Category Archives: Revised Common Lectionary

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Choose Life

How serious is it for us to faithfully keep the commandments of God? For the Children of Israel it was a matter of life and death. Before they entered the promised land, Moses gave them this warning:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  (Deuteronomy 30:15-18)

This is the God of the Old Testament we might be thinking. Surely the God of the New Testament would not sound so severe? Let us examine some of the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount contained in today’s Gospel:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.   (Matthew 5:27-30)

Does Jesus sound any less severe? Sin and death or righteousness and life. We have a choice. We can choose one or the other. Our choice is all important.

If we have to rely only on our human nature then we are lost. The Apostle Paul warned:

Brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.   (1 Corinthians 3:1-2)

Our human nature often does not want solid food. That was true for the Church in Corinth. They were caught up in jealousy and quarreling. Paul continues:

For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

The Church in Corinth had gotten off track. They were arguing over who was the true apostle. Do we not argue over which church is the true church? Let us concern ourselves over who can give the growth. God will do his part to help us, but we must do our part. We must seek him above all else. He has given his Son Jesus to wipe away our sins and the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. A part from him we can do nothing good.

God warns the Israelites and all of us by his word given through Moses:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.   (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

We cannot choose life without seeking the God of life. We must seek his word daily. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask: “Give us this day our daily prayer.” Jesus said:

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   (Matthew 4:4)

The psalmist wrItes:

With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.   (Psalm 119:10-16

We must seek the aid of the Holy Spirit as well. The Apostle Paul writes;

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.   (Romans 8:2-6)

Worldly people do not struggle with sin, only the disciples of Jesus Christ. He is at our side to help us. Let us choose life!

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

Happy are they who observe his decrees
and seek him with all their hearts!   (Psalm 119:1-2)

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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Pointing of the Finger

God asked the Prophet Isaiah to confront his people. It was a reality check for them. They thought they were being religious and could not understand why God seemed distant to them. They were, in fact, religious and that was the problem. God wanted more, much more. Reading from Isaiah:

Shout out, do not hold back!
    Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.   (Isaiah 58:1-4)

Let us examine our churches and our own lives to see if this word applies to us today. How are we keeping God’s commandments? That is the question. It has to do with more than our religious observances..

One of the characteristics of religious people is a tendency to grade themselves with regard to the level of righteousness they believe they have achieved. How would we measure such a property?  We instinctively know that none us have not actually achieved anything near perfection. The fall back position then often becomes: How do we compare to others?

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.   (Isaiah 58:9-10)

The pointing of the finger leads to bondage, even in the body of Christ. This is what the Pharisees did. This is what the religious leaders did during the time of Christ. This practice kept them from receiving the Gospel. Not only that, they were the gatekeepers that kept many other people from receiving Christ.

Jesus came to correct the religious thinking of the day. In his Sermon on the Mount, he made it clear that God does not grade us on a curve. Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”   (Matthew 5:17-20)

Our righteousness must exceed the level of the Pharisees, who were very judgmental. In fact, it must exceed any level that anyone may have achieved. What Jesus was saying that the law of God requires each one of us to be perfect, standing on our own before God, irrespective of anyone else.

The Gospel is the good news we need to hear and believe. Unfortunately, a judgmental heart is not an open heart. God needs a softened heart that has been broken and made contrite by the cross. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.   (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ of Nazareth has fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. He has stood in for us and taken the punishment for our sins. From Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Let us not look at ourselves or at anyone else. Let us see Jesus, high and lifted up. Jesus said:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.   (John 3:13-15).

We do not have to keep score on anyone. Jesus is our judge. He is also the redeemer for those who put their trust in him.

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

God calls each one of us up to his presence. How do we respond to his call? How do we respond to his love? He is our creator. Without his breath we would not be living. How do we approach such an awesome God? The Prophet Micah wrote:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?   (Micah 6:6)

The psalmist wrote:

Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,
who speaks the truth from his heart.

There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend;
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected,
but he honors those who fear the Lord.

He has sworn to do no wrong
and does not take back his word.   (Psalm 15:1-5)

God has called us, but he has certain requirements for us to enter into his presence and remain. They should not be difficult to understand.

The Prophet Micah continues:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.   (Micah 6:8)

Although these requirements are simple, we may find that they are actually difficult to do. When that proves to be true, the temptations are to modify them so that they are more easily followed. Our system of ethics can turn into situational ethics. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spells out the requirements of approaching God. He does not modify or lesson the righteous requirements of God in any way. He proclaims:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.   (Matthew 5:3-8)

If we are to approach God then we need to be pure in heart. This echos today’s appointed psalm 15. What does it take to be pure in heart? How do we do it?

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church at Corinth:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”   (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

In truth, we are not capable of being pure of heart on our own. The people of the Church of Corinth had a calling from God. None of them had what is takes. God chose them anyway, just as he has chosen us. What we can say is that none of us can boast in the presence of God. Humility before God, then, must be the key, remembering that Jesus is our source of perfection. Our heart has been made pure by his pure heart. He has sacrificed himself on a cruel cross and cleansed us from our sin so that we may boast in him.

Again, the Micah wrote: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Justice and kindness comes from walking humbly with our God. Jesus is the source of your life, who became for us “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

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