Category Archives: liturgical preaching

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Remember Me When You Come into Your Kingdom

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

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

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”   (Luke 19:36-40)

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. Do we ever leave the comfort of praising God in church and find ourselves later in the week taking the Lord’s name in vain?

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. We see that very clearly today.

Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold. We read from Luke’s Gospel:

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded[c] to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”   (Luke 22:31-34)

Jesus understands our weaknesses. He has a plan for us to overcome them when we place our trust in him. It is never too late to repent. With his help we can change. For one criminal hanging on a cross beside Jesus time had run out. Perhaps it was too late for him:

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”   (Luke 23:39-43)

This criminal found himself empty. Life had emptied him. He had nowhere to go. He was hanging on a cross. He had no one to turn to but Jesus. He was desperate. He had no time for religion. He was facing death and the consequences of his life choices. He could only say: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That was enough. Jesus made up the difference.

If we are still concerned about what others may say about us, then it is time for us to die to ourselves. 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)

Jesus had died to his own will. There was one more thing to do before he died physical:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.   (Luke 23:44-49)

Jesus commended his spirit to God the Father. By doing so he defeated sin, the grave and hell. He followed the Father’s plan. He died for the sins of the people. There was no more price to pay. He paid it all.

Where do we stand today? Do we desert Jesus in times of crisis as did Peter? We are living in a time of crisis where the Christian faith does not have a high approval rating. This may not new for most of the world, but it is for America. Are we willing to put our faith on the line?

At the time of the crucifixion many of Jesus followers deserted him. Others stood at a distance and watched. Maybe we are keeping our distance? Just to avoid any unpleasantries? This is no time for distance between us and Jesus. Distance leads to fear and weakness. It could ultimately our loss of faith.

Jesus won the victory. Again, he defeated sin, the grave and hell. How do we make his victory our victory? By putting our full trust in him. We are no different from the criminal on the cross. We have no other option. It may appear that we have some time left to think about it. But we do not. We have no guarantees for tomorrow. Now is the time of salvation.

Jesus had to restore and strengthen all his disciples. They became the great apostles of the New Testament. What he did for them he will do for us today. Are we willing to die to ourselves? Are we willing to take up our own cross daily and follow him? As we contemplate the Passion of Christ we see the great love that he has for us poured out on a cruel cross. What will be our love gift to him in return?

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Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C

Loving God with All Your Heart

The Christian faith draws us into a whole new world if we are willing to let go of the one we have been living in. The Apostle Paul alluded to these two world views in today’s Epistle. He wrote about moving from one to the other. He made it clear that he had not yet fully succeeded, but that he was committed to the process of fully participating in this new world. He wrote:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus,   (Philippians 3:10-14)

God was doing a new thing. He was building a new understanding for those who would listen. This was prophesied by Isaiah:

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

God was replacing the old covenant he made with Abraham and his descendants with a new covenant that was far superior. It was not so much that the old covenant was defective. What was defective was the Jewish understanding of that covenant. It had become merely a set of rules to follow. What was lost was an understanding of what was behind the rules. What did the rules actually convey?

In today’s Gospel reading we have two people with entirely different understanding of how to interpret the law of God.. One of these persons is Mary of Bethany and the other is Judas Iscariot. From the Gospel of John:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.   (John 12:1-8)

Judas must have understood Judaism as a set of rules to obey. He questing why Mary did not spend her money on the poor rather than on costly perfume. Does not the law require us to look after those who are less fortunate than ourselves? It does, but there was something deeper going on here with Mary’s costly gift.

Mary was pouring out her love for Jesus. She understood that he needed her love and she wanted to make it very clear just how much she loved him. We have to remember how Jesus summarized the law:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”   (Mark 12:29-31)

Mary loved God with all her heart. She understood the foundation of the law. If we are not careful, a rules based Christian faith can distract us from what is really important. Judas was locked into his limited understanding of the law. He was sitting under the teachings of Jesus daily, but he did not comprehend what Jesus was offering. He did not know who Jesus really was and is. He did not understand the ministry of Jesus. Satan had tricked him. If we are ruled based in our faith then Satan is better able to manipulate our thinking and reasoning.

Judas was painting by the numbers, making sure not to go outside the lines. Mary saw the law of God for the work of art that it is. Who are we today, Judas or Mary of Bethany? We might easily protest that we would never betray our Lord like Judas. But we do betray him if we refuse to grow in our faith. Otherwise, we tend to judge others by our rule based understand of the faith. We become a stumbling block to others. Our Christian walk and witness becomes parched and dry.

God is doing a new thing. Do we not perceive it? Again, from the Prophet Isaiah:

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.   (Isaiah 43:19-21)

We are part of God’s chosen people. He has formed us for himself. Are we able to declare his praise? Are we able to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? We are if we open ourselves us to his refreshing Spirit who is ready to teach un new things and give us greater understanding.

The psalmist writes:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.   (Psalm 126:1-4)

God has done great things for us. He has given us his only begotten Son. His Spirit has been poured out upon. Let us “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

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Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C

The Love of the Father

Jesus was criticized by the Pharisee for eating with sinners. He responds to them with this famous parable of the prodigal son:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘   (Luke 15:11-19)

The younger son realize that he had greatly sinned against his father and heaven. He felt so ashamed of himself that could not ask for forgiveness. He only hoped that his father would take him back as a servant. He was not prepared for the Father’s greeting upon his return:

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.   (Luke 15:20-24)

This parable illustrates how eager our heavenly Father is to forgive us when we return to him and confess our sin. What could easily be lost here is that God not only forgives, but he removes our shame and disgrace.

There was a time in the wilderness when God removed the disgrace of the children of Israel. Reading from Joshua:

When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.   (Joshua 5:8-9)

We not only need God’s forgiveness. We need him to lift our shame and disgrace so that we might have a fresh start. How many of us today know that God will to remove our disgrace if we let him. We hear people say: “I know that God has forgiven me but I cannot forgive myself.” God does not want us bound by the past. He wants to circumcise our hearts so that we might start over. It is time to allow him to do that for us.

Let us look at another side of God’s love and grace. There was an elder son in the parable that had not rebelled against the father in the same way as the younger son:

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”   (Luke 15:25-32)

The two sons were quite different, but they shared something in common. They had the same father, of course. But they both failed to understand the father’s love. His love was unconditional. It does not need to be earned. Had both of these sons had a deeper relationship with the father they might have understood that. We need to draw closer to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. Now is the time look deeper into his heart. God wants to celebrate with us today. There may have been a time when we were lost, but now we have been found. Can we join in the celebration, or are we too busy keeping score on others? Let us move on from the old person to the new. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

Are we counting trespasses? If so, then we are not very good ambassadors for Christ. Paul goes on:

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

It is time to be reconciled to God. God will remove our sin and offer us righteousness by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us not look back. Let us go forward in newness of life.

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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 of God promised to her by the angel Gabriel. Mary’s reply to the angle was:

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 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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