Category Archives: liturgy

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C

The Power of Prayer and Praise

Today’s reading from the Book of Acts offers a great illustration of the power of prayer and praise. Paul and Silas had been called to go to Philippi. There they encountered a demon possessed woman who told fortunes. When God delivered her through their ministry trouble ensued. The magistrates beat them, put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. Reading from Acts:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord[c] to him and to all who were in his house.   (Acts 16:25-32)

Not only were Paul and Silas released from their chains but their jailer received salvation through faith in Jesus. By staying positive and putting their trust in God, they were able to accomplish what God had planned for them to do.

How would we have reacted in this situation? Reactions have consequences – good or bad. Would we follow the perscription of the Apostle Paul?

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

This is how God desires for us to respond. It may be hard to do under difficult circumstances. But if we are praying without ceasing, if we are conscious of God’s presence with us, then we will be much better prepared for anything.

There is a payoff when we rejoice in God. Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

We need to be connected to God. When we are connected to God, when we are part of God, we experience his peace. We place ourselves under his protection.

Paul tells us that the Lord is near and not far away. He is always there for us. Our strength is in our fellowship and unity with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus makes this possible for us. He prayed to the Father for his disciples as well as those who would follow them:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.   (John 17:20-23)

We are not alone. All we need to do is to believe the prayer of Jesus. We need to seek him out under all circumstances. The psalmist tells us:

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.   (Psalm 100:4)

The gateway to God is through our prayer and praise, believing that he will hear us and respond. Again the psalmist writes:

Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy Name.   (Psalm 97:12)

In believing and in seeking our quest will be fulfilled. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will revealed themselves to us.

Jesus concludes his high priestly prayer:

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”   (John 17:24-26)

Jesus wants us to be with him so that we may see him in all his glory. We have been talking about gateways. He is the final gateway to the glory of God. From the Book of Revelations we read:

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.   (Revelation 22:12-14)

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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

Standing on the Promises of God

Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. When the child in Elizabeth’s womb hears Mary’s voice he leaps for joy. This child is John the Baptist. This moment of celebration brings joy to Mary and she prophesies:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1:47-55)

What is remarkable about Mary and Elizabeth also is that they believed in the promise of God, even though great miracles of God were required. Mary, a virgin, had conceived a child and Elizabeth, who was well beyond any child bearing age, had also conceived. Nevertheless, these chosen instruments of God were able to believe God as did Abraham before them.

Are we able to believe in the miraculous today? Mary and Elizabeth understood that the promises God made to them were not just about them. Jesus and John the Baptist are children of the promise which God made to Abraham. Their births extended and expanded this promise down through the ages. Today, we are recipients of the promise.

God has made promises to us as well. His plans for us may not be as dramatic as that of Mary or Elizabeth, but they are important to God’s plan. Are we willing to believe in those promises and hold on to them. There may be obstacles in the way of our receiving God’s promise. The Apostle Paul tells us how to overcome these obstacles with this prescription:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.   (Romans 12:12)

In time, the promises of God will come to pass. The blessing is in the believing and perseverance. Too often me take matters in our own hands and thwart God’s plans and purposes for us. Others are depending upon us to make the right choices. In fact, their future blessings depend upon our faithfulness. Let us be willing to see beyond ourselves as the wonders of God’s work unfolds.

God will do great things for us but he requires that we exercise our faith. Are we willing to hear, believe, and stand on the promises of God?

 

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Ascension Day, Year C

You Will Be My Witnesses

There is much speculation in today’s Church concerning the date of Jesus’s return to the earth. Little has changed from the Early Church. This same concern was on the mind and hearts of the early disciples. From Acts we read:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”   (Acts 1:6-8)

Jesus did not answer his disciples directly. Rather, he told them that there was a more important consideration for his Church. They were to be witnesses to his resurrection. From Luke we read:

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”   (Luke 24:46-49)

There would be two essential ingredients to witnessing for Christ: 1) they were to proclaim the repentance and forgiveness of sins, and 2) that they would be clothed with power from on high. That does not sound like a seeker church with a watered down Gospel. Our church is not to blend into the world and thus, have little relevance. We need to be clothed with the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill our calling. The age of the apostolic faith is not over. We are now the apostles.

Are we excited about the message that has been entrusted to us? The psalmist wrote:

God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of the ram’s-horn.

Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.

For God is King of all the earth;
sing praises with all your skill.

God reigns over the nations;
God sits upon his holy throne.   (Psalm 47:5-8)

Are we equipped for ministry? If not, let us ask for power from on high. Jesus promises to baptize us in the Holy Spirit. He has called us to do his greater works. Now is not the time to shrink back or hide behind man-made doctrine or tradition.

The questions the angels asked the disciples on the day of ascension is still applicable to us:

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”   (Acts 1:11)

We do not have time to waste. Let us get on with the true task of the Church. Jesus may come at any moment. We should be living holy lives with our lamps full all the time. But our concern must be for the lost. We were once lost and someone witnessed to us. If we love Jesus then we will obey him. His great commission is all the more important today as we approach the close of the Church age.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

Change can be difficult. There is a certain degree of comfort in the familiar. Some of us do not deal with change all that well. Can we imagine what it must have been like for the disciples of Jesus, when he told them he would soon be leaving them? He had been with them daily for three years. He was teaching them and feeding them spiritually. Now he was telling them that he was departing. Reading from John’s Gospel:

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.”   (John 14:25-28)

His statement must have been a shock. Jesus understood how they must have felt, that is why he said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He pointed out that they should rejoice because he was going to God the Father. This would make it possible for the Father to send the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would purchase that gift for us by his sacrifice on the cross. John wrote:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John 7:37-39)

Jesus was glorified on the cross and made it possible for us to share his glory. Without this possibility we could not reach the lost with the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul was on a missionary journey to Philippi. From Acts we read:

On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.   (Acts 16:13-15)

We need to share the Gospel story, but it takes an act of God for anyone to receive the gift of salvation. One of the primary purposes of the Holy Spirit is to illuminate the Gospel. The Holy Spirit points our heart directly to Jesus. Jesus said:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.   (John 14:26)

When Jesus spoke to his disciples about his departure he was also speaking to us. We live in troubling and uncertain times. The world is changing around us and it seems to be growing darker. Jesus reminds us the greatness of God the Father is greater than anything that we face or fear.

From today’s reading from Revelation:

In the spirit the angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.   (Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5)

This is drastic change. It is change for the good for all who believe. How do we navigate through such a change? We cling to Jesus. All though the world is changing Jesus is not. Scripture tells us that:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.   (Hebrews 13:8)

From Matthews Gospel:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.   (Matthew 24:35)

Jesus is the living Word of God, the Word made flesh. He is Immanuel, God with us.

The world as we know it will be no more. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.   (Isaiah 51:6)

A new and better world is coming. It is a world inhabited by those who are saved, who have given their hearts to Jesus and trusted in his saving act on the cross. If that is true for us then our salvation is secure. There is no assurance for nonbelievers.

Today, let us not fear the change that God is bringing. We cannot fully grasp it now. But we can put our trust in God alone. He will see us through.

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