A handful of words can change one’s life. Consider what happens to a person when another says, “Will you marry me?” or “I’m pregnant!” Or when an employer calls to say, “We want you to come work for our company.” Or when a doctor says, “Your tests came back and you need to go to the hospital.”
Twenty centuries ago in a small country far away, a teacher sat down in front of a crowd of people and gave a talk that we know today as “The Sermon on the Mount.” You can read it in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7.
Jesus’ beloved sermon has changed lives and the world down through history. The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote a book, What I Believe, about the Sermon on the Mount. An Indian lawyer, Mahatma Gandhi, read Tolstoy’s book and it inspired him to apply Jesus’ nonviolent teachings to the struggle for independence in the second most populated country in the world.
A young German minister read Jesus’ sermon and wrote his own reflections on it that were later titled, The Cost of Discipleship; the book inspired millions after the Nazis killed its author, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
A young Baptist preacher read Jesus’ sermon and news reports about Gandhi’s work; Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolent civil rights work changed the United States for the better, for all.
An electrician working in a Polish shipyard was inspired by Jesus’ sermon and King’s nonviolent work; Lech Walesa organized his fellow workers and helped to nonviolently end communism, which helped to end the Cold War. The Episcopal priest Desmond Tutu followed Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount to help end racial oppression in South Africa.
This Sunday, July 14, the First Presbyterian Union Church, North Avenue and Temple Street in Owego, will celebrate Jesus’ greatest sermon in a creative 10 a.m. worship service. Twenty readers, ranging from a young elementary school student to a 90-plus year old church member, will take turns reading sections of the sermon so that worshippers will hear it all in one service. Different voices speak to different people in different ways. The combination of diverse voices sharing Jesus’ sermon is awesome.
Beyond hearing the words, the congregation will sing hymns inspired by this greatest sermon. Owego Parish Associate, Pastor Carolyn Gillette, has written four new hymns to well-known hymn tunes that are paraphrases of Jesus’ teachings. One of the best ways to learn anything is to sing it; most of us can say the alphabet easily by singing it. These hymns will help us remember Jesus’ teachings.
Carolyn’s hymns are now in more than 20 different denominational hymnals and other worship resources. F. Dale Bruner, author of the critically acclaimed, two-volume Matthew: A Commentary,” writes, “The Sermon on the Mount Service by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette beautifully coordinates Jesus’ deep words with contemporary music and prayers. I warmly recommend her work to the churches!”
You can read the whole service with Jesus’ teaching and the hymns based on them on the church website, www.owegofpuc.org/content.cfm?id=3097. Pay attention: These words, like any biblical words that you can hear in any church in Owego on any Sunday, can change your life – for the better.
Bruce Gillette is the pastor of the First Presbyterian Union Church in Owego.