The Persecuted

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:10-12 & Matthew 10:16-25

As William Sloan Coffin observed, “Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies;’ he didn’t say, ‘Don’t make any.’  Rather, he said, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” There are lots of different kinds of human suffering: illness, loneliness, and natural disasters. But Jesus like the prophets before him, endured – in addition to all the other forms of suffering -- a special kind of suffering called prophetic suffering, which is the backlash of power against truth....Read full sermon here (PDF) 

The Peacemakers

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:9

Sixteen years after 9-11, with ISIS afoot and war raging in Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Afghanistan and threats from North Korea - what can we learn from this Beatitude about dealing with our enemies?

In the Aramaic language, which Jesus spoke, “the children of God” means “those who are like God.” The peacemakers are like God because God is peaceful. War is a human invention.

Peace means a couple of things in the Bible. One is reconciliation through forgiveness. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” who died for our sins, says Romans 5:1. Christ had no enemies in the sense that he refused to regard anyone as an enemy. Instead, he forgave his adversaries, and his love summons us to do the same. We can’t control how our enemies see us, but we can control how we see them. “If possible, so far as it depends upon you,” says Paul in Romans 12:18, “live peaceably with all people.” So: reconciliation through forgiveness...Read full sermon here (PDF). 

The Pure in Heart

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:8

Sally and I recently watched the old movie The Firm, based on the novel by John Grisham, about a creepy law firm in Memphis, Tennessee that works for the mafia. The protagonist is a young lawyer named Mitch, fresh out of Harvard Law School, played by Tom Cruise. The firm recruits him with a high salary and an emphasis on family values. It all seems too good to be true, which it is. While keeping up appearances of being an exceptionally wholesome operation that only hires clean-living young lawyers with stable marriages, the firm is actually handling all kinds of illegal transactions by organized crime. And, of course, before too long the young lawyer Mitch begins to peel away this innocent façade and discovers the evil that lurks underneath, thereby endangering his own life and that of his wife...Read full sermon here (PDF)

The Merciful

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:7, Matthew 5:21:26 and Matthew 18:21-35

“Blessed are the merciful,” says Jesus, “for they shall receive mercy.”

The Greek word for mercy is ELEOS, and it has a double meaning. On the one hand it means kindness .When I was a pastor in Nashville the church’s elderly nursery worker began having dementia and couldn’t work in the nursery or even look after herself any longer. She was so confused she couldn’t shop or cook or drive. She began wandering out of her apartment and getting lost. She had no family except the church. I tried in vain to get her admitted to a nursing home where she could be properly cared for, but none would take her without a doctor’s order. And I couldn’t find a doctor who wasn’t already booked up with appointments for weeks or months in advance. What would happen to her in the meantime? ...Read full sermon here (PDF)

Hungry Heart

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:6

I’m going to talk about music. Indulge me for a moment. The first time I heard Bruce Springsteen was back in the early ˊ80’s when a tune called Hungry Heart was played on the BBC Radio 1. Springsteen wasn’t a big deal in the UK back then, but I remember this song sticking for some reason. It was the first of his to get near the UK charts. It sounds like a very upbeat, happy pop song, but when you listen to the lyrics, they are quite dark and speak of a longing within us that we need fulfilled but somehow are not able to. I think it connected with many folk, who saw beyond the pop tune.

The Rolling Stones connected with an earlier generation with their song, Satisfaction, that had a very similar theme: “I try and I try and I try and I try; I can’t get no satisfaction.” I know some of you have that riff stuck in your head now. You are welcome. Read full sermon here (PDF)

Those Who Are Meek

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:5

Anyone who reads or hears today’s Beatitude has to deal first with the troublesome word “meek” in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and others, like the King James Version. Numbers 12:3 in the Revised Standard Version describes Moses as “very meek,” but the Hebrew there would be better translated as “very humble,” so that’s not going to help us today. Jesus’ use of the word means something different.

      I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word meek” I find it a little disgusting. In English, “meek” seems to mean timid. Webster says it means “deficient in spirit and courage.”  Other adjectives that seem to fit are docile, cowardly, compliant, weak and ineffectual, wimpy, timid, unadventurous, bland, soft, squishy, indecisive and submissive. Casper Milquetoast was a comic strip character created in 1927 by H.B. Webster for a cartoon series called “The Timid Soul.” Webster said of Milquetoast, he is “the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick.” He appears on a Christmas card that says, “If you won’t think it presumptuous of me I’d like to – uh er - - wish you a merry – or at least as reasonably pleasant a Christmas as we are entitled to, things- um er – being what they are.”  I’m also reminded of Christopher Reeves’ portrayal of Clark Kent in the Superman movies. Is this what Jesus means when he says “the meek”?  Read full sermon here (PDF)

Those Who Mourn

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:4, Matthew 27:45-54 & Matthew 28:1-10

Who doesn’t want to be happy and have a good time? We all do! Yet according to Jesus that’s not the way to blessedness. “Blessed are those who mourn,” he says, “for they shall be comforted.” In Luke’s version of this Beatitude, Jesus excludes from blessedness those who are happy in the present world. “Woe to you who laugh now,” he says in Luke 6:25, “for you shall mourn and weep.” Everything we do, every career, every marriage, every hobby is aimed at happiness, and most advertising promises happiness in some form or another. Yet Jesus says the lucky ones are those who are sad. Why? What does he mean? Read full sermon here (PDF)

The Poor in Spirit

Sermon Text:  Matthew 5:3

The Beatitudes of Matthew summarize Jesus’ teaching, like the Ten Commandments summarize the Law of Moses. Jesus delivers the Beatitudes from a mountain, like God did when God spoke to Israel from Mt. Sinai, which is a hint that Jesus is making a new covenant with God’s people.

And Jesus is speaking here to his disciples. They will be the ones who will be poor in spirit, who will mourn, who will make peace, and so on. He promises them a reward, not in this world but in the coming world, which he calls the kingdom of heaven.

The radically different qualities and values of that coming kingdom are what the Beatitudes describe...Read full sermon here (PDF)

On a Mission from God

Sermon Text: Matthew 28:16-10

I love to drop in the odd pop culture reference in my messages and sermon titles. You may have noticed. So, a number of weeks ago when I looked at the lectionary scripture for today in preparation for the sermon, and I saw that it was Jesus’ final words to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel, or as we call it, the Great Commission, I had to go with a Blues Brothers sermon title.  If you are not familiar with it, The Blues Brothers is one of the funniest, and perhaps irreverent, movies ever made. In the movie, we find Jake and Elwood Blues flying through the streets of Chicago in a beat-up old police car, trying to put their old rhythm and blues band back together to raise enough money to save the orphanage that they grew up in. While that is going on, they constantly get in trouble and are on the run from numerous police departments, the Illinois Nazis, a country and western band and a mysterious woman who is intent on blowing them up. In fact, it seems all of Chicago is after them. At one point, while being chased by the cops, riding in the Bluesmobile listening to his brother Jake complain about their predicament, Elwood delivers one of the most memorable lines from the movie, “They’re not going to catch us. We’re on a mission from God.” Okay, so that was maybe the Scottish Blues Brother. It becomes his catch phrase throughout the movie whenever one of the old band members does not want to join, or they seem to have a problem, “We’re on a mission from God.” Despite being a pair of crooks, they believe it and are faithful to the mission even in the face of many obstacles...Read full sermon here (PDF)

A New Kind of Power

Sermon Text: Acts 2:1-13, Numbers 11:24-30, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. John 7:37-39

As Sally and I listened to the breaking news of the terrorist attack in Manchester two weeks ago, I was filled with a feeling of helplessness. With ISIS on the prowl gathering recruits for lone-wolf attacks that display increasing depravity, what can anyone do?  How do you fight an evil ideology and hidden cells of suicidal fanatics? Once again – as in the Great Depression, World Wars and the Cold War of the last century, we face a world beyond our control.

But the first Christians also faced an apparently hopeless world in the First Century of the Common Era: Palestine was a Roman colony, subjected to heavy taxation with brutal force. The Mediterranean region was populated with a variety of religious cults and competing philosophies like Epicureanism and Stoicism. The big names were the Caesars: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. The church was a tiny minority, repeatedly persecuted by rival creeds and public officials...Read full sermon text here (PDF)