Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

The Glory of God

During the Season of Epiphany we have been exploring ways in which God manifested his presence on the earth. In this last Sunday after the Epiphany the Gospel reading leads us to the Mount of Transfiguration. There was a moment when Jesus manifested his glory on the earth. We long for that moment to happen again. From the Gospel of Mark we read:

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.    (Mark 9:2-6)

Elijah, the great prophet, was one of the figures the mount with Jesus. We remember that Elijah  did not see death, but was taken up into heaven by God. The Prophet Elisha was chasing after Elijah to receive something from him before Elijah’s departure. From 2 Kings we read:

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.”   ()

Did Elisha miss the point of Elijah’s greatness? He wanted the anointing of Elijah but did he want the God of Elijah. We remember that, after Elijah’s departure, Elisha took the cloak of Elijah and struck the Jordan River, saying: “Where is the God of Elijah?”

Peter wanted to build individual shrines for all three men he observed on the mount. God quickly corrected him:

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 9:7-8)

None of us are immunized from the temptation of worshipping the wrong thing or the wrong person. Perhaps we have spiritual mentors who have greatly influenced our lives. If we have lived long enough, at some point we have probably discovered that these mentors are not infallible. Peter wanted to venerate Moses and Elijah along with Jesus. God the Father told him that Jesus was his beloved Son. Our focus needs to be on Jesus!

Is God calling us to come to His mount of transfiguration? Are we ready? We are not to seek spiritual experiences per se. Rather, let us seek Jesus and His glory. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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)

There is nothing wrong with wanting to see the glory of God. Moses asked God to show him his glory. Jesus invited Peter, James, and John up the mountain to see, in part, his glory. Is God inviting you and me to see his glory today? He is. Are we listening.

Nonetheless, we must follow Jesus. If we want to see God’s glory today we must look into the face of Jesus:

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)

Are we ready to see God’s glory? Then we are to look into the face of Jesus. We are to worship Jesus as Lord and no one else. In truth, we become like the one we worship. If we worship the world then we become worldly. If we worship Jesus, then over time we become more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote about this mystery and described it this way: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”   (Colossians 1:27)

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Filed under Epiphany, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

The Wings of Eagles

We live in a very hectic world. Our personal computers and cell phones that promised to save us time, somehow, ended up taking away some of our leisure time. Maybe we can relax when we get around to taking a vacation? Or perhaps we need a thorough rest as a gift from the Almighty? Jesus said:

“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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   (Matthew 11:28-30)

Could this be true? God spoke 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)

How would it be to soar on the wings of an eagle?  The psalmist wrote:

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
there is no limit to his wisdom.

The Lord lifts up the lowly,
but casts the wicked to the ground.   (Psalm 147:5-6)

We need to tap into the power of God. The Apostle Paul wrote about the power of God:

God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[c] is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.   (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Receiving the power of God is directly related to giving up our own power. It means giving up our own wisdom and tapping into the wisdom of God. In the Book of James we have a comparison between these two wisdoms:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

We see that our wisdom can get us into trouble. It is difficult for us to make right decisions because our perspective is often narrow and flawed. We are fallen creatures. God’s wisdom is broad and all encompassing. His wisdom brings peace and harmony. Our wisdom leads to disorder.

What do we do? James tells us to simply ask God for his wisdom:

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.   (James 1:5)

During his earthly ministry, Jesus did not rely on his own wisdom. He sought guidance from the Father. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.   (Mark 1:35)

Again, we live in a very hectic world. Life can be very difficult. We face many storms in life. Do we face them alone, or do we invite Jesus into our lives? Do we rely on our own wisdom or the wisdom which God gives to all those who ask for it?

To soar above the storms and ride on the wings of eagles is a choice we can make. God is there for us. He is concerned about our welfare. He is standing by to help us. Will we act impulsively or will we wait for the Lord?

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.

Jesus’ yoke is easy. But we must be willing to give up the yoke of this world. We must pass on worldly wisdom and selfish pleasures. And we must be willing to wait patiently on the Lord. He is waiting on us. What will we do?

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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 we read:

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 demonstrating by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our works.

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 Temple. 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)

Paul makes it clear that we must continue in the Faith. Jesus makes this promise for those who do:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.   (Matthew 10:32-33)

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 to us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus is our presentation as well.

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

Godly Authority

Jesus taught scripture with an authority and understanding that was not found in the scribes of his day. From today’s Gospel we read:

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.   (Mark 1:21-22)

Whoever properly speaks and follows God’s word may exercise the power of that word. The scribes were following God’s word in a very shallow, superficial, and legalistic way. Thus they could not expound upon the word with any authority.

The word of God is powerful. When spoken with authority, the word has very practical and immediate applications. Again, reading from Mark:

Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.   (Mark 1:23-28)

Everything is subject to the word of God including evil spirits. If we are to fight evil then we must be able to speak the word of God with authority. The Apostle Paul tells us how to do this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   (Ephesians 6:10-17)

How much we need, today, people who can take up the sword of the Spirit – who can speak the word of God with authority! God told Moses that the children of Israel needed someone to speak the word of God to them:

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)

Notice, the prophets and spiritual leaders of Israel would speak to the people in God’s name. They would speak the very words that God put in their mouths. Do we have such leaders today in our churches?

God gave a warning to those who presume to speak in his name but who actually speak in the name of other gods. Perhaps this describes some of our religious and spiritual leaders today. Some of our leaders and some of our churches have wondered from the truth. That is why we do not see any exercise of authority against evil forces in these churches. There is no power. Healings and deliverances are absent from the scene.

Unfortunately, some churches teach that the days of miracles and healings are over. Not so. Jesus gave this command to all his disciples, including us:

Proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.   (Matthew 10:7-8)

There are many in the church today who do not want to hear this message. But is was also true in the day of the Apostle Paul who wrote Timothy:

Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.   (2 Timothy 4:2-5)

If we cannot find a church were the true authority of God is being exercised, then perhaps God is calling some of us to start a church that will. Paul’s injunction to Timothy and Jesus’ commission still ring true today. Preach and teach the Word. Preach it with authority. Put on the full armor of God and war against evil. Amen.

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