Category Archives: liturgy

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11C

Track 1: There Is Need of Only One Thing

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

We live in the age of greed. This is not new. It was true in the time of Amos in the Old Testament. Amos prophesied:

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;

and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,

buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”   (Amos 8:4-6)

God had blessed his people, but many had forgotten from whom those blessings came. Something very destructive happens when people forget God. They become less secure in their outlook on life. This feeling of insecurity feeds a desire to gain more wealth. The new wealth does not seem to eliminate the insecurity in many cases, because a fear of losing what has been gained may enter in. The psalmist wrote about

Oh, that God would demolish you utterly,
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!

“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge,
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness.”

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

I will give you thanks for what you have done
and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.   (Psalm 52:7-9)

The only cure for the fear of not having enough is our trusting in the mercy of God. In order to trust him we allow ourselves to be steeped in his Word. The world has many distracting messages. We need to focus on God’s message to us.

In today’s Gospel reading we have the familiar Martha and Mary story:

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

Martha was doing important and necessary work. She felt that her sister Mary was not doing her fair share. But Martha was also worried and distracted. This is the trick of Satan. He makes us feel insecure and that we are going to receive disapproval for not fulfilling the expectations of others. In other words, we do not measure up.

But we do measure up. How do we know that? God tells us that we do when we listen to his Word. That is the one thing that we need to do above all. Everything else is secondary. God want us to be “like a green olive tree in the house of God.” It is there where we learn to trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

God makes promised to us but we must believe them and receive them. In today’s Old Testament lesson, God promised Abraham and Sarah a son. The odds of this occurring did not seem likely, from a worldly point of view. Sarah was beyond the age of childbearing. Abraham had to hold on to this promise by faith. He chose to believe God and his voice above all the competing voices which may have surrounded him.

Are we listening? God wants us to sit at the feet of his beloved Son like Mary did. He wants to tell us that he loves us. He wants to assure us of our salvation and eternal life in Jesus, his most precious gift of all. By faith alone we can believe and receive a security in him that will never end. Let us not be so distracted that we miss the voice of his Son.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   (Matthew 11:28-29)

And also this:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”   (John 3:16)

 

 

Track 2: Who is Our Authority?

Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Who do we listen to today? Who captures our attention? Who is our authority? Whom do we want to please the most? We live in a culture that tells us that in order to gain acceptance and approval we must please certain people. Political correctness is the order of the day. But who determines what is correct?

Should not our authority know who or what is correct, ruling out that which is not? If we are going to listen to someone then should we not know what their credentials are?

The Apostle Paul wrote about the credentials of Jesus:

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.   (Colossians 1:15-20)

In today’s Gospel reading we have the familiar story of Martha complaining about her sister Mary not helping her. Martha is planning a bit meal for Jesus, but Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him. Martha asks Jesus to intervene. Jesus answers:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”   (Luke 10:41-42)

Are we doing the one thing that is needful? In a complex world with so many distractions from what is important, to whom or what are we paying attention. Distractions can be dangerous. Paul writes:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him– provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.   (Colossians 1:21-23)

We have a famous scientist talking about billions of stars but never mentioning the creator of them. The Apostle Paul writes:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.   (Romans 1:18-22)

Are we listening to the One through whom the universe was created? Jesus said this about Mary:

There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

What is our one thing? Who is our one thing? Are we listening to Jesus?

Praise God that we still have the availability of the written word of God and the freedom to read it. A time is coming when this opportunity may no longer be available. Amos prophesied:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;

not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.

They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;

they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.   (Amos 8:11-12)

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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10C

Track 1: The Plumb Line

Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

God gave a prophecy to Amos that the leadership did not want to hear.

This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;

the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”   (Amos 7:7-9)

God has the right to judge his people. The King believed that Amos had no right to talk to him this way. He was, after all, the head of the state. He ruled over the chosen people of God. Who was Amos?

Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”   (Amos 7:12-13)

The danger for all of us is that we think that God is pleased with us. Why is God not correcting somebody else who is far worse than we are? The psalmist asked:

“How long will you judge unjustly,
and show favor to the wicked?   (Psalm 82:2)

Let us be careful what we ask for. God responds:

Now I say to you, ‘You are gods,
and all of you children of the Most High;

Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
and fall like any prince.'”

Arise, O God, and rule the earth,
for you shall take all nations for your own.   (Psalm 82:6-8)

God is in charge. Only he can judge justly. Our understanding is too limited. God has made us in his image and, in a way, we are like him. But he is also wholly other than we are. Only God can be the righteous judge.

But this is Old Testament. What about the New Testament? Reading from the Gospel of Luke:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”   (Luke 10:25-28)

Jesus tells the lawyer he has given the right answer to his question. But the clinker is that God expects us to do his commandments. He is testing us, not the other way around. He is holding up his plumb line. Do we actually keep his commandments?

The lawyer was very much aware that he did not measure up, so he was looking for a loophole in the law. Again from Luke:

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”   (Luke 10:29)

Perhaps he thought that if he could narrow down the definition of who a neighbor might be he might get by, at least for the neighbor part. Jesus responds with his famous parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”   (Luke 10:30-37)

Samaritans were considered outcasts by the Jews. They were no longer part of God’s chosen people, or so they believed. It must have pained the lawyer to say that a Samaritan could be his neighbor.

We cannot justify ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves we will see that we have not measured up to God’s standards and, thus, we have no right to judge whether or not someone else has measured up. Any contemporary Levites among us want to admit that we have passed by the needed on the other side? Well, we get busy.

The good news is that Jesus has measured up to God’s plumb line. Is our faith grounded in him? The Apostle Paul prayed for the Colossians:

We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.   (Colossians 1:9-12)

In the New Testament God expects us to bear fruit. God will enable us to do so, provided that we embrace the Lord Jesus Christ and his victory over the grave, hell, and death. Paul continues:

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.   (Colossians 1::13-14).

Amen.

 

 

Track 2: The Good Samaritan

Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 25:1-9
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

In today’s Gospel reading from a Luke, a lawyer asks Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what does the law say. His answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then tells him to do this and he will live. But doing is the hard part. The lawyer knows that he has fallen short.

No offense to lawyers, but they can sometimes find loopholes in the law. This lawyer was looking for one. Perhaps he thought that, if he could narrowly define who his neighbor is, he might pass muster, at least the neighbor part of the commandment:

So wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”   (Luke 10:29)

Jesus answered him with this well known parable:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”   (Luke 10:30-37)

Samaritans were considered outcasts by the Jews. They were no longer part of God’s chosen people, or so they believed. It must have pained the lawyer to say that a Samaritan could be his neighbor.

The lawyer must felt that the commandment was too hard for him. But the law giver Moses speaks otherwise. From Deuteronomy we read:

“Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”   (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Moses was saying that, if we have the law of God written on our hearts, we should be able to keep it. The Apostle Paul paraphrased Moses in this way:

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   (Romans 10:5-13)

The promise for us is that, when we call on the name of the Lord, we shall be saved. I do not know about you, but, if I am going to keep the law the way Jesus said we should, I need to call upon him daily. He alone can do what I am not able to do. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians:

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.   (Colossians 1:3-8)

Jesus asks us to do good. We often get discouraged because we often fail. But let us not lose heart. We can do good with his help, if we hold on to the promise that God has made to us. If we hold on to the hope that is in the Gospel, then we will not lose hope. If we fully comprehend the grace which God has given us, how he has gone more than the extra mile for us, surely we can follow his example and give more of ourselves. He does not give up on us. We should not give up on him.

But what happens when we do fail? The Apostle John writes:

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse usfrom all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:9)

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 9C

Track 1: Following God’s Directions

2 Kings 5:1-14
Psalm 30
Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Naaman was high favor and he knew that he was. Reading from 2 Kings:

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”   (2 Kings 5:1-3)

Through a circuitous, almost laughable  route he eventually arrived at the Prophet Elisha’s house in all his slender:

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.   (2 Kings 5:9-12)

What went wrong? Naaman became offended. He was not teated with the respect that he deserve, or though he thought. How many times have we missed a blessing from God because we first got offended? Perhaps more than we have realized.

The psalmist wrote:

While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed.
You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

Then you hid your face,
and I was filled with fear.  (Psalm 30:7-8)

Except for his leprosy, Naaman was on top. But now Naaman needed help. He was being ask to take more steps to receive help than he wanted to take, or that he felt were necessary. Fortunately, the wisdom of his servants persuaded him otherwise:

But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, `Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.   (2 Kings 5:13-14)

I know of someone who had quadruple bypass heart surgery. The surgery was successful and he was being kept in a coronary care unit of the hospital to be monitored while he recovered. He was a former military man who was not used to taking orders from someone below his station. He did not like being order around by his nurses. I told him his nurses were highly trained, things could go wrong that might impede his recovery, he had to be watched carefully, and that any directions he was given could be life saving. His attitude changed and he recovered nicely.

All is the healing. He may choose many different paths for our healing. But we must follow the steps that he gives us to help facilitate the process. Every healing we receive is a miracle from God. Perhaps the biggest miracle for many of us is that we stop and listen to God.

The Apostle wrote:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.   (Galatians 6:7-8)

Our healing is like a harvest-time. Do we listen to the distortions of fleshly thinking? Do we easily get offended? Do we give up too soon? Or do we ride along in the Spirit of God, putting our whole trust in him. An elderly lady told me, once, how she was cured of her mental illness. I asked how that happened. She said it was a lot of hard work on her part at first. She had to listen to God and not her own flesh. God does the hard part, but he often gives us simple directions to follow. None of us are too bid for little steps.

 

 

Track 2: The Lord of the Harvest

Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Jesus sent some of his disciples out into the fields to do evangelism:

The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.   (Luke 10:1-2)

This commission which Jesus gave to these disciples he has also given to us.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   (Matthew 28:16-20)

Evangelism can be difficult work. We may encounter many obstacles and setbacks. Jesus warned: I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. We need the comfort, encouragement, and protection of God to do this work. We have this promise through the Prophet Isaiah:

As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bodies shall flourish like the grass;

and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants,
and his indignation is against his enemies.”  
 (Isaiah 66:13-14)

If we are servants of God, then God is with us. Let us put our trust in him. God is better able to handle the enemy. Our weapon is prayer and obedience.

How did the seventy disciples succeed on their mission. They did very well indeed. They had followed the instructions of Jesus. They travelled light and put their faith in God. Jesus had told them:

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'”   (Luke 10:1-2)

We are all called to be evangelists. It is a Godly mission that only God can fulfill in us. Whether we go out into the fields or whether we witness in our Jerusalem. With God’s help, and when people respond to the message which God has given, miracles can take place.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”   (Luke 10:17-20)

The temptation to take credit for the Lord’s work is strong. Our motives for doing evangelism must be examined. Do we do it for the money, the accolades, or for credit to offset our shortcomings? Jesus warned that, in the final recording, the condition of our hearts will mean more than anything else:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’   (Matthew 7:22-24)

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Independence Day

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.

A More Perfect Union

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our great heritage as a nation, let us compare our nation with another great nation. In biblical times, this nation was given a great promise and covenant from God. This is the nation of Israel. Today, both of these nations are in a great struggle.

The founding fathers of these two nations had at least one thing in common, they trusted in and relied upon God for their formation and mission. One nation was to be a great missionary nation. The other was commissioned by God to be a holy nation and royal priesthood.

Let us look at America first. The delegates, who signed the Declaration of Independence, took on great personal risk. They were fighting for what they thought was a higher cause and purpose than any personal gain for themselves. As written in the Declaration, they affirmed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As part of this Declaration, they made a pledge:

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They did so, realizing the danger this pledge might bring to them personally. Nevertheless, they did not look back. They fully gave themselves to the cause.

The cost was steep. Five signers of the Declaration were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or hardships from the war.

Perhaps without realizing it, they were following the example of Abraham and his descendents. Abraham entered into a covenant with God. When he did so he entered into unknown territory. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.   (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Abraham did not look back. He endured hardship not only for the promise which God had made to him personally. He did so for the benefit of all the generations who would him. Those who followed Abraham endured great hardships as well. Again, from Hebrews we read:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The hardships were for a reason. God had chosen Israel for a divine purpose. At Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses concerning their mission: 

‘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 will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”   (Exodus 19:4-6)

Over the years, God ha been shaping Israel. It has not yet become a holy nation or a royal priesthood. America has not yet become the land which God has called it to be. Nonetheless, what is impossible for humankind is possible with God

After the terrible battle of Gettysburg, which cost so many lives, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in his famous address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We have not fulfilled these words. Despite our efforts, we have fallen short of the dream that our forefathers had for America. We are not yet that one nation under God, which provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens. This does not mean that we should stop striving. Without God the dream would not even be possible.

Our nation is now under attack, both from without and from within. There are people and forces who  wish to destroy America as we know it in order to build their Utopia. While they tear down our institutions and work to destroy the family, they tell us to put our trust in them. They will save us if we follow them, promising peace without the Prince of Peace. The Apostle Paul writesL

When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!   (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

In today’s Old Testament lesson we read:

You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.   (Deuteronomy 10:20-21)

Moses was reminding the people of the true architect of the nation of Israel. Perhaps we need the same reminder?

God is calling us to perfection, but we must be willing to follow him. He is our perfection. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about perfection:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:43-48)

How will we ever achieve this perfection? We certainly cannot do it on our own. We need divine help. The hope for perfection is fulfilled by faith in Jesus Christ alone. It will take the Millennial Reign of Jesus on the Earth before that perfection fully comes.

Israel will one day be a holy nation. Since we are the ingrafted branches, the American dream and experiment will also be consummated as Christians believers the world over join the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, we must press on. We must return to our heritage and, once again, seek to be a nation whose God is the Lord.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.   (Psalm 33:12)

Amen.

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