Category Archives: Jesus

Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles

the-apostles-st-peter-and-st-paul-xx-el-grecoThe Founding Apostles of the Church

The Apostles who have had the most profound impact on the Church are, without a doubt, Peter and Paul. One was an ordinary, uneducated fisherman who became the central leader of a movement and faith that has reverberated down through the ages. The other was the outstanding student of Judaism in his day who became a great theologian and missionary extraordinaire, writing a large part of the New Testament. Which one was more important? We cannot say. I believe that they both were needed by the Early Church and they are needed today.

Peter and Paul needed each other as well. Their messages played off one another. Without the leadership of either one we would not have had the fullness of the Gospel preached to the world. Nonetheless, Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye. We read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:11-16)

Peter and Paul resolved their differences and came to a common understanding of the Gospel. With the help of James, the brothers of Jesus, they mapped out what they considered the essential tenets of the Faith. This opened the door for people of all nations to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Here is how Peter described Paul’s writings:

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:13-16)

Each apostle started his ministry in the Church from a position of weakness. We remember that Peter had denied his Lord three times before Jesus endured the cross:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”   (John 21:15-19)

In the flesh, Peter was weak. As a pharisee, Paul was persecuting the Church, thinking that he was saving Judaism from heresy. Without the intervention of Jesus he would not have become the great missionary that he was.

In looking back on his ministry, Paul wrote to Timothy:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

What is significant about both Peter and Paul is that, against all odds, they taught and preached the Gospel with boldness and perseverance. Although they both became martyrs for the faith, they did not shrink back from the great commission which the Lord Jesus had entrusted to them. The commonality in their leadership is that they did not rely on themselves but on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

They both emphasized that the Kingdom was not of this world. Christian believers could look forward to a life to come with great hope. In the meantime, believers were to advance in purity and holiness.

Let us summon the courage to persevere in our own day. By the grace of God and the guidance of his Holy Spirit, may we boldly witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need to remember that all the apostles were ordinary men with extraordinary callings. We, also, have our own callings. Let us follow the example of these two great apostles.

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Nativity of St. John the Baptist

murillo_birth_johnThe Path of Peace

To fully under John the Baptist’s ministry we need to return to his nativity. When John was eight days old he was brought to the temple to be circumcised as was the custom. His father then prophesied over him:

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:75-79)
The path of peace theme is also echoed in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”   (Isaiah 40:1-5)

There is only one way to peace and wellbeing: Jesus is that way. He is the Prince of Peace. Today, we are hearing about another peace. It is said that a peace will be provided by a new world order and a one world government and a one world religion. How much should we trust this peace? Paul writes to the Church in Thessalonica:

For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.   (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4)

We need to return to the message of John the Baptist. He made it clear that we must repent of our sins and seek the real Messiah. John prepared the way for Him. Jesus has prepared the way to the Father. Thomas, the disciple of Jesus was confused about this matter:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.   (John 14:5-6)

Are we still confused today concerning the way of peace? John the Baptist’s message was very simple. Only rebellious hearts seek to ignore it.

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Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6A

Track 1: All Things Are Possible with God

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

God is the God of the miraculous. The Old Testament examples of his miracle-working power are numerous. Today we read about the three men who came to visit Abraham. Who were they? Were they three angels or perhaps three persons of the Holy Trinity? We do not know, but they had a message from God. Sarah, in her old age, would bear Abraham a son. For Sarah, the notion of bearing a child was laughable. In Genesis we read:

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”   (Genesis 18:9-14)

As we can see, one does not always take the promises of God seriously. Perhaps his promise is beyond one’s ability to believe. Our beliefs and our understandings can so easily limit us. God is not limited. The question for Abraham and Sarah and the question for us is: Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Well, God’s promise was for Abraham and Sarah. We are just ordinary people. Sarah and Abraham were just ordinary as well, as were most of our heroes in the Bible.

In today’s Gospel reading we see Jesus sending out very ordinary people on an extraordinary mission:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.   (Matthew 10:1-4)

God often sends his elect into hopeless situations. But we are not without hope. The Apostle Paul writes:

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

Yes, God makes extraordinary promises to us and he sends on extraordinary missions. We are asked to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones and preconceived boundaries. When we accept his gift to us and we accept his call, we often find ourselves in situations beyond our ability to handle. Less we lose hope, we must remember the words of Jesus: “You received without payment; give without payment.”

Jesus has made an extraordinary down-payment for us. He has given us his body and blood, and he has poured out his Spirit upon us. Are we to shrink back into our fearful, limited, and unbelieving selves?

Paul reminds us that we have access to God’s grace. And for that reason we are able to stand in his strength. We do not have to rely on ourselves. In our weaknesses God manifests his strength. Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

 

Track 2: You Are My Treasured Possession

Exodus 19:2-8a
Psalm 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Today’s reading from Exodus recaps God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from their exile and slavery in Egypt:

The Israelites had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”   (Exodus 19:2-6)

The exodus story is our story as we;;. We are also God’s treasured possession because we have been engrafted into the branches of Judaism through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us that by grace we have been saved through faith. He writes:

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.   (Romans 5:1-2)

The question remains: What will be our response? Are we ready to share the glory of God? Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their unbelief in what God was offering and requiring of them. Are we, too, in the wilderness? We are if we do not understand the covenant which God has established for us by the sacrifice of his Son:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.   (Romans 5:6-8)

That covenant has been freely given to us by the grace of  God. It requires, however, a response on our part. We must allow ourselves to be loved by God. Do we appreciate his love and demonstrate that appreciation in tangible ways. Do we:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name?   (Psalm 100:3)

The passion of Jesus Christ invokes a passion in us. Do we respond as the beloved bride of Christ? We are his treasured possession. Let us treasure the one who gave us his all. He is our beloved. In Song of Solomon we read:

“He has brought me to his banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love.  (Song of Solomon 2)

Do we long for the marriage feast of the Lamb more than anything this world has to offer?

For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.   (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

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Saint Barnabas

Set Apart by the Spirit

Today we celebrate Saint Barnabas, the travelling companion of the Apostle Paul. He was more than a travelling companion. Barnabas was largely responsible for encouraging Paul to undertake an active ministry.

We know about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. We know that Jesus Himself called Paul into ministry. Nonetheless, Paul was not easily accepted as an apostle of Jesus by the leadership in Jerusalem. He had been persecuting the Church. Barnabas, however, looked at Paul through the eyes of Christ. He rescued Paul and presented him to the apostles, testifying that Paul was indeed a true believer. This was typical of Barnabas. His name meant “son of encouragement.”

Barnabas was chosen along with Paul for a special mission:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.   (Acts 13:1-3)

This was the beginning of the great mission to the Gentiles. Barnabas and Paul were were willing to travel without special requirements or treatment. They endured great hardships for the Gospel. They were willing to follow the instructions which Jesus gave His disciples concerning the conduct of ministry:

Jesus said to the twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.   (Matthew 10:7-10)

What can we learn from Barnabas about our own ministry? He did not care what others thought about Paul. He listened only to what God was telling him. He wanted the praises and approval of God more than that of human beings.

A positive attitude is helpful. Prayer and fasting is preparation. The support of a community is vital and of absolute necessity. A willingness to be set apart by the Holy Spirit for ministry directed by God and not by our own desires. Perhaps this last one is most difficult. The Holy Spirit may lead us into difficult places where we must rely solely on God.

We may not be asked by God to leave home and job. We may, however, be asked to give up some of our cherished beliefs about ministry. We may be asked to leave our comfort zones. We may be required to work with others who are not on the approved list. We just be called to offer encouragement and support to others in their ministry. God is still calling his Barnabas’s.

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First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday, Year A

A Trinitarian Understanding of God

God is a trinitarian God. We need to see him in his full dimension.

Let us observe God as creator. In the beginning, God the Father consulted God the Son and God the Holy Spirit about humankind. He said: “Let us make humankind in our likeness.”

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”   (Genesis 1:26-27)

Each aspect of God had a role to play in creation. The Son of God was the agent of creation. In the Gospel of John we read:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.   (John 1:1-4)

God the Father spoke life through his Son. The Holy Spirit also played a very important role. He carried out his assignment to bring everything into being by his power. In Genesis we read:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.   (Genesis 1:1-2)

God has revealed himself to us through his creation. He did so by exercising his total being in the process. Thus, we cannot just relate to one part of God while ignoring his other attributes.

The Apostle Paul helps us to understand how God moves through the Trinity of his being:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.   (2 Corinthians 13:13)

In this one blessing by Paul to the church in Corinth, we are able to see deep insights into God’s nature and character. God the Father is pure love. He best expresses that love through the grace he gives us through his Son. Jesus reveals the character of the Father. He is the voice of the Father, the Word made flesh. Jesus is the self-giving God. He sacrifices himself that we mighty have salvation in his name. We have fellowship and communion with the Father and Son through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit hovers over us just as he hovered the formless world. He has been given to us to bring us in alignment with God’s will and restore us to fellowship with the Father.

In his last words to his disciples Jesus spoke of baptizing believers by the fullness God as expressed in the Holy Trinity. In the Gospel of Matthew we read:

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   (Matthew 28:16-20)

Notice in this great commission the working of the Holy Trinity. The Church must teach all believers to obey all that Jesus has taught. Jesus, the voice of God, had taught us the true nature of God the Father and the essence of his commandments. But the power of the Holy Spirit is needed to help us to understand and obey all that Jesus has taught us.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew echoes Paul’s blessing to the Church in Corinth. Both declare the working of God through his trinitarian nature. Without and understanding of the Holy Trinity we are left without a very shallow faith indeed. While it is true that we cannot fully understand all the aspects of the Trinity, we can neither afford to ignore the Trinity. It is the Holy Trinity that helps us to focus our faith in God.

The good news is that the three persons of the Godhead are still working for us. They are still creating. Soon we shall see the culmination of their work when we are fully restored to the likeness of God. Let us be encouraged and not lose heart. Rather, let us hold onto a holy hope that God is at work in us and that he will fulfill all of his purposes for us. Amen.

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