Category Archives: Lent

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Crucified with Christ

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From Matthew’s Gospel we read:

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”   (Matthew 21:6-11)

It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the criminal whom they crucified.

How could the people change so quickly we ask. In defense of those who got caught up in the frenzy, we must remember that chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty with tyrannical leaders. Propaganda and lies were used to sway the people. The government, and even the synagogs, were the last places to discover what was actually happening. In fact, both church and state were perpetuating a false narrative on purpose, Their agenda was to obscure what was really true.

When manipulation and control supplant faith and proclamation, the people are deceived and confused. Betrayal of God’s purposes becomes the order of the day. Does this apply to our day as well?

Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.   (Matthew 26:31-35)

We remember that Peter did portray his Lord as Jesus predicted:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.   (Matthew 26:69=75)

Where did Peter go wrong? Why did he betray his Lord when Jesus said that Peter would be the rock? Perhaps if we can understand this we might also understand why we might betray our Lord. Peter did not understand the crucifixion. We remember when Jesus foretold his death on the cross:

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.   (Matthew 16:22-25)

Is our mind still set on human things? Our flesh does not want to understand the cross. The cross is where we die to the flesh. We need the mind of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Have we humbled ourselves before the Lord? Have we given up our ways to take on the way which is Jesus Christ. He is the only way to the Father. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.   (Romans 6:3-8)

We are freed from sin only by the extent that we have died to our flesh. Yes, we are made righteous by faith in Jesus. But where is our faith if we do not trust him enough to die to ourselves. Psalm Sunday is a celebration. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” But Psalm Sunday is also about the crucifixion. We may say that we have died to the Lord. Paul said that he died daily.

Who is in charge of our life today? Is it Jesus, or are we still gratifying the flesh and doing our own thing? We need to have victory over our flesh, but we cannot not do it on our own. Let us declare, as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.   (Galatians 2:19-20)

The new creation in Christ only comes through crucifixion. Otherwise, we will be ruled by our flesh, and as Paul wrote:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.   (Romans 7:18)

The flesh is easily manipulated and controlled. If we do not take up our own cross and follow Jesus, we will soon deny him in so many ways, as many Christians are doing today. Let us declare as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.    (Galatians 2:19-20)

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Fifth Sunday in Lent

Can These Bones Live?

The psalmist wrote this beautiful cry to God, the De profundis:

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you;
therefore you shall be feared.   (Psalm 130:1-3)

Have we every been in a place where we become so aware of our sins that we give up hope of ever overcoming them? The Prophet Ezekiel had almost given up on Israel. But God intervened;

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”   (Ezekiel 37:1-6)

We might give up on ourselves. We may even give up on God, but God does not give up on us. Martha had almost given up on Jesus. Her brother Lazarus had died and she knew that Jesus could have intervened. Reading from John’s Gospel:

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”   (John 11:20-27)

“Can these bones live?” – God asked the prophet. He asked Martha the same thing. And he asks us! Will we take the opportunity to listen to his answer? That may depend on our current thinking. The Apostle Paul wrote the Church in Rome:

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.   (Romans 8:6-11)

God can give us life. Our bones can live. We are not bound by our past mistakes. We can live in newness of life. Paul writes:

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.   (Romans 6:1-6)

Why do we go one sinning when God has forgiven us and remitted our sins by the blood of his Son We are not a slave to sin. Satan is lying is lying to us. He constantly accuses us. He wants us to believe that we are unworthy of God’s grace and mercy.

God is on our side. He has plenty of redemption for us. We need not be discouraged or distraught. Things are not hopeless. The psalmist tells us:

O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption,
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.   (Psalm 130:6-7)

We have the good news of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. God can restore us. Our bones can live. He can raise us up. Jesus told Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Today, he asks us as he asked Martha: “Do you believe this?”

When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus:

Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Today, God wants to unbind us from the past and set us free. Are we ready? All we have to do is to believe him, and keep on believing him. When we stumble, we can confess our sins. And then we can get up and being again, putting our trust in him. Paul wrote the Church at Philippi:

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.   (Philippians 1:6)

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The Annunciation

Trusting in the Promises of God

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 promised to her by the angel Gabriel. Mary’s reply to the angel demonstrated her faith and trust in the Lord:

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 a 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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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Spiritual Blindness

Today’s Gospel reading from John illustrates the darkness and the blindness that permeates our world:

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”   (John 9:1-11)

Notice that some were having trouble believing that the blind man had actually been healed. Naturally, there might be some reluctance that a man blind from birth could be given sight. Yet, even after seeing the evidence of this, some wanted to explain it away.

I remember a man who received 3rd degree burns on his face and chest. He was looking under the hood of his car and the radiator cap blew off. He was not our parishioner, but we prayed for him. In less than 24 hours he was totally healed (to God be the glory). When he testified to this miracle at his church, no one believed him. He later came to our church and gave his testimony. He just wanted to celebrate what God had done for him. But his experience did not meet the expectations of others. Does our perception ever get in the way of God’s reality?

God asked the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king in place of King Saul. He invited Jesse the Bethlehemite and his sons to a sacrifice to the Lord. God would then select one of the sons of Jesse to be Saul’s replacement. Reading from 1 Samuel:

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”   (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

As we know, Samuel eventually anointed David, the youngest son of Jesse. Our perception does not always align with that of God’s. The danger is to be so locked in to what we believe and understand that we are unable to see beyond our perceptions.

Back to the man born blind:

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them. “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”   (John 9:18-23)

The parents of the blind man must have understood that their son had been healed, but they were afraid to say so. For many, it is better to hold onto a reality that is accepted by others as the norm, than to believe in a reality that is actually real. This is when “group think” takes over. Our acceptance by others can rule out our independent judgement.

The rulers of the status quo will do all that they can to convince us to deny our truth and accept theirs:

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.   (John 9:24-34)

It is one thing to be spiritually blind, but quite another to be unwilling to see the hand of God. Facts are not allowed to get in the way of their perception. That was the Pharisees. They dismissed the man because he did not fit their narrative:

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”   (John 9:35-41)

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church at Ephesus:

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”   (Ephesians 5:8-14)

In John’s Gospel we read:

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.   (John 3:18-20)

Let us walk as children of the light. Let us open up our eyes and hearts to take in as much of the Spirit of the Lord as possible. We cannot grow as Christians in the dark. Jesus is calling us into his most glorious light. Our perceptions might change. We may even have to give some of our cherished beliefs. Nevertheless, this is a much better alternative to spiritual blindness. The light of Christ lasts for an eternity. The darkness of this world will soon pass away.

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