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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21A

Track 1: Is the Lord among Us or Not?

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 2t1:23-32

In today’s Old Testament we once again read how the children of Israel lost faith, even when God almighty performed signs and wonders in their midst:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”   (Exodus 17:5-7)

Before we become too hard on the children of Israel let us ask ourselves how many times we have asked the same question about God when the challenges of life seemed to overwhelm us. It is altogether too easy to become blind to what God is doing when our faith is chanllenged. Faith is our spiritual sight. In Hebrews we read:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.   (Hebrews 11:1-3)

God, again, caused Moses to perform a miraculous sign to help restore the faith of the Israelites. The psalmist writes:

He split open the sea and let them pass through;
he made the waters stand up like walls.

He led them with a cloud by day,
and all the night through with a glow of fire.

He split the hard rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink as from the great deep.

He brought streams out of the cliff,
and the waters gushed out like rivers.   (Psalm 78:13-26

How much does it take for us to believe that God is with us? What if God chose to show up in person? He did! He became Emmanuel – God with us. His Son left his throne in heaven to share our human nature – to live and die as one of us. Paul writes:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus has become part of us. We are inseparable, provided that we have accepted his unconditional love and sacrifice. Have we done so?

Paul continues:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under theand every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:9-11)

When we make him Lord of our lives we become as much a part of him as he becomes of us. There is no longer the question: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Moses struck the rock in the desert and water flowed out. Jesus was struck in the side while he was hanging on the cross. Both blood and water flowed out. For those who believe, however, out of his side flowed rivers of living water as well. We have that living water, the Holy Spirit of God, living within us. Thanks be to God!

The question of whether or not God is with us needs to be changed. Are we with God? Have we given our life to Christ? If so, he is our deliverer, redeemer, healer, and friend. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: Repentance

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

“He is making a list, he is checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty or nice. Santa Clause is coming to town.” This well known song is not a version of the Gospel. It is a perversion. It may be cute but it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the clever false gospel of the fallen angel Satan. The song may be cute, but there is nothing truthful about it.

Satan attempts to warp our minds when it comes to sin. He tempts us into sin and then accuses us of being sinners. Satan’s tricks are very subtle. He works on the margin of truth. We should follow the laws of God, but without God’s help we cannot.

God wants to liberate our theology about sin. The Prophet Ezekiel gets at the very core of Satan’s deception:

You say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?   (Ezekiel 18:25-32)

Satan wants us to believe that we can store up points with God when we do good. God is saying through Ezekiel that our standing with God has to do with the condition of our hearts and not with our “good works.” Good works do not erase our sins. Good works do not restore us to God when we sin. God requires one thing only: repentance. He is looking for our change of heart.

Jesus illustrated this point with today’s parable from Matthew:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:23-32)

The Pharisees were the gatekeepers. They were the scorekeepers. They decided who entered the Kingdom of God and who did not. The very ones they ruled out of the Kingdom God rules in. Tax collectors and the prostitutes who repented from their ways, who had a change of heart, who chose to live a new life in Christ, met God’s requirement. They repented of their sins and sought to lead a new life with God’s help.

If we are still keeping score on others or even on ourselves, then we do not understand the Gospel. The message is simple: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is also: repent and keep on repenting. In John’s First Epistle we read:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

Jesus has paid the price for our sin on the cross. He has freed us from the power of sin. Nevertheless, if we go on sinning it is because we are unwilling to confess our sins. We are unwilling to repent. We are saying that we accept the cross of Christ but we are unwilling to carry our own cross and follow him.

The Apostle Paul struggled with sin as do we all. In Romans he wrote:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

 

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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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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20A

Track 1: Let Us Not Be Anxious about Earthly Things

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Have we ever found ourselves complaining against the Lord? The children of Israel had been liberated from slavery in Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders by God. Now, however. they were unsure that God would still provided for them. From Exodus we read:

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”   (Exodus 16:2-3)

Why is it that, when our faith is challenged, we want to go backwards, even when that means slavery to past problems? It is better for us to wait upon the Lord as he helps us to face the present.

God answered the complaints of his people:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”   (Exodus 16:4-8)

When we complain against God it is usually because we are focusing on the wrong things, the less important things in life. God knows our needs before we ask him. This beautiful prayer is found in the Book of Common Prayer:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Surely we are living in a time when earthly things are quickly passing away. How are we to be best prepared for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Today’s psalm may say it best:

Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.   (Psalm 105:1-4)

We remember that Jesus told a parable about a widow and an unjust judge. She continually sought the judge concerning her complaint. He finally granted her justice because he was tired of her complaining. Jesus said that Father in heaven would do better than the unjust judge:

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”   (Luke 18:7-8)

God responded to the concerns of the children of Israel in the wilderness. He has responded to our concerns in the past. But will we keep the faith? Will we seek his face on a daily basis? Will we continually praise his name? Will we tell others about the mighty things he has done, how he has given us salvation through the blood of his Son?

Let us not let the enemy steal our praise. Let us hold on to our holy hope. The world needs our witness all the more as the day grows darker and temporal things pass away. Jesus is calling us to keep the faith even in challenging times.

 


Track 2: The Privilege of Serving God

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

All of us are called by God for a specific ministry in his kingdom here on earth. Understanding our call and answering that call is just the beginning, though a very important first step. What happens when we accept that call and begin our ministry is a whole new level. Almost immediately, we are met with opposition from the enemy, particularly if we are following God’s plan for our lives. We often run into things that we did not expect to encounter. And the results that we wish to achieve are occasionally changed or transformed by the Holy Spirit, without our initial understanding of God’s purpose.

The prophet Jonah of the Old Testament was confused about his ministry. His ministry to the city of Nineveh offers a classic case of an expected result, at least on Jonah’s part. Nineveh was the notorious enemy of the Jewish people. As we remember, Jonah did not want to minister to Nineveh. He set sail in another direction, away from Nineveh. Eventually his sailing companions tossed him overboard when they discovered that his disobedience to God was jeopardizing the ship.

We now the story, Jonah was rescued when swallowed by a large fish. He then was persuaded by God to prophesy the destruction of this great city if its people did not repent. Unexpectedly, Nineveh repented, but this did not please Jonah. From the Book of Jonah we read:

This was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.   (Jonah 4:1-11)

Jonah wanted God to rain down destruction upon the people of Nineveh, even after they repented. What was Jonah’s problem? Perhaps he was too much into rewards and punishment. We can decided in our own minds who deserves punishment and who should be rewarded.

Jesus told a parable about workers in a vineyard which may help illustrate this point. As you recall, the owner of the vineyard hired laborers to work in his vineyard. Some of them were hired early in the day and others late. Some were hired even at the last hour. A problem arose because of this. We read in Matthew:

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”   (Matthew 20:8-12)

We may have a built-in understanding of what we think is fair play. (Keep in mind that we are talking about reward and punishment.) Again, from Matthew:

The owner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

This parable speaks on many issues. One issue is our sense of fairness. What is fair about “the last will be first, and the first will be last?” God’s order is not our order. His ways or not our ways. Just serving God is a privilegeThe Apostle Paul wrote:

Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well — since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have   (Philippians 1:27-30)

What keeps us from understanding the privilege of serving God? We have the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well. There are hardships in serving God. Things do not always go our way. But we are blessed to even be in the arena with God – to be counted as his servants. We are coworkers with Christ.

We are not working that we might receive salvation and enter into the kingdom of God. That is a free gift from God by faith in Christ Jesus. We do not have to keep score on ourselves or others. God is the one who keeps score. We recall the words of Jesus:

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’   (Luke 17:9-10)

These are harsh words for those who are working for rewards. But they are liberating words for those who know the joy alone of just serving Jesus in the vineyard, under any and all circumstances. To God be the glory!

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