Monthly Archives: May 2021

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

Standing on the Promises of God

Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. When the child in Elizabeth’s womb hears Mary’s voice he leaps for joy. This child is John the Baptist. This moment of celebration brings joy to Mary and she prophesies:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1:47-55)

What is remarkable about Mary and Elizabeth also is that they believed in the promise of God, even though great miracles of God were required. Mary, a virgin, had conceived a child and Elizabeth, who was well beyond any child bearing age, had also conceived. Nevertheless, these chosen instruments of God were able to believe God as did Abraham before them.

Are we able to believe in the miraculous today? Mary and Elizabeth understood that the promises God made to them were not just about them. Jesus and John the Baptist are children of the promise which God made to Abraham. Their births extended and expanded this promise down through the ages. Today, we are recipients of the promise.

God has made promises to us as well. His plans for us may not be as dramatic as that of Mary or Elizabeth, but they are important to God’s plan. Are we willing to believe in those promises and hold on to them. There may be obstacles in the way of our receiving God’s promise. The Apostle Paul tells us how to overcome these obstacles with this prescription:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.   (Romans 12:12)

In time, the promises of God will come to pass. The blessing is in the believing and perseverance. Too often me take matters in our own hands and thwart God’s plans and purposes for us. Others are depending upon us to make the right choices. In fact, their future blessings depend upon our faithfulness. Let us be willing to see beyond ourselves as the wonders of God’s work unfolds.

God will do great things for us but he requires that we exercise our faith. Are we willing to hear, believe, and stand on the promises of God?

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First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

The Fullness of God

Today is Trinity Sunday. We celebrate the unity of God in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is complete in three persons. Each one of these persons is God. God is all three. God is not divided. Reading from Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.   (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

Let us look the separate ministries of each of the three Persons of the Trinity and see how they support and complete one another.

We will start with the ministry of God the Father. In our Old Testament passage today the Prophet Isaiah sees a vision of God the Father sitting on his throne:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”   (Isaiah 6:1-3)

God the Father is Holy. He is pure. He is absolutely good. His glorious presence makes us very aware of out sins. Isaiah said:

“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”   (Isaiah 6:5)

God the Father is in total control of the universe. He sets the rules. He alone determines what is right and wrong. He alone is the one who judges sin. He alone can also forgive sin. This is what he decided to do for Isaiah:

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The tseraph[b] touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”   (Isaiah 6:6-8)

Isaiah could do nothing to eradicate his sin. Only God could do that. What he did for Isaiah he can do for us. Isaiah prophesied how the Father would deal with our sn. He foretold the coming of the Messiah:

He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:3-6)

The Apostle Paul proclaimed that there is one God. But he also illuminated on the ministry of the Holy trinity:

For there is one God;
    there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
   who gave himself a ransom for all.   (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

God the Father judges sin, but Jesus, who is God the Son, is our mediator.

Let us look at todays Gospel reading. God explains the new birth to Nicodemus:

“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.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:16-17)

This is the message of salvation. But this is not all that Jesus said to Nicodemus. He also said:

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:5-8)

Jesus has introduced us to the ministry of God, the Holy Spirit. Later, Jesus spoke to his disciples about his departure from this world, he comforted them with the promise of the Holy Spirit:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.   (John 14:15-17)

The Spirit is our helper and guide to a Holy life. His ministry is essential. The Apostle Paul

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.   (Romans 8:12-17)

Are we children of God? If so, we are led by the Spirit. That is choice we must make. To be a new creation in Christ our old worldly self must come under the authority of the Spirit.

God, in his fullness, is found in the Holy Trinity. This is true of his ministry to us as well. Do we know him this way? Today, he is calling us to embrace all that he has given us. Are we willing to give him all of ourselves?

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Day of Pentecost

I Will Pour out My Spirit on All Flesh

The disciples were waiting on God. Before his ascension, Jesus has told them to wait in Jerusalem.

 You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”   (Luke 24:48-49)

They had to learn about what they might do for God could not compare with what God could do for them if they waited and devoted themselves to prayer. God is in control. Can we let go and let God:

Reading from Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

It is the Spirit of God that breathes life to us, God spoke to the Prophet Ezekiel:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”   (Ezekiel 37:1-6)

Jesus spoke to Nicodemus:

You must be born from above.’The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:7-8)

The wind that Jesus speaks about is the Holy Spirit. We cannot control him. If we are reborn in the Spirit, then we will allow the wind to blow us in the direction he desires. He not only directs us, he empowers us. This is what was  happening on the Day of Pentecost. Reading again from Acts 2:

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”   ()

The disciples were filled with new wine, the wined of the Spirit. Jesus  taught:

No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”   ()

If we are to receive this new wine we will need new wineskins. We need to let go of the old ones.

He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”   (Mark 7:6-8)

Human traditions must not take the place of the commandment of God. Must the Spirit of Pentecost conform to our church doctrine?

Peter set the record straight. This new wine was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit:: 

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

`In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.

We are to be more than just spectators of Pentecost. Reading from today’s Gospel of John:

Jesus said to his disciples, ”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.   (John 15:26-27)

Are we ready to spread the Spirit of truth? The glory of God is now invading the Church. God is calling us to join him and be a part ofd that invasion.

The psalmist wrote:

You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;
and so you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in all his works.   (Psalm 104:31-32)

It is not the time to play church anymore. Tne Day of Pentecost is not just some historical date marking the birth of the Church. It is time for a rebirth from above. A rebirth of the Spirit.

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The Season of Pentecost

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (Hebrew: שבועות‎, lit. “Weeks”) is one of three main annual pilgrimage festivals in the Judaism. It commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai and it also celebrates the conclusion of the grain harvest in Israel. The date of Shavuot is directly linked to the celebration of the Jewish Passover. The grain harvest began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. The time in between was seven weeks or fifty days. This time frame also represents the time between Israel’s Exodus from Egypt until the giving of the Law at Sinai.

Pentecost is a major feast day of the Christian liturgical year. It roughly coincides with the Jewish festival of Shavuot. This is not coincidental. Just as Easter is the prophetic fulfillment of Passover, Pentecost is the prophetic fulfillment of Shavuot. The two feasts, Shavuot and Pentecost, have much in common, both historically and spiritually.

During the celebration of Shavuot the Jewish people were reminded of God’s Law:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.   (Deuteronomy. 8:3-4)

Often Jewish participants would spend all night during Shavuot studying the Torah. They would read significant portions of the Torah aloud.

Pentecost has to do with God’s Law as well. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote of a time that the Law would come in a new way:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Jeremiah 31:33)

This is what happens to us when the Holy Spirit comes upon us as it did on the Day of Pentecost for the early disciples. Jesus said that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). It is the action of the Holy Spirit to bring us more into alignment with God’s Law. We cannot keep the Law by our own efforts, but we can yield to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus said would lead us into all truth and make alive His teachings.

Pentecost is not simply a static day of celebration of the historical birth of the Christian Church. Surely it marked the beginning of the Church. As with Shavuot for the Jewish people, Pentecost is a time for us to reflect upon God’s Word, allowing the Spirit to renew our zeal for both the Law and the Gospel.

The Season of Pentecost is the longest season of the liturgical year. The Sundays following Pentecost and extending up to the beginning of the new liturgical year in Advent are filled with readings concerning Christian growth. To live in Christ one must grow in the Faith. Spiritual stagnation could ultimately lead to spiritual death and a forsaking of God’s Holy Law.

During the season after Pentecost, there are two tracks each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.

Track 1 of Old Testament readings  follows major stories and themes, read mostly continuously from week to week. In Year A we begin with Genesis, in Year B we hear some of the great monarchy narratives, and in Year C we read from the later prophets.

Track 2 follows the Roman Catholic tradition of thematically pairing the Old Testament reading with the Gospel reading.

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