Category Archives: lectionary

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8A

Track 1: Obedience from the Heart

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

In today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis, God, seemingly, asked Abraham to do the unthinkable:

God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”   (Genesis 22:1-2)

Incredibly, Abraham obeyed God. He had to go a great distance and to great lengths to follow God’s instructions. Can we imagine how he must have felt while on this journey with his son Isaac? There is no other test in all the Bible like this one! Isaac was the son of great promise. God has told Abraham that he would make him the father of many nations through Isaac. Isaac’s very conception was miraculous, considering the age of Abraham and his wife Sarah. Now God was telling Abraham that he must kill his son.

Let us follow this remarkable account to its conclusion:

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”   (Genesis 22:9-12)

Abraham loved God and trusted him. He did so to the point of sacrificing his own son if need be. How many of us would have been willing to follow God’s commandments to this extreme? Abraham demonstrated his love for God by his obedience. Even undergoing an extreme test, he kept his faith and trust in God. He believed that God would keep his promise that he would be the father of many nations. Thus he was willing to do all that God asked of him.

The Apostle Paul wrote about obedience to God’s commandments from the heart:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.   (Romans 6:16-18)

Love leads to obedience. Jesus also spoke about the importance of obedience in the Gospel of John:

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.   (John 14:23-24)

Abraham demonstrated a love for God that was not dependent on circumstances. He was willing, if necessary, to sacrifice his own son Isaac. His unconditional love mirrors the love of God. The Apostle Paul helps put this love in context:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.   (Romans 8:31-33)

Since God has given ups his all should we not respond with our whole heart. One of the best ways to respond is through obedience from the heart.

 

 

Track 2: Court Prophets

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4,15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

In the Old Testament there were prophets and there were “court prophets.” The course prophets worked for the king and were in charge of giving him good news about his kingdom and rule. Natural, to gain favor with the king one did not want to bring him bad news. In today’s Old Testament reading, the Prophet Jeremiah spoke out against such “prophets:”

The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”   (Jeremiah 28:5-9)

The problem was more than the prophecy given by these were in many cases untrue. This false prophecy was given in the name of the Lord. God had something to say about it. Again, in Jeremiah we read:

See, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their own tongues and say, “Says the Lord.” See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the Lord.

When this people, or a prophet, or a priest asks you, “What is the burden of the Lord?” you shall say to them, “You are the burden, and I will cast you off, says the Lord.”   (Jeremiah 23:31-33)

Do we have court prophets in the Church today? They were in the Church in the Apostle Paul’s day he warned Timothy concerning false prophecy. Paul warned his young protege Timothy:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.   (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

Jesus also warned against false prophets. In Matthew we read:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?   (Matthew 7:15-16)

Who are the court prophets trying to please today? Do people go to prophecy conferences to pay the seers to give them a rosy picture about their future? Of course, the situation can be a little more subtle than that. Rosy sermons about prosperity and financial blessings are all very common today. The promise of a great ministry on the way is very exciting. But where is the message about holy living and self-sacrifice?

Not all of us are going to be wealthy. Not all of us will have great recognizable ministries. In today’s Gospel we read:

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”   (Matthew 10:40-42)

Faithful service is the key. The Gospel does not need to be embellished. God will determine our rewards. The greatest reward is our eternal salvation through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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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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