occasions of this sort are weddings and funerals; however, church anniversaries, dedications of new buildings or furnishings, commitment of pledges in stewardship season, and ordination and installation services also call for preaching on a special theme or topic. In addition, some congregations acknowledge secular holidays, such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day, in worship. Pastors are often called on to preach at events outside the church. And all congregations face local or national tragedies and crises that call for a word from the Lord.

These occasions require a different kind of sermon--or at least a different process of preparation. Most preachers have been taught that sermons begin with a biblical text, usually a text prescribed by a standard lectionary. Beverly Zink-Sawyer and Donna Giver-Johnston offer preachers a process for finding appropriate sermon texts for special occasions by considering the occasion itself, the listeners who might be gathered, and the ways God is at work in that time and place. Through this process, preachers can offer a word for every matter under heaven.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506465791
  • eBook ISBN 9781506465807
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 228
  • Publication Date December 8, 2022


"Until now, preachers on certain occasions simply had to wing it. No guidance existed. Zink-Sawyer and Giver-Johnston have provided expert advice for these situations. One could buy a book on preaching for weddings or a book on preaching for funerals. This book will replace ten other books on the market, if one could even find an individual book on all of these topics. This volume contains the experience and reflection of two lifetimes of ministry and teaching. If students or young pastors buy this book, it will be ready to fall apart by the time they retire."

Charles L. Aaron, Jr., director of the intern program, Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, TX

"When I think of preaching on special occasions, I initially think of such occasions as baptisms, funerals, and weddings. This excellent book provides resources for these events and also for occasions that have distinctive characteristics even though they may not be the first to come to mind as special occasions: calls and commitments, congregational conflict, preaching among communities of older adults, holy days and holidays, crises, and situations beyond the church. With respect for exegetical and theological integrity, and with wisdom born from pastoral attentiveness, the authors help preachers move from specific contexts to the Bible. They describe the dynamics of special occasions in theological (and psychological) terms while positing possibilities for preaching. In addition to consulting the book as guide for particular occasions, I can imagine developing a sermon series based on the categories and chapters in this book. This volume should be a resource that preachers have on their desktops for easy reach. These occurrences knock at the study door more frequently than one might imagine, and often enter the room with great force."

Ronald J. Allen, professor of preaching, and of gospels and letters (Emeritus), Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, IN

"This book will soon claim a place inches from the desktop of working preachers everywhere. Preachers--and those who teach them!--know how difficult it can be to preach fittingly for the varied life-situations, jarring or joyful, treated in this book's chapters. Inviting us to ask, What is going on?, Who is listening?, and Where is God?, Zink-Sawyer and Giver-Johnston trace theologically alert, sure-footed paths from situation to biblical text to pulpit, leading the way with pastoral wisdom and homiletical expertise."

Sally A. Brown, Elizabeth M. Engle Professor of Preaching and Worship Emerita, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ

"For Every Matter under Heaven should be required reading for every student planning to enter pastoral ministry. I'm grateful to Giver-Johnson and Zink-Sawyer for offering up this straightforward, practical, and theologically grounded resource. Even pastors like me, who have been doing this work for many years, will find new ideas, resources, and guidance to which we can turn again and again. A copy of this book will always be kept in my office within easy reach!"

Rev. Dr. Carol T. Cavin-Dillon, senior pastor, West End United Methodist Church, Nashville, TN

"For Every Matter Under Heaven is a welcomed resource for seasoned pastors and new preachers. The broad consideration of special occasions from baptisms to holidays, a church's transitional moments to national tragedies provides a wealth of wisdom for nurturing and encouraging congregational life from the pulpit. Among the gems worth mining is the gift of multiple biblical texts appropriate to each kind of occasion which will help preachers make choices for their own context."

Rev. Agnes W. Norfleet, senior pastor, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Bryn Mawr, PA

"Beverly Zink-Sawyer and Donna Giver-Johnston give preachers clear and valuable guidance for preaching on special occasions and times of crisis, not normally found in the lectionary. Their framework for approaching these times, suggestions of scriptures and themes will assist the preacher to 'lean into' a message that will bring a word from the Lord. I would recommend this book as essential for new pastors and refreshing for those who have struggled with finding the right words to say."

Rev. Dr. John E. Morgan, senior pastor, Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, Williamsburg, VA

"For Every Matter under Heaven provides a much-needed resource for the times when preachers are faced with challenging pastoral circumstances. Zink-Sawyer and Giver-Johnson write out of a wealth of experience to support preachers in engaging a biblical text with the distinctive dynamics of particular occasions in view."

Rev. Dr. Angela Dienhart Hancock, associate professor of homiletics and worship, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA