Sermon
October 29, 2000
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Jeremiah 31:7-9

For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise

shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, "Save,

O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel."

See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them

from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame,

those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall

return here.

With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them

back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which

they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is

my firstborn. (NRSV)

Matthew 5:1-10

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down,

his disciples came to him.

Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will

be filled.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs

is the kingdom of heaven. (NRSV)

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Sermon: Blessed are the Pure in Heart

This morning I have decided to do something different and throw away my text

and give a completely extemporaneous sermon. My, what a different

experience you are in for today - this will be straight from the heat - I

mean heart!

Just imagine that kind of sermon - where the words and the reality are so

dis-jointed that it’s almost laughable. Some change that would be.

Change is the name of the game in the church. We are all called to be

changed into the image of Christ and to be bring the world into the image of

God. But what if the church talks change, but it’s still the same old

thing. What if we proclaim the power of renewal and transformation, but the

power can never be seen in the life of the people or the institution that

delivers the proclamation?

In our Tuesday noontime study of Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People,

our video teachers challenged us in the first session with the story of a

man who did church but didn’t change. We’ll call him Carl, and Carl was a

kind of a grumpy old guy who found fault with everything and never had a

word of encouragement or hope escape his lips. He had been like this for 40

plus years, Forget Christian Love, you were lucky to get basic politeness

from Carl.

And yet, for those 40 years, Carl did Church. He didn’t stray far from

Sunday services, he served on boards and committees, he even sometimes

attended adult studies. And here was the problem: Carl did church, but he

did not change.

Now no one ever thought to call a meeting of the church to discuss this

strange case of the man who did church but didn’t change. The council could

spend 45 minutes to decide whether to have chicken or turkey at the annual

supper, but the case of Carl was never on the agenda. And it wasn’t on the

agenda because nobody really expected Carl to change, nobody really thought

that personal transformation was the expected outcome of doing church, and

nobody certainly wanted anyone else in the congregation to be meeting to

discuss what kind of change might be expected in their own lives.

So leave Carl alone and let him do church, but stay the same. He was a

member, he said he believed what church people are supposed to believe, he

pledged, leave him alone and don’t expect this thing called the Gospel to

covert his heart and transform his life in the image of Christ.

This morning we are going to have our Fall Congregational Meeting. At this

meeting we will talk about the next year’s budget, about changes in our

structure, about fixing up these buildings. This is all the business of

doing church. And believe me I’m not against it nor do I want in any way to

devalue it. But I’m for it and I value it only in the larger context of an

expectation that lives will be touched, hearts will be transformed, and the

Kingdom of God will be made visible by its presence and work.

If the business of doing church becomes disjointed from that larger purpose,

then it is no more than "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, " as odd and

funny as a preacher reading: a completely extemporaneous sermon, or as

dangerous as two religions killing each other over control of their "holy

city."

The core of the church is not found in the budget or the building, but in

the hearts of those who are touched by the proclamation of the Gospel. The

Gospel is good news - news that lives can be changed, transformed even, by

this encounter with God in Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Why that happens or how it happens is not within the scope of this sermon.

This focus this morning is on the fact that it can happen, it should happen,

and we can and should expect it to happen as an outcome of our doing church.

Do you expect this for yourself? Do you expect this for others?

How simple it would be if our growth in the Spirit were simply a matter of

believing the right thing or belonging to the right group. How simple it

would be if our unity with God were simply a matter of coming from the right

background, speaking the right language, having the right color skin, the

right economic status, the right sexual orientation. How nice it would be

to know: I belong to this group and that’s all God requires or expects of

me.

In Jesus’ day some people felt that way: "We have Abraham as our father -

what more do we need." Some people probably feel that way today. But Jesus

never accepted that kind of thinking. Jesus wanted to know what was on the

inside - what were the qualities of heart and soul that a person brought to

bear on the trials and temptations of life. For Jesus the remnant people of

God are:

the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

the pure in heart, for they will see God.

This is the quality of life God works in the hearts of all who gather to

worship in spirit and in truth. The promise of this transformation in our

lives and in our world is the reason we are here. We must never content

ourselves with doing church apart from the expectation of this change, the

growth, this new life in Christ.

To receive this blessed life, and to be a blessing in the lives of others -

may this guide us at our meeting this morning and in all we do in our

personal life and in our life together.

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Let us pray:

God, be with us, to give us life, life in Christ, life that fills our hearts

and turns them in deep affection to you and to our neighbors.

Help us to return each day to you in prayer. May we never cease praying for

true conversion of heart and transformation of life, so that we might grow

into the image of Christ our Lord, and share in the blessedness of his

eternal life.

May we also daily bring to mind the well-being of your church and the

welfare of all people. Help us, in our prayers, to train our minds for

kindness and healing, that we might rely on you for help and strength, but

also to do what we can in ministering to those for whom we pray.

We pray for peace and justice in the world; we pray for those who are

victims of oppression and crime; we pray for refugees and the homeless. O

God, may the many material blessing we enjoy never make us callous to the

plight of the poor and downtrodden.

We pray for healing and comfort for all who struggle with disease of body

and mind, for those who mourn the loss of their loved ones, for any whose

lives feel shaken loose from their foundations.

Especially we pray for:

And for those we name in the quiet of our hearts.

Lord, mercifully assist us in our prayers. In all things teach us to seek

your will. Direct our lives as we walk in the Way of Jesus Christ, in whose

name we pray. Amen.

God be in my head and in my understanding;

God in my eyes and in my looking;

God be in my mouth and in my speaking;

God be in my heart and in my thinking;

God be at my end and at my departing.

Amen.

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