Category Archives: Year A

Cycle in the liturgical year.

Ash Wednesday

ash-wed-pictureRemember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

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The Season of The Epiphany

17monaco1In the liturgical church the Christmas Season is preceded by the Season of Advent and followed by the Season of The Epiphany. These two bookends extend and enrich the Christmas celebration. Advent is a season of preparation whereby we examine our hearts in the light of Christ. The Christmas Season begins on Christmas Day extends for twelve days up to the celebration of The Epiphany. The word “Epiphany” comes from epiphaneia in the Koine Greek which means “manifestation.”

The Feast of The Epiphany is January 6. In the Western Church, The Epiphany traditionally observes the visitation of the Magi. Eastern Christians, on the other hand, commemorate the baptism of Jesus as The Epiphany. Both events clearly manifest that Jesus is the Son of God. The actual length of the Season of Epiphany depends on the date when Easter will be celebrated. Thus, in some liturgical years the season is longer than others.

Throughout the Season of Epiphany we explore numerous and various ways in which God has revealed himself to us in scripture. God is always revealing himself to those who will open their eyes and hearts:

I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me.  (Proverbs 8:17)

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13)

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)

The wisemen from the East were seeking the Lord. They did not fully understand who they were seeking but it did not stop them from doing so. They traveled a long distance and were willing to make sacrifices. We may look upon our life as a journey. What do we seek? Whom do we seek? And what sacrifices are we willing to make in our day? Will we set aside a time in our lives to seek God with all our hearts?

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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

Children of the Promise

Mary, the mother of Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. When the child in Elizabeth’s womb hears Mary’s voice he leaps for joy. This child is John the Baptist. The moment of celebration brings joy to Mary and she prophesies:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1:47-55)

Mary’s prophecy echoes the great joy of another Mother who had a miraculous child. Hannah prayed:

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in my victory.

“There is no Holy One like the Lord,
    no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
    but she who has many children is forlorn.   (1 Samuel 2:1-5)

Hannah dedicated her child who became Samuel, the great prophet and man of God. Hannah was barren but she believe in the promise of God.

What is remarkable about Mary and Elizabeth also is that they believed the promises of God, even though great miracles of God were required to fulfill them. Mary, a virgin, had conceived a child and Elizabeth, who was well beyond any child bearing age, had also conceived. Nevertheless, these chosen instruments of God were able to believe God as was Abraham before them.

Are we able to believe in the miraculous today?

Mary and Elizabeth understood that the promises God made to them were not just about them. Jesus and John the Baptist are children of the promise which God made to Abraham. Their births extended and expanded that promise down through the ages. Today, we are recipients of that promise.

God has made promises to us as well. His plans for us may not be as dramatic as Mary and Elizabeth, but they are important to God just the same. Are we willing to believe in those promises and hold on to them. There will always be obstacles in the way of our receiving God’s promise. The Apostle Paul tells us how to overcome these obstacles with this prescription:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.   (Romans 12:12)

In time, the promises of God will come to pass. The blessing is in the believing and perseverance. Too often me take matters in our own hands and thwart God’s plans and purposes for us. Others are depending upon to make the right choices. In fact, their future blessings depend upon our faithfulness. Let us be willing to see beyond ourselves as the wonders of God’s work unfolds. We are also children of the promise

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Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A

Why Do You Stand Here Looking Up?

The last words of Jesus spoken to his disciples before being taken up to heaven are extremely significant. In John we read:

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”   (Acts 1:6-11)

What is significant? Is it that Jesus said that we would be his witnesses. Yes! And the assurance from the angels that Jesus would return the same way he left. Yes! But the angels also said this: “Why do you stand here looking up?”

So many events and signs today point to the fact that we are living in the last days. It is right that we should be anticipating Jesus’s return. Even the Early Church did that. But they did much more than that. Because of their courageous witness the Gospel was spread throughout the world.

How are we doing today in terms of our witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are we telling others about the good news of salvation by faith in his saving act upon the cross? Or are re we just looking up and waiting? Do we have a bunker mentality or are we ready to take new ground for the Kingdom of God?

Our example is the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived through very difficult times. Yet his primary concern was to reveal the love of God the Father, whatever the cost. In John we read:

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.   (John 17:6-8)

The Early Church followed the example of our Lord. They were willing to go the distance, even to the point of death. The Greek word for witness in today’s reading from Acts is “Martus.” From this Greek word we get the word “martyr.” The dictionary defines the word martyr as a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle.

Jesus gave his life for us. Many of the early believers gave their life for us as well. What are we willing to give today?

Are we waiting on God? Are we waiting on His return? He is waiting on us. He is counting on our witness to the Gospel. Has the Gospel impacted our lives? If so, others should that it has.

What keeps many of us from witnessing today is the threat of persecution. This is increasing more and more throughout the world. Now we are experiencing it in America. Such persecution is promise. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.   (1 Peter 4:12-14)

The key is that God is with us. We are not alone. God is pouring out this glory through us when we boldly step out for him

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