Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 24C

Track 1: Covenant of the Heart

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

When a Pharisee asked Jesus what he thought the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   (Matthew 22:37-39)
Notice that Jesus mentioned the word “heart” first. Our relationship with God has to do with the condition of our heart. God wants a relationship with us. It is a love relationship.
God demonstrated his love for Israel when he rescued them from captivity in Egypt. He was leading them to a land he promised Abraham and his descendants. Through Mose he spoke to the people:

The Lord your God will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.

Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.   (Deuteronomy 30:5-6)

The heart can be a devious thing. Let us examine our own hearts evidence. God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah:

The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.   (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

If we are to truly love God then we need his help. God promised to circumcise the hearts of the Israelites. Yet, they offered him great resistance. They broke the covenant God made with their forefathers. They continually disobeyed him. God would have to take greater steps. He spoke through Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament reading:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt– a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

How could God make this promise and keep it. He would have to take extraordinary measures to deal with Sin. God is a just God and cannot overlook Sin or the punishment it requires. It took the cross of Jesus. The moment that Jesus died on the cross for our sins the curtain was torn from top to bottom – that is the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the remainder of the Temple in Jerusalem. The price for Sin was paid once and for all.

Now God could write his laws on our hearts. But what does he need from us? He needs our hearts. He wants to transform them. King David prayed:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.   (Psalm 51:10-11)
Only the blood of Jesus can purify our hearts. We need to accept his saving act on the cross. From this point God can begin writing his law on our hearts. Are we still withhold our hearts from him? Are we eager to hear his word? The psalmist wrote:

Your word I have treasured and stored in my heart, That I may not sin against You.   Psalm 119:11

Keeping the law of God is a matter of spiritual grow as we take in God’s word. The Apostle Paul wrote 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)

God writes on our hearts by his word. Without his word we will never truly love the Lord and obey him. The psalmist wrote:

I restrain my feet from every evil way,
that I may keep your word.

I do not shrink from your judgments,
because you yourself have taught me.

How sweet are your words to my taste!
they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.

Through your commandments I gain understanding;
therefore I hate every lying way.   (Psalm 119:101-104)

 

 

Track 2: The Unjust Judge

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told parables using familiar life experiences so that his listeners could relate to them. In today’s Gosple, Jesus spoke  of an unjust judge:

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”   (Luke 18:1-5)

People were familiar with examples of unjust judges when Jesus told this parable. Has anything changed today? No. The parable still rings true. Of course, we want justice for the widow, but there is a touch of humor with the attitude of the unjust judge. He does the right thing in this case, but for the wrong reason.

Jesus continued:

“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”   (Luke 18:6-8)

What do we take away from this parable? The first thing surely should be that God is not like the unjust judge. He is involved with our daily lives. He is not some casual observer who is indifferent to what he sees. He loves us. He cares about us and our wellbeing.

Why did Jesus end the parable with the statement: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” How could that statement relate to the rest of the parable?

There is always a danger of losing faith in God. Luke’s Gospel began the telling of the parable by saying that it was about “the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” We can lose heart. The enemy wants to discourage our hearts. Circumstances in life can be discouraging at times.

In today’s Old Testament reading we find Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob had been living under difficult circumstances. He had not entirely lost faith, but he was seriously seeking a blessing from God. And God blessed him and changed his name to Israel, a name that stands throughout the ages. God is faithful to those who put their trust in him.

We may find ourselves wrestling with God. That does not mean we have lost faith. But if we are to wrestle with God then the requirement is prayer. Prayer is our way of having a dialogue with God. Prayer is the key for maintaining our relationship with him. The parable was about praying always and not losing heart.

When we communicate with God the lies of Satin and this world fade away. We remember that God is a just God. As a righteous and just God, he must punish sin. He is also a loving God. He loves us so much that he took our punishment upon himself. This fact alone should establish our love relationship with him.

The solutions to our problems ib life are not always immediate. The psalmist wrote:

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!   (Psalm 27:14)

Go0d requites us to live by faith. This means we rely on God and not ourselves. The prophet of old wrote:

Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:4)

The difficulties we experience in life help build our character. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

God will help us through them all. Our part is to pray keep the faith. Prayer is, in fact, our keeper of faith. Paul wrote:

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)

God is faithful. He will come to our aid. Let us put our whole trust in him. In Christ Jesus we find our victory. In John’s Gospel we read these words of Jesus:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”   (John 16L33)

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Filed under Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year C

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