Category Archives: Past Sermons

Sermon January 6, 2019

“The How Telling Us The Why”
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Matthew 2:1-12
January 9, 2019
Epiphany

“Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’”  Matthew 2:7 & 8i

Today we have met to confirm and to celebrate the Good News in Jesus Christ. It is Good News, right? Evil is brought low by the impossible power of a child born to an out-of-wedlock teenage mother. This child, Jesus of Nazareth, will incarnate the unfathomable love of God for wayward humanity. He will grow up to heal the sick, preach good news to the oppressed, forgive sin and seal His power through an unsealed and empty tomb. This is good news and if you have ever confronted the power of evil at work in your life, the church reminds you that despite the darkness of any given moment, goodness prevails. People should be dancing and singing.

But note the treachery of Herod. Continue reading Sermon January 6, 2019

Sermon Dec 23, 2018

“Haste, Haste … But Not Yet”
Marcia Tomlinson, Deacon
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 1:39-55
December 23, 2018
The 4th Sunday of Advent

(With Pastor Jeff taken sick on Saturday, I used the same lectionary reading for the basis of the sermon, but instead of Luke 1:52 as he had planned, I chose verse 39, and suggested to the congregation we could call it, “Haste, Haste … but not yet.”)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country …” Luke 1:39

As I thought on today’s reading, it dawned on me that there are many hymns and anthems about Mary being visited by the angel, learning that she would bear a son, fulfilling the prophecy of “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God With Us.”

And there are countless hymns and anthems about the birth and what happened next, from “Away In a Manger” to “Angels We Have Heard on High” to “We Three Kings.”

Including one of my favorites: What Child Is This, with its refrain:

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring Him laud
The Babe, the Son of Mary

BUT … Continue reading Sermon Dec 23, 2018

Sermon Dec. 16, 2018

“A Rejoicing Joy”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Philippians 4:4-7
December 16, 2018

“Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”   Philippians 4:5i

Here’s my problem – I really don’t think the return of Jesus is imminent. I know. Goes against the purpose of Advent. We are supposed to open ourselves to the coming of Christ but that’s hard to do if you don’t think Jesus is about to appear. And I think I know what Paul believed, at least at the outset of his ministry. He believed the return of Christ was so imminent that he advised his fellow Christians not to marry.

What about you? Do you, in your heart of hearts, believe the Second Coming is, well, coming? Don’t answer that. I’ll do it for you. No, you don’t. Have insurance? You don’t really think Jesus is coming anytime soon.

So, it’s not just my problem. We share it together. Does it mean that we can’t get anything out of our reading from Philippians? No. It means that we start by being honest. No amount of wishful thinking is going to change what I believe. I believe because I have experienced what I profess. I believe the Sun is going to come up tomorrow. Sure, it’s possible it won’t. Some cosmic catastrophe might alter what I take to be inevitable, but I will shape and fashion my life around the belief that that ball of fire will work its way over the horizon. I believe it because I have experienced it. So let me suggest that instead of focusing this Advent solely on Christ’s return, we instead look at what we have experienced. When we do that, I believe we find an opening for affirming our text, “The Lord is near.” Continue reading Sermon Dec. 16, 2018

Sermon Dec 9, 2018

“People Get Ready”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 3:1-6
December 9, 2018

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”    Luke 3:1 & 2i

The story by Sholem Aleichem about Tevye and his five daughters became a block buster Broadway musical called, Fiddler on the Roof. It tells the story of a little town, Anatevka in the Russia of 1905,  As the musical comes to its climax, a pogrom has been unleashed by the Czar and Jews are forced to leave the town they had known all their lives. At one point, one of the men of the village asks the Rabbi a question: “Rabbi, we have waited all our lives for the Messiah to come. Wouldn’t this be a good time?” The Rabbi tells him, “We will have to wait for him somewhere else. Meanwhile, let’s start packing.”

This Advent we too must wait. We affirm that God is not done yet, that the Christ child waits to be born again and that we must prepare our hearts, minds and souls that we not miss this in-breaking of God. I’m right, right? Have I stated the purpose of Advent correctly? If so, Continue reading Sermon Dec 9, 2018

Sermon Nov. 18

“Living in the Not Yet”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Mark 13:1-8
November 18, 2018

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.” Mark 13:7i

Do you know people who hoped for a better life and thought they were headed in the right direction only to discover they missed the mark? In Arthur Miller’s haunting play, Death of a Salesman, the 60 year-old Willie Loman is a tragic figure who has missed his mark. He is in the midst of a personal crisis. He is slowly losing his grip on reality. He daydreams while driving. He runs the car off the road. He hallucinates and talks to people who are not there. His two sons seem adrift and Willie’s wife is frightened of what the future might hold. Continue reading Sermon Nov. 18

Sermon Nov 11 2018

“Cornered Into Goodness”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
1 Kings 17:8-24
November 11, 2018

Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.      1 Kings 17:13i

 

Have you ever been afraid? It is a crippling feeling that sucks joy from our lives and has us constantly prepared for the worst. It is, of course, woven into the human DNA. If you feared nothing, you would not be long in this world. Fear of being burned can keep you from being burned by a hot stove. But this is not the kind of fear I am talking about. I am talking about the fear some have of their spouse leaving them, of their children turning to drugs, of the person who goes to work fearful of the boss. That kind of fear can keep us from seeing through the darkness to the light of God’s promise. Continue reading Sermon Nov 11 2018

Sermon Sept. 30, 2018

“How to Lift the Load of the Christian Faith”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Numbers 11: 4-29
September 30, 2018

Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’  Numbers 11:13i

Man, does that sound familiar – literally. I may have told some of you that I was the co-founder of Metropolitan Camden Habitat for Humanity. At the time I was the pastor of an affluent suburban church and Camden, New Jersey resembled Dresden after the Allied bombing of World War II. There were whole streets with nothing more than abandoned tenements. Continue reading Sermon Sept. 30, 2018

Sermon, Sept. 23

“Finding Our Inner Child”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Mark 9: 30-37
September 23, 2018

Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”  Mark 9:36 & 37i

What a strange passage of scripture – not because it doesn’t make sense but because of the whole bizarre scene. Continue reading Sermon, Sept. 23

Sermon, Sept. 16

“God Is Always With Us”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Psalm 116: 1-9
September 16, 2018

For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.”  Psalm 116:8i

The truth the Psalmist is affirming is one that all of us need to hear. What prevents me from hearing it is my skepticism and the unfamiliar nature of the psalmist’s language. He makes claims that are so sweeping they do not match my lived experience. In my ministry I have seen folks suffer through events no one should ever confront – the death of an 18-month-old child. I stood in the hospital room with the family. The grandmother rocked the dead child in her arms. An hour passed. The social worker told them they should consider giving the child’s body back to the healthcare team because he will start turning blue. Up till now, it only looked like the child was sleeping.

For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. God did not deliver this child from death. Tears flowed from all the eyes in that room. And, yes, we all stumbled into tomorrow. Where is this God the psalmist speaks of?

How I wish I could stand before you and with a clear conscious and unwavering confidence tell you that these first nine verses of this psalm are as they present themselves. The truth, however, is more complicated. Continue reading Sermon, Sept. 16

Sermon August 19, 2018

“The Limits of Fear”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Psalm 34
August 19, 2018

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.  Psalm 34:7i

The title of this sermon is “the limits of fear.” It is the 34th Psalm that drove me to this morning’s message. In its 22 verses, fear is mentioned five times – usually in reference to the wisdom of fearing God. So what does this mean for our spiritual lives? What truth can we take from this admonition to fear the Lord? Continue reading Sermon August 19, 2018