All Saints’ Day

All Who Have this Hope in Him

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day. Have you ever wondered who saints are? Often times we may think of them as miracle workers are healers. This is definitely true for many saints. This has even been true for my ministry, but I must say that this does not qualify me for being a saint. I remember the words of Jesus:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”   (Matthew 7:21-23)

This tells me that any deeds of power do not qualify us to be saints of God. They do not even guarantee our salvation. In fact, we should never take credit them. They are the works of God. God alone is the healer and miracle worker.

What, then, are the requirements of becoming a saint? Perhaps we could start with today’s psalm:

Fear the Lord, you that are his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

The Lord ransoms the life of his servants,
and none will be punished who trust in him.   (Psalm 34:9-19, 22)

We are to fear God. We are to respect God. We are to seek God. Then the Lord ransoms our lives. He has done so by the blood of his Son.

What type of lives do saints live? We read from today’s Gospel the beautiful beatitudes from Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”   (Matthew 5:3-12)

Is this true of me? I have tried to live this way but I have fallen short many times. I need help – lots of help. Perhaps you do too? We live in a difficult age. Christians have always been persecuted. Now that persecution ha come to the forefront, even in America. Our task is to cling to the faith.

The Apostle John was given a vision of the saints of God in heaven:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.   (Revelation 7:13-14)

Only God cleanse us from our sins. We must allow him to do so.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.   (1 John 3:1-3)

Do we have the hope in him to purify ourselves? I do not know about others, but I am going to hand on to the faith for dear life, for life eternal.

Very early in my days of the ordained ministry I was taking communion to parishioners who were dying in a hospice. There was one very elderly gentleman there who was not a parishioners, In talking with him I found out that he had been in the ordained ministry for almost his entire life. Just getting started in ministry I asked him to share what he has learned from his faith and ministry over the years. He said to me: Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. I remember what he said because I had found a true saint of God.

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Saint Simon and Saint Jude

st simon and st jude2Called to Preach the Gospel

In today’s Old Testament reading Moses declares:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop like the rain, my speech condense like the dew; like gentle rain on grass, like showers on new growth. For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he.   (Deuteronomy 32:1-4)

Moses knew that he was blessed by the Spirit of God. Thus, he realized that he had an obligation and responsibility to teach his word.

Saint Simon and Saint Jude were blessed by God. They were called by Jesus directly to preach and teach the Gospel. Some ancient Christian writers say that Simon and Jude went together as missionaries to Persia, and were martyred there. If this is true, it explains why they are usually put together. Little else is known of their ministry. Nevertheless, they were faithful to their calling. After all, the calling of God is not to speak about who we are but about what God has done for us in Christ.

Before He was crucified Jesus told His disciples that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they would be able to preach on his behalf. That is the work of the Holy Spirit does. Jesus said:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”    (John 15:27)

Have we received the Holy Spirit? Have we also been called by to testify to the truth of the Gospel? The Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus came to reconcile the world unto Himself and that our testimony is important in that process:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

The new creation that God has brought about in Christ brings reconciliation between all people. Paul writes:

Now in Christ Jesus you Gentiles, who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.   (Ephesians 2:13-18)

People are so divided today. Our responsibility is to bring unity in Christ because we have been given this “message of reconciliation.” We cannot do this on our own, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us in this ministry. Let us follow the faithful example of men like Simon and Jude.

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Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 25

Track 1: From Generation to Generation

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

The psalmist wrote:

Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.

Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born,
from age to age you are God.

You turn us back to the dust and say,
“Go back, O child of earth.”

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past
and like a watch in the night.   (Psalm 90:1-4)

God is a generational God. He has plans our lives from day to da.He also has a generational plan for our lives as well. He sees the short term, but he also sees in the long term. He delivered the children of Israel from captivity and bondage in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Generations before he promised Abraham a homeland. God was now delivering on this promise. From todays Old Testament reading:

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”   (Deuteronomy 34:1-4)

Moses had completed his assignment. Now it was time to pass the baton to a new generation:

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.   (Deuteronomy 34:9)

Joshua would lead the children of Israel into the promise land. He had been trained under Moses. But most importantly, the hand of God was upon him. God always ensures that he has the next leader prepared to step in. But that leader must be willing to endure suffering and trials.

From generation to generation God was unfolding his plan for salvation of Israel and the entire human race. Moving forward several generations we see how God’s plan was coming into focus. The religious leaders during Jesus’ earthly ministry, however, failed to understand what God was doing. They did everything in their power to derail God’s plan. They were asking Jesus questions to trip Jesus up. But they were not ready for Jesus to question them. From today’s Gospel reading:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.   (Matthew 22:41-46)

Jesus was telling the Pharisees that God’s plan for humanity began far earlier than King David and extended into a future that would never end. Through Nathan the prophet God promised David:

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before you forever. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:12 13,16)

The Pharisees were too short sighted. God was unfolding his plan before them, but they were stuck on themselves. God’s plan for salvation began long before David, long before Abraham. It began at the very beginning of creation. We read in the Book of Revelation that Jesus was the the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). The psalmist wrote:

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,

One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.   (Psalm 145::3-13)

We may now be living in the last generation. How do we fit into God’s plan? Are we stuck on ourselves? Are we blind to what the Lord is doing? What is our task?

Will we speak of the glory of God’s kingdom? Will we tell of his power, to make known to all people his mighty deeds? Will we tell gospel of Jesus others about God’s everlasting kingdom? God’s generation plan has come down to us. Are we not to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ until he comes again? We may need a  wider vision. We may need a longer timeline, onet hat extends throughout all eternity.

 

 

Track 2; You Shall Be Holy

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
Psalm 1
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

What does the Lord require of us? Reading from Leviticus:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.   (Leviticus 19:1-2)

What does it mean that God is holy? The Hebrew word for holy is Kodesh (קודש). It means set apart for a specific purpose. God has created the world, but he is greater than his creation. Israel was set apart by God from the other nations of the world to be a kingdom of priests.

What does it mean that we should be holy? We are to be set apart from the world as servants of God. He is of a much higher level than we are, but he wants to raise us up to dwell with him.. We cannot achieve this level on our own. God says to us:

Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.   (Leviticus 20:7-8)

How does this happen? The psalmist wrote:

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.   (Psalm 1:1-3)

The most powerful way to effect this change is by letting the Word of God dwell in us richly:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.   (Colossians 3:16

When we embrace scripture without reservation, it will energetically work God’s will in uz. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.  (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

God’s word is working inus, but we must cooperate.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

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Saint James of Jerusalem

Faith and Works

James, brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem, and author of the Epistle of James is still speaking to the Church today. Are we listening?

How important was James to the Early Church? The Apostle Paul writes about the people whom Jesus personally appeared to after His resurrection:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.   (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

It would be an understatement to say that James has not always been understood or appreciated. He is almost like a Rorschach test. People often project on him their own theology. We may be familiar with Martin Luther’s statement about the Epistle of James being an “epistle of straw.” Luther’s theology did not agree with the tone and tenor of James’ Epistle. At the risk of oversimplification, Luther emphasizes sola fide, “faith alone” whereas James states that “good works” demonstrates a genuine faith. James was writing from wisdom and experience and he did not want to proclaim an easy grace without accountability.

James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. A dispute broke out in the Early Church concerning whether or not Gentile converts to the Faith needed to follow Judaic Law. This dispute had the potential of dividing the Church. Accordingly, a council met at Jerusalem to consider what rules Gentile Christians should be required to keep. James helped formulate a consensus as to what the requirements for Gentiles should be:

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21)

Without this vital agreement the work of the Gentile Church would have been gravely hindered. We see that James was not locked in an ideology or his own peculiar theology. He was a traditionalist when it came to interpreting the Mosaic Law. Yet he was open and flexible. He sets the proper tone for the Church today. Are we divided over many doctrines or have we identified the crucial matters of the faith?

A Spirit lead ecumenical movement is once again emphasizing what is important (not the false spirit that wants to harmonize all religions). This ecumenical movement does not reduce the Church to the lowest common denominator. Rather, it stresses a need for agreement by leaders who will come together in prayer.

What James has taught us is that faith without works is dead. The Church needs to work together, trusting in the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must arise and take up the challenges that lie ahead of us.

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