Category Archives: Year C

Ash Wednesday

Remember 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 do not need any formal type of confession because our sins are washed in the blood of Jesus we may be missing the point of confession. From John First Epistle:

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)

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)

Ash Wednesday offers us an opportunity for fasting and repentance. Perhaps we should take it?

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Second Sunday after Christmas

Old Testament Readings

Track 1: Out of Egypt I Have Called My Son

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was responsive to God’s call and direction. We see this when he was willing to marry Mary who was already with child. Today’s Gospel reading offers another example of his responsiveness:

After the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”   (Matthew 2:13-15)

How quickly things can change! After receiving gifts and honor from the wisemen, the family of Jesus had to immediately flee to Egypt for safety from Herod.

Egypt was a temporary home. It was not a place where one would want to remain. Sometimes in life we are put in a holding pattern, so to speak. Why is that? The Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;

say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,

over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;

their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.   (Jeremiah 31:10-12)

For a season, God will keep us protected from those who want to damage or destroy us. Their hands are too strong for us to resist. While doing so, he is preparing us to step out in higher realm of service. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.   (Ephesians 1:17-19)

Are we ready to learn about the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe? Our defense is not dependent upon our power but on the power of an almighty God! God wants to enlighten our hearts to the riches of his glorious inheritance. We do not gain this understanding overnight. Nonetheless, if we put our full faith and trust in God he will teach us, step by step, provided that we hold on to his promises. The devil will attempt to distract us. He will try to sew seeds of unbelief. 

However, if we are attentive to God’s word as was Joseph, we will not miss what God has prepared for us. We read in Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be a healing for your flesh
    and a refreshment for your body.   (Proverbs 3:5-8)

God has called us out of Egypt. Let us follow where he leads us.

 

Track 2: I Must Be in My Father’s House

Today we read from the Gospel of Luke about an incident that occurred in the life of Jesus when he was only twelve years old:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.   (Luke 2:41-43)

Later we read that they had to go back to Jerusalem to search for him when discovering that Jesus was missing:

When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”   (Luke 2:45-49)

We understand by his answer to his parents that he was still a child. But at the time he was beginning to understand what his mission might be and the importance of God’s Word and teaching.

As disciples many of us are still babes in Christ. Have we discovered find our identity, purpose, and direction must be found God’s presence and not in the distractions of this world. The psalmist wrote:

How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

Happy are they who dwell in your house!
they will always be praising you.   (Psalm 84)

Do we rejoice in the living God? Do we long for his presence? If not, then we are dying along with unbelievers in a decaying and dying world. Are we seeking to know him and follow him along the path that he has laid out for us? The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.   (Ephesians 1:17-19)

This type of learning about God only comes from God. It comes by remaining close to God. A verse rom the Prophet Isaiah:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.   (Isaiah 2:3)

God will teach us, but we must seek his presence and council always. Will we say: “I must be in my Father’s house?”

 

 

Track 3: A Ruler to Shepherd My People Israel

In today’s Gospel reading we find Herod worried and perplexed:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”   (Matthew 2:2-6)

Herod was afraid of this child that was said to have been born a king. Herod was king and he was not looking for a replacement. What Herod did not recognize was that this new king would not only take his place, but also the places of every would be ruler on the earth. He would not be like Herod or any other king.

Jesus would be the shepherd king. He would be a ruler that shepherded the people of God rather than dictating to them what they must do. In other words, Jesus would lead them by example and lovingly teach them his ways. Is that the type of ruler that we want?

The Apostle Paul wrote:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.   (Ephesians 1:17-19)

A new world is coming. It is a world lead by the shepherd king. Each of us will have a place in it. Each of us will have an assignment, provided we all our Lord Jesus to prepare us and teach us his ways. If we think his world will be like our world, if we think his rule will be like the rulers of this world, then we do not know him. We would not have not received a spirit of wisdom and revelation from him because we did not look in his direction.

God is working in us, his Son is shining in us, his power is surging through us when we realize that he is not only our king, but he is the shepherd of our souls.

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First Sunday after Christmas

The Word Became Flesh

The Gospel of John does not have an Infancy narrative as do the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Rather, John speaks of a time before the birth of the Christ Child. He writes of the One who pre-existed the world and was the very agent of all creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

Do we know Jesus beyond the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes? Many of His own Jewish people did not comprehend who Jesus was when they were privileged to see him in person:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  (John 1:10-11)

The remarkable thing is that the creator God entered the world of His own creation on our behalf. In Jesus, God made himself vulnerable to humankind, in order to reveal his true nature and heart:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

Though the Gospel of John does speak of an infancy narrative. It speaks of our infancy narrative. We are reborn as children of God in Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.   (Galatians 4:4-7)

Has the Holy Spirit entered into our hearts? Only by his Spirit can we be reborn. We cannot become righteous on our own. The law of God could never make us righteous. It serves as our educator concerning what righteousness truly is. It makes us aware of our sin and the seriousness of that sin in the eyes of God.

Jesus, alone, is the one who makes us righteous. John writes:

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.   (John 1:16-19)

As an infant Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes. From the Gospel of Luke:

And Mary brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.   (Luke 2:7)

Have we been wrapped in Jesus? The psalmist wrote:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.   (Isaiah 61:10)

As infants, we need the swaddling of the Holy Spirit. We need to allow a loving Savior wrap us in his love. The Christmas Season is a special time to experience the warmth of Jesus. He is Immanuel, God with us. Let us bask in the glory and glow of his presence both now and forever. Amen.

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Holy Innocents

flight-into-egyptThe Protection of Children

We read from the Prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:

A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.

Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.   (Jeremiah 31:15)

Our children are so vulnerable on this earth, Jesus was no exception. God risked himself and made himself vulnerable to the evil in this world. The plan of Satan is to kill, steal, and destroy. God has come that we might have life and life more abundantly (John 10:10).

Today we read about the wisemen searching for a child born under a miraculous sign. The Christ Child they sought was more than an inconvenience to Herod. After all, the wisemen had called the child “King of the Jews” and sought Him out to worship. This was just too much for Herod to swallow. Not understanding Judaism and the prophecy concerning the child, Herod could take no chances. His very kingdom might be threatened. He was prepared to take drastic measures to ensure his reign. Thus Joseph, the father of Jesus had to be warned, From the Gospel of Matthew we read:

When the wise men had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”   (Matthew 2:13-15)

Herod was a monster. We have even more Herod’s today. All of our children are under threat, regardless of age. Do we not abort our children up to nine months of pregnancy simply because they are an inconvenience to us? Have our churches been willing to speak out about this, so-called, woman’s right to choose? Abortion has nothing to do with women’s rights and everything to do with child sacrifice.

What could be worse? In the entertainment industry, government, and even the church, a terrible monster lurks behind the scene. It devours our children while we are looking the other way. Child trafficking, pedophilia, and even child sacrifice have been hidden, but God is now exposing it. His judgement will fall on the perpetrators. They will no longer be able to hide.

The Apostle John, on the Island of Patmos, had a vision in which God will do away with all the evil we are now experiencing:

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”   (Revelation 21:1-4)

How do we live while we await the culmination of Christ’s ministry? We need to conduct ourselves in a more godly way while we are still on earth. We need to take responsibility for the care of our children. Those of us who have remained silent about the plight of our children need to repent.

We should understand that we are living in the end times. However, in the intervening time, is a swift judgment coming upon those who have handed over our children to Satan? There seems to be a mounting evidence that this so.

When we do not care for our children, we have not cared for our Lord:

‘”Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”   (Matthew 25:45)

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