Words to Live By

Back when I worked as an overnight supervisor at Union Station Homeles Services, I would often arrive early to my shift.  It started just before dinner.  If I made it 20-30 minutes before I was officially on the job, I could sit in on the last part of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the main dining area. I arrived early whenever I could.  For I was often inspired by the honesty, humility, and commitment to personal change I heard.  I loved learning the slogans of AA as well, finding them helpful words for my own journey of faith.

“One day at a time.”  “Let go and let God.”  “It’s about progress, not perfection.”  “Count your blessings.”  “First things first.”  These were some of the many mantras participants had memorized, and would apply to their personal journey of recovery. Attendees had also memorized the brief excerpt from the Serenity Prayer: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Whether or not one was going through recovery, these were precious words to live by. In the age of Google, we might be tempted to think the short saying or prayer has lost its power.  A quick internet search can now uncover a myriad of wisdom sayings from around the world.  Why memorize short, pithy phrases when a more extended and nuanced discourse can be quickly found and recited instead?

But there is a world of difference between words you look up, and words that are ingrained in your mind and heart.  What I heard at the AA meetings were sayings that were, for each of the participants, like friends who never left their side.  The mantras and the serenity prayer were like a street lamps that were always on, lighting the way for those driving through the night.

In the Gospel of Matthew, I am struck by how often Jesus employs brief sayings in his teaching. “You are the salt of the earth.”  “Judge not lest you be judged.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” And when Jesus famously taught his disciples to pray, according to Matthew, he gave them just a few brief words they could learn by heart: the Lord’s Prayer. Our savior clearly saw power in  the short saying that could be memorized and readily called to mind.  And his pithy maxims have proven a treasure trove for disciples ever since.

For the upcoming sermons in January and February, we will look at a few of the short, memorable sayings of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel. For Lent, we will then look at the “Lord’s Prayer,” exploring the power and import of each phrase  we recite weekly. As we explore some of the short sayings of Jesus anew, I trust we will find what disciples have found in Jesus’s “words to live by” for millenia. We will meet trustworthy friends on the journey, and lights to illumine our path.


-Pastor Matt









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