Category Archives: liturgical preaching

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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Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7A

Track 1: God is Faithful

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Abraham had two sons. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, had given her maid Hagar to him so that she might bear him a son in her place, since she was barren. The son born of Hagar was Ishmael. God had promised Sarah a son, but she had trouble accepting this promise. We remember that Sarah did bear a son after all by God’s miraculous intervention.

In Genesis we read:

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”

Later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and the tension between the women returned. At a celebration after Isaac was weaned, Sarah found the teenage Ishmael playing her son. The original Hebrew word translated as “playing” is Tsachaq. This is better translated as “mocking.” Ishmael was mocking Isaac. This Sarah did not likeShe was so upset by it that she demanded that Abraham send Hagar and her son away. She declared that Ishmael would not share in Isaac’s inheritance. Abraham was greatly distressed but God told Abraham to do as his wife commanded because God’s promise would be carried out through both Isaac and Ishmael.

Early the next morning, Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out together. Abraham gave Hagar bread and water then sent them into the wilderness of Beersheba. She and her son wandered aimlessly until their water was completely consumed. In a moment of despair, she burst into tears. God heard her and her son crying and came to rescue them. The angel opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water. He also told Hagar that God “will make a great nation” of Ishmael.

Life can be cruel and often seem unfair. Hagar was in despair when Abrahan, at the wishes of his wife, sent her and her son away. She sound herself in the wilderness without the resources to care for her son. What was she to do? We read:

Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”

In Hagar’s state of hopelessness she discovered that God was with her. She cried out to him and he heard her prayer. The psalmist writes:

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer,
and attend to the voice of my supplications.

In the time of my trouble I will call upon you,
for you will answer me.   (Psalm 86:6-7)

God is the God of hope and not despair. Despair sets in when we give up on God. The Apostle Paul writes:

Therefore, 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)

All of us are on a journey. We are on a journey with God. We are not alone. He is on our side. The circumstances of life may prove difficult, but they do not change the fact that God is our source of strength and help. The psalmist wrote:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.   (Psalm 46:1-3)

Will the difficulties in life drive us away from God? If we hold on to our trust and faith in him these difficulties will only make us stronger. We will gain a closer relationship with God. Hagar discovered the mercy and faithfulness of God. How much more will we discover these qualities of God who have put our faith and trust in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ! If we have not done so now is the time.

 

 

Track 2: A Fire Shut up in My Bones

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

The Prophet Jeremiah was faithfully proclaiming the Word of God as God directed him. However, this was not making him popular. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Today we read one of the famous complaints that Jeremiah made to about being a prophet:

For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”

then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;

I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.

The problem with speaking God’s word is that it changes things. The Prophet Isaiah wrote:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.   (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Some people do not like change. They will do everything possible to keep it from happening, including try to silence those who dare speak God’s word. Yet, if we are true believers do we have an option not to speak about our faith? Jesus said:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

If we are true disciples of Jesus Christ then we should expect ridicule and persecution.

Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

Do we have the fire of God in our bones? If so, we are compelled to speak out for the Gospel. We will not be able to stop ourselves and we will not want to stop ourselves. The Word made flesh has spoken for us on the cross with such sacrificial and unconditional love. For this reason we love and value Jesus more than anything on this earth.

But if we are a lukewarm Christian, being neither hot nor cold, we may not understand the power and beauty of sharing the love of God with others. We may not want to risk the criticism and persecution of doing so. This would be a very sad state for any Christian to be in.

In the Book of Revelation Jesus spoke to the Church in Laodicea:

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.   (Revelation 3:14-16)

Perhaps the only cure for the lukewarm condition is God’s fire in our bones. God will kindle that fire for all who seek him. He is a consuming fire:

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.   (Hebrews 12:25-29)

Do we have a fire shut up within our bones? Now is the time to ask for the fire of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one who is the baptizer of the Holy Spirit. We must not only ask him for the Holy Spirit, but ask him for the remission of our sins. We must do so continually. Amen.

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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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