Category Archives: Year B

Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Changed from Glory to Glory

The Season of the Epiphany has to do with God manifesting his presence to humankind in various ways. There were three special times recorded in the Bible when God manifested his glory. We recall the event of the children of Israel encountering God at Mount Sinai. They became afraid and were unwilling to listen to God directly. They ask Moses to listen to God and tell them what God said. Thus, Moses became the first prophet of God.

Today, we have a second time that God manifested his glory. Reading from 2 Kings:

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.   (2 Kings 2:9-12)

Elisha was in awe of the glory of God. In a way, he resembled the children of Israel in the wilderness. He became a prophet, but first he had a learning curve. When he tried to exercise his new position, he did so in a curious way we read:

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.   (2 Kings 2:13-14)

Our own relationship with God matters more than any mantel of authority we may have.

In today’s Gospel reading from Mark, we have a third remarkable example of God manifesting his glory:

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.   (Mark 9:2-8)

The two men who experienced God’s glory directly were on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the Prophets. But only Jesus could fulfill both of them. We need to look to Jesus. We need to look upon Jesus. The Apostle wrote:

Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.   (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

We are called by God to come up to his mountain so  to speak. He wants us to experience his glory within our hearts. How do we do that? We must spend time with Jesus. We must worship him in  Spirit and in truth. Again Paul wrote:

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:17-18)

We become like the one we meditate upon and worship. Where is our heart today? Whom do we worship? Are we afraid to draw near to God? Is his glory overwhelming? Or does it beckon us to draw closer to him? We have an advantage over the children of Israel and even Elisha. we have a covering of the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for us. Was he sacrificed in vain?

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  (Collect from the Book of Common Prayer)

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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

He Shall Renew Your Strength

In this world we often grow weary. The world is a fallen one. It is a difficult place. But we have this promise from God given to us through the Prophet Isaiah:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.   (Isaiah 40:28-31)

As we grow older we quicklt learn that our physical strength diminishes. Even youths will faint and grow weary Isaiah tells us. The best human strength we can muster is not enough. The psalmist wrote:

God is not impressed by the might of a horse;
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who await his gracious favor.   (Psalm 147:11-12)

We cannot rely upon human strength alone, at any age. All of us need a source of renewal. From today’s Gospel we read:

After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.   (Mark 1:29-31)

Jesus wants to refresh us. He loves us and he needs our service. As soon as Simon’s mother-in-law was restored she started serving Jesus and his disciples. That was her desire. She wasted no time making excuses for herself. She understood that the healing was not just about her. It was also for the sake of others.

Jesus ministered to practically the whole city of Capernaum that day, healing the sick and casting out demons. This left him very tired. Again, reading from Mark:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.   (Mark 1:35-39)

Jesus had human limitations just as we do. He grew weary. He needed his rest. And he knew how to be refreshed from God the Father. He got up early and prayed. He spent time in the Spirit with the Father. He was able to refresh and restore others because he, himself, had been refreshed. He got his strength from the Father through the Holy Spirit.

Do we know how to be refreshed today? How much time do we spend with Jesus? Jesus he makes this promise to us:

“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.”   (Matthew 11:28-29)

There is no rest without his yoke. The secret to many of us who avoid him is that his yoke is easy and his burdens are light. Maybe it is time to lay down our burdens before him and learn from him. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 1To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.   (1 Peter 5:5-11)

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The Presentation

bellini2Purification

Today we celebrate The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. From the Gospel of Luke:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  (Luke 2:22-24)

Let us look at this event as if it were part of a three act play. This was the first act of purification – a ceremonial purification. Mary was considered unclean on the birth of her child, according to Jewish law. After a waiting period of about forty days, she and Joseph were required to offer up their son to God. Mary would then be considered pure and her child would be declared holy before God.

A ritual of ceremonial purification was not without meaning or significance. It was a rehearsal of a spiritual purification which was to come. Today, in many churches, parents present their children to God with the expectation that these children will be raised in the Christian Faith.

At the time of Jesus’ presentation the prophet Simeon blessed the family of Jesus and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

This prophecy foretold the second act of purification – a purification of the Law of God. Simeon prophesied that Jesus will bring about major changes in Judaism. Jesus said that he did not come to set aside the law but to fulfill it. The essence of the Law had to do with loving God and neighbor, but it had become merely an elaborate set of rules to follow. As the Word made flesh, Jesus demonstrated by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our “good deeds.”

Joseph and Mary were presenting Jesus to God in the Temple. Jesus would soon change the whole temple worship by becoming the temple himself. He would become the new Temple by satisfying all the requirements of the old one. His blood, spilled on the cross, would become the atoning sacrifice for all our sins, once and for all.

From Hebrews we read:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The last act of purification has to do with the purification of the saints. We read in Malachi:

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.   (Malachi 3:3-4)

The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus, by his atoning sacrifice, is able to present us pure before the Father:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.   (Colossians 1:21-23)

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus holy to God. Jesus turned the tables. He presents Mary and Joseph and all saints as holy to God. Mary and Joseph offered up their son before God. God, the Father, offered His Son as a sacrifice for us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus becomes our presentation. Jesus presents us spotless before the Father. He is the only one who can do that because he is the one who paid the price for our sin.

Our cleansing is not a ceremonial cleansing. No, we must allow Jesus to change and direct our hearts. God gave us this promise through the Prophet Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.   (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

The Aposte Paul wrote:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.   (Romans 12:1-2)

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Hearing the Voice of God

Listening to the voice of God may be a challenge for some of us. It certainly was for the Children of Israel. Reading from Deuteronomy:

Moses said: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”   (Deuteronomy 18:15-20)

Moses was ordained by God to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt into the promised land. Surely God would speak to him and through him. But would God speak to all of Israel? He did so at Horeb, but the people could not bare to hear his voice.

Why was that so? The people explained that if they did they would die. What is remarkable is that God told Moses that they were right in what they said. We read from the Book of Hebrews:

For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.   (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Because of their fear of God they did not want to approach him. Thus God would approach them. He gave them a series of prophets, starting with Moses, who would relay God’s word to them. If they would listen to God and obey his decrees, he would bless them. When they disobeyed, they would taste a portion of his vengeance. Unfortunately, the warnings of the prophets were often not heeded.

God’s last prophet was John theBaptist, whom came in the spirit of Elijah. He ushered in God’s last Word to Israel: The Word made flesh. But who would listen to him? Who listens to him today? Before his crucifixion, Jesus stood looking over Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!   (Matthew 23:37)

For those who have given their heart to the Lord Jesus, the fear factor of hearing God’s voice has been removed. Their sins are remitted by the blood of Jesus. From Ephesians we read:

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.   (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Are we listening to God today? If not, perhaps we are not aware of our heavenly position with Christ. If we do not listen to him, we will surely be listening to the wrong voice. The psalmist wrote:

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names upon my lips.   (Psalm 16:4)

How do we listen to God. First, we read his Holy Scripture. God speaks through his written Word. And rather than hiding from him when we sin, we need to confess it. From the Epistle of John:

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:9)

We need to keep an open account with God. He will correct us from time to time, as written in Proverbs:

My child, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
    or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves the one he loves,
    as a father the son in whom he delights.   (Proverbs 3:11-12)

When we listen to the voice of God, the enemy will do everything he can to distract us. Jesus said:

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”   (Luke 11:28)

The psalmist wrote:

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.   (Psalm 85:8)

We need more than ever the peace of the Lord in our hearts. God is speaking that to us now if we are listening. But to listen to him is to turn away from the folly of this world.

Let no one say that God does not speak to his people anymore. Let no one say that we should not hear his words. Jesus said:

“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”   (John 8:47)

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  (John 10:27-28)

The voice of God speaks to us on our behalf. These are the promise he made to Israel through Moses:

If you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.    (Deuteronomy 28:1-2)

Jesus said:

A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”   (Luke 11:27-28)

The Apostle Paul wrote:

But not all have obeyed the good news;[c] for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.   (Romans 10:16-17).

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