Category Archives: Epiphany

Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

carl_heinrich_bloch_the_transfiguration1A Called to the Mountaintop

Have we received a call from God to come up to the mountaintop? If so, we would be in good company.

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God.   (Exodus 24:12-13)

God calls us up to His mountain. He is calling everyone to do so. Her calls us each by name. Are we listening? Peter, James, and John were listening. We read in Matthew:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.   (Matthew 17:)

There is a purpose for a mountaintop experience. Moses was called by God to receive His commandments which established the Old Covenant. Peter, James, and John were called by Jesus up to the Mount of Transfiguration to understand the New Covenant.

On the mountain we learn the purposes and plans of God, if we are attentive. In today’s Gospel we read:

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.  (Matthew 17:4-8)

Peter had become distracted. He was overwhelmed by the experience. He knew the event was important and he wanted to preserve it. Nonetheless, Peter missed the significance of this event, at least initially. Many Christians today are seeking signs and wonders. These were meant for unbelievers. As Christians we must learn to value what is significant to our spiritual growth and what is central to the will of God. After the resurrection Peter wrote:

We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.   (2 Peter 1:16-18)

What was the significant message of the Mount of Transfiguration? Mose and Elijah represented the Law of God and the Prophets. Neither the Law nor the Prophets can grant us salvation. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Salvation is only by grace through faith in Him.

There is also a very significant byproduct of a mountain top experience with God. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai his face shone because he had been in the presence of God. For this reason he wore a veil over his face. As we follow Jesus we are not meant to wear a veil. We are called to shine with the glory of God.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Jesus has purchased the right for us to come up to the mountain of God. Are we willing to spend some of our time with Him. If so, He will change us more and more into His likeness. On the mountain top we are transformed. (We become who or what we worship.) All this is in preparation for the time we, too, will be transfigured. We will be carried away to the Father’s house for a lasting celebration.

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Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

seek-wisdomWisdom from Above

The modern day use of the term “conventional wisdom” is credited to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who used it in his book The Affluent Society. Referring to “conventional wisdom” he wrote:

“It will be convenient to have a name for the ideas which are esteemed at any time for their acceptability, and it should be a term that emphasizes this predictability.”

Conventional wisdom, then, is acceptable by  the populous. This is not a new concept, however. Jesus faced such so-called wisdom in his day. In his Sermon on the Mount, he speaks about conventional wisdom:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:38-48)

The culture determines conventional wisdom. The Children had been living in Egypt for 400 years. Unfortunately, certain Egyptian practices had become all too familiar to them.  God instructed Moses to challenge the Children of Israel:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.   (Leviticus 19:2)

Regrettably, the culture has crept into the Church. Have we compromised the Gospel of Jesus Christ because we have wanted to be more acceptable to the world?

The problem with conventional wisdom is that it is not really wise at all.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,

“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

and again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile.”   (1 Corinthians 3:18-20)

Are we seeking wisdom from all the wrong places? Our lives will reveal from where our wisdom has come. In the Bool of James we read:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

We need a harvest of righteousness today. Righteousness is possible! If it were not so then Jesus would not have spoken this injunction:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:48)

Yes, we are the righteousness of God by faith. But faith without works is dead. We need to move away from earthly wisdom and towards Godly wisdom. James writes:

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.

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Saint Matthias

rubens_apostel_mattias_grtA High Calling of God

Today we read about an apostolic calling of God that could almost seem like an accident:

Saint Matthias was chosen to be an apostle under unusual circumstances. Following the ascension of Jesus, the disciples (who numbered about one hundred and twenty) assembled to elect a replacement for Judas. They nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias. (Acts 1:23-26)

Obviously Jesus did not directly call Matthias as one of the twelve. Matthias must have been one of the one hundred and twenty disciples waiting in Jerusalem as Jesus had commanded before his ascension. He was waiting on God. A servant of God is one who waits on God. Waiting could mean anticipating, but it could also mean serving. Perhaps for the Christian disciple the word has both meaning..

Matthias was on position to receive a high calling. We may be in a position of service in our church or community. Then suddenly, God may call us into a higher place of service. Will we be ready?

A calling from God is a high honor. Jesus reminds us that we did not choose Him. He chose us:

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.   (John 15:16)

His calling is not about a place of privilege. It is about a place of continual growth in Him. Only then are we able to exercise our authority in Christ. The Apostle Paul makes this very clear:

This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.   (Philippians 3:13-16)

Are we ready for a heavenly call of God?

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Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

moses_pleading_with_israel_cropChoose Life

Today we are going to look at two very challenging sermons. First there is Moses in the wilderness speaking to the Children of Israel. Moses is preparing the people to enter the promise land:

Moses said, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”   (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Now let us fast forward several thousand years. Jesus is delivering his Sermon on the Mount. He is preparing the people to enter the promises of God:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.   (Matthew 5:21-24)

What might these sermons have in common? In both sermons, God is calling his people to obey his commandments. Moses spells out clearly what the consequences will be when the commandments are obeyed and when they are not. Jesus warns against hypocrisy and following only the letter of the law. Moses and Jesus both say: “Choose life.” God’s way is the path to life that is both joyful and eternal.

The psalmist writes:

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

Happy are they who observe his decrees
and seek him with all their hearts!   (Psalm 119:1-2)

The psalmist tells us that we will find happiness when we walk in the law of the Lord. When we keep God’s commandments we will discover the joys of living in his presence.

What happens when we fail in following the commandments? We all fail. Do we then hide from God in shame? The psalmist tells us that the key is seeking God with all our hearts! Jesus has turn open the curtains of heaven. Through faith in his saving act on the cross we have access to the Father. Jesus is our intercessor who pleads for us continually before the Father. He alone will present us spotless before the throne of God.

We are invited to choose life. But first we must choose Jesus. He has chosen us and laid down his life for us. Are we ready to love the Lord our God, walk in his ways, and observe his commandments this day?

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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890

The Law of The Spirit

Scholars have interpreted the Sermon on the Mount in various ways. Some have said that Jesus did not actually mean everything he said, at least not literally. His interpretation of the Law of Moses may have been a little too strict because that was before his crucifixion. The Law was Old Testament and now we have the New Testament.

How do we interpret these words of Jesus?

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:17-20)

Jesus is not providing much wiggle room. When the Law seems too difficult to follow should we redefine it or interpret it more liberally. The Pharisees made it a practice. In doing so, they decided who was keeping the Law properly and who was not. Perhaps they did not understand the Prophet Isaiah:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.   (Isaiah 58:9-11)

When people find that they cannot live up to the tenants of the Law they shift the focus to others. That is to say, you have fallen short more than I have. The good news is that we have all fallen short. Our fallen flesh simply fails. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.”‭‭.  (Romans‬ ‭7:14‬)

If our flesh fails then why are we depending upon it? The key is that understanding and keeping the Law is spiritual. The key is that the Law, itself, is spiritual and only the Holy Spirit of God can empower us to keep the Law. It is the Spirit that produces fruit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.   (Galatians 5:22-26)

 If we are to keep the Law then we need a heart change, continually. Jesus has remitted our sins by his death on the cross. By faith we receive his grace. We show him our appreciation by granting him access to our hearts. God has promised us that he will enable us to keep the Law. Jeremiah prophesied such a time:

“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 in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.   (Jeremiah 31:33)

Now is that time. Are we ready to let the Law of God flow within us by the power of the Spirit. The Apostle writes:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.   (Romans 8:1-4)

On our own, we will always struggle to keep God’s Law. By the power of the Holy Spirit the Law will be fulfilled in us, provided we are in Christ Jesus.

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