Category Archives: sermon preparation

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 9

Track 1: A Love Story

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45: 11-18
or Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Today we read about a servant of Abraham who was sent out on a mission:

Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.”   (Genesis 24:2-4)

With fear and trepidation the servant set out to search out a bridge among Abraham’s own people. Let us read a partial account of his journey:

“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” — let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’

“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”   (Genesis 24:42-49)

The servant was wise enough to seek God in prayer. And he was attentive enough to read the signals which God was giving him. Is that our approach in important assignments? God has the answers and he gives guidance to those who seek him. From today’s Gospel reading:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.   (Matthew 11:25-27)

God wants to reveal things to us. He does not want us to be the dark. If we are wise in our own eyes we will miss what God is saying.

Back to the servant’s account:

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.   (Genesis 24:58-67)

This was a great journey of love which God, himself, orchestrated. Will God do the same today for those who seek a  spouse in prayer? Yes, if we seek him in prayer. Yes, if we listen to him carefully and not relying on our own preconceived notions. We may even use a dating service because God is sovereign. He is in charge of all aspects of our lives. As long as we are relying on him he will guide our every move.

What can we learn from this beautiful account? If we are looking for a souse, we need to look in the right place, not among the heathen. We must seek God and trust God in all things. We must not lose patience. We must follow through with God’s help, not getting ahead or falling behind.

There is even a greater love story here. This is the story between a loving God and a trusting bride. We, the Church, are the bride of Christ. Let us follow Jesus through our life as attentively as Abraham’s servant followed his master’s instructions. God makes promises to those who follow him:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,   (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

 

Track 2: This Generation

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-15
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Jesus lived in challenging times. He observed the behavior and speech of those around him, even the religious leaders. What God had intended for Israel and what they had become were so far apart.

Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”   (Matthew 11:16-19)

In the vernacular we might say: “I can’t win for losing. What ever I do is wrong.”

Israel was missing something. Nothing was satisfying them. They felt no inner peace, but they were not sure where to turn. What were they to do?

Jesus was describing a generation. He may have well been describing ours. Something is missing. What do people do when they fell that everything is out of control? Do they not cover up their feelings by seeking to control others? They make up rules for others to follow, hoping that what others do might be pleasing to them.

But then the rules change. What was once acceptable is no longer valid. People must now act and talk in a different way. Those who have become drunk on power must check to see if people will follow them no matter what they ask them to do. And when people comply they are all the more delighted at first, but boredom and depression soon follow. Something is missing. Something feels empty. This may be the way kids act at times. But should not kids grow into adulthood?

Perhaps the first step to recovery is a recognition that there is a problem. Something is missing which is vital. What must a person do? The Apostle Paul wrote about finding order and peace in a chaotic life:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:21-25)

Paul knew his struggle was a spiritual one. He also realized that, on his own, he could not overcome what he was experiencing. What was Israel missing? Perhaps we might ask what are we missing.

Israel was missing Jesus. He was in their midst, but many either did not recognize him or refused to recognize him. He came that they might have life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10). But they were addicted to power and control. They wanted to control others, but they could not even control themselves.

Is this how we feel? We observe chaos all around us. Some are contributing to it while others are trying desperately to stop it. We may all want order in our lives in some way, but we cannot agree on what to do. Surely it is not the control others so that they may conform to some Utopia which we have imaged as possible. Others have different desires which may not agree with ours.

Israel was missing Jesus. He called out to them:

“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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   (Matthew 11:28-30)

Can the world make this promise? Perhaps we are missing Jesus. Our culture promises to eliminate chaos. How can it when it is so chaotic itself?

Jesus is our rest. Jesus is our teacher. His way seems gentile to all who put their trust in him. When we turn away from him the world seems over whelming. That is because the world is ruled by Satan. He rules us through chaos, all the while lying to us that he will fix everything if we follow him. Jesus  said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Today, let us seek Jesus with all our hearts. He is still calling out to us. Will we come to hm in faith and find our reset. Will we discover our purpose in life in him?

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Saturday in Easter Week

192Witnesses to the Resurrection

The disciples who had heard the testimony of the women concerning the resurrection of Jesus, did not believe them. Unbelief is one of our greatest sins. It keeps us from receiving word from God. And it also prevents us from boldly testifying to the resurrection of our Lord. We worry about appearing out of the norm. The resurrection of the dead is radical and we need to become comfortable with it.

Jesus has called us out of our comfort. He  wants to assign us with a radical mission:

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.   (Mark 16:14-15)

The Apostles Peter and John, when they discovered the truth of the resurrection, became very bold in their faith. Without their witness the Church would never have survived or grown. So vital is the witness of the Christian believer that Satan will do all in his power to thwart it. We see this in today’s reading from Acts:

When the rulers and elders and scribes saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.   (Acts 4:13-21)

Today, are we believers in the resurrection of our Lord? Are we bold in our testimony? If we are then we soon discover how much the enemy comes against us. Now in America, Christians are beginning to experience persecution that only existed in others parts of the world. As times goes on the persecution will become more intense. What will be our response? Will we still be able to speak of Jesus with Joy? The psalmist wrote:

Open for me the gates where the godly can go in.
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord.
    Only those who do what is right can go through it.
Lord, I will give thanks to you, because you answered me.
    You have saved me.

The stone the builders didn’t accept
    has become the most important stone of all.
The Lord has done it.
    It is wonderful in our eyes.
The Lord has done it on this day.
    Let us be joyful today and be glad.   (Psalm 118:19-24)

We find ourselves strengthen in our faith when we do express it to others. Not only that, but we encourage others in their faith as well. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.   (2 Corinthians 13;11)

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.   (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11)

 

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Friday in Easter Week

The Restoration of Peter

Today’s resurrection appearance is quite a remarkable one:

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread (John 21:4-9)

This resurrection appearance of Jesus was not the first one nor would it be the last. The disciples were beginning to understand what the resurrection might mean. Nevertheless, they were also losing focus with regard to their mission. Jesus did not condemn them. He met them at their point of need and offered reassurance that he was there for them.

Peter, the leader, seemed almost rudderless. He was at a loss as to what he and the other disciples should be doing. Thus, he returned momentarily to what he knew best – fishing. Even so, his fishing interlude had proven unsuccessful. Jesus understood that Peter needed more than reassurance. He had denied the Lord three times. Peter needed restoration.

As disciples of Jesus in our day we may also lose focus. We may become confused. Often times, we do not know what to do next. Perhaps we need reassurance. Perhaps some of us need restoration. Jesus did not abandon His disciples. He will not abandon us.

However, we need to remain alert to the help that He provides us, sometimes in unexpected ways. We may not recognize what the Lord is doing at first. He will make it clear for us if we do not cut ourselves off from Him.

Peter could have cut himself off from Jesus out of his own shame and fear. Fortunately, His love for Jesus and his eagerness to find his way back prevailed. Moreover, Jesus restored Peter in a very loving way:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 1He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.   (John 21:15-17)

Jesus will restore us too. He will renew us. He will revive us. He will refill us with His Holy Spirit. We need His strength and direction because we must be able to strengthen our Christian brothers and sisters as did Peter. Peter slipped, but Peter also went the distance. He endured suffering and his own cross. He was a rock for the Lord. We, too, must become rocks in our day.

Jesus asks us today: “Do you love me?” If we say yes, he tells us: “Feed my sheep.”

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Tuesday in Easter Week

do-you-hold-the-right-hand-of-jesus

 He Calls Us Each by Name

Mary Magdalene had a remarkable relationship with Jesus. He chose her to be the first witness of the resurrection:

Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.  (John 20:11-18)

Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus at first. She knew Him as her friend and teacher. When others condemned her He forgave her and delivered her from her demons. He was there for her when she needed God. But this time she did not recognize Him. God has been there for each one of us many times in our lives. There have been times when God moved for us but we did not recognize Him. We were not fully aware what He was doing.

Then there is a time when God speaks to us directly. He calls us out by name. The risen Lord spoke her name and Mary Magdalene recognized Him. Out of His grace God calls us unto Himself. He calls to each one of us. The call of God is all important, but how we respond to His call is just as important.

Mary wanted to hold on to Jesus as the friend that she knew and loved. Jesus prevented her because He had to ascend to God the Father. His mission must continue. We cannot and should not try hold Him back. He cannot be tied down to the friend that we knew yesterday. He is Lord of all. He must continue to carry out the will of the Father. He does so on our behalf. We may not understand all that He is doing, but we must put our whole trust in Him so that He may accomplish the Father’s will and plan for us and for the whole world.

We may know Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He surely is that, for without Him we could never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Do we know Him as the Lion of Judah who will soon return to for the Bride of Christ?

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