Monthly Archives: July 2019

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 12C

Track 1: Idolatry is Settling for Less

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

It has been said that idolatry is the worship of something that is other than God, as if it were God. Prostitution is a form of idolatry. It is an attempt at mimicking the sexual intercourse between a man and a woman as if the two partners were married. When we engage in such activity we are telling God that we are satisfied with a counterfeit. We do not need the real expression of love that he has created for us. Worst than that, we are saying that we do not need his love and we do not need his blessing. We have found something that we like better.

This was the message that the children of Israel were sending to God in the days of the Prophet Hosea. God had a history with Israel. He had delivered them from bondage in Egypt. He had led them to the promise land. He had defeated their enemies and given them a bright future. Yet they had rejected him.

Hosea was called by God to give his response to their idolatry. From today’s Old Testament reading:

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.  (Hosea 1:2-3)

Today, are we going the way of ancient Israel? God has so blessed us, even beyond the Mosaic Covenant. We have a Savior who has given us a New Covenant which is eternally lasting. It is a covenant that eradicates all our sins and offers us Oneness with God. Yet do we fall for a false narrative and a counterfeit god?

The Apostle Paul warned against straying from the truth:

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.   (Colossians 2:8-14)

This is what our God has done for us. Why would we depart from him? Again, Paul writes:

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.   (Colossians 2:6-7)

God is the giver of every good gift. Who can we compare to him? James writes:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.   (James 1:17)

Jesus concludes his teaching on prayer in today’s Gospel this way:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”   (Luke 11:11-13)

Idolatry is the lost of focus. When we look away from God, Satan offers us a counterfeit which does not satisfy. In truth, it leads us astray, deceives us, and ultimately destroys us. He wants us to believe that we can live and do whatever we want without God or his blessings. In our rebellious flesh we fall into this trap.

God has something greater for us. He want to give us an abundant life – one that last for an eternity. All he needs from us is our appreciation. The psalmist writes:

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name,
because of your love and faithfulness;

For you have glorified your Name
and your word above all things.   (Psalm 85:1-3)

Today, God is calling us to worship. He wants to poor out this blessing upon us. What is our response? Jesus said:

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.   (Luke 11:9-10)

Let us open up our hearts to God alone.

 

 

Track 2: God’s Good Gift

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

There is a popular teaching in some churches about praying with faith. You probable have heard about it. The teaching is that if we pray with enough faith we will get what we ask for. One of the ways of showing that it to pray once for something and then just wait. Anything more would show a lack of faith on our part.

Clearly, faith is an important component to our prayers. In the Book of James we are told to pray with faith:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.   (James 1:5-7)

Is faith the only component to consider? Again from James:

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.   (James 4:2-3)

Right motives are important. Prayer is not to be used for selfish gain. This seems to rule out the “name it and claim it” way of praying. Our faith is not some way to manipulate God.

James adds two more important ingredients to prayer: confession of sin and righteous living. He writes:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.   (James 5:13-16)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is asked to teach his disciples how to pray. He offers an illustration of how to pray by this parable:

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”   (Luke 11:5-10)

By this parable Jesus seems to be stressing persistence in prayer. This persistence does not suggest a lack of faith, does it? Rather, is not Jesus simply encouraging us to continue to prayer and not lose heart?

The Apostle Paul writes:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

We need to pray with thanksgiving and praise. Out attitude towards God is important. Constant prayer helps us build a relationship with God.

Jesus continues his teaching of prayer in Luke’s Gospel by saying:

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.   (Luke 11:9-10)

God has many good gifts for us. When we pray to him we need to remember his nature and what he desires to give to us.

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”   (Luke 11:11-13)

The enemy gives us false hope. He entices us. If we listen to hm he then rewards us with trials and tribulations. He promises worldly riches and sometimes provides them. But they are not lasting and often cause great harm to us and to others. Let us go to the giver of every good gift instead. From James:

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or [r]shifting shadow.   (James 1:16-17)

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Saint James, Apostle

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_James_the_Greater_-_Google_Art_ProjectAble to Drink the Cup

Today we look at one of the “Sons of Thunder.” He was quite ambiguous, or was it his mother?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  (Matthew 20:20-23)

James and John were among the first disciples called by Jesus. They were with their father Zebedee by the seashore when Jesus called them and they immediately followed Him. Along with Peter they were chosen by Jesus to bear witness to his Transfiguration. Thus, they were significant to Jesus’ ministry.

Their mother thought they were significant enough to request a special place for them in Jesus’ kingdom, but she did not understand what this might mean. James was chosen for greatness in ways his mother did not expect, nor did James.

What was the cup to which Jesus referred in answering the mother? It was the cup that Jesus understood too well. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed this prayer:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

James, indeed, drank the cup that Jesus drank. James is traditionally believed to be the first of the twelve apostles who was martyred for the faith. We read about it in the Book of Acts:

Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  (Acts 12:1-3)

The Festival of Unleavened Bread was the Jewish Passover. Jesus has become the Passover for those who believe in Him. Because James was faithful in preaching the Passover of Christ he was privileged to join his Lord in laying down his life for the Church. James went from being a big-shot to a hero of the faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Where would the Christian Church be today without the faith and testimonies of the martyrs? If the Early Church were preaching today’s “Gospel” message the Church would probably not even exist. So many today are seeking a higher place and a greater prosperity for themselves. Such seeking only causes envy and division within the Church. Jesus attempted to put a stop to it with His disciples:

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:24-28)

Having just celebrated Mary Magdalene as a true servant leader of God, we now celebrate James, the first apostle martyred for the sake of the Gospel. He was able to drink the cup. Let us pray for the grace and courage that more Church servant leaders will step forward in our day. Perhaps we may be included among them.

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Saint Mary Magdalene

First Witness to the Resurrection

The Gospel of Luke made it clear that the roles of women in the ministry of Jesus Christ were significant:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  (Luke 8:1-3)

When we think of Jesus’ disciples we may primarily be thinking of the twelve that Jesus personally chose to follow Him. They were not alone, however. They were supported by many faithful women of which Mary Magdalene was included. She was not only included. She was prominent. She was the courageous and faithful one. When Jesus’ disciples deserted Him at the cross she was there:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  (John 19:25)

Jesus could have chosen any one of the twelve disciples to reveal Himself to after His resurrection. He chose a woman – Mary Magdalene:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.  (Mark 16:9-10)

Why did Jesus choose her? The testimonies of women were often considered unreliable. In fact, the disciples did not believer Mary’s testimony:

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  (Luke 24:10-11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed the order of things. Jesus attempted to explain this new order to His disciples before His crucifixion, but they had trouble understanding what He was telling them:

But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.  (Mark 9:34-35)

Mary Magdalene was a primary example of the servant leader who was faithful in her duties, following in the footsteps of her LORD. We remember her today as the resurrection’s first witness.

Will we follow the example of Mary Magdalene? Will be a servant of others? Will we boldly proclaim the resurrection in our day, no matter what others may say or think? And will we standby Jesus under difficult circumstances? We will when we put our trust in Jesus as did Mary Magdalene.

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11C

Track 1: There Is Need of Only One Thing

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

We live in the age of greed. This is not new. It was true in the time of Amos in the Old Testament. Amos prophesied:

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;

and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,

buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”   (Amos 8:4-6)

God had blessed his people, but many had forgotten from whom those blessings came. Something very destructive happens when people forget God. They become less secure in their outlook on life. This feeling of insecurity feeds a desire to gain more wealth. The new wealth does not seem to eliminate the insecurity in many cases, because a fear of losing what has been gained may enter in. The psalmist wrote about

Oh, that God would demolish you utterly,
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!

“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge,
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness.”

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

I will give you thanks for what you have done
and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.   (Psalm 52:7-9)

The only cure for the fear of not having enough is our trusting in the mercy of God. In order to trust him we allow ourselves to be steeped in his Word. The world has many distracting messages. We need to focus on God’s message to us.

In today’s Gospel reading we have the familiar Martha and Mary story:

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

Martha was doing important and necessary work. She felt that her sister Mary was not doing her fair share. But Martha was also worried and distracted. This is the trick of Satan. He makes us feel insecure and that we are going to receive disapproval for not fulfilling the expectations of others. In other words, we do not measure up.

But we do measure up. How do we know that? God tells us that we do when we listen to his Word. That is the one thing that we need to do above all. Everything else is secondary. God want us to be “like a green olive tree in the house of God.” It is there where we learn to trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

God makes promised to us but we must believe them and receive them. In today’s Old Testament lesson, God promised Abraham and Sarah a son. The odds of this occurring did not seem likely, from a worldly point of view. Sarah was beyond the age of childbearing. Abraham had to hold on to this promise by faith. He chose to believe God and his voice above all the competing voices which may have surrounded him.

Are we listening? God wants us to sit at the feet of his beloved Son like Mary did. He wants to tell us that he loves us. He wants to assure us of our salvation and eternal life in Jesus, his most precious gift of all. By faith alone we can believe and receive a security in him that will never end. Let us not be so distracted that we miss the voice of his Son.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   (Matthew 11:28-29)

And also this:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”   (John 3:16)

 

 

Track 2: Who is Our Authority?

Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Who do we listen to today? Who captures our attention? Who is our authority? Whom do we want to please the most? We live in a culture that tells us that in order to gain acceptance and approval we must please certain people. Political correctness is the order of the day. But who determines what is correct?

Should not our authority know who or what is correct, ruling out that which is not? If we are going to listen to someone then should we not know what their credentials are?

The Apostle Paul wrote about the credentials of Jesus:

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.   (Colossians 1:15-20)

In today’s Gospel reading we have the familiar story of Martha complaining about her sister Mary not helping her. Martha is planning a bit meal for Jesus, but Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him. Martha asks Jesus to intervene. Jesus answers:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”   (Luke 10:41-42)

Are we doing the one thing that is needful? In a complex world with so many distractions from what is important, to whom or what are we paying attention. Distractions can be dangerous. Paul writes:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him– provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.   (Colossians 1:21-23)

We have a famous scientist talking about billions of stars but never mentioning the creator of them. The Apostle Paul writes:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.   (Romans 1:18-22)

Are we listening to the One through whom the universe was created? Jesus said this about Mary:

There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

What is our one thing? Who is our one thing? Are we listening to Jesus?

Praise God that we still have the availability of the written word of God and the freedom to read it. A time is coming when this opportunity may no longer be available. Amos prophesied:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;

not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.

They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;

they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.   (Amos 8:11-12)

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