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On Heaven’s Bright Shore

Tough Questions series, #6, “What is heaven like?”
Luke 13:29-30, John 14:2-4, Revelation 22:3-7
July 8, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

The sixth and final question in our Tough Questions series is “What is heaven like?”

I know it would make a few people very happy if the entire sermon were contained in this one honest answer: “We just don’t know.” But there’s no way the fellowship table can be ready that fast!

The longer answer is that scripture gives us some images that may help us shape our understanding of the life that is to come. The hope we have in the resurrection is an essential element of our faith, and the life to come is a big part of that hope. The hope we have in Christ is that God is present with us in our world, and because of that, we will one day be in God’s presence forever. One way that we talk about that is with images of heaven.

These two verses in Luke’s gospel are part of a much longer speech by Jesus in answer to the question, “Wi…
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On the Jesus Train

Acts 7:54 - 8:3; Matthew 20:20-28
Tough Questions series, #5: Can a bad person be a good leader?
July 1, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry


Our first reading depicts the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr, and a certain accomplice in the stoning, a fellow named Saul. I chose this reading because later on in the book of Acts, we see this man Saul converted by the grace of God. From then on, Saul is Paul, an important leader of the early church, and an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a striking contrast, as is the contrast between Stephen and Saul. Just before this reading, Stephen has just preached to Sanhedrin, a council of Jewish leaders, and his sermon was not well received, to say the least! The scripture refers to the members of this council as “they” and it describes the death of Stephen, and the role of Saul as a persecutor. Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Acts 7:54 – 8:3


When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground t…

The Neighborhood

Tough Questions Series, #4 -What about prejudice?
James 2: 1-13; Luke 10:25-37
June 24, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading comes from the short epistle of James. This letter was believed to be written around the end of the 1st century. It’s quite brief, easy to read, and filled with teachings for Christians that convey as much power and authority today as they did back then.

The New Interpreter’s Commentary sums up this scripture reading well:
“There are at least three ways in which James speaks to every generation of Christianity with unparalleled clarity and conviction. First, it is uncompromising in its demand for a clear rejection of "the world," together with a consistent commitment to an understanding of reality as measured by God. Second, because its teaching is rooted less in Christology than in theology, it is among the most ecumenical writings in the New Testament, able to speak also to those who do not confess Je…

Armed with Love

Romans 12:9-20; Matthew 5:38-48
Tough Questions Series: Can a Christian Own a Gun?
June 17, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

As I selected scripture for this tough question, I went back and forth about which one should be listed first. I couldn’t decide whether to use the Romans text first or the Matthew text. Finally I decided to let Jesus have the last word. So our first reading is from the 12th chapter of the letter to the Romans. Attorney General Sessions quoted something from Romans 13 last week, but unfortunately he did not take context into account. Mr. Sessions quoted the instruction to Christians to obey the government. Just after the scripture Sessions quoted there is a set of very detailed instruction to love others and the text you’ll hear today is just before the chapter Mr. Sessions quoted. Like all scripture, this must be read in light of the teachings of Jesus, and in the larger context of the written word of God. Let’s listen for God’…

Outsiders

Deuteronomy 24: 14-15; 17-22, Hebrews 12:1-2; Matthew 25: 24-40
Tough Questions, Week 2: What does the Bible say about immigrants?
June 10, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our second week of our tough questions series concerns immigration. The aim in this series is to look at these issues in light of God’s word – the written word, and the incarnate word in Jesus, the Word made flesh. The most difficult piece of preparing for this Sunday for me was that it was hard to narrow down exactly which passages to focus on. On this subject, there are many scriptures and none of them disagree. Our first reading comes from the book of Deuteronomy, and it details how God’s people will treat immigrants. It is helpful to bear in mind that these words are not just personal moral instruction; these are laws – the laws by which God’s people are to govern themselves. Let’s listen for God’s law and expectations about immigrants in Deuteronomy 24: 14-15; 17-22

You shal…

Naming Love

Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3: 1-17
Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

On this Trinity Sunday of 2018, we encounter two texts that I’m sure were chosen to give preachers some way to talk about the trinity, the Christian belief that God is three in one – three persons, one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I’ve preached quite a few sermons trying to unpack this idea of the trinity – talked about its history and meaning, about the three persons of the Godhead – God the creator, Christ our redeemer, the Holy Spirit the sustainer. But there’s really no way to explain the mystery of the Trinity.

Today, let’s take the wayback machine all the way back to the temple in Isaiah’s time. It was a place of splendor and glory, beautiful and awe-inspiring. There was an altar for sacrificing animals in worship, and there was a special room that only one priest could enter once a year, the holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant was kept, that sacre…