St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-18-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-18-2016


Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25

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

There’s a monthly program in a tavern in Kutztown that I’ve had the pleasure of attending several times. It’s called “Theology with a Twist”. The premise is to provide theological discussion in an environment more comfortable for non-believers and lapsed believers than a Church. It’s also an opportunity for promoting a more liberal view of Christianity than what seems to dominate the news and social media; a chance to demonstrate that not all Christians are judgmental, hateful, and condemning.

One of the topics engaged last year was titled “Does God want us to be Happy?” led by my New Testament professor Dr. Greg Carey.

Now, for those of us who have always been faithful members of Christ’s Church, this may sound like a ridiculous question, oxymoronic even. Unfortunately, given the vast number of, and the attention given to, Christians who do judge, hate, and condemn, it’s not surprising that there are many people for whom the answer would be “NO!” This is, also unfortunate, a major cause of the decline in participation in the Church today. And, it’s also unfortunate that this is nothing new in the world; it’s been going on almost as long as the Church itself. To explain it all would take years of sermons, but the nut shell version is this…

It started when two, or a few, members disagreed on some theological issue and, for whatever reason, they couldn’t resolve the disagreement amongst themselves. Both sides are certain they are right and the other is wrong, the more powerful condemns the other and, if things go well, they part ways. If things do not go well, the more powerful kills the other. After a few killings, most people become afraid to object; they either go with the flow or they go somewhere in solitude.

Now fear becomes the ruler. The more powerful get their way by making everyone else afraid to open their mouths and speak their own truth and only the most convicted to their beliefs dare to share them. Still, many of them are silenced.

Eventually, fear becomes the norm. The phrase “God fearing Christian” takes on the notion of being afraid of God and God’s wrath rather than the idea of awe and great respect as it was intended to convey. Mix that with thoughts of self sacrifice being a Godly trait, add a bit of guilt and a pinch of unworthiness and you have a perfect recipe for… anti-happiness.

Those in power liked it this way. Emphasizing the guilt and unworthiness while overshadowing grace, they were able to convince their underlings that their only hope for eternal life was in self sacrifice. They were taught that poverty was a blessing and that giving their money to the Church was the way to salvation.

Over the centuries the recipe was changed for the benefit of the powerful. More guilt was added, more unworthiness was used with less grace in the mix, until the day came when the Word of God was to bitter to consume. The Church was rich while those she is supposed to serve were starving; literally and figuratively, starving for physical sustenance and for spiritual fulfillment. The Church built more grandiose temples with expensive fine art and gold ornaments; all on the backs of those who were already crushed under unbearable loads.

This, of course, is not the way it’s supposed to be! This is not what Jesus was saying when he spoke the Beatitudes saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh”!


God did not send his only Son into the world to lift up one group over another; he sent him to lift up all the world! Through his Son we are not told that making the poor poorer makes them worthy of his love and we are not told that we can purchase salvation; it is a gift through God’s Grace alone! It is ours even if we are poor, not because we are poor!

And, in those words of the Beatitudes, where we read “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh”! We could be reading it as “Happy”! It is a valid translation; yet, even if it weren’t, it would still mean the same thing; being blessed is happiness; being happy is a blessing. “Happy are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Happy are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Happy are you who weep now, for you will laugh”.


So, yes, God wants us to be happy. But he wants us all to be happy; not some, the few, at the expense of the others.


Okay, I can imagine that some of you are thinking that the Pastor is preaching to the Choir; and maybe, to this point, I am.

Here we are in our beautiful Church, but it’s beautiful in its simplicity! There are no stone spires or gold domes on the outside. We do have this beautiful painting but even that is simple. It shows Christ the earthly shepherd, not the radiant, glowing Christ hovering in the clouds. We have no marble statues, our Communion ware isn’t made of silver, our alter isn’t finely carved and polished stone with gold highlights, it’s simple wood.

Yes, we got it right here at St. Matthew’s; we know that we do not glorify God with expensive buildings, art and ornaments; here God’s glory is expressed so well in simplicity.

And I’m sure the same is true in the personal lives of our members; I haven’t seen a lot of Rolls Royces, Porches’, or chauffeured limos in the parking lot lately, have you?

We know that we do not glorify God with expensive cars and extravagant spending. You know this, I know this, we at St. Matthew’s know this well. But there’s a little bit more to it than living happily within that simplicity for our own sake; there’s a whole world out there that needs us to be happy too!

When those who claim to be Christians begin to judge, hate and condemn; where is the joy in that? When those who likewise identify themselves as Christians and then spend their every breath complaining about everything going on in the world without lifting a finger to fix it; where’s the joy in that? Or when they, believing that they’re better than everybody else, are looking down their noses and belittling those less fortunate; where’s the joy in that? They are not only failing to demonstrate the joy of Christian life, they are dissuading everyone they meet from wanting to know anything about the joy of Christian life.


Just as the rich and the powerful used fear to control the masses, we have the ability, the power, to reclaim the Church for the masses; not with manipulative forced submission under the guise of glorifying God, but with joy!

It’s really simple, it doesn’t take a lot of money, we don’t have to buy extravagant cars and clothes, and we don’t need a lot of glitz outside or inside our Church. We know this! All we have to do is show this!

In every opportunity, show the world the joy of being a believer: give a warm “hello” to a stranger; a smile to the retail clerk who’s having a bad day; smile your way through your own bad day; do whatever you can to not only live in the joy, but to also demonstrate the joy! And anytime you need some incentive remember this, “Nothing glorifies God more than a joyful believer”!



Isaiah 7:10-16
7:10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying,
7:11 Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.
7:12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.
7:13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?
7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
7:15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
7:16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.


Romans 1:1-7
1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
1:2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,
1:3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh
1:4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,
1:6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
1:7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Matthew 1:18-25
1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
1:19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
1:20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
1:22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
1:23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
1:25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.