Category Archives: Revised Common Lectionary

First Sunday in Lent, Year C

The Sword of the Spirit

When one embarks on the spiritual life; when gives their heart, mind, and soul to Jesus, he or she will soon encounter challenges to their faith. Will God provide for us and protect us? Is he faithful? Is his Word true? Satan is quite good at engineering circumstances in our lives which cause us to doubt our faith. Satan tests our faith. We are in good company. He tested Jesus.

Jesus, before beginning his earthly ministry, spent forty days of preparation in the wilderness. From the Gospel of Luke:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”  (Luke 4:1-4) 

Do we really trust God to take care of us. Jesus was all alone in the wilderness. He had no one to provide for him except God the Father. Satan tempted Jesus to move away from his complete trust in God, suggesting that he should take matters into his own hands.

The Israelites were taught to recite this passage from the Torah:

The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”   (Deuteronomy 26:8-11)

Let us look back at our own history. Has God proven himself trustworthy in providing for us?

Satan’s temptation was twofold. First, did Jesus trust His Father to provide for him. Secondly, is the Word of God reliable. Are the scriptures true? Satan tells Jesus that he needs to prove that they are, implying that they are not. Notice how Jesus also answers this challenge by his quote from Deuteronomy:

He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Satan had another test waiting for Jesus.

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”    (Luke 4:5-8)

This temptation may seem a strange one at first. Jesus is the Second Person of the Godhead. He is the agent of all creation. The world was made through him. Humankind has fallen and brought sins and death into the world. Satan is now the ruler of this age. Jesus emptied himself of all divinity and power when he came to earth as a babe. What he knew and understood was what he studied from the holy scriptures. He relied upon the Holy Spirit to help him interpret them. His life and ministry were governed by his relationship with God the Father through prayer alone.

Satan was offering Jesus an alternative earthly kingdom that would avoid suffering, humiliation, and pain. What Satan offered he could actually deliver. Many people have sought fame and fortune by selling their soul to the devil.

We must remember that this life is very short compared to an eternity. Jesus said:

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?   (Mark 8:36)

The final test that Satan presented to Jesus is a curious one. Again from Luke:

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’

and

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   (Luke 4:9-12)

Satan had a way of twisting the scriptures. He is a legalist. As Christian we need to understand that the Word of God is a living and breathing source of life itself. It is more than just a set of rules. We must learn to apply it appropriately. The psalmist wrote:

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
and the Most High your habitation,

There shall no evil happen to you,
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

For he shall give his angels charge over you,
to keep you in all your ways.

They shall bear you in their hands,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.   (Psalm 92:9-12)

The key to God’s protection is our relationship with him. We need to cultivate and nurture that relationship with his help.

Things do not always go our way. God may not be responding to our prayers soon enough for us or in the manner that we wish. So Satan tells us that we must prove ourselves because no one else will. Satan tempted Jesus to prove that he was the Messiah. Jesus knew, however, that only that he would show himself to be the Messiah was by the cross. He came with a mission to save humankind.

The wisdom of Solomon tells us:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.   (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Our mission is much more important than our position.

How do we see the Lenten Season? Is it a time to prove our loyalty to God through some self-imposed discipline? Maybe it would be better if we allow God to prove us. God wants to saturate us with his Word. From the Book of Hebrews:

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.   (Hebrews 8:10)

God has given us his Word. Will we use it. From today’s Epistle:

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.   (Romans 10:8-10)

If we are to battle Satan we must be prepared. We must be soaked in the Word of God as was Jesus. Then we must speak it out. The Apostle Paul writes:

Take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   (Ephesians 6:13-17)

Our foundation is knowing that God is good and that his Word is true. Satan will try to steer us away from this belief. He will fail when the Word is in our minds and written on our hearts.

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Fat Tuesday Teaching

Breaking the Yoke

Let us look at several translations of Isaiah 10:27, which has to do with breaking a burdensome yoke. We will start with the King James Version (KJV):

And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.

The KJV a wonderful translation. It has a certain beauty, power, and authority. True, some of the language is archaic. However, the translation on the whole is a fairly accurate one, except for the verse we are exploring.

What does the original Hebrew say? The text reads, “The yoke shall be destroyed because of shamen” (pronounced SHA-MEN). The KJV translators understood shamen to be the equivalent of shemen, oil, which apparently led them to think of oil for anointing.

What is the text actually saying? It’s best to understand shamen here as “fatness” (pronounced SHA-MEYN), which would produce a literal translation of, “The yoke will be destroyed because of the fat.”

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a very literal translation.

So it will be in that day, that his burden will be removed from your shoulders and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be broken because of fatness.

It is accurate, but is not the most readable. What does fatness mean?

The New International Version (NIV) expresses it well:

In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat.

The NIV is somewhat of a paraphrase, but its meaning is not obscure. It gets right to the point.

What about our “modern” New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)?

On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.

The NRSV bypassed the whole discussion of fatness altogether.

Let us look at fatness. We have an ox with a yoke on its neck, enslaving it to the will of its master. But eventually, it gets so healthy and fat that the yoke simply bursts from off its neck. That ox is now free!

Today is Fat Tuesday. It refers to the day when people might fatten themselves up with food and drink in order to prepare for the day of fasting that follows on Ash Wednesday.

Perhaps we need to fatten ourselves up in a different fashion. When we find ourselves bound or oppressed or beaten into submission by the enemy. We simply feed our spirits the living Word day and night, we continue in worship and praise and prayer and communion, and little by little, we get so healthy and strong—so “fat”—that suddenly the yoke of oppression has to burst. The fatness destroys the yoke!

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Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

The Veil Was Torn Apart

During this Season of Epiphany we have been looking at various examples of how God manifested his presence and power. Today, we look at the Mount of Transfiguration experience of Peter, James, and John. These disciples had been taught directly by Jesus. They knew him as a great teacher of the Law of Moses. They had witnessed his healings and miracles first hand. They were starting to realize that Jesus was the promised Messiah. But they were not prepared for what was about to take place on the mountain. Reading from Luke:

About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”   (Luke 9:28-35)

The disciples saw Jesus in his glorious state, standing with Moses and Elijah. They were overwhelmed.

Moses had gone up to the mountain to talk with God. When he came down the Israelites were not prepared for what they saw:

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.   (Exodus 34:29-35)

The Israelites saw the reflected glory 0n the face of Moses. Just a hint of God’s glory could overwhelm the onlooker. Again, from Exodus:

Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.   (Exodus 34:29-35)

God is a holy God and we are sinners. God has had to veil himself so that anyone who has contact with him would not be destroyed. He established a temple arrangement in which the Ark of the Covenant would remain behind a curtain or veil in a room called the “most holy place.” Only the high priest could enter this place. He did it only once a year to offer the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.

How do we approach God today? Do we look to God through a veil? The Apostle Paul tells us that is unnecessary:

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.   (2 Corinthians 3:12-14)

Even today, preachers and teachers speak about going behind a veil to get in touch with God. There is no veil. The veil has been torn apart. From the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.   (Matthew 27:50-52)

We are allowed to look upon the glory of God. We are called to look upon the glory of God. The Apostle Paul has written:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

We become who or what we worship. Do we look upon glory or do we celebrate the flesh? But what about the high priest idea? We are not high priests. No we are not, but we have a high priest standing in for us. From the Book of Hebrews:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Are we ready to approach the throne of grace without any restrictions? Again, from Hebrews:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, et us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.   (Hebrews 10:19-23)

God is calling us. How will we respond? In fear or in joy?

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Saint Matthias

rubens_apostel_mattias_grtA High Calling of God

Today we read about an apostolic calling of God that could almost seem like an accident:

Saint Matthias was chosen to be an apostle under unusual circumstances. Following the ascension of Jesus, the disciples (who numbered about one hundred and twenty) assembled to elect a replacement for Judas. They nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias. (Acts 1:23-26)

Obviously Jesus did not directly call Matthias as one of the twelve. Matthias must have been one of the one hundred and twenty disciples waiting in Jerusalem as Jesus had commanded before his ascension. He was waiting on God. A servant of God is one who waits on God. Waiting could mean anticipating, but it could also mean serving. Perhaps for the Christian disciple the word has both meaning..

Matthias was on position to receive a high calling. We may be in a position of service in our church or community. Then suddenly, God may call us into a higher place of service. Will we be ready?

A calling from God is a high honor. Jesus reminds us that we did not choose Him. He chose us:

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.   (John 15:16)

His calling is not about a place of privilege. It is about a place of continual growth in Him. Only then are we able to exercise our authority in Christ. The Apostle Paul makes this very clear:

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. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.   (Philippians 3:13-16)

Are we ready for a heavenly call of God?

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