The Layperson’s Pocket Sermon


The Sermon on the Mount, from the Sistine Chapel, c.1481-83 (fresco)
The Sermon on the Mount, from the Sistine Chapel, c.1481-83 (fresco)

The other day during my morning meditation I came across this little verse; “If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples. Then, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. John 8:31-32

Sounds good. Who doesn’t want to be free—free of anger, fear, resentment, bad habits, and whatever else that can make life difficult?

But then, there is that tiny word tossed in to trip us up and threaten the whole deal—‘IF’. “IF you hold on to my teaching”. All that is said after this word are the conditions of a promise or fact.

I then asked myself a question that may seem obvious; what is this teaching?

As I pondered, I was reminded of that central teaching moment from Jesus that served as his official ministry inauguration– “The Sermon on the Mount”.

 Jesus had been wandering around from village to village as an unknown itinerant preacher, doing the occasional miracle along the way.

But now he had built up a large following.

On this particular day, the local Jews covered the large hillside, waiting anxiously to hear a message that they each hoped would shake the foundations of their broken society, a message that turned the philosophies, theologies, and general thoughts of the time on their heads, a message that contradicted both the Jewish leaders and Roman society, a message that would break chains and set people free.

When he was finished, the crowd was awestruck. They have heard many teachers over the years, but never anything like this.

I imagine it was like listening today to all the media talking heads, when a speaker comes on and communicates with clarity and truth in such a way that all the rest sound like yapping dogs.

Like many of you, I have heard and read these passages many times. You know-those “Beatitudes“?  Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the peacemakers, etc., etc.?

But do I Hold on to them“? Do I leave my home in the morning with these teachings firmly tucked away, at the ready, when I need to apply them in the heat of the day? Not really.

The sermon Jesus shared takes up three full chapters of Mathews Gospel. Seems like a lot of information for me to “hold onto”.

So, I thought I would break it down into my own “pocket sermon”—something I could grasp and carry with me throughout the day. Here is what I came up with— those three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount summed up in eight tenets and fifteen corollaries :

Eight Tenets- If you accept these, you will be happy!

  1. On my own, I don’t have what it takes to be happy.
  2. Failure and loss are a part of life—but I am never left alone in it.
  3. Accept my limits.
  4. Desire more of the good (more of God).
  5. Help everyone as you can.
  6. Focus on God’s will in the moment.
  7. Seek common ground with all you meet.
  8. Stand up for your core beliefs, and for the rights of the defenseless.

Fifteen Corollaries:  Evidence of accepting the above tenets

  1. Stay connected with others / participate in life.
  2. Harm no one, but make amends if you do.
  3. People are not objects to be used for your selfish desires.
  4. Avoid your known ‘trouble-spots’.
  5. Let all your words be simple and be true.
  6. Do not retaliate—offer peace.
  7. Don’t try to impress others with your spirituality. (Hmm)
  8. Don’t accumulate stuff.
  9. Pay attention to the things you want-what you desire says who you are.
  10. Trust and Rely on God for everything.
  11. Don’t judge others- its none of your business.
  12. Keep on asking God for what you need to do his will.
  13. Do to others what you want them to do to you— (I did not dare re-word the golden rule)
  14. Avoid following trends and the next new thing. Stay true to what’s important and lasting.
  15. Do all of this, and you will stay secure.

I never do all of these every day. I am fortunate to do some of them on some days! ~ (Refer to Tenet #1)

What I can do each day, is Corollary 10 and 12.  I then leave the rest to him.

So, this is my “layperson’s pocket sermon”. I hope the act of just getting it down will help me to “hold on to this teaching”.

Maybe you can give this a try. Read the Sermon, and write out in your own words what it means to you…

Lord knows, we all could use a little more of this today.

Kind Regards,



2 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    October 31, 2016 9:46 am

    Adding to St. Matthew…this morning Terry Hershey quotes Thich Nhat Hanh who suggests that the first thing we do upon waking is smile. Our smile affirms our awareness and termination to live in peace and joy.

    • Bob Toohey

      October 31, 2016 9:54 am

      Funny you should mention that. I am working on smiling more..I have been reading more and more about the contagious power of the smile. IT not only effects those around us, but somehow changes our attitude as well. Thanks for the reminder.


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