The Sermon


The Sermon


Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

I was chatting with Mary Jane on Thursday. At the end of our conversation I indicated I was off to work on the sermon. “Make it a good one!” she said.

Sermons are funny things. The very first sermon I preached here was when I preached for the call. After that service as I was shaking hands a member said to me, “Not so long next time.”

What makes a sermon good? The other week a colleague of mine mentioned the connection between the preacher and the listener. If we are making a connection the sermon is better. But what makes a connection? And if I connect with you, what about the person in the pew behind you? What makes a sermon good?

Mary Jane didn’t know how much sermon fodder she was giving me in that one statement? The sermon should in some way convey a message from God, as we find it in scripture. Who we are, where we are will relay into our context and bias of how we read scripture and of how we will hear a sermon.

And now I will tell you a secret. It’s a bit of an open one, I’m not betraying any trade secrets and I don’t think the clergy police will track me down for this. But here it is, most ministers only have one sermon. Just one. We preach it in a variety of ways, but we really only have one sermon.

When I think back on being here for the past 10 years, I know that’s true of me. You’ve heard me say it countless times, in countless different ways, we need to be out there doing the work of God’s kingdom. The kingdom isn’t some far flung idea, it isn’t something that will be created in some bizarre future. The kingdom of God exists right now and as followers of Christ we have a very big role to play.

In his commentary on our passage today NT Wright says the following, “We are to pray that God’s kingdom will come, and God’s will be done, ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ The life of heaven – the realm where God is already king – is to become the life of the world, transforming the present earth into the place of beauty and delight that God always intended. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now.” (Wright, NT. Matthew for everyone: Part 1, page 38.)

Jesus isn’t saying, try and live this way. Jesus is saying, the people who live this way are already in good shape. They get it. Our salvation isn’t for some future thing. It isn’t so we get a place in heaven, it isn’t so our name is written in the book of life, it is to do the work now. We don’t do what we do for some future reward, we do the work Christ laid out for us because the reward has already been received. Whether we do the work or not the reward has been received. But how could we not do the work?

The Beatitudes are the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount which will cover three chapters of Matthew’s gospel. There is debate among scholars as to whether Jesus is talking to a crowd of people here or just the disciples. The implications for the message change slightly depending on who the audience is. For us, the question is what do we hear and take from this passage? How does it inform our modern, western experience?

It’s hard for us as Christians today to recognize this, but something dramatic, almost revolutionary is happening here. If we’re honest, take a step back and look at the passage we shouldn’t be surprised. We should see it the revolutionary statements and acknowledge that they are try in our own time as well.

With these words, Jesus is taking us somewhere we have never been before. It’s easy for us to dismiss them and say oh yes of course. But I would ask you to take these words from their original context and apply them to the world today. Life in Cobourg, Canada, the world. Read these words again and what are the images that flash before their lives? Are they images of 1st century village life or are they images you’ve seen on the news this past week or that you’ve seen while walking or driving around town?

Consider the words that Jesus has for us today. He elevates those in society that we don’t normally even see. He takes the most insignificant in society and tells us they are of worth. We would look at this list and be hard pressed to disagree. Yet, in society, ancient and modern, the group that is listed is often disregarded and dismissed. Actively oppressed and often left uncared for.

Osvaldo Vena writes the following in his commentary, “To be labeled poor was to be unable to defend what was yours, to fall below the status at which one was born…

“To be “Blessed” is honorific language. It can be translated as “How honorable,” “How full of honor,” “How honor bringing,” et cetera. “Contrary to the dominant social values, these “blessed are …” statements ascribe honor to those unable to defend their positions or those who refuse to take advantage of or trespass on the position of another. Obviously then the honor granted comes from God, not from the usual social sources.”¹ (Osvaldo Vena –

The Beatitudes clearly tell us what the values of the kingdom are. They tell us where we should spend our time and focus our energy. They tell us what is important to God and surprise, surprise, it isn’t what is important to our modern society.

So here is the rub. We can’t be afraid.

Let me repeat that, we cannot be afraid.

Afraid of what? To express the values of the kingdom of God. We cannot be afraid. We must, must stand where Jesus stood and express that these individuals are blessed. And if they are blessed, then we too are blessed if we stand with them and indeed if we find ourselves representative of them.

If you read further in Matthew’s gospel and perhaps you did earlier. You will find Jesus saying the following, “It is said that… but I tell you…”

But I tell you.. What does the word but say to you? It says that there is an alternate thought, another option that is available to us.

Jesus, who is the son of God say, but I tell you. Jesus says, there is an alternative way to what the world is telling you. There is another way towards wholeness, there is another way towards loving the community fully.

And here’s the hard part of that which is hard to absorb. The alternate way is couched in the language of doubt. You heard that correctly, doubt. The very thing you’ve been told to avoid is the way forward. Doubt is the language of which leads us towards greater understanding. If I can leave you with one message it is this, that it’s ok to doubt. It’s ok to ask questions. It’s ok to not be certain. This is what will lead you to deepen your faith. Don’t be so sure about what you know, be open to what you don’t know.

When I was at seminary, at Knox College, I was so certain that I needed to know. The truth is that the certainty, the rigidity of faith is our downfall it is not what Jesus taught.

Doubt, that word that you dare not ever utter at church.

Doubt is the passageway to growth. Without doubt, your relationship with God cannot deepen. If you don’t question, ask questions then your faith doesn’t evolve.

So what of the Beatitudes? What do we make of this piece of scripture? How does this writing which is two thousand years old inform our living? What questions does it evoke which challenge us and make us search for deeper meaning?

I’d like to share with you a paraphrase of the Beatitudes as written by Greg Paul, the founding pastor of Sanctuary Church in Toronto. He writes the following in his book Resurrecting Religion,

“Blessed are the spiritually bankrupt, for all the riches of the kingdom are available to bail them.

Blessed are those who see life is a litany of loss and destruction and who are so blasted by grief they cannot stand, for they will find a new and strengthening intimacy among others who grieve and with the Comforter by their side.

Blessed are the shoved out, put down, and ripped off, for they will discover that everything –everything! – belongs to them and nothing can restrain them.

Blessed are those who are starving for justice, dying of thirst for someone to treat them right, for a feast is coming.

Blessed are the guilty ones who, knowing their own guilt, show mercy to others; they’ll receive mercy too.

Blessed are those whose whole being – body, soul, and spirit – is so focused on discovering God for themselves that nothing in this world ever seems good enough; they’ll find what they’ve been looking for at last.

Blessed are the ones who stand in the middle of other people’s disputes and are hated by both sides; it’s a horrible place to be, but it’s where they are claiming their identity as children of God.

 Blessed are those who are battered and bruised because they try to treat others well: they are displaying their citizenship in the Kingdom of God here and now.” (Greg Paul, Resurrecting Religion, 2018, p203).

Earlier I shared with you that Mary Jane told me to make this sermon good. I’m not going to ask you if it was.

I am going to ask what makes a good sermon?

There will never be an answer to that question. That member who complained about the length of my sermons? They’d be disappointed, as this sermon was considerably longer than the one they complained about.

What makes a good sermon?

Let me state it as simply as I can.


Each of you write sermons every day. You might not know it, but you do. Every day that you wake up, every interaction that you have, every time you help someone, every time you love someone, every time you give of yourself you express the values of the kingdom of God. Every time this happens you express that what happens in the here and now matters to God.

You are the sermon. Amen.  

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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Thank you for visiting St. Andrew’s. It’s our prayer that this sermon was helpful to your walk of faith. We would ask you to prayerful consider donating to the mission of St. Andrew’s. You can make an online donation through our website. 

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