Category Archives: Past Sermons

Sermon, Easter April 21, 2019

“Going Home”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 24:1-12
April 21, 2019

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. — Luke 24:12i

“Then he went home?” At first, this shocked me. I would have thought that the folks who had staked their lives on this would-be-Messiah would have been the first folks Peter told the news to. Didn’t they have the most to lose on Friday and the most to rejoice over this Sunday morning? He had been with them through thick and thin – the days of triumph and miraculous healing, the days of rejection and misunderstanding. But Peter? He went home. Continue reading Sermon, Easter April 21, 2019

Easter Sunrise message

Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
April 21, 2019

 Let us place this day in the context of scripture. From Luke 24:1-11

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.


We stand on a racing piece of earth. At the equator our rate of spin is about 1,000 miles per hour. Another rotation. Another day. And when enough days are done, we will have circled the Sun. Racing through space at 167,000 miles an hour.

These are the facts of science yet all feels still. Careening through space, we are unaware of the clip of time. We have come to label the mystery of our own existence as normal and think that the mystery is solved in the facts of science. Continue reading Easter Sunrise message

Sermon Palm Sunday 2019

“May Hosannas Still Ring”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 23:1-49
April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday

When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ — Luke 23:47i

We know the sordid details. It started with “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” By Friday they will be shouting, “Crucify him.” Long ago and far away the tide of public opinion turned against Jesus. What began as a day filled with Messianic hope became a week of unrealized expectations. They had greeted Jesus as a conquering hero. They would send Him away defeated, despised and a criminal who had been convicted of thinking himself to be a king.

Why this shift in the crowds mood? Continue reading Sermon Palm Sunday 2019

Sermon, April 7 2019

“The New Thing Is God’s Thing”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Ecclesiastes 1:1-9
Isaiah 43:16-21
April 7, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Lent

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?    Isaiah 43:19i

Either Ecclesiastes is right and nothing ever changes or these words from Isaiah are to be our guide. I don’t think it is possible to hold both views. Since this is a Congregational Church deeply embedded in the “free church” tradition, I can tell you what I believe, but I can’t tell you what you have to believe. I do have one question, however, for anyone who thinks that there is nothing new under the Sun. If there is nothing new under the Sun, then the linchpin to our Christian faith is null and void. The most monumental event in human history – the incarnation of God – is simply not possible because if the coming of Christ is anything at all, it’s new. I contend, therefore, that people of faith are tasked with perceiving the new thing God is doing. Continue reading Sermon, April 7 2019

Sermon March 31 2019

“Stone Soup”
Deacon Marcia Tomlinson
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Joshua 5:9-12
2 Corinthians 5: 16-21
March 31, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Lent

“The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year” (Joshua 5:12)

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  2Corinthians 5:17

We refer to Lent as a journey.

It’s a time of cross over.

If we were to hear today’s Old Testament story of Joshua and the people’s arrival in the Promised Land without knowing the whole story of the journey to get there, its importance would be meaningless. Continue reading Sermon March 31 2019

Sermon March 24 2019

“Staying the Saw”
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 13:1-9
March 24, 2019

Third Sunday of Lent

If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down. – Luke 13:9i

My friends, today’s lesson must be put in a much larger context. Simply put, by itself, it’s dangerous. There is no mention of grace. No mention of unconditional love. No mention of forgiveness. If this were all one had to go on, Christianity would look rather dour. This is not my favorite reading. I would prefer to focus on the forgiving nature of God, a forgiveness so great the Second Person of the Trinity dies on a cross outside the city’s wall to insure that the forces of darkness are defeated. That is the Good News Christ’s church proclaims. Continue reading Sermon March 24 2019

Sermon March 17 2019

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 13:31-35
March 17, 2019

Second Sunday of Lent

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! – Luke 13:34i

One of our favorite television shows was Friday Night Lights. It told the story of Dillon, a fictional town in rural Texas. It centered around the East Dillon high school football team and the team’s coach. We followed the ups and downs of the team, the town, the struggle of adolescents, the political intrigue of the school committee and the daily decisions that make up our lives and move us closer to virtue or nearer to vice. Before every game, Coach Taylor would address his team that ended with two things – a prayer and the teams motto: “Clear eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.” Behind the saying was the conviction that no matter what happened that night – whether the Dillon Panthers should win or lose on the field, with clear eyes and full hearts they had already won. Continue reading Sermon March 17 2019

Sermon March 3, 2019

“Transforming Our Vision”
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 9:28-36
March 3, 2019

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’   – Luke 9:35i

Transfiguration Sunday

Why was Jesus transfigured? Did He need to be? Was He somehow changed? Wasn’t He the Son of God prior to this mountain top experience? So why was Jesus transfigured? You might have your own answer. You might have your own understanding. Let me share mine and if you have a different take on this, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you think. All that said, here we go. Continue reading Sermon March 3, 2019

Sermon Feb 10 2019

“The Craziest Catch of All — You”
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 5: 1-11
January 9, 2019
5th Sunday after Epiphany

Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’  Luke 5:10bi

I have but one proposition this morning – namely, it is obedience that brings us to the feet of Jesus. Modern folks don’t like the sound of that word – obedience – but there you have it. In the realm of faith you can come to faith no other way.

Our scripture message this morning points us to this truth so let’s take a closer look at Luke 5:1-11. Our journey of understanding actually begins not in chapter 5 but in chapter 4. If you look at verses 4:38-41, you will discover that before Jesus encounters Simon by the shore of Lake Gennesaret Jesus had been in Simon’s home. Not only was Jesus in Simon’s home, Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a high fever. So Simon knew Jesus and was indebted to Him prior to Jesus getting into Simon’s boat, sitting down, and teaching the crowd on the shore. Now you might think that Jesus’ healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and all the subsequent healings Jesus did that day would have been enough to convince Simon that Jesus was more than your average preacher. But watch what happens.

Jesus asks Simon, who must have been exhausted because he and his partners had spent the entire night fishing, to set out onto the lake a short distance from shore. Simon does as he is asked, probably because he believes he owes Jesus for having healed his mother-in-law.

Jesus delivers His teaching and you might think that’s the end of it, but no. Jesus asks Simon to set out into the deeper water and cast his net. Simon is not so sure about this. He does this for a living. He had been at it all night and caught nothing. The fish were somewhere else, and he tells Jesus this, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. (The text doesn’t say so, but I’ll bet there was a very long pause and that Simon hoped Jesus would rethink His request. Jesus didn’t.) Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Before going on, let me provide some information concerning the occupation of fishing. Scholars believe that Simon and his partners used a Trammel net to catch the fish. A Trammel net has two exterior layers comprised of rather large openings in the net. There was also a middle layer that had much smaller openings. The fish would get trapped in this middle net. And mind you, these nets could be 100 feet in length. (This sanctuary is 40 feet wide by 60 feet long so if you add those two dimensions together, you get a sense of the size of the net) It is easy to understand how netting that large would require two boats to deploy and manage it. A Trammel net has led weights at the bottom and floating gourds at the top. Once it was in place, one of the fishing boats would get close to the shore and begin slapping the water. The frightened fish would seek to escape and swim right into the net. That’s how it was done and it gives you a sense as to why Simon didn’t want to deploy it after they had just got done cleaning it! But Jesus did heal Simon’s mother-in-law, so okay, he deployed the net.

We know what happened. Simon thought he knew more than Jesus. There were no fish to be had and now, suddenly, they had so many their boats began sinking. Remember what Simon does? He doesn’t address Jesus as master as he had in verse 5. No. Simon sees for the first time that he is in the presence of the Holy. He now, in verse 8, calls Jesus Lord, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus did not leave Simon just as Jesus does not leave me, for I, too, am a sinful man. No, Jesus has something else in mind. Jesus wants Simon and the sons of Zebedee to come and follow Him. Jesus wants the same from you and me.

And here is the lesson for today put in the form of a question. Would Simon have become a disciple of Jesus if he had not rowed to the deep water, if he had not cast his net, if he had not obeyed? Obedience is the doorway into a relationship with Jesus. You don’t have to feel like doing it. I don’t think Simon felt like casting that net. But it was in obedience to the voice of Jesus that he finally comes to fall at the knees of Jesus. It is by way of obedience that he is opened to leaving everything behind.

In these modern times we hear a great deal about the absence of God. These lines from A. E. Housmen speak for many moderns:

When Israel out of Egypt came

Safe in the sea they trod;

By day in cloud, by night in flame,

Went on before them God.

He brought them with a stretched-out hand

Dry-footed through the foam,

Past sword and famine, rock and sand,

Lust and rebellion, home.

I never over Horeb heard

The blast of Advent blow;

No fire-faced prophet brought me word

Which way behoved me go.

Ascended is the cloudy flame,

The mount of thunder dumb;

The tokens that to Israel came,

To me they have not come.

But Housmen gets it wrong. Would the Israelites have seen the pilar of fire at night and the column of smoke during the day if they had not obeyed and left the fleshpots of Egypt? Would we know Easter’s glory if Jesus had not obeyed and taken up the cross? You see, we want faith without obedience. We want God to be so manifestly before us that we cannot deny God’s reality. We want God to do our work of spiritual discipline. The disturbing truth put before us by these words from Luke is that faith is found through obedience. We can talk all day about love, forgiveness, reconciliation, prayer, peace and justice. But until we are obedient to these spiritual principles, the Spirit of God will escape us.

So I leave you this day with some spiritual ponderings for obedience to the will of God.

  • What if prayer was not a concept but a practice?
  • What if love was not a sentiment but a way of being?
  • What if forgiveness was not something we sought but something we gave?
  • What if the misfortune of my neighbor was not a tragedy but an opportunity to help?
  • What if silence was not seen as a void but as an invitation to listen?
  • What if meditation was not an afterthought but a required exercise?

Long ago by the shores of Lake Gennesaret a tired fisherman obeyed and found the Son of God. God is as near as our will to obey. Let us pray…

i Luke 5:1-11

1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.