Category Archives: Gospel

Saint James of Jerusalem

Faith and Works

James, brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem, and author of the Epistle of James is still speaking to the Church today. Are we listening?

How important was James to the Early Church? The Apostle Paul writes about the people whom Jesus personally appeared to after His resurrection:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.   (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

It would be an understatement to say that James has not always been understood or appreciated. He is almost like a Rorschach test. People often project on him their own theology. We may be familiar with Martin Luther’s statement about the Epistle of James being an “epistle of straw.” Luther’s theology did not agree with the tone and tenor of James’ Epistle. At the risk of oversimplification, Luther emphasizes sola fide, “faith alone” whereas James states that “good works” demonstrates a genuine faith. James was writing from wisdom and experience and he did not want to proclaim an easy grace without accountability.

James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. A dispute broke out in the Early Church concerning whether or not Gentile converts to the Faith needed to follow Judaic Law. This dispute had the potential of dividing the Church. Accordingly, a council met at Jerusalem to consider what rules Gentile Christians should be required to keep. James helped formulate a consensus as to what the requirements for Gentiles should be:

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21)

Without this vital agreement the work of the Gentile Church would have been gravely hindered. We see that James was not locked in an ideology or his own peculiar theology. He was a traditionalist when it came to interpreting the Mosaic Law. Yet he was open and flexible. He sets the proper tone for the Church today. Are we divided over many doctrines or have we identified the crucial matters of the faith?

A Spirit lead ecumenical movement is once again emphasizing what is important (not the false spirit that wants to harmonize all religions). This ecumenical movement does not reduce the Church to the lowest common denominator. Rather, it stresses a need for agreement by leaders who will come together in prayer.

What James has taught us is that faith without works is dead. The Church needs to work together, trusting in the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must arise and take up the challenges that lie ahead of us.

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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 24

Track 1: Show Me Your Glory

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

There was a point in the wilderness when God threatened to send the children of Israel on their journey without his presence. Moses interceded for Israel, telling God that he could not go on without God’ presence. He implored God:

“If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”   (Exodus 33:15-16)

Moses understood that, without God, he could not lead the children of Israel. In fact, we read in scripture how humble Moses was. God responded to him:

The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”   (Exodus 33:17-23)

Moses had found with God. He had a relationship with God. As an intercessor for Israel, he would boldly go before the throne of God. This was not done out of pride, but out of concern for others. In fact, the scriptures tells us this:

Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.  (Numbers 12:3)

Where do we stand in our relationship with God. Are we prideful? Are we humble? Can we go boldly before the throne of God to seek his help? Jesus, by his blood, has opened a door for us that Moses did not have. Are we willing to walk through it?

Yes, God has done a great work, but there are still some requirements on our part to enter his presence. The psalmist wrote:

Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool;
he is the Holy One.

Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name,
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.

He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud;
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.

O Lord our God, you answered them indeed;
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.

Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill;
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.   (Psalm 99:5-9)

The children of Israel were only interested in the hand of God. Moses spoke to God face to face. We can be a type of Moses if we put the needs of others before our own. If I am to have the humility of Moses, I must consider others better than myself and look out for their interests (Philippians 2:3). We can be a type of Moses if we humble ourselves before God, when we acknowledge that we cannot accomplish anything without his help.

We can have a close fellowship with God when we proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and worship him, When we seek God with all our hearts, when we please God by our actions, God will reveal himself to us in new and deeper ways. Let our prayer be: Show us your glory. It is not about u. It is all about God

 

 

Track 2: Church and State

Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah:

“For my people are foolish,
    they do not know me;
they are stupid children,
    they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil,
    but do not know how to do good.”   (Jeremiah 4:22)

The most incredible thing about the nature of evil is the level of ignorance that seems to accompany it. The Pharisees proved this many times as they did in today’s Gospel reading:

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.   ()

Government authorities have used the game of church and state intimidate and confuse believers. Jesus would have none of it. There is no separation between church and state in God’s mind. God is Lord of both church and state. Mary, the mother of Jesus, said in her song of praise:

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly.   (Luke 1:52)

God raised up Cyrus, king of Persia, to restore the nation of Israel

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped

to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes,

to open doors before him–
and the gates shall not be closed:

I will go before you and level the mountains,

I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,

I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,

so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,

I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.

I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,

so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.   (Isaiah 45:1-6)

Cyrus was no Sunday school teacher. Yet he was anointed by God for a specific purpose. Clever government officials and politicians would have us believe that God has no hand n government. He has the whole world in his hands. Perhaps it is tme for us to be less clever and more in tune with the purposes of God.

“For my people are foolish,
    they do not know me;
they are stupid children,
    they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil,
    but do not know how to do good.”   (Jeremiah 4:22)

Do we know how to do good? We cannot even know what is good until we know the Lord.

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 23

Track 1: The Mercy of God

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Human nature is curious thing. It was true for the children of Israel and it seems to be true for us today, at least for me. We can soon forget the great things that God has done for us. God had done great signs and wonders to deliver his people from bondage in Egypt. But in todays Old Testament reading we have this incredible scene:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”   (Exodus 32:1-4)

Can we put ourselves in God’s perspective? How could the children of Israel reject him after all that he had done? He was ready to release his wrath. Moses desperately intercede for Israel:

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.   (Exodus 32:11-14)

We should never underestimate the power of intercessory prayer. The psalmist wrote:

We have sinned as our forebears did;
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.

Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb
and worshiped a molten image;

And so they exchanged their Glory
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

They forgot God their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,

Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,
and fearful things at the Red Sea.

So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.   (Psalm 106:6, 19-23)

Do we not need intercession for our nation today? If we reject God he will ultimately reject us. Jesus told this parable concerning the rejection of God’s mercy:

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.   (Matthew 22:1-10)

The parable is about the wrath of God as well as his mercy. God goes out of his way to show mercy, especially to those who can acknowledge his mercy and loving kindness. When I look back on my life I see nothing but mercy and loving kindness. I see God acting on my behalf when I did little to deserve his help. Often times I failed to even ask for his help.

God tempers his judgement with mercy, especially when we call upon him from the heart. The Apostle Paul tells us how to do that. Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

We can have peace in our hearts when we remember how God has shown mercy to us in the past. Israel forgot. We, too, can easily forget. Thus, when we pray, we should not let any difficult circumstances steal our joy in the Lord. Let us settle it now: God is good, all the time. Doubt and unbelief can so easily creep in when we do not focus on the mercy of God.

Jesus’ parable ends with a dire warning:

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”   (Matthew 22:11-14)

We should not take the mercy of God for granted. Out of his mercy God has provided salvation for us all. He had given us his Son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins upon a cruel cross in order that we might be able to stand before on the day of judgement. God will be looking not at us, but at this Son Jesus in us, provided that we are wearing a robe of righteousness. This robe has been purchased for us by the blood of Jesus. We must wear it. We must allow Jesus to robe us each day. He wants to continually wash away all our sins. This means our confession of them and prayers for help in overcoming them is required. Our choice today is the peace of God in our hearts or the turmoil that comes when we worship the golden calf of this world.

 

 

 

Track 2: The Wedding Banquet

Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Today’s Gospel speaks to our time:

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.   (Matthew 22:1-10)

This parable is about the end times. It is about the day and hour in which we live. It is about the Messianic banquet in heaven for all true believers. It is about Jesus returning to the earth and ruing from Jerusalem. The Prophet Isaiah wrote about this time:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.   (Isaiah 25:6-9)

The millennial reign of Christ will be a glorious time when Jesus returns to right all wrongs. But this time is reserved for true believers only. We should not take the mercy of God for granted. Jesus ends  his parable with a dire warning:

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”   (Matthew 22:11-14)

Out of his mercy God has provided salvation for us all. He has given us his Son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins upon a cruel cross in order that we might be able to stand before on the day of judgement. God will be looking not at us, but at this Son Jesus in us, provided that we are wearing a robe of righteousness. This robe has been purchased for us by the blood of Jesus. We must wear it. We must allow Jesus to robe us each day. He wants to continually wash away all our sins. This means our confession of them and prayers for help in overcoming them is required. Our choice today is the peace of God in our hearts or the turmoil that comes when we worship the golden calf of this world.

 

 

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22

Track 1: The Stone that the Builders Rejected

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Today we celebrate God giving the Law to Moses. Reading from today’s Old Testament scripture:

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.   (Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-17)

God wrote his commandments on stone tablets by his own hand. The stone meant that his commandments were permanent. They were to be perpetuated down through the ages. They would never be erased. They cannot be ignored or overlooked by humankind.

But Israel failed in keeping God’s commandments, just as we have failed. Our failure does not mean that his commandments have failed. We have dimply reject4ed God’s word and his requirements. Jesus spoke of this rejection:

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”   (Matthew 21:42-44)

The psalmist wrote:

The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

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 19:7-8)

The law is perfect, but who has kept the law of God perfectly? This is a vital question, because if we brake any part of God’s law we have  broken it all. The Apostle Paul tells us that no one has done this:

 It is written,

“No one is right with God, no one at all.
    No one understands.
    No one trusts in God.
All of them have turned away.
    They have all become worthless.
No one does anything good,
    no one at all.”    (Romans 3:11-12)

Jesus is the only one who kept the law without fail. He, in fact, has fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law by his life, death on the cross, and resurrection. He is the very embodiment of the law of God. He is the cornerstone of our church and of our lives.

If we have chosen Jesus as our rock, then we must stand on him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 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;[e] 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[f] call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3::10-14)

Whom do we stand on today? Do we know him as Lord and savior? Or have we rejected him? Jesus give us this warning:

And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.   (Matthew 21:44)

 

 

Track 2: The Vineyard of the Lord

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

God provided for Israel. We read throughout the Old Testament how he nurtured them, fought for them, delivered them from bondage, provided a land with rich resources, and established a way for the people to receive his forgiveness and restoration.

Despite all of God’s faithfulness to his people, Israel proved unfaithful to God over and over again. God spoke through the Prophet:

My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.

He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;

he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;

he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.   (Isaiah 5:1-2)

God called Israel his vineyard numerous times in scripture:

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,

and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;

he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;

righteousness,
but heard a cry!   (Isaiah 5:7)

In todays’ Gospel Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard:

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”   (Matthew 21:33-41)

We also are Israel. We are the engrafted branches through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root[f] of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you.  (:17-20) 

Will are the branches if te vineyard, just as Israel. Jesus says to us:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.   (John 15:1-5)

God wants to display his glory through us. We read in Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.   (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus was referring to himself and he was taking about us. We are God’s tender plants. We we allow God to prune us, to nurture us? Jesus reminds us:

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing

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