Category Archives: preaching

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21B

1102016075_univ_cnt_2_xlTrack 1: Courage

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

When we think of the courageous leaders of the Old Testament how can we ignore the tremendous courage of Queen Esther? Though she was favored by the king, the odds were stacked against her. She was Jewish, though the king did not realize this. The wicked Haman, an important man in the kingdom, instigated a plot to kill all of the Jews of ancient Persia. He attempted to convince King Ahasuerus to order the killing of Mordecai and all the Jews of the lands he ruled. (Mordecai had helped save the kings by informing him of a plot to kill him, unbeknownst to Haman). Haman’s beef with Mordecai is that he would not bow down to him. As a devout Jew, Mordecai could not bow down to anyone except God alone.

Esther was placed in a very difficult position. Mordecai was able to pass the word to Esther of this upcoming event. Unfortunately, she could not approach the king without his permission under threat of her life. What was she to do? She devised a plan, no doubt with God’s help, to inform the king of Haman’s threat. It would take great skill and cunning along with consummate courage.

She invited both the king and Haman to a banquet she prepared. This was a very risky move on her part. After waiting to find favor with the king, she then revealed the plot against her people to him. From Esther we read:

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.   (Esther 7:9-10)

No matter what form of government we may consider, it is clear that it has great power over the people. Moreover, it should also be very clear that there are powerful people within the government that have their own personal agenda that is not always in the beset interest of the people, or a certain group of people. The Jews of Esther’s day were under threat of annihilation, That is still true in many places today. What is also true is that Christians have become more vulnerable to numerous threats, even in so-called “Christian” nations.

What can we do about this? How can we contend with an all-powerful government? Without God’s help we can do little. We need his wisdom and understanding. Satan uses his weapon of fear to silence us and paralyze us. We need the courage of Esther. God will fight for us, but we must be willing to put our trust in him alone and wait on his timing.

We are seeing many Haman’s of our day being exposed by the hand of God. This is happening in every nation, even in the United States of American. As Christians we must pray for the protection of the saints. We must pray for our leaders to make wise decisions. And we must pray that many more Haman’s will be revealed and that justice may be served.

The psalmist wrote:

If the Lord had not been on our side,
let Israel now say;

If the Lord had not been on our side,
when enemies rose up against us;

Then would they have swallowed us up alive
in their fierce anger toward us;   (Psalm 24:1-3)

The plans and plots against God’s people are now being turned on the perpetrators. What happened to Haman may be the fate of many of them.

God moves in mysterious ways. His timing is not always our timing. But his timing is perfect. From Psalm 27:

Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.   (Psalm 37:1-4)

Nonetheless, we need to do more than applauding the exposure of  evil. James reminds us that, as Christians, we have a responsibility in helping to save the lost.

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.   (James 5:19-20)

Jesus tells us that we should pray for our enemies. We want justice to be done. We want the evil Haman’s to be apprehended. Nevertheless, the greatest justice of God is when people repent and turn their lives over to him. This is the justice of the cross. Let us not forget in our zeal for justice that we need to pray for sinners, all sinners.

 

 

 

Pentecost - Acts 2:1-4

Track 2: Outside the Tent

Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Moses had been struggling to govern a large group of some very unruly people, the Children of Israel. He pleaded with God for help. In today’s Old Testament reading we have God’s answer:

So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.   (Numbers 11:16, 24-25)

From this we can observe that elders of the Church might be appointed by ecclesiastical authority, but they will not be under Godly authority unless he pours out his Spirit upon them.

How important are Church elders? Very important! Unfortunately, their position and function within the Church is often misunderstood. They may be overlooked and ignored when people are seeking spiritual help and healing. The author of the Book of James did not want this to happen:

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.   (James 5:13-16)

Elders are key to the healing ministry within the Church. This ministry is too big for one person. Nevertheless, elders must be true elders anointed by God. They must be properly trained. They must be righteous people operating under the Spirit of God. They must live transparent lives before God.

When Moses appointed elders in the wilderness, they were required to meet him at the test of meeting. A certain event outside the tent occurred which might have seem a disruption to the proceedings. From Numbers we read:

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”   (Numbers 11:26-29)

The danger with sharing ministry is that competition and jealousy can be stumbling blocks. Joshua son of Nun was concerned that protocol must be followed. In today’s Gospel reading we have another Joshua son of Nun named John:

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.   (Mark 9:38-41)

There is this notion that ministry must be done within the Tent. The tent represents the approved and sanctioned ministry of God. But God cannot be contained within a tent. He is larger than any of our tents.

Revival is coming to the Church. It certainly is needed. But it may not come as many anticipate it. The Azusa Street Revival was a historic revival led by William J. Seymour, an African-American preacher. It began with a meeting on April 9, 1906, and lasted for many years. But many “church authorities” and theologians thought that it was outrageous and unorthodox, and therefore, not legitimate. Yet many people were saved, healed and delivered. In many cases, people were repenting on the street before they ever got to the tent of meeting.

God’s power and authority cannot be contained in a tent. If we wish to experience all that God has prepared for us then we must be prepared for the Eldad’s and Medad’s of our day. Perhaps you are an Eldad or Medad? Be open to what the Lord is doing in your life. Your ministry is needed in the Church. If you are discouraged it may be time to change churches. Our ministry must be done under Godly authority, but all authority is not Godly.

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Saint Michael and All Angels

649Spiritual Warfare

We are in a battle on this earth. The battle has been ongoing for a long time but it did not begin here. The battle began in heaven:

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.   (Revelation 12:7-9)

We are in an epic battle and we must understand who our real enemy is. The Apostle Paul writes:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.   (Ephesians 6:12)

We are fighting the forces of evil. Evil is real. We cannot defeat it by our own strength. Fortunately, we are not in this battle alone. God is with us. His holy angels are on our side. The archangel Michael and his angels are still fighting for us. Today, we honor Michael and all the holy angels.

Yet, it is important for us to understand that we do not worship angles but the One true God who has made us all. Again, the Apostle Paul writes:

Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,   (Colossians 2:18)

Angle are not to be worshipped. They are to be honored. Let us show our appreciation for the warring angels through our prayers. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord has set his throne in heaven,
and his kingship has dominion over all.

Bless the Lord, you angels of his,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
and hearken to the voice of his word.

Bless the Lord, all you his hosts,
you ministers of his who do his will.   (Psalm 103:19-21)

We can give thanks to God for our guardian angels, but we should not pray to them, or to anyone else, but God alone.

The holy angels are fighting against evil and we must also fight evil. We have two primary weapons to do so. In Revelation we read:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,

for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.

But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,

for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.   (Revelation 12:10-12)

We have the blood of Jesus which covers our sins. This gives us access to the throne of God. By faith in the blood of Jesus we appropriate the righteousness of God in Christ. Thus we have authority over the devil. That is important to understand because prayer is our primary weapon against evil. We can bind evil with our prayers because we have authority over evil by the blood of the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ

Our faith must be complimented by our testimony, however, if our prayer is to be effective. If we claim the blood of Jesus then we must boldly tell others. Our prayers are also made powerful by the word of our testimony. Let us be bold as the Archangel Michael and not shrink back from the face of evil in this world. Amen.

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20B

Track 1: Greatness

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1
or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

The readings appointed for today brought back memories of my parents. The reading from Proverb honors a certain type of woman:

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
    her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the city gates.   (Proverbs 31:25-31)

This was my Mother. She was very beautiful indeed, but her beauty had as much to do with her character as it did her physical beauty. She could called a housewife, which might also be a fitting description for the woman in Proverbs. Do we still honor women who are simply housewives? We should.

Mother was also good at providing moral support to my Father when he came under verbal attack. Although my Father had done no wrong, he might have given up the good thing he was doing because of political pressure. Mother said: “Stay on course, regardless.” Her advice proved correct.

When I read James I could not help but think of my Father. One of his sayings was this: “Show me a successful man and I will tell you about the people upon whom stepped on his way up.” As a child, I though this statement might be a little too extreme, but the reading from James seems to imply that there might be some truth to it:

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.   (James 4:1-2)

Dad was a man of character and integrity. He was right out of the reading from James{

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

Dad was a successful man but he was concerned about the wellbeing of others. He particularly looked out for his friends. I remember when one of his friends lost his position and came under condemnation, Dad was quick to help by finding him work and offering him consolation. Dad was also good at galvanizing others to do community projects free of charge.

Were my parents supper successful? They were to me, but not necessarily by the world’s standards. They were like many parents of their generations who have set a very high standard for generations to come.

Jesus spoke about such people. From today’s Gospel reading:

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”   (Mark 9:33-37)

Do we want to be great? Then we must be servants to all. Do we want to be the greatest? That title is reserved for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

 

Track 2: Deception

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

We live in an age of deception. People say one thing and do another. Deceitful acts are plotted but also carefully concealed. Disinformation and distractions are the weapons of the day. It is difficult for us to defend ourselves when .We are often blindsided at a time that has been calculated in advance to cause us maximum harm.

Has this type of attack ever happened to us? If not, we must ask: Why not? This is how Satan attacks those who stand in his way. Jeremiah was under such an attack, but did not realize it. Jeremiah writes:

It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.

But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.

And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,

“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!”

But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,

let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.   (Proverbs 31:10-31)

In situations like this, God is our only defense. He is our protection, provided that we are living for him. Evil cannot be fought by our strategy and strength. God has a better plan. God has a wisdom and power far exceeds that of the workers of darkness.

People plot evil. They may also plot what they conceive as good. This was true of some of the disciples of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading:

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.   (Mark 9:33-34)

Why did the disciples keep this hidden from Jesus? They were afraid to talk about their plans. Could it be that in their hearts they knew what they were talking about was wrong? From the Book of James we read:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

Selfish ambition does not lead to peace and harmony. Righteousness is the worthy goal for Christians. Any thing that is done in secret in order to conceal ones motives and desires is clearly wrong. It is more than wrong. It is evil. That is how Satan works.

We are living in the last days of the Church age. Things that have been hidden are now being exposed. People are plotting and scheming more than ever. But they will be found out. Jesus said:

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.   (Matthew 10:26-27)

God warned Jeremiah that he was under attack. He is now warning us. God is revealing the truth to all those who are willing to see it. If we are unwilling to see then we are in grave peril. The Apostle Paul writes:

 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus[d] will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.   (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10)

Wicked deception is at play. Only God’s truth will save us:

“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.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

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