St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-27-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-27-2017

God IS Still Speaking

Exodus 1:8-2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

The language of ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ in today’s Gospel reading relate to teaching. Peter is given the authority to teach others what God has revealed to him. It’s not what he was taught, not what he learned, but what God gave to him; the gift of revelation! “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”.

Our guide to living as God intends us to is, of course, the Bible. Perhaps, as some claim, everything we need to know about God and God’s will for us is in there; we just have to read it and understand. I do believe the Bible is full of truth, even where fact is debatable. But as far as understanding, without revelation from God, it leaves much to the discretion of the reader and much room for debate between different readers.

What we have in our Bibles today are multiple translations of a collection of books that has been closed to new thoughts and experiences since about the end of the first century AD and the books included and the order we find them in has been established since around 400 AD (with some minor variations according to Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants).

Those who made the decisions on what to and what not to include had a set of rules to follow, ones they made themselves, and trusted in the movement of the Holy Spirit to guide them.

This is all well and good, or at the very least the best that humans could do. I’ve read some of the texts that were left out and can say I’m glad they were. On the other hand, I’ve read some that I, in my humble opinion, think should have been included. And, there are a lot of thoughtful, meaningful, God inspired writings since the Bible was “closed” that could well qualify for inclusion if we reopened the argument for God’s gift of revelation today. One example I’ll give you is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”; an epistle of modern time that speaks as clearly to its addressees as any epistle from Paul did in his time. (By the way, if you’ve never read it, you should).

Unfortunately, or fortunately as it may be, knowing the struggle the early Church fathers went through to give us what we have today, I can’t imagine the debate that would come to life if we did try to add something new; an impossible task I’m sure.

Another problem, even greater than this, is the way we are taught to understand what we do have in the Biblical Canon; that debate was never closed. Often, many times, throughout the history of the Church, learned and inspired people have raised questions of the understanding du jour. Almost as often, these debates ended in terrible fighting, wars, and / or executions with the survivors having the final word. Not until Martin Luther inspired the Reformation and survived the wars fought over it, was there a different result. Unfortunately that different result was the division of the Church.

For better or for worse, such changes in thought and understanding are passed down through the generations and still affect us to this day, and once they have been planted, it is so hard to change them even when they need to be reversed or revised. It’s like learning to speak a new language. As children we learn our language at a very early age, but once we become adults it is so hard to learn a new language or, even, learn to use our language differently. (Have you ever noticed Amy Perry’s accent; still there after years of living in the north).

At this point I’d like you to do something with me. Those who attended our recent program with Dr. Bob Siegfried will know this but for the benefit of the rest of you:

Fold your hands together (fingers intertwined)

          Note which thumb is on top

Now fold your arms across your chest

          Note which arm is on top

Now, back to folding your hands together

          Same thumb on top?

          Now do it with the other thumb on top

And your arms again

          Same arm on top?

          Now reverse that

Dr, Siegfried used this to demonstrate how we build habits; often without realizing we’ve done so. Way back in your past you saw someone fold their hands or cross their arms and you imitated it. No matter which thumb was on top or which arm was on top, that’s how you’ve done it ever since.

Dr. Siegfried equated this to how our minds get set into a self-critical pattern of guilt, shame, and reactivity.

Just the same, it is a good demonstration of how we develop our theological “habits”, our reflexive beliefs, how we do so without thinking much about it, and how hard it is to change without close attention and effort. What was explained to us long, long ago is already preset in our minds. Sometimes that’s a good thing; but if we got it wrong in the beginning, if what we were taught long ago isn’t right, or even if it just needs a different way of applying it to our faith lives, it’s very hard to change, even if we realize a need for change.

It is also how we hold to our particular focus in life and in religious views. If you remember the “Theological Worlds inventory” that we did together in my early days with you: the one with the focuses of separation and reunion; conflict and vindication; emptiness and fulfillment; and sin and salvation. These focuses are developed early in our Christian life. They don’t need to change; these aren’t about right or wrong. But at the same time, we need to be aware of our own pre-set focus, and respect that of others.

Yet, along with this comes our definition of reunion, vindication, fulfillment, and sin. And these often do need to change.

Look at the life and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. He stated plainly …

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished”. (Matt. 5:17, 18)

Still, he was constantly butting heads with the Scribes and Pharisees in arguments over the pre-established interpretation and application of the Law. He was seeking to change, not the Law, but how its interpretation and its use had been corrupted over the centuries.

Jesus, later, gives us the basis for proper interpretation and application with his words “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets”. (Matt. 7:12)

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

Now, think about this. Moses received the Law (probably) around 1300 -1500 years before the time of Christ; and Christ is pointing out how the Law has been misinterpreted and misapplied! We are now living almost 2000 years after the time of Christ’s earthly life! Consider, then, how much our understanding of Christ’s message may have been corrupted in that amount of time, by the teachings of those in power, only through being the winners of arguments and wars?

This is what makes me happy to be a member of the United Church of Christ; A denomination that is willing to review, rethink, and revise our beliefs based on the guidance set for us by Christ himself; based on love of God and love of neighbor; a denomination that believes God is still offering gifts of revelation; a denomination that believes “God is still speaking”!

Quoting now from the UCC website explanation of our “God is still speaking” approach:

“Today, under one collective identity, we can enthusiastically lift up that the UCC is a welcoming, justice-minded Christian community. At a time when religion is too often portrayed as narrow-minded and exclusive, many are raising their VOICES for an alternate vision:
– Where God is all-loving and inclusive
– Where the Church of Jesus Christ welcomes and accepts everyone as they are
– Where your mind is nourished as much as your soul
– Where Jesus the healer meets Jesus the revolutionary
– Where together we grow a just and peaceful world”

God’s gift of revelation is still active within us; “God IS still speaking” to us and through us!




Matthew 16:13-20
16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
16:14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
16:20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.


Exodus 1:8-2:10
1:8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.
1:9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.
1:10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
1:11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.
1:12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.
1:13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites,
1:14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah,
1:16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.”
1:17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.
1:18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?”
1:19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”
1:20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong.
1:21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
1:22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”
2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.
2:2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months.
2:3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.
2:4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
2:5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it.
2:6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said.
2:7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”
2:8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.
2:9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it.
2:10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Psalm 124
124:1 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side — let Israel now say —
124:2 if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,
124:3 then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;
124:4 then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;
124:5 then over us would have gone the raging waters.
124:6 Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
124:7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
124:8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.


Romans 12:1-8
12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.
12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
12:4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,
12:5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
12:6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;
12:7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;
12:8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.