Category Archives: Jesus

Saint James, Apostle

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_James_the_Greater_-_Google_Art_ProjectAble to Drink the Cup

Today we look at one of the “Sons of Thunder.” He was quite ambiguous, or was it his mother?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  (Matthew 20:20-23)

James and John were among the first disciples called by Jesus. They were with their father Zebedee by the seashore when Jesus called them and they immediately followed Him. Along with Peter they were chosen by Jesus to bear witness to his Transfiguration. Thus, they were significant to Jesus’ ministry. Their mother thought they were significant enough to request a special place for them in Jesus’ kingdom, but she did not understand what this might mean as many in the church seem to misunderstand today. James was chosen for greatness in ways his mother did not expect, nor did James.

What was the cup to which Jesus referred in answering the mother? It was the cup that Jesus understood too well. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed this prayer:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

James, indeed, drank the cup that Jesus drank. James is traditionally believed to be the first of the twelve apostles who was martyred for the faith. We read about it in the Book of Acts:

Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  (Acts 12:1-3)

The Festival of Unleavened Bread was the Jewish Passover. Jesus has become the Passover for those who believe in Him. Because James was faithful in preaching the Passover of Christ he was privileged to join his Lord in laying down his life for the Church. James went from being a big-shot to hero of the faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Where would the Christian Church be today without the faith and testimonies of the martyrs? If the Early Church were preaching today’s “Gospel” message the Church would probably not even exist. So many today are seeking a higher place and a greater prosperity for themselves. Such seeking only causes envy and division within the Church. Jesus attempted to put a stop to it with His disciples:

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:24-28)

Having just celebrated Mary Magdalene as a true servant leader of God, we now celebrate James, the first apostle martyred for the sake of the Gospel. He was able to drink the cup. Let us pray for the grace and courage that more Church servant leaders will step forward in our day. Perhaps we may be included among them.

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Filed under Feast Day, Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, St. James, Year B

Saint Mary Magdalene

The Resurrection’s First Witness

The Gospel of Luke made it clear that the roles of women in the ministry of Jesus Christ were significant:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  (Luke 8:1-3)

When we think of Jesus’ disciples we may primarily be thinking of the twelve that Jesus personally chose to follow Him. They were not alone, however. They were supported by many faithful women of which Mary Magdalene was included. She was not only included. She was prominent. She was the courageous and faithful one. When Jesus’ disciples deserted Him at the cross she was there:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  (John 19:25)

Jesus could have chosen any one of the twelve disciples to reveal Himself to after His resurrection. He chose a woman – Mary Magdalene:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.  (Mark 16:9-10)

Why did Jesus choose her? The testimonies of women were often considered unreliable. In fact, the disciples did not believer Mary’s testimony:

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  (Luke 24:10-11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed the order of things. Jesus attempted to explain this new order to His disciples before His crucifixion, but they had trouble understanding what He was telling them:

But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.  (Mark 9:34-35)

Mary Magdalene was a primary example of the servant leader who was faithful in her duties, following in the footsteps of her LORD. We remember her today as the resurrection’s first witness.

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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11B

Track 1: The House of the Lord

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

King David told Nathan the prophet that he wished to build a house for the Lord. The Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tent, while David lived in a nice cedar house, Nathan, at first gave David permission to build, but God had other plans. From 2 Samuel:

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.   (2 Samuel 7:4-11)

God turned the table on King David. David would not build God a house. God would make a house for David. The psalmist wrote:

I have found David my servant;
with my holy oil have I anointed him.

My hand will hold him fast
and my arm will make him strong.

No enemy shall deceive him,
nor any wicked man bring him down.

I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.

My faithfulness and love shall be with him,
and he shall be victorious through my Name.

I shall make his dominion extend
from the Great Sea to the River.

He will say to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, and the rock of my salvation.’

I will make him my firstborn
and higher than the kings of the earth.

I will keep my love for him for ever,
and my covenant will stand firm for him.   (Psalm 89:20-28)

God assured David that his kingdom would be established for ever. This kingdom would become God’s kingdom through the cross of his only begotten Son Jesus Christ. David was just the forerunner.

David did not build a house for God. However, his son Solomon did. It was a magnificent temple but it did not last. As the disciples of Jesus were admiring the temple building in Jerusalem Jesus responded:

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”   (Mark 13:2)

Jesus came to bring a lasting temple – one that would withstand the test of time. He spoke of a temple that was not made with human hands. When he was in Jerusalem cleansing the temple of the money changers he spoke of himself as the true temple:

The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.   (John 2:18-22)

When brought before the authorities, Stephen spoke about this new temple:

“Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. But Solomon built Him a house.

“However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:

‘Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the Lord,
Or what is the place of My rest?
Has My hand not made all these things?’   (Acts 7:44-50)

There will not be another house of God established in Jerusalem until Jesus comes again. Before his crucifixion Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and [a]assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”   (Luke 13:34-35)

When Jesus comes again he will set up his throne in Jerusalem. Until then, we, the Church are to be his temple. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So Jesus came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.   (Ephesians 2:17-22)

We can build temples for the Lord but that does not mean that he will dwell in them. The psalmist reminds us:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it.   (Psalm 127:1)

If our house of God does not have Jesus as the cornerstone then we do not have the presence of God in our midst. We need to be in a church where Jesus is present and his Spirit is at work. Let us allow the Spirit of God to built us into the true and lasting house of the Lord. Then we will be prepared for the coming reign of Christ on the earth.

 

 

 

Track 2: Sheep Without a Shepherd

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In this Sunday’s Gospel we pick up on the story when Jesus sent out his disciples two by two. They come back to Jesus with many success stories. Jesus then tells them that they need to rest:

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.   (Mark 6:30-34)

Pastoring the flock is often a very tiring work, even when one is successful at it. Jesus understood that the pastor needed to spend much time with God the Father in prayer. Over the years the work can take its toll. The work of pastoring can easily slip. Satan is always opposing the pastors. Jesus observes in today’s Gospel that the people he was encountering were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

Moses was like a pastor to the children of Israel. Following him were numerous priests, judges, prophets, and even kings. King David was a pastor king. Yet, over time the leadership had fallen away from the commandments of God and gone their own way which led to severe consequences.

Through the Prophet Jeremiah God gave a severe warning to those who were supposed to be shepherding his people Israel:

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.   (Jeremiah 23:1-4)

God will always provide for the remnant of his flock. If we seek the Lord we will find him. Are we seeking him in our church today? Some of our churches are saying that there are other ways to heaven besides Christ Jesus. They are saying that we all serve the same God. They are saying that there should be no distinction between Christians and muslims. We have the post modern church which wants to throw away much of the Christian faith in order to accommodate popular views and trends.

Is this new church the way of the future or is it the way of destruction? The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that Jesus must be the foundation of the Church. From Ephesians we read:

Jesus came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually[e] into a dwelling place for God.   (Ephesians 2:17-22)

Jesus is the cornerstone. Any other stone will not lead to a holy temple of the Lord. The Lord must be the shepherd. We are all undersheperds at different levels. Nevertheless, there can only be one shepherd – the Good Shepherd. We remember the well known shepherd psalm of David:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.   (Psalm 23)

Only goodness and mercy follows those who follow Jesus. Only in Christ do we have the promise of everlasting life with God the Father. The Church needs a reformation. The warning from Jeremiah is still applicable today. Woe be to those shepherds who lead God’s people away. Your judgement is coming.

In the meantime, let us not become people without a shepherd. Let us return to Christ with all our hearts. He alone is the shepherd of our souls. Amen.

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