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11/5/23 Sermon

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Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for she is good, for her steadfast love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those she redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. 4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; 5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. 6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and she delivered them from their distress; 7 she led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.


33 She turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, 34 a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. 35 She turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. 36 And there she lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in; 37 they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield.

Matthew verse 5 notes - Phylacteries are leather boxes with scriptures that Orthodox Jews wear on their upper arm during prayers.

Tzitzit (tseet-tseet or TSIT-sis) are the strings, or fringes, tied to each of the four corners of a tallit, or prayer shawl. They are widely considered a reminder, not unlike a string around one’s finger, to think of God at all times.

Matthew 23:1-12

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’s seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others, for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.[b] 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

One of my family’s favorite restaurants in Sauk City, Wisconsin has a sign hanging over a doorway that reads, “You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.” Amen to that. That is what these verses in Matthew’s Gospel are talking about – practicing what we preach.

What is it that we preach as Christians? (answers from congregants?)

To live life in a way that honors God above all else. To love God above all else.

That life is sacred. To honor human worth and dignity.

To live with integrity.

To do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with God.

That is what we preach. What is being practiced?

Much of what is happening in the world – the big, ugly things – are in contrast to how we know that we are to live. How do we hold on to our integrity? How do we support the integrity – the inherent worth and dignity of others?

A half-a-world away we are affected in ways large and small. A half-a-world away we are protected from much of what is happening, able to filter what we see and hear and learn. And even from this distance, with these filters, it is horrendous.

What is a pastor to say? What is anyone to say? The madness must stop! The wars must stop! The imbalance of resources must be corrected so that all are provided with basic needs.

We can agree on that and still not know how, or when, or where, to proceed.

Those of us in this room agree on what is right in principle (love your neighbor, life is sacred, do justice) but not on specifics.

These verses of Matthew’s raise a question: How do followers of Jesus understand what they are called to be, in contrast to what they see around them? How are we called to be in a world that includes corruption and violence and uncertainty? A world that includes players that refuse to operate by any standard of human decency?

We agree that killing is wrong… except… well… is there an exception? It is a slippery slope!

Ethical dilemmas are, by definition, hard choices between two or more morally right actions that conflict with each other. We are living through a quagmire of ethical dilemmas. And others are dying amid that same quagmire.

We, as Christians are called to walk the Way of Jesus. We are called to honor the teachings of Moses, to honor the covenant between God and Creation.

It is not easy. As the world spins out of control we may lose our balance, our equilibrium and falter in our right actions.

I may not have the answers but I know that we do have the tools to right ourselves.

We need to consistently apply our principles to what we see and hear and experience.

To live life in a way that honors God above all else. To love God above all else.

That life is sacred. To honor human worth and dignity.

To live with integrity.

To do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with God.

That is the only way forward. It has only ever been the way forward. It has been the path taken by brave individuals across the globe in every generation. It is the path we must continue to follow.

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for she is good, for her steadfast love endures forever.

I pray that these words from Psalm 107 are a comfort to you. But I know that you feel as helpless as I do moving through this war charged world. You are not alone. We are not alone.

We are stronger together. We are strongest working with God in our midst; working through God to right the wrongs in our world.

For any that are interested, I will offer a time to gather together in our sanctuary or Fellowship Hall on Friday afternoons to pray, to talk, to lament, to encourage, to find our way forward. I will suggest 2:00 on this coming Friday but am flexible, on both day and time, and await your input.

I wish to close with lyrics from the hymn, “Gather Us In,” written by Marty Haugen.

Gather us in and hold us forever Gather us in and make us your own Gather us in, all peoples together Fire of love in our flesh and our bones


Rev. TJ Mack – November 5, 2023

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