Category Archives: liturgical preaching

Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost Proper 25A

Track 1: Disobedience and Obedience

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

It must have been a sad day for Moses:

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”   (Deuteronomy 34:1-4)

An act of disobedience kept Moses from entering of the promise land. Yet he also had reason to rejoice. By his leadership the children of Israel were led out of Egypt. With his help they survived in the wilderness. Before we become to hard on Moses let us be reminded of what Moses accomplished with God’s help:

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.   (Deuteronomy 34:10-12)

Moses, along with Elijah, was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. As important as he is, he cannot compare to the Messiah. In Hebrews we read:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also “was faithful in all God’s house.” Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.   (Hebrews 3:1-5)

Moses helped pave the way for the Messiah. As important as the Law of Moses is it is Jesus Christ who fulfills the Law. That is something the Pharisees did understand not did they want to understand. Jesus knew their hearts. When he raised a very significant question concerning Judaism, they were unwilling to explore the matter of the Messiah with him:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.   (Matthew 22:41-46)

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were a proud group. They wanted to define Judaism on their own terms. How many of us want to do the same today? We are about ready to enter a promised land that will last for eternity. There is no entrance into this land without the Messiah leading us. He is our Moses. Are we willing to follow him in all circumstances?

The Apostle Peter:

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:12)

Moses did not enter the promised land, but he made a way for the children of Israel to do so who were willing to follow him. For the kingdom of heaven, Jesus has proven himself to be the way. He has gone before us. He has risen from the dead so that we, too, may be raised up to newness of life in him.

 

 

 

Track 2: Son of Man and Son of God

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18
Psalm 1
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus asks a theological question that resonates down to this day. It was so deep and so revealing that the Pharisees refused to answer it:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.   (Matthew 22:41-46)

What is at steak here? The Messiahship, the Holy Trinity, the authority of Christ, the identity of Christ, the purpose of Christ, or all of the above. God had a made a promise to King David that one of his descendants would have an eternal throne. David’s kingdom would never cease. How was this to take place?

On the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter’s sermon shed great light on the subject of Messiah. Peter explained that King David, because he was a prophet, spoke of the resurrection of one of his descendants:

“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
    nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah this Jesus whom you crucified.”   (Acts 2:32-36)

By the resurrection, God the Father made Jesus, the descendant of David, both Lord and Messiah. Jesus became Lord. Some scholars have argues that this statement goes against the Holy Trinity in that Jesus was not always Lord. How could someone who descended from David be Lord of David when he had not yet been resurrected from the dear?

The statement: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool”’ plays a key role. Translating from the Hebrew, the first Lord in the statement is Yahweh, God the Father. God the Father spoke to someone who was already Lord of King David.

To understand the role of the Messiah, we need to understand his dual nature. The Apostle Paul explains this very well in the first chapter of Romans:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,   (Romans 1:1-6)

Although Jesus was descended from David by the flesh, another element was also involved. Jesus was born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit. Before his birth on earth he was the Son of God. John’s Gospel makes this very clear:

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. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

If Jesus was Lord in heaven, why did he have to become Lord again by the resurrection? Because when he came to earth he emptied himself of his divinity. The Apostle Paul writes:

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.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:5-11)

Jesus is both Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus question to the Pharisees was more than a Christological exercise. It has everything to do with our understanding of the Messiah. Jesus lived and died as one of us. He understands us and intercedes for us before the Father.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”   (Hebrews 2:10-12)

David’s Lord is our Lord. Are we ready to put our full trust in him? He has proven himself to both God and man. He is waiting to prove that we are his brothers and sisters before the Father in heaven, but we must follow him. He has gone before us to pave the way and show us that he is the way. Amen.

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Saint Simon and Saint Jude

st simon and st jude2Called to Preach the Gospel

In today’s Old Testament reading Moses declares:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop like the rain, my speech condense like the dew; like gentle rain on grass, like showers on new growth. For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he.   (Deuteronomy 32:1-4)

Moses knew that he was blessed by the Spirit of God. Thus, he realized that he had an obligation and responsibility to teach his word.

Saint Simon and Saint Jude were blessed by God. They were called by Jesus directly to preach and teach the Gospel. Some ancient Christian writers say that Simon and Jude went together as missionaries to Persia, and were martyred there. If this is true, it explains why they are usually put together. Little else is known of their ministry. Nevertheless, they were faithful to their calling. After all, the calling of God is not to speak about who we are but about what God has done for us in Christ.

Before He was crucified Jesus told His disciples that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they would be able to on His behalf because that is what the Holy Spirit does. Jesus said:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”    (John 15:27)

Have we received the Holy Spirit? Have we also been called by to testify to the truth of the Gospel? The Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus came to reconcile the world unto Himself and that our testimony is important in that process:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

The new creation that God has brought about in Christ brings reconciliation between all people. Paul writes:

Now in Christ Jesus you Gentiles, who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.   (Ephesians 2:13-18)

People are so divided today. Our responsibility is to bring unity in Christ because we have been given this “message of reconciliation.” We cannot do this on our own, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us in this ministry. Let us follow the faithful example of men like Simon and Jude.

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Saint James of Jerusalem

Faith and Works

James, brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem, and author of the Epistle of James is still speaking to the Church today. Are we listening?

How important was James to the Early Church? The Apostle Paul writes about the people whom Jesus personally appeared to after His resurrection:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.   (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

It would be an understatement to say that James has not always been understood or appreciated. He is almost like a Rorschach test. People often project on him their own theology. We may be familiar with Martin Luther’s statement about the Epistle of James being an “epistle of straw.” Luther’s theology did not agree with the tone and tenor of James’ Epistle. At the risk of oversimplification, Luther emphasizes sola fide, “faith alone” whereas James states that “good works” demonstrates a genuine faith. James was writing from wisdom and experience and he did not want to make allowances for an easy grace without accountability.

James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. A dispute broke out in the Early Church concerning whether or not Gentile converts to the Faith needed to follow Judaic Law. This dispute had the potential of dividing the Church. Accordingly, a council met at Jerusalem to consider what rules Gentile Christians should be required to keep. James formulated the final consensus as to what the requirements for Gentiles should be:

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21)

Without this vital agreement the work of the Gentile Church would have been gravely hindered. We see that James was not locked in ideology or his own peculiar theology. He was a traditionalist when it came to interpreting the Mosaic Law. Yet he was open and flexible. He sets the proper tone for the Church today. Are we divided over many doctrines or have we identified the crucial matters of the faith as did James?

A Spirit lead ecumenical movement is once again emphasizing what is important (not the false spirit that wants to harmonize all religions). This ecumenical movement does not reduce the Church to the lowest common denominator. Rather, it stresses a need for agreement by leaders who will come together in prayer.

What James has taught us is that faith without works is dead. The Church needs to work together, trusting in the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must arise and take up the challenges that lie ahead of us.

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