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Saint James, Apostle

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_James_the_Greater_-_Google_Art_ProjectAble to Drink the Cup

Today we look at one of the “Sons of Thunder.” He was quite ambiguous, or was it his mother?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  (Matthew 20:20-23)

James and John were among the first disciples called by Jesus. They were with their father Zebedee by the seashore when Jesus called them and they immediately followed Him. Along with Peter they were chosen by Jesus to bear witness to his Transfiguration. Thus, they were significant to Jesus’ ministry.

Their mother thought they were significant enough to request a special place for them in Jesus’ kingdom, but she did not understand what this might mean. James was chosen for greatness in ways his mother did not expect, nor did James.

What was the cup to which Jesus referred in answering the mother? It was the cup that Jesus understood too well. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed this prayer:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

James, indeed, drank the cup that Jesus drank. James is traditionally believed to be the first of the twelve apostles who was martyred for the faith. We read about it in the Book of Acts:

Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  (Acts 12:1-3)

The Festival of Unleavened Bread was the Jewish Passover. Jesus has become the Passover for those who believe in Him. Because James was faithful in preaching the Passover of Christ he was privileged to join his Lord in laying down his life for the Church. James went from being a big-shot to a hero of the faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Where would the Christian Church be today without the faith and testimonies of the martyrs? If the Early Church were preaching today’s “Gospel” message the Church would probably not even exist. So many today are seeking a higher place and a greater prosperity for themselves. Such seeking only causes envy and division within the Church. Jesus attempted to put a stop to it with His disciples:

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:24-28)

Having just celebrated Mary Magdalene as a true servant leader of God, we now celebrate James, the first apostle martyred for the sake of the Gospel. He was able to drink the cup. Let us pray for the grace and courage that more Church servant leaders will step forward in our day. Perhaps we may be included among them.

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Saint Mary Magdalene

First Witness to the Resurrection

The Gospel of Luke made it clear that the roles of women in the ministry of Jesus Christ were significant:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  (Luke 8:1-3)

When we think of Jesus’ disciples we may primarily be thinking of the twelve that Jesus personally chose to follow Him. They were not alone, however. They were supported by many faithful women of which Mary Magdalene was included. She was not only included. She was prominent. She was the courageous and faithful one. When Jesus’ disciples deserted Him at the cross she was there:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  (John 19:25)

Jesus could have chosen any one of the twelve disciples to reveal Himself to after His resurrection. He chose a woman – Mary Magdalene:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.  (Mark 16:9-10)

Why did Jesus choose her? The testimonies of women were often considered unreliable. In fact, the disciples did not believer Mary’s testimony:

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  (Luke 24:10-11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed the order of things. Jesus attempted to explain this new order to His disciples before His crucifixion, but they had trouble understanding what He was telling them:

But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.  (Mark 9:34-35)

Mary Magdalene was a primary example of the servant leader who was faithful in her duties, following in the footsteps of her LORD. We remember her today as the resurrection’s first witness.

Will we follow the example of Mary Magdalene? Will be a servant of others? Will we boldly proclaim the resurrection in our day, no matter what others may say or think? And will we standby Jesus under difficult circumstances? We will when we put our trust in Jesus as did Mary Magdalene.

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11

Track 1: Surely the Lord Is in This Place

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jacob has stolen both his brother’s birthright and the blessing from his father Isaac. His brother Esau was planning to kill him. When Rebecca found this out she told Jacob to flee to Haran to her brother Laban’s house. Today, we pick up on the story. Jacob is in rout to Haran. He must have felt alone and that his future was uncertain. Reading from Genesis:

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”   (Genesis 28:10-17)

Jacob’s dream must have quickly changed his perspective. He said: “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” For Jacob, the place where he experienced God was sacred. He wanted to mark the event.

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.   (Genesis 28:18-19)

Perhaps many of us can recall moments when God has spoken to us. We want to remember it always. God may not have spoken to us in an audible voice, but God revealed himself to us in a special way. We may have felt all alone and discouraged. I have certainly been there more than once. But God broke through my discouragement. He broke through my unbelief.

The psalmist wrote:

Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,”

Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.   (Psalm 139:6-11)

The psalmist was writing that God is always near. Even when we do not want him around, he still remains faithful. We not be aware of God at times, but God is still aware of us. Why would we not want God’s presence at times? That is a good question. There must have been a time when the psalmist felt that way. His breakthrough came when he admitted to himself and to God that he felt that way.

Mountain top experiences may be wonderful. But we live in the valley of life. Is God with us in the valley? Are we with God in the valley? The psalmist David wrote:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff —
    they comfort me.   (Psalm 23:4)

Today, do we feel estranged from God in any way? Perhaps we have committed sin that we do not believe God can or should forgive? Or perhaps we have a rift with God because we do not feel that he has always been faithful to us? It is time to put things in order. It is time to see things through God’s perspective. The Apostle Paul wrote:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.   (Romans 8:28)

Our feeling of separation from God is only a feeling. Our feelings do not tell the full story. Often, they mislead us. Satan plays on our emotions. We need to pay more attention to the sound thinking which God has given us:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

Satan wants us to feel separated from God. He will do all that he can to convince us. But Satan is a liar. The Apostle Paul writes:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:35-39)

The name of Jesus is Emmanuel –  God with us. He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Let us open ourselves up more and more each day to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Track 2: The Final Harvest

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jesus often taught in parables. In today’s Gospel we have the one concerning the close of the age. This is the time in which we live. Jesus said:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”   (Matthew 13:24-30)

Notice that good seed was planted. But someone has contaminated the seed. We live on an evil world. God’s plan and provisions are always under attack. That is why it is up to the Church to fight for what is right, just, and true. The truest thing is the Word of God. His Word is truth. If we receive his Word then we become the good seed. However, false teachings and false reports have contaminated some of the seed. Measures need to be taken.

Jesus explains the parable and shows us what God is going to do about this corruption:

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!   ()

Notice that Jesus says that his whole world is his kingdom. Everyone, good or bad, is included. But not everyone will remain in the kingdom. Even the Church contains both good and bad. The Apostle Peter writes:

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?   (1 Peter 4:17)

God is examining his crop. The final harvest is near. Where do we stand? Are waiting eagerly for the return of Christ? The Apostle Paul wrote:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hopeerly. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.   ()

Now is not the time to be discouraged. Now is not the time to lose hope. The psalmist wrote:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.

I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
and glorify your Name for evermore.

For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.   (Psalm 139:11-13)

By the blood of Jesus Christ we have been delivered from sin and death. Let us hold on what has been promised to us. In Hebrews ew read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10

Track 1: Instant Gratification

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

The sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob, were totally unalike. We have an illustration from today’s Old Testament reading:

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.   (Genesis 25:29-34)

Jacob was quite a slick and opportunistic operator. Nevertheless, how could Esau have agreed to sell his birthright? He was very tired, we might say, and he could only think about the moment. Esau lived for the moment. The moment determines what is important and what one must do. The moment is interested in instant gratification. The future is just too far off to think about.

This is very strange thinking. Before we become too judgmental of Esau we may need to ask ourselves this question: Do we ever indulge in this type of thought? I will say that, for me, it is an easy trap to fall into. How do we explain this sort of behavior? Will our future take care of itself without any planning on our part? On what things do we place our value. Are our momentary needs more valuable to us than the gifts and plans which God surely established for our lives?

Another way of describing our momentary needs is by the word “flesh” which the Apostle Paul refers to quite often in his writings. From the Book of Romans:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 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.   (Romans 8:1-4)

The flesh is our enemy. The flesh is our sinful nature. Unfortunately, the flesh is still very much a part of who we are. The psalmist affirms his prerogative of doing what he pleases, but he humbly asks God to help him be pleased with doing the right thing.

Accept, O Lord, the willing tribute of my lips,
and teach me your judgments.

My life is always in my hand,
yet I do not forget your law.   (Psalm 119:108-109)

We do not have to choose he flesh. Paul writes:

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.   (Romans 8:9-11)

Jesus told a parable about the sower, sowing the seed. Jesus is that seed. The sower spreads the seed over various soil with varying results. Let us look at the interpretation that Jesus gives us:

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”   (Matthew 13:18-23)

Has Jesus planted good seed in us? Are we willing to wait for the increase? Do we value his word and what it can do for us in our battle against sin? If we just live in the moment as did Esau, then we too, may lose our birthright. Christ has given us a new birth that leads to eternal life. This is not a time for us to take our eyes off the prize. Our focus must be on the implanted word is us and not on this world. From the Gospel of John, Jesus said:

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”   (John 8:31-32

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.   (John 14:23)

This psalmist wrote:

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.   (Psalm 119:11-12)

Where is our true treasure today? Let us hold on to our birthright that Jesus has given us through his death and resurrection.

 

 

Track 2: Bearing Fruit

Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus spoke many times in parables. In today’s Gospel we have a familiar one:

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”   (Matthew 13:1-9)

The parable had to do with seed planing. The Spirit is the planter and Jesus is the seed. The parable is about hearing the word of God. Jesus interprets the parable for his disciples:

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”   (Matthew 13:18-23)

We are living in a age full of thorns. What was true in the time of Jesus is equally true today. Persecutions against Christians are, in fact, are on the rise. Nominal Christians are taking cover. Hiding one’s faith is not really an option, however. Reading from the Gospel of John:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.   (John 15:1-6)

Jesus is the good seed. Are we good soil? We cannot be unless we are fertilized by the Spirit of God. The Apostle Paul writes:

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 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.   (Romans 8:1-)

We must be3 set free from the flesh. That is not possible if we are still holding on to it. Paul continues:

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.   (Romans 8:6-8)

The flesh will always try to protect itself. The last thing it wants in any sort of persecution. The flesh, which is our old self, needs to be crucified. Paul writes:

But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.   (Galatians 2:18-20)

By the Holy Spirit God has given us a promise:

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.   (Romans 8:9-11)

We need the Word. We need Jesus. Ww also need his Spirit, With the Spirit we are free:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you

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