Sermon February 23, 2020

“Holiness and Heaven”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
February 23, 2020

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy… Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18i

This sermon may not be meant for you. It is meant for me. You see, I am not a holy person. I lived in Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago. The community was surrounded on three sides by Black ghettos. My address at the time was 5513 South Kimbark Avenue and only eight blocks away was 63rd street. Believe me, if you were a white boy, you didn’t want to be walking down that street. One night, a fire broke out in an apartment building that housed one of our church’s members. She was not aware of the fire and because other residents might not know the building was on fire, a police officer discharged his weapon in the alley, but it was a rough neighborhood and people were all too familiar with the sound of a gunshot. She didn’t think much of it until the officer screamed, “Fire.”

Continue reading Sermon February 23, 2020

Sermon February 16, 2020

“The Jesus Who Makes Jesus Necessary”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Matthew 5: 21-37
February 16, 2020

“He was trying to see who Jesus was…”  — Luke 19:3ai

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:30i

That won’t be happening. There is no one here this morning who is going to cut off his or her hand or pluck out an eye thinking that by doing so he or she can avoid the fires of hell. If we put aside the obvious pain that would ensue from such actions, I would suggest that such actions don’t make sense. Right? It’s not one’s hand or eye that leads one astray. It’s one’s brain that is the guilty party. The perversions Jesus is suggesting – lust, theft, violence, or what have you — are caused by wrongful thinking. Do we really think that if I was blind I would never have known lust, that if I was bereft of hands I would not ever have been tempted to steal? So, if Jesus isn’t making literal sense, what sense is Jesus making?

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Sermon February 9, 2020

“When Silence Is Betrayal”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Isaiah 58:1-12
February 9, 2020

“He was trying to see who Jesus was…”  — Luke 19:3ai

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Isaiah 58:6i

While the war in Vietnam was raging, Dr. King was waging a battle of his own here in America. The old order was giving way to a breath of freedom and the cause King championed was bearing fruit. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. The disenfranchisement of millions of African Americans was seen as morally reprehensible and Jim Crow was on the run. But Vietnam was awash in blood. American dead would come to stand at 58,220, 1and civilian casualties for both sides is placed at 2 million. At some point, Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, came to realize that the war was unwinnable but continued to tell the American people that the tide was turning, and more young men were sent to a conflict he knew was futile.

Continue reading Sermon February 9, 2020

Sermon January 26, 2020

“Called To Be You”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Matthew 4:12-23
January 26, 2020

“And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Matthew 4:19i

My Dad remembered sitting in Church one Sunday and hearing the voice of God. Now before you go thinking that my Dad was some sort of religious freak, let me dissuade you — a more rational mind I have never met. He was grounded in the realities of the twentieth century. Yet that voice, heard long ago, called him into parish ministry.

How I envied my father’s experience. No voice called to me. No parting of the heavens. No blinding light. Indeed, my father’s excellence made me feel less than adequate to the task. I was not him so how could I possibly walk where he had trod?

Continue reading Sermon January 26, 2020

Sermon January 12, 2020

“God may be Impartial, but God is not Indifferent”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Acts 10:34-43
January 12, 2020

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10:34 & 35i

There are times when the meaning of particular Bible verses is frighteningly clear. When Jesus talks about turning the other check, I don’t think this is simply metaphorical. It is a direct warning against using violence to counter violence. I ignore this warning and my soul is in jeopardy. Other passages may need a little unpacking to get at their meaning. I think our reading from the tenth chapter of Acts falls in this category of needing to be unpacked.

Our task today, then, is to discover two things. First, why it was important when it was written, and second, what it has to say to us today. So, let’s begin.

Continue reading Sermon January 12, 2020

Sermon December 22, 2019

“Living in the Midst of the Wait: We Wait Not Alone”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Matthew 1:18-25
December 22, 2019

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’  Matthew 1:23i

I didn’t say much. I didn’t do much. I was there. I sat and waited with the family of a man who was in a life and death battle. He was in the operating room. We were in the waiting room. I didn’t say much. I didn’t do much. I was there.

The gratitude expressed by the family was both overwhelming and humbling. I was flattered, of course. Don’t we all want to be appreciated? But I knew that this was more than gratitude expressed for Jeff Long-Middleton. It was the office I represented, the church, the body of Christ. In their hour of crisis, they had not been forgotten. I didn’t say much. I didn’t do much. I was there.

Continue reading Sermon December 22, 2019

Sermon December 15, 2019

“Living in the Midst of the Wait: Finding Patience for the Wait”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
James 5:7-10
December 15, 2019

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.

James 5:7i

With what sort of patience does one wait for the Lord? I do not know at what door God will knock. I do not know when the Lord of heaven will come. I do not know the gender or nationality. Yet I am being called by James to be patient for the coming of the Lord.

I think Joseph and Mary knew something about having to be patient — not only for the day of Mary’s deliverance, but each day following Jesus’ birth. They would have to flee for their lives due to Herod’s treachery, they know the panic of losing their child in a crowd, when he had matured into a man they would fear for their son’s life and urge Him to come home. They must have known a great deal about patience. Oh, it is true they had to find the patience to wait for the day of delivery. But I am suggesting their wait did not end when Jesus was born. It began in earnest.

Continue reading Sermon December 15, 2019

Sermon November 3, 2019

“Trying to See Jesus”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 19:1-10
November 3, 2019

“He was trying to see who Jesus was…”  — Luke 19:3ai

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Had he known what he would find or rather, who would find him, he may have reconsidered his desire. By the end of the encounter, this rich man would be far poorer than when the day had begun. The things of this world would be lost but Zacchaeus will have seen Jesus in the whole, come to know Him in full, and found his life restored. He will have been made rich in the things of heaven.

Continue reading Sermon November 3, 2019

Sermon September 29, 2019

“Living in Hope”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Jeremiah 32:1-3a,6-15
September 29, 2019

 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Jeremiah 32:15i

In the 1994 film, Shawshank Redemption, the protagonist, Andy Dufresne, is convicted of killing his wife and her lover — a crime he did not commit. He is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and sent to Shawshank prison. There he meets “Red” a fellow prisoner who is skilled in smuggling contraband into the prison. Andy’s life appears to be without hope. He becomes instrumental in the prison warden’s money laundering scheme and although his life becomes more tolerable, after 20 some years of incarceration, the audience sees Andy sitting on the edge of his bed with a rope in his hands. You’re left with the sense that Andy will indeed escape this hellish existence by suicide. Instead, Andy ends up using the rope to assist in his escape. The day of his escape he tells his friend, Red, “Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Continue reading Sermon September 29, 2019

Sermon September 22, 2019

“Stupid Stuff”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 16:1-13
September 22, 2019

No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”   — Luke 16:1-13i

Did you come here this morning thinking Jesus would encourage you to defraud your employer? I doubt it. So, we have an immediate problem. We have to square this saying from Jesus with the Jesus we expected. That’s our first task but the second is more important and touches us where we live — we need to find a way to love God in the midst of material wealth. This is an issue that touches us all. Even those who have little can be obsessed with getting more, and perhaps there is a natural tendency to avoid this conversation. As Paul David Tripp humorously put it: “The minute you hear a sermon on materialism, you’re glad somebody else is there to hear it.” Continue reading Sermon September 22, 2019