Long and Short Biblical Sermons
Sermon Series - Part 1
Deuteronomy 29:2-21, The long history of long sermons: Moses (09/28/20)
A few days ago I saw a church sign that said, "Tweet others as you would like to be tweeted." That got me to thinking about the Sermon on the Mount, and then about the Sermon on the Plain. Preachers love sermon series, and I completely understand that. The easy part of preaching or teaching is standing up in front of the congregation or the class and delivering the message. The hard part is coming up with an idea
for the message! In a good sermon series, one idea will last for weeks
. This episode of Reading our Bible Together will look at some of the sermons preached long ago by Moses, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and others, and we'll see that these sermons still have important messages for us today.
Years ago, the late Rev. Dr. Leonard Gillingham was winding up his sermon when he happened to glance at the clock in the sanctuary. He was surprised that so little time had passed in the service, so he just took a breath and kept on preaching. And preaching. The congregation was reasonably patient with what became a very long sermon. Leonard didn't repeat himself or change topics. The sermon, which had been a unified whole before, remained a unified whole. When the sermon had been going on for about 45 minutes, Mrs. Gillingham caught his eye and gave him a firm signal to cease preaching
. It turned out that the clock had stopped. Only because Leonard was well-loved and a wonderful preacher was he able to keep our attention for such a long time.
Moses was, and still is, well-loved and a wonderful preacher. He didn't have a clock, and apparently Mrs. Moses couldn't catch his eye, because some of his sermons are very long indeed. We're going to look at his last sermon, given shortly before the children of Israel entered the Promised Land. He begins with
- a summary of their history in Egypt, in the desert, and in the recent battles for the east side of the Jordan River;
- a warning against worshipping the idols of Egypt or of the peoples whose lands they have passed though or are about to enter;
- and an invitation to renew for themselves the covenant made between God and their ancestors.
That might be a good place to look at the clock and stop preaching: three points, closely related to each other. Tomorrow, we'll see that he takes another breath.
Deuteronomy 29:22 – 30:10, The long history of long sermons: Moses (09/29/20)
In the central portion of his sermon, Moses elaborates on the drawbacks of abandoning the covenant and worshiping idols and on the benefits of worshiping God.
Notice the straightforward Deuteronomic theology here:
- abandon God and be cursed;
- stay with or return to God and be blessed.
The children of Israel were new to monotheism, and there was no room for the gray area of why bad things happen to good people or vice versa. We don't see that discussion until much later, e.g., in Ecclesiastes or Job.
Deuteronomy 30:11-20, The long history of long sermons: Moses (09/30/20)
A good sermon has three parts: 1. Tell them what you're going to tell them; 2. Tell them; and 3. Tell them what you told them. Here in the final part of Moses' sermon, he skips the historical review and goes straight to the summary of his two main points: Love God; worshiping idols is bad for you; love God.
I'm also interested in vss. 11: "This commandment I am giving you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it too remote." Jesus says, "My yoke is easy" (Matthew 11:30). John says, "His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Moses, Jesus, and John give us the consistent message that the main thing is to love God, and it's not difficult.
Joshua 24:1-24, A sermon of rededication (10/01/20)
Have you ever been part of a service of rededication? Sometimes we get to taking our relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit for granted. We forget our initial feelings of joy and gratitude for our salvation, and we fall into bad habits. It's time to renew our vows and keep them! This is what Joshua was telling the children of Israel in this sermon.
Luke 3:1-18, An interim preacher (10/02/20)
John was a prophet of the old school: he received the word of God and vigorously passed it on to the people. He even dressed like the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). Some of his message was fire and brimstone, some of it was ethics, and some of it was prediction. The people who heard him thought he might be the Messiah they were expecting, but he told them, "No, I'm just the interim preacher."
Matthew 4:23 – 5:16, The Sermon on the Mount (10/05/20)
Of course the most famous sermon in the Bible, as well as one of the longest, is the Sermon on the Mount. The topic of much of the sermon is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus starts by talking about the characteristics of citizens of the kingdom. First, they are happy, or blessed – those are both the same word in Greek – no matter what circumstance they find themselves in. Citizens of the kingdom are definitely glass-half-full people. Second, they are useful. Salt is used for flavor, for preservation, and for paying salaries, among other things. And it sure doesn't pay to become un-useful! Third, they are visible, and they need to use their visibility to reflect the light of God's goodness.
Matthew 5:17-26, The Sermon on the Mount (10/06/20)
Jesus started his sermon by talking about the citizens in the kingdom of heaven, and now he moves on to talk about the laws in the kingdom of heaven. It turns out that the laws are a lot stricter than the Law of Moses. Moses said "Don't murder," and I can do that, but Jesus says, "Don't be angry," which is more difficult. We've looked at vss. 23-24 before, and we remember that the emphasis is on asking for forgiveness
, not granting forgiveness, before you come to worship. That's difficult, too.
Matthew 5:27-48, The Sermon on the Mount (10/07/20)
As we learned in our study of Hebrews
, the New Testament quotes extensively from the Old Testament. Some translations show this; some don't. Check your paper Bible to see whether it indicates that a phrase or sentence quotes the Old Testament, as Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount. You've heard of "laying down the law"? In this section of the sermon, Jesus is laying down the law for the kingdom of heaven, which continues to be much stricter than the Law that Moses laid down for God's kingdom on earth. It's also stricter than the Roman law, or possibly custom, which required that a person carry the pack of a Roman soldier for one mile on request.
Matthew 6:1-18, The Sermon on the Mount (10/08/20)
You probably know that the oldest texts we have of the Bible have no spaces between words and no punctuation. They have no verse or chapter numbers. They certainly have no topical headings! All of these useful tools have been added to the text over the past 1800 years or so. As study aids, they are great, providing you remember that they aren't part of the text and that different translations will put the punctuation, verse and chapter numbers, and especially headings in different places. There are even one or two verses where the spaces between words varies. None of these variations are of much theological importance, and the vast majority are of no importance whatsoever, so don't worry about it.
All of this brings me to the reason I left in the heading "Private Prayer" in today's reading for vss. 6-15. In fact, only vss. 5-6 are about private
prayer – these verses use singular you
, that is, thou.
Verses 7-15 use plural you
, that is, ye
. They are about prayer in groups (probably in a church or similar gathering), particularly the Lord's Prayer itself, where all the pronouns are plural: us, our, and we. And the point is, headings are useful tools, but you have to read carefully for yourselves, or thyself, as the case may be.
Matthew 6:19-34, The Sermon on the Mount (10/09/20)
Jesus continues to talk about how people should act in the kingdom of heaven. It seems to me that the emphasis on not worrying goes all the way back to vs. 19. On the one hand, if you have a lot of treasure on earth, you have to worry about deterioration, robbery, and preoccupation with wealth; on the other hand, food and clothing are manifestations of wealth. I'm not sure I would divide this into one section on wealth and another on worry. The main point is that people who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven don't worry, because God has everything well in hand.
Matthew 7:1-14, The Sermon on the Mount (10/12/20)
Jesus continues discussing the behavior required of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Judge people the way you'd like to be judged. Don't criticize unless you are perfect. Give to people the way you want people to give to you. In short, "Tweet others as you would like to be tweeted."
Matthew 7:15-29, The Sermon on the Mount (10/13/20)
Jesus finishes his long sermon about the kingdom of heaven with a sobering warning to those who only think
they are citizens of the kingdom. "Umm...," we say, "if casting out demons and prophesying and working miracles aren't producing good fruit, what is?" I think we have to read back into the earlier parts of the sermon: Jesus would rather have us love our enemies than prophesy to them, to give alms in secret instead of working flashy miracles, and to cast out our own demons before worrying about other people's demons. In short, we are to do the humble work of the kingdom, and not the advertising.
Luke 6:17-36, The Sermon on the Plain (10/14/20)
Apparently most scholars believe that the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain are actually the same sermon, given only once. I don't know why they think this. The Sermon on the Mount is more than three times as long, 107 verses vs. only 30 verses for the Sermon on the Plain. Matthew says that when Jesus "went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him." Luke, on the other hand, says that he "he came down with them and stood on a level place." Matthew says the crowd was from the inland areas of "Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan." Luke says they were from "Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon." Thus we have a long/short sermon given before/after Jesus came down from the mountain, before/after his disciples came to him, while he was sitting/standing, delivered to a crowd from the mountains/seacoast. Other than that, Matthew and Luke say exactly the same thing about the setting. MWAHAHahaha!
Luke 6:37-49, The Sermon on the Plain (10/15/20)
Yesterday I pointed out that Luke's account of the setting, the time, and the crowd for the Sermon on the Plain are different from Matthew's account for the Sermon on the Mount. It turns out that the content differs, too. You might say, "Well, Luke's version is shorter, so he probably left out part of it." No, because he has topics that Matthew doesn't, like the woes that follow the beatitudes. Even for some parts that are "the same," the phrasing, length, or examples can differ. Much of the content of the two sermons is the same, but just as much is just plain different. Saying that they are the same sermon requires us to do the following thinking:
- Either Matthew or Luke – or both – fudged the place, time, and crowd.
- Matthew included some stuff that Luke didn't use and took out some stuff that Luke did use.
- Luke did the same thing.
When the vast majority of commentators say that they are the same sermon, they are telling you – without ever saying it outright – that this is what happened. Isn't it a lot more straightforward to believe that there were two
sermons, and both Luke and Matthew are reporting what they heard? You really have to read the Bible for yourself, people, and not take the word of commentators in preference to the word of scripture.
Jonah 3:1-10, A short but effective sermon (10/16/20)
In Hebrew, Jonah's sermon is five words long. Sometimes the shortest sermons are the most effective.
Matthew 10:1-23, An ordination sermon (10/19/20)
Both the process and the results of ordination vary from denomination to denomination within Christianity and Judaism. Ordained clergy (typically) have studied; have been through some ordination rite; and are authorized to perform the sacraments, to perform marriages, to preach and teach, and to lead a congregation. The disciples have studied for a couple of years with Jesus, and now he authorizes them to cast out demons, to cure illness, and to preach. He warns that people won't always welcome them or listen to them, which is still a problem for the clergy today.
Matthew 10:24-42, An ordination sermon (10/20/20)
Jesus continues telling his disciples how to conduct their early ministry, but I want to talk about love and hate. In Luke 14:26 we see an alarming statement: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." "Love X and hate Y" is a Hebrew idiom that came over into the Greek of the New Testament. It means "Love X more than Y." Y can actually be loved quite a bit, as we see in the case of Esau, who became the wealthy ancestor of a mighty nation. Matthew makes this clear in vs. 37: we are to love Jesus more than
father or mother or son or daughter.
When you see something like all caps, italics, or bold italics, it's generally a sign that Jesus or a New Testament writer is quoting the Old Testament. In this case, Jesus is quoting Micah7:6. (When you see italics in the King James Version, it means that a word has been inserted, usually because a word necessary in English is not present in the Greek.)
Matthew 23:1-15, A sermon afflicting the comfortable (10/21/20)
It has been said that preaching should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The scribes and Pharisees were comfortable. They belonged to the best families, went to the best schools, lived in the best neighborhood, and had the best opinion of themselves. In this sermon, Jesus does a little afflicting. All of us who are comfortable need to say, "How does this apply to me?" not, "This doesn't apply to me."
Matthew 23:16-39, A sermon afflicting the comfortable (10/22/20)
Woe to you who will not wear a mask! Which is more important? Your face or the safety of those who see it? Woe to you who wash your hands but will not stay at home! You clean one member of your body but expose the members of the whole body! Woe to you who say, "I only get together with close family and friends." Hypocrites! Your friends and family see their
friends and families, do they not? – and soon the whole nation is infected! Jesus has little patience and no comfort for those who interpret the rules to suit their own whims. The fact that we don't grow dill and cumin doesn't mean he isn't speaking to us.
More of Sermon Series
Sermon Series - Part 2
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