Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21A

Track 1: Is the Lord among Us or Not?

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 2t1:23-32

In today’s Old Testament we once again read how the children of Israel lost faith, even when God almighty performed signs and wonders in their midst:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”   (Exodus 17:5-7)

Before we become too hard on the children of Israel let us ask ourselves how many times we have asked the same question about God when the challenges of life seemed to overwhelm us. It is altogether too easy to become blind to what God is doing when our faith is chanllenged. Faith is our spiritual sight. In Hebrews we read:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.   (Hebrews 11:1-3)

God, again, caused Moses to perform a miraculous sign to help restore the faith of the Israelites. The psalmist writes:

He split open the sea and let them pass through;
he made the waters stand up like walls.

He led them with a cloud by day,
and all the night through with a glow of fire.

He split the hard rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink as from the great deep.

He brought streams out of the cliff,
and the waters gushed out like rivers.   (Psalm 78:13-26

How much does it take for us to believe that God is with us? What if God chose to show up in person? He did! He became Emmanuel – God with us. His Son left his throne in heaven to share our human nature – to live and die as one of us. Paul writes:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus has become part of us. We are inseparable, provided that we have accepted his unconditional love and sacrifice. Have we done so?

Paul continues:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under theand every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:9-11)

When we make him Lord of our lives we become as much a part of him as he becomes of us. There is no longer the question: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Moses struck the rock in the desert and water flowed out. Jesus was struck in the side while he was hanging on the cross. Both blood and water flowed out. For those who believe, however, out of his side flowed rivers of living water as well. We have that living water, the Holy Spirit of God, living within us. Thanks be to God!

The question of whether or not God is with us needs to be changed. Are we with God? Have we given our life to Christ? If so, he is our deliverer, redeemer, healer, and friend. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: Repentance

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

“He is making a list, he is checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty or nice. Santa Clause is coming to town.” This well known song is not a version of the Gospel. It is a perversion. It may be cute but it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the clever false gospel of the fallen angel Satan. The song may be cute, but there is nothing truthful about it.

Satan attempts to warp our minds when it comes to sin. He tempts us into sin and then accuses us of being sinners. Satan’s tricks are very subtle. He works on the margin of truth. We should follow the laws of God, but without God’s help we cannot.

God wants to liberate our theology about sin. The Prophet Ezekiel gets at the very core of Satan’s deception:

You say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?   (Ezekiel 18:25-32)

Satan wants us to believe that we can store up points with God when we do good. God is saying through Ezekiel that our standing with God has to do with the condition of our hearts and not with our “good works.” Good works do not erase our sins. Good works do not restore us to God when we sin. God requires one thing only: repentance. He is looking for our change of heart.

Jesus illustrated this point with today’s parable from Matthew:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:23-32)

The Pharisees were the gatekeepers. They were the scorekeepers. They decided who entered the Kingdom of God and who did not. The very ones they ruled out of the Kingdom God rules in. Tax collectors and the prostitutes who repented from their ways, who had a change of heart, who chose to live a new life in Christ, met God’s requirement. They repented of their sins and sought to lead a new life with God’s help.

If we are still keeping score on others or even on ourselves, then we do not understand the Gospel. The message is simple: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is also: repent and keep on repenting. In John’s First Epistle we read:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

Jesus has paid the price for our sin on the cross. He has freed us from the power of sin. Nevertheless, if we go on sinning it is because we are unwilling to confess our sins. We are unwilling to repent. We are saying that we accept the cross of Christ but we are unwilling to carry our own cross and follow him.

The Apostle Paul struggled with sin as do we all. In Romans he wrote:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

 

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year A

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