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.

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Sermon Jan 27 2019

“The Pesky Promises of God”
Rev. Jeff Long-Middletoton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 4:14-30
January 27, 2019

 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. Luke 4:28i

It happens so quickly we often do not notice the shift. One moment your children fill your soul with pride and in the next, you’d like to disown them! Am I right? And it doesn’t just happen with our children. At one moment your heart is filled with love towards your spouse and in the next you wonder why you ever got married (not that this has ever happened to me!). Or take your church. I know in my own lived experience I have vacillated between being awed by the incarnate love of God made real in the care the church has shown for others and in the evening I’d attend what one church called “the executive board,” and bemoan the fact that I was the pastor of such malcontents. Continue reading Sermon Jan 27 2019

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 25 2018

by The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ
November 25, 2018

“What Is Truth?”

Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ Continue reading Sermon Nov 25 2018