Monthly Archives: January 2018

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

Godly Authority

Jesus taught scripture with an authority and understanding that was not found in the scribes of his day. From today’s Gospel we read:

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.   (Mark 1:21-22)

Whoever properly speaks and follows God’s word may exercise the power of that word. The scribes were following God’s word in a very shallow, superficial, and legalistic way. Thus they could not expound upon the word with any authority.

The word of God is powerful. When spoken with authority, the word has very practical and immediate applications. Again, reading from Mark:

Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.   (Mark 1:23-28)

Everything is subject to the word of God including evil spirits. If we are to fight evil then we must be able to speak the word of God with authority. The Apostle Paul tells us how to do this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   (Ephesians 6:10-17)

How much we need, today, people who can take up the sword of the Spirit – who can speak the word of God with authority! God told Moses that the children of Israel needed someone to speak the word of God to them:

Moses said: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”   (Deuteronomy 18:15-20)

Notice, the prophets and spiritual leaders of Israel would speak to the people in God’s name. They would speak the very words that God put in their mouths. Do we have such leaders today in our churches?

God gave a warning to those who presume to speak in his name but who actually speak in the name of other gods. Perhaps this describes some of our religious and spiritual leaders today. Some of our leaders and some of our churches have wondered from the truth. That is why we do not see any exercise of authority against evil forces in these churches. There is no power. Healings and deliverances are absent from the scene.

Unfortunately, some churches teach that the days of miracles and healings are over. Not so. Jesus gave this command to all his disciples, including us:

Proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.   (Matthew 10:7-8)

There are many in the church today who do not want to hear this message. But is was also true in the day of the Apostle Paul who wrote Timothy:

Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.   (2 Timothy 4:2-5)

If we cannot find a church were the true authority of God is being exercised, then perhaps God is calling some of us to start a church that will. Paul’s injunction to Timothy and Jesus’ commission still ring true today. Preach and teach the Word. Preach it with authority. Put on the full armor of God and war against evil. Amen.

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Filed under Epiphany, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical, liturgical preaching, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloA Conversion Experience

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While in route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are persecuting their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown-up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow-up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he describe himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

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)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His his Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul become the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world is counting on us give witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

Follow Me

There are times when the call of God may interrupt our lives. This was true for Simon and his brother Andrew. From today’s Gospel we read:

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. (Mark 1:16-20)

These fishermen left their nets and their livelihood to follow a man whose purpose and direction was unknown to them. Nevertheless, they were able to put their trust in him.

The Prophet Jonah was called by God to go to the city of Nineveh. In this case, Johan understood what God was asking but he did not like it. As we remember, he ran in the other direction from Nineveh. Nineveh was a notorious city. It was hated by the Jews for good reason. How could God be asking him to preach revival to this city Jonah must have thought.

When God calls us he does not easily give up. From Jonah we read:

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.   (Jonah 3:1-5)

God may give us impossible assignments. If the calling is from God then it is guaranteed to be impossible without his help. What is amazing about many biblical examples of the calling of God led to the fulfillment of impossible tasks. Nonetheless, the obedience of those who were called was absolutely essential.

What keeps us from obeying the call of God? We remember the rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus but had too many possessions to give up. God has blessed our nation. Worldly possessions may just be a hindrance to us in answering God’s call.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.   (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

Paul was saying: ignore the circumstances in which you may find yourself. This world is passing away anyway. Follow God.

Our obedience to God can help to bring great changes in the lives of others. When God calls us he calls us for a reason. His reason is well beyond ourselves. Do we value his agenda more than our own? Do we love others the way he loves us?

In the case of Noah, a great city was saved:

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.   (Jonah 3:10)

Our calling may not be as significant as Noah’s. We may not think that we are great prophets or preachers, but who are we to say? Some of the apostles were simple fishermen. The important thing is that they were obedient to their calling and their calling changed the whole world.

The Season of the Epiphany is a time to listen to God. What is he asking us to do? If it were not important he would not be asking us.

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