Monthly Archives: January 2019

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Training in Righteousness

In today’s appointed readings from the lectionary we have two very different examples of how people responded to the reading of God’s word. The first example is from the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, the governor, was reestablishing Temple worship after the return of Israel from exile in Babylon. He had the priest Ezra read from the Law of Moses, from early morning until midday. This caused the people to weep as they were reminded of their failure to keep God’s commandments.

This is the power of the word. From The Book of Hebrews we read:

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.   (Hebrews 4:12-13)

The power of the word can also rejoice the heart. The psalmist reminds us:

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.   (Psalm 19:8)

Genuine repentance is the key. From the Book of Nehemiah we read:

Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”   (Nehemiah 8:8-10)

With real repentance there is forgiveness. Ezra helped explain and interpret the Law of God in a way that was more easily understood by the people.

Now let look at Jesus return to his home town of Nazareth:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus, the “Word of God made flesh” was reading and interpreting his own Word. But his listeners would have none of it. His message was not the message they wanted to hear. Jesus was proclaiming the year of God’s favor but that message apparently did not fit their timetable.

The Apostle Paul warned Timothy that he must preach the truth of God’s Word whether or not his listeners were ready to hear it. Paul wrote:

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.   (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

Are we not living in an age when sound doctrine is becoming a casualty of false teaching and preaching. We remember when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Satan quoted scripture but in a twisted and perverse way. He was hoping that Jesus would take the bait. Are we to take the bait of unscrupulous preachers?

Those who preach falsely are placing themselves under a curse. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Galatians:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!   (Galatians 1:6-8)

We do not want to remain in a church that is under a curse. We want to be taught by someone who is using the scripture for Godly purposes. Paul reminds Timothy:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.   (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

We do not need a watered down Gospel. Are we to obscure the corrective measures of scripture and offer a more pleasing and popular message for worldly people? The psalmist reminds us that the commandment of the Lord is clear. It gives light to our eyes and rejoices our hearts.

Many of us believe that Jesus will soon return. He is looking for a church without spot or wrinkle. All of us need training in righteousness.

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”   (John 8:31-32)

What is our witness today? Are we continuing in the word? Are or we looking for false teachers who will tell us what our itching ears want to hear?

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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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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Miraculous New Wine

The Gospel of John tells some stories that are not in the other Gospels. One of them is the story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”   (John 2:1-11)

This story fits perfectly into the Season of the Epiphany. We are examining how God has manifested himself unto his people. The miracle of the feast was a sign from God. Signs are meant to direct us to something. The Gospel of John wrote about these signs for a reason. From the twentieth chapter of John we read:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.   (John 20:30-31)

Why did Jesus turn the water into wine? There were obvious reasons. Who can resist a Jewish mother? Then there was the embarrassment of the bridegroom who had run out of wine to serve his guests. Jesus cares about us in every area of our lives. Then there is the more obvious:

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.   (John 2:11)

But as is usual in the Gospel of John, there is more here than meets the eye. We have a transformation of water into wine. Surely this demonstrates that Jesus is the agent of creation and transformation. From John chapter one:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.   (John 1:1-3)

The water that transformed to wine at the wedding in Cana was from six jars which were used for ritual purification. Jesus, in his coming ministry, would transform and fill these jars with something better.

The Jews were aware of how sinful, how unclean they were before their God and how much they needed to be cleansed from their sins. Ritual purity was very important to Jewish people at this time.

We see it when the Pharisees question Jesus about his disciples eating without washing their hands in Mark 7. They weren’t thinking of personal hygiene, but religious purity. Those who did not follow the strict teachings concerning ritual purification were considered, by the Pharisees, less holy than those who did. Using jars that represented ritual purity at the expense of relationships, Jesus was seeking not to transform just water into wine, but attitudes of exclusivity based on fear of contamination.  Jesus didn’t empty the jars…they were already empty.  Jesus filled and transformed rituals that spoke of separation into wine that speaks of celebration and unity.

At the beginning of story about the wedding in Cana we have this phrase: “On the third day.” Surely this could suggest the transformation of Jesus at the resurrection.

God is ready to transform us. Jesus said:

“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”   (John 6:52-56)

The psalmist wrote:

How priceless is your love, O God!
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.   (Psalm 36:7-9)

Amen.   (See Eucharistic Preaching.)

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