Category Archives: Holy Day

Ascension Day, Year A

You Shall Receive Power

From today’s scriptural readings it is also impossible not to miss this message: You shall receive power. From Acts we read:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  (Acts 1:6-10)

In Luke we read the final words of Jesus to his disciples:

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from 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 24:44-49)

Are we clothed with power from on high? If not, how can we be effective witnesses for Christ? The Apostle Paul prayed for the Church in Ephesus:

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.  (Ephesians 1:15-19)

Paul speaks about  “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” Are we believers? Then Paul is speaking to us!

The Church is the Body of Christ on the earth until Jesus comes again. But we are not powerless. In fact, Jesus said that we would continue the work he was doing and do even greater work. However, this work can be accomplished only through the Holy Spirit for those who believe in Jesus and the promise he made to the Church.

The primary work of the church is evangelism. The power of God is a large part of effective evangelism. Paul wrote the church in Thessalonica:

For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.   (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5)

What are we accomplishing in his name? Are we powerless? If we do not believe in his promise, then we are without his power. The enemy wants to keep us in the dark.

A revival in the Church is coming for those who believe and pray. Do we want to sit around and curse the darkness? Or do we want to fulfill the promise made to the Body of Christ by our Lord Jesus. It is up to us. Jesus has poured out his power. We must receive it by faith.

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Good Friday

Behold the Lamb of God

Long before the cross was even an instrument of torture and death there was prophecy concerning a certain death by crucifixion. Long before anyone had experienced this torturous death we have a perfect description of the crucifixion of Jesus:

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are disjointed;
my heart is like wax,
melting within me.

My strength is dried up like baked clay;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You put me into the dust of death.

For dogs have surrounded me;
a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet.

I can count all my bones;
people look and stare at me.

They divided my garments among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.  (Psalm 22:14-18)

What was the purpose for such an agonizing death? The Prophet Isaiah tells us:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)

In the face of so great a sacrifice on our behalf what are we to do?

Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He has inaugurated for us, through the curtain (that is, His flesh); and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.  (Hebrews 10:19-23)

The cross always brings us to the point of decision. We cannot look away from it. We must look upon the Lamb of God in His agony. If we are to participate in the victory of Jesus on the cross, we must first taste of His passion. It is a defeat of our flesh. It is a defeat of our will. It is a defeat of our pride. Down through the ages the cross has spoken to humankind. What is the cross saying to us today?

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Maundy Thursday

juanes400The Lord’s Supper

For Christians, Passover is fulfilled on Good Friday when the blood of Jesus is sprinkled on our souls. Jesus is the prophetic fulfillment of the Jewish Passover. Jesus’ last supper with His disciples was not the Seder. It was not the Passover Meal. This was a time of preparation for the Passover. The Passover meal could not be served until the slaughtering of the lambs outside the city which would occur the next day, the same day Jesus would be slaughtered on the cross.

Jesus was doing something new with His disciples. He was proclaiming His death before it actually happened. He said that His body was broken and that His blood was shed. He was saying that He was the last lamb sacrificed for the sins of the people. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world once and for all.

The Apostle Paul writes about this special meal in today’s Epistle Lesson:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Jesus was asking His disciples to anticipate his crucifixion, participate in His suffering, and keep His sacrifice always in their memory. They would not just be remembering with their minds what had happened but they would actually be partaking in the event themselves in a spiritual way. John’s Gospel speaks of both the power and the necessity of the Communion service.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”   (John 6:53-58)

Today, we are invited by our Lord to anticipate His power entering into our lives more and more as we participate His Holy Communion. We are asked to do more than just remember a historical event. We are asked to come with great expectation. In order to fully experience the resurrection we must also enter into Jesus’ death through our confession of sins. This is our opportunity to once more die to our sins that we might be empowered to live a resurrected life on this earth until He comes again.

After Communion Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment. Jesus said that by this commandment His disciples would demonstrate the resurrected life:

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   (John 13:31-35).

To love as Jesus loved is to be empowered as Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Communion has been given to us by our Lord to teach, experience, and practice the presence of the Lord so that we may be empowered to keep His commandment. As we empty ourselves and take on more of Him, we become a living witness of His resurrection. (See Eucharist Theology.)

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The Annunciation

The Magnificat

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.  (Luke 1:46-55)

Today we read about the greatest announcement in all the world:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”   (Luke 1:26-37)

Surely Mary has been called blessed by all generations. She was selected by God the Father to become the mother of Jesus. By faith and trust she received the gift of God promised to her by the angel Gabriel. Mary’s reply to the angle was:

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.   (Luke 1:38)

The blessing is in the receiving. This was not the case for King Ahaz in today’s Old Testament reading who refused to do what God asked of him.

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.  (Isaiah 7:10-14)

The message from God was not only for Mary. It is a message of hope and salvation for the entire world. Believing and receiving this message brings to each of us the greatest blessing from God. We are destined to participate in the eternal kingdom of God under the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Are we an Ahaz or a Mary? King Ahaz said that he did not want to trouble God. He did not want to hear from God. He did not want to listen to His Word. The Season of Lent is a time to open up to God and not be so busy or distracted. This is not so easily done by people who are full of this world. We need to empty ourselves before our maker and hearken unto His Word.

In today’s readings two people heard from God. One was King and one was a peasant. God made promises to them both. One refused to listen and one welcomed the promise of God. We give thanks to God for Mary and for her example. What is our example?

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Ash Wednesday

ash-wed-pictureRemember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

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