Category Archives: Eucharist

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Planted by Streams of Water

The psalmist wondered why the wicked seemed to prosper and not the upright:

Truly God is good to the upright,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant;
    I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pain;
    their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not plagued like other people.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven,
    and their tongues range over the earth.   (Psalm 73:1-9)

If we are looking for worldly success then the psalmist seems to suggest that God may not be the best mentor. The Apostle Paul wrote:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.   (1 Corinthians 15:19)

Paul seems to be saying that life may be more difficult for the Christian disciple than anyone else. It surely was for many in the Early Church, especially the apostles.

God’s “blessings” may not be the type of blessings that the world seeks. In fact, they may be what the world is trying very hard to avoid. Jesus said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.   (Luke 6:20-23)

If one is looking for quick success, he or she may be tempted to take short cuts by compromising their ethics or morals.

The psalmist who observed the prosperity of the wicked had second thoughts:

But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I perceived their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!   (Psalm 73:16-19)

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus warned:

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.   (Luke 6:24-25)

In today’s appointed psalm we read that those who follow the law of God will bear fruit “in due season.”

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.   (Psalm 1:1-3)

Difficult times are coming. They will tell us where we are really rooted and grounded. From today’s reading from Jeremiah:

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
    sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
    and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
    and it does not cease to bear fruit.   (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

What is our time frame of reference? Are we prepared for the long haul? Are we planted by streams of water? That water is God’s holy Word. Jesus, the Word made flesh. His sacrifice on the cross is our guarantee for an eternal salvation in the presence of God. That is the promise we are offered in Christ. Christ’s success becomes our success by faith. We are able to stand firm in him no matter what circumstances may come our way. Today’s psalmist concludes:
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

Leave a comment

Filed under Epiphany, Eucharist, Holy Communion, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year C

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Holiness of God

During this Season of Epiphany we have been looking at ways God manifested himself to his people. Our appointed readings for today have two examples of this, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Though the span of time was around seven hundred years between the two, they seem to have some commonality.

Let us first look at the Old Testament one. We have an account of the calling of Isaiah the prophet:

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.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I 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 6:1-5)

Moving now to the New Testament we have an account of Jesus calling his first disciples:

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”    (Luke 5:1-10)

They both of these epiphanies revealed God’s presence and power. Isaiah and Simon were awestruck. 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.” Simon said: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” We might say that each man had an encounter of the holiness of God. In the presence of God’s holiness their sinful nature was made abundantly clear.

What is the holiness of God? Is it not his power and might? Yes, but it is also his nature and character. God is pure and above reproach. Referring to God, the Prophet Habakkuk wrote:

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrong.”   Habakkuk 1:13)

God is a holy God and he requires us to be holy. We read from Leviticus:

For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy.   (Leviticus 11:45)

And from the Book of Hebrews:

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.   (Hebrews 12:14)

Is it even possible for us to live a holy life? Not on our own. We need God’s help. The good news is that he wants to help us. Again from Leviticus:

Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.   (Leviticus 20:8)

He enabled Isaiah to become a great prophet. Again from today’s Old Testament reading:

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 seraph 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)

Simon thought he was unworthy to serve the Lord Jesus. Jesus answered him this way – from today’s Gospel reading:

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.   (Luke 5:11)

Jesus changed Simon’s perspective and transformed his life. He became Peter, the rock.

Each one of us is called by God. Each one of us is destined to be the righteousness of God. Jesus has made that possible for us by his crucifixion. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus has called us into himself. Our task is to remain in him. He tells us to fear not. He is removing our shame and he is changing our lives. If we put our trust in him then we will abide in him. In today’s Epistle the Apostle Paul writes:

I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain.   (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

When we stand with Jesus and not this sinful world, we have a precious promise from God. Paul writes:

All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:18)

 

2 Comments

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

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

A Sacred Journey

In the state of New York in the United States of America, abortion was approved from the time of conception up to the actual time of birth. Why? Perhaps the birth of a child does not always fit into the plans of the mother or father. What about the plans of God?

From today’s Old Testament reading:

The word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”   (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

How many prophets have we aborted? How many poets? How many physicians? How many priests?

Our lives are sacred to God. He has plans for them. His joy is to watch our lives unfold, to guide us and protect us along the way.

From the Book of Jeremiah we read:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.   (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Our joy is to discover God’s plan for us. It is to seek him with all our heart. To receive God’s plan we must be willing to exercise our faith. From the Book of Hebrews:

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

Faith enables us to accept God’s plans. Without it, life itself may be in danger.

To be sure, God’s plan may often present great challenges to us. This was so for Jeremiah when God first called him. From today’s reading from Jeremiah:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.”   (Jeremiah 1:6-8)

What matters above all else is that God is with us on our journey. The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy:

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.   (1 Timothy 4:12)

People may tell us that we are too young or too inexperienced for a certain assignment. We need to remember that what God says is more important that what other people may say. There will always be opposition to following the calling of God.

David, the shepherd boy who became king, experienced great opposition. From today’s psalm we read:

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

For you are my hope, O Lord God,
my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.   (Psalm 71:4-6)

As we can see, David was aware that God had a calling on his life from an early age. That is true for us all.

Jesus, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was sent by God the Father to save his people. His very names means salvation. He studied the scriptures from his youth up, in preparation for his ministry. When it became time to proclaim his mission he met great opposition in his hometown. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.   (Luke 4:21-24)

Not only did his listeners reject what Jesus said, but they also wanted to hurl him off a cliff. They must have thought that, since they knew who Jesus was, how could he possibly be qualified to do the ministry that was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah.

This was not the only opposition that Jesus faced. His own family opposed some of the things he was doing. From the Gospel of Mark we read:

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”  (Mark 3:20-21)

People may think they know us better than ourselves. They may be well-meaning, but they do not know us the way God knows us. We are his creation and he has great plans for us.

The Apostle Paul experienced great opposition to his ministry. We will experience the same. He learned to listen to the voice of God over the nay sayers. From Galatians:

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.   (Galatians 1:10)

Discouragement is a primary weapon of the enemy. We remember how Satan tried to discourage Jesus in the wilderness, before he began his earthly ministry. He told Jesus to take a short cut with him, implying that God’s way may be too hard. Again, God does challenge us. We must remember, however, that we are not alone on our journey. God will enable us to do what he is asking us to do. Paul wrote:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.   (Philippians 4:13)

We may have failed along the way. Nonetheless, God tells us not to be discouraged. From the Book of Isaiah:

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
    do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
    and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.   (Isaiah 54:4-5)

Jesus may have been discouraged but he did not fail. He endured a cruel cross that we might be set free from all our sins and all our failures. He is our redeemer. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but 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.   (Philippians 3:12-14)

And from 2 Corinthians:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.   (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

God still has a plan for us. We are his ambassadors for Christ. We are still on our journey with God. He is still guiding us. He is still delighting in us. We are not a mistake. Our sacred journey with him is not yet complete. Let us press on with faith and encouragement. And let us encourage others along their sacred path. After all, we are ministers of reconciliation.

Consider the alternative: the culture of division and death. Is that to be our legacy? It is not God’s way. Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.   (John 10:10)

Amen.

Leave a comment

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

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?

Leave a comment

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