Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10B

Track 1: Set Free in Christ

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

It was a time of great celebration. The Ark of the Covenant was at one time in the hands of the Philistines, but now King David had rescued it and having it carried into Jerusalem for the first time. David was so joyous that he was dancing before the Ark. But not everyone was celebrating. From the Second Mood of Samuel we read:

David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.   (2 Samuel 6:12-16)

The glory of God radiated from the Ark of the Covenant. David’s wife Michal did not see the glory. She saw her husband the King acting in an undignified way. He was not conforming to the accepted norms of the day.

The Apostle Paul wrote about conforming to this world:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, 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 renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.   ().

David had little awareness of what was going on around him that day. He was celebrating the presence of the glory of God.

We are treated to the wonderful Davidic psalm today:

Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.

“Who is this King of glory?”
“The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.”

Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.   (Psalm 24:7-9)

David knew the Lord as the King of Glory. He was in love with an awesome God, a God of majesty and glory. And David also realized that we are invited by God to partake of his glory. Paul wrote about the honor of being selected to live in the glory of God:

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.   (Ephesians 1:11-14)

When we attend a sporting event do we get emotionally excited by the play and for our team? No one needs to tell us when to cheer and when not to cheer. If it is alright to become emotional at a sporting event, why are we not allowed to cheer and celebrate the glory of God. At a sporing event we may have a passion for the game. David had a passion for God.

God is calling us into a passionate relationship with him. He is calling us out of this world. We may still be living in the world but Jesus said that we would not be of this world. Our present world has put us in an emotional straight jacket, so to speak. We must say and do this. We cannot say and do that. Many will despise our passion for God. They will despise our lively praise and worship. God does not despise us. He loves us and wants to share his love with us. Do we want to get to know him as David did?

Which do we choose – listening to God or the falsehood of this world – eternal life or eternal damnation? Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.   (Galatians 1:3-5)

 

 

Track 2: Truth or Self Justification?

Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Today we read about King Herod who allowed himself to be placed in a difficult position. He has arrest John the Baptist. He liked to listen to him preach. He knew that there was something special about John, but now he was forced to make a difficult and unpleasant decision. From today’s Gospel we read:

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.   (Mark 6:17-28)

Herod beheaded John the Baptist even when he knew it was wrong. Why did he do it? Perhaps he did not want to lose face. He made a promise and his guests might be upset if he did not keep it. He did not want to look bad in front of others so he did something very bad. Does the world dictate our behavior today? It does if we need to justify ourselves. We may need the approval of others to feel that we are accepted. This is the trick of the Devil, of course. He tells that we will not be accepted unless we do certain things. And then when we do those things he accused us for doing them.

There is no real peace in the world. We cannot really get approval from the world. Justification and approval comes from God alone through the blood of Jesus Christ.

To whom are we listening? The psalmist wrote:

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.   (Psalm 85:8-11)

We have a choice to make. Do we listen to the world around us and value what people will say, or do we listen to God. One way leads to destruction and the other way leads to eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom. In his sermon on the mount Jesus clearly explained our choices:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”   (Matthew 7:13-14)

What advantage do we gain for doing what the world considers correct when it is actually wrong. God determines truth and correctness. His way is correct. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” If we choose his way, truth will spring up from the earth. We will understand what is right and what is wrong. Moreover, Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. But we must first chose him over this world

At a time of great falsehoods how much we need the truth today! The truth is that God loves us and that he has approved us because he has taken all our sins away. They were nailed to the cross of his Son Christ Jesus.

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

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 9B

Track 1: Jerusalem, the Eternal City

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

Jerusalem is a very important piece of real estate. So many forces have attempted to claim Jerusalem as their own, forgetting the God Almighty has claimed Jerusalem for his own. As the anointed of God, David reigned in Jerusalem over Israel and Judah.  From 2 Samuel we read:

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inwards. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.   (2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10)

A Messiah would come from the lineage of David and he would rule over not just Israel and Judah, but all the earth. The psalmist wrote:

As we have heard, so have we seen,
in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God;
God has established her for ever.

We have waited in silence on your loving-kindness, O God,
in the midst of your temple.

Your praise, like your Name, O God, reaches to the world’s end;
your right hand is full of justice.

Let Mount Zion be glad
and the cities of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments.

Make the circuit of Zion;
walk round about her;
count the number of her towers.

Consider well her bulwarks;
examine her strongholds;
that you may tell those who come after.

This God is our God for ever and ever;
he shall be our guide for evermore.   (Psalm 48:7-13)

From this passage we see that God’s claim on Jerusalem is an eternal claim. Again,  the psalmist writes:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
    which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people,
    from this time on and forevermore.   (Psalm 125:1-2 )

The throne of David will extend forever. Jesus, the Messiah, will rule from Jerusalem when he returns to the earth. When that occurs there will be a new heaven and a new earth. All that we see now will have passed away. Thus, all plans to divide Jerusalem will come to naught. All peace plans will fail. Only the Prince of Peace will rule in Jerusalem safely.

What does all this mean to us today. It means that we need to abandon the plans of men and embrace the plans of God. How we fret over the things that are passing away. Surely we must do our part to be good citizens today. But our ultimate citizenship is with God. Are we tuned to the things of God?

The Apostle Paul learned to put aside the cares of this life for the plans and purposes of God:

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power 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 12:7-10)

Jesus disciples were called to do ministry in his name, but first they must be willing to disregard the trivial concerns of this world:

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them   (Mark 6:6-13)

Our world have become too complicated. How do we sort it out? Perhaps we must begin by asking, what is passing away and what will remain. Jerusalem will not pass away. God’s promises will not pass away. Jesus, our savior, will never leave us of forsake us. Lastly, from the Apostle Peter:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.   (2 Peter 39-13)

Do we think eternally or temporally? The old Jerusalem will be no more. The new Jerusalem is eternal.

 

 

Track 2: Unbelief

Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

Faith is a key element in our interaction with God. In Hebrews we read that God requires us to approach him with faith:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

The Apostle Paul tells us that “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). But we must exercise our faith in order for it to be productive. We must choose to use our faith. This proved to be difficult for the people of Nazareth when Jesus returned to his hometown. From Mark we read:

Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.   (Mark 6:1-6)

Despite all that the towns people had heard Jesus, they were skeptic.Perhaps they liked Nazareth just the way it was and were not willing to do what they heard he did elsewhere.Unbelief is our resistance to change. God is a change agent and we are desperately trying to keep the status quo. Today we may believe we can almost manage, but if things change we may lose control. Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be willing to lose control:

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:5-8)

Faith is not dependent on our strength but on the strength of God. The Apostle Paul this be direct experience. Paul wrote:

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power 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 12:7-10)

Unbelief is the reverse. It is based on the assumption that we may know more than God. God is not practical. He does not understand the situation we are facing. This was the arrogance of Nazareth. Is it ours also?

We may thwart the plans of God to some degree, but we will not be able to stop them as hard as we well might try. Why would we want to stop them when we realize that God has good plans for us? The more we choose to flow with God the more we are able to receive his blessings. The greatest blessings are our salvation and companionship with God.

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Independence Day

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.

A More Perfect Union

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our great heritage as a nation, let us also look at another nation which, in biblical times, was given a great promise and covenant from God. The founders of these nations had at least one thing in common, they trusted in and relied upon God for their formation and mission. One nation was to be a great missionary nation. The other was commissioned by God to be a holy nation and royal priesthood.

Let us look at America first. The delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence took on great personal risk. They were fighting for what they thought was a higher cause and purpose than themselves. As written in the Declaration, they affirmed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As part of the Declaration, they made this pledge also:

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They did so, realizing what the pledge might bring to them personally. Nevertheless, they did not look back. They fully gave themselves to the cause.

The cost was steep. Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or hardships from the war.

Whether realizing it or not, they were following the example of Abraham and his descendents. Abraham entered into a covenant with God. When he did so he entered into unknown territory. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.   (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Abraham did not look back. He endured hardship not only for the promise which God had made to him. He did so for the benefit of all the generations who would him.

Those who followed Abraham endured great hardships as well. Again, from Hebrews we read:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The hardships were for a purpose. Israel was chose by God for a divine purpose. At Mount Sinai God spoke to Moses concerning their mission: 

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”   (Exodus 19:4-6)

This struggle, however, did not nullify the promise which God made to Moses at Mount Sinai on behalf of the children of Israel.

America has not yet become the land which God has called it to be. And Israel has not yet become a holy nation and a royal priesthood. What is impossible for humankind is possible with God

After the terrible battle of Gettysburg, which cost so many lives, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in his famous address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We have not fulfilled these words. Despite our efforts, we have fallen short of the dream that our forefathers had for America. We are not yet that nation under God, which provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens. This does not mean that we should stop striving. Without God the dream would not even be possible.

Our nation is now under attack, both from without and from within. There are people and forces who  wish to destroy America as we know it in order to rebuild their Utopia. While they tear down our institutions and work to destroy the family, they tell us to put our trust in them. They will save us if we follow them.

In today’s Old Testament lesson we read:

You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.   (Deuteronomy 10:20-21)

Moses was reminding the people of the true architect of the nation of Israel. Perhaps we need the same reminder?

God is calling us to perfection, but we must be willing to follow him. He is our perfection. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about perfection:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:43-48)

How will we ever achieve this perfection? We certainly cannot do it on our own. We need divine help. The hope for perfection is fulfilled by faith in Jesus Christ alone. It will take the Millennial Reign of Jesus on the Earth before perfection comes.

Israel will one day be a holy nation. Since we are the ingrafted branches, the American dream and experiment will also be consummated as Christians believers the world over join the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, we must press on. We must return to our heritage and, once again, seek to be a nation whose God is the Lord.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.   (Psalm 33:12)

Amen.

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Filed under Declaration of Independence, Fourth of July, Holy Day, Independence Day, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost