Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22A

MTZION-1Track 1: The Fear of the Lord

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

God calls us out of this fallen world. He wants us to come apart and be separate os that we may have fellowship with him. The story fo the children of Israel is our story.

When God came down on Mount Sinai to speak with the children of Israel it was a frightening experience for them. From Exodus we read:

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”   (Exodus 20:18-20)

Fear, however, kept the Israelites from wanting to come close to God. God is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Anyone who is in the near presence of God becomes manifestly aware of their sin. Though the Israelites told Moses they would listen to whatever God said through Moses, they did not want to hear from him directly.

History proved them wrong. They did not listen actually listen to God because they wanted to hold on to their sins. Moses told them that the fear they experienced in God’s presence was designed to keep them from sinning.

A Holy God must judge sin. People fear God because they fear his judgement. He read in 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)

Is this fear bad? The psalmist tells us that fear of the Lord is a good thing:

The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.   (Psalm 19:9)

The Hebrew word translated as “clean” means “purifying.” Without a fear of God their is little desire to be purified. Obviously many people living in this world today have little fear of God.

In Proverbs we read:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.   (Proverbs 9:10)

Fear is not the end of wisdom, however. Fear has to do with punishment. The Apostle John places fear in the perspective of the Gospel.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:16-18)

God is still calling us to come into his presence. Where do we stand today? Do we desire to get closer to him or do we stand back? The Apostle Paul did not stand back. In today’s Epistle we read:

I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:8-14)

Paul understood that he was not going to be able to fulfill the righteous requirements of God’s law on his own. He needed to press in to God by growing in knowledge of Christ. Paul rejected himself and what he could accomplish on his own. Rather, his building block became Jesus Christ.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, speaks about himself as the cornerstone:

“Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?   (Matthew 21:42)

Do we know Jesus as our cornerstone? He alone can satisfy the righteous requirements of the law. He alone can present us spotless before the Father in heaven. He alone can perfect us in love. He took our punishment on the cross so that we may boldly approach him by faith. Is he calling us today to come closer? If so, why would we stand back?

 

 

Track 2: The Unfruitful Vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

From today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah we have the Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard:

Let me sing for my beloved

    my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
    and people of Judah,
judge between me
    and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
    that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
    why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
    what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
    and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
    and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
    it shall not be pruned or hoed,
    and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
    that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
    but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
    but heard a cry!.   (Isaiah 5:1-7)

The house of Israel is the vineyard. God had great expectations for Israel. Of all the nations on earth God took great care to protect and nature Israel. He looked for Israel to produce fruit. They were to provide fruit upon which the whole world would feast. But this did not happen which brought judgement from God.

The psalmist asked:

Why have you broken down its wall,
so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?

The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it,
and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.

Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine;
preserve what your right hand has planted.   (Psalm 80:12-14)

God tends his vineyard. He provides the sunshine of his love. He waters the vineyard with his Word and Spirit. God expects fruit in return. The plants must simply drink in God’s nourishment.

Jesus tells a parable:

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”   (Matthew 21:33-41)

How could anyone act so atrociously? How could they be so selfish? What could have possibly prompted the tenants in the parable to behave in such a bizarre way? Perhaps they wanted to prove they could tend the vineyard on their own, without the landowner’s help? Perhaps they decided that they should take ownership of the vineyard and eliminate the Landowners participation altogether? How could they be so evil? And how could we crucify the Lord of Glory?

Israel is still the planting of the Lord. God has not abandoned them. We are the ingrafted branches of Israel. We, therefore, are also the planting of the Lord, provided that we have accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Do we see in our selves any of the characteristics that were in the tenants in the parable? Another way of asking this question: Are we producing fruit in our lives – fruit that remains. In John’s Gospel we read:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.   (John 15:1-5)

The tenants in the parable thought they could produce fruit on there own. But they could not. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees through this parable. Is he speaking to us today?

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”   (Matthew :42-44)

If we are to produce fruit then we cannot reject Jesus, his teachings, and his gift of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. He is the vinedresser and we are the branches.

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21A

Track 1: Is the Lord among Us or Not?

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 2t1:23-32

In today’s Old Testament we once again read how the children of Israel lost faith, even when God almighty performed signs and wonders in their midst:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”   (Exodus 17:5-7)

Before we become too hard on the children of Israel let us ask ourselves how many times we have asked the same question about God when the challenges of life seemed to overwhelm us. It is altogether too easy to become blind to what God is doing when our faith is chanllenged. Faith is our spiritual sight. In Hebrews we read:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.   (Hebrews 11:1-3)

God, again, caused Moses to perform a miraculous sign to help restore the faith of the Israelites. The psalmist writes:

He split open the sea and let them pass through;
he made the waters stand up like walls.

He led them with a cloud by day,
and all the night through with a glow of fire.

He split the hard rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink as from the great deep.

He brought streams out of the cliff,
and the waters gushed out like rivers.   (Psalm 78:13-26

How much does it take for us to believe that God is with us? What if God chose to show up in person? He did! He became Emmanuel – God with us. His Son left his throne in heaven to share our human nature – to live and die as one of us. Paul writes:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus has become part of us. We are inseparable, provided that we have accepted his unconditional love and sacrifice. Have we done so?

Paul continues:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under theand every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:9-11)

When we make him Lord of our lives we become as much a part of him as he becomes of us. There is no longer the question: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Moses struck the rock in the desert and water flowed out. Jesus was struck in the side while he was hanging on the cross. Both blood and water flowed out. For those who believe, however, out of his side flowed rivers of living water as well. We have that living water, the Holy Spirit of God, living within us. Thanks be to God!

The question of whether or not God is with us needs to be changed. Are we with God? Have we given our life to Christ? If so, he is our deliverer, redeemer, healer, and friend. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: Repentance

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

“He is making a list, he is checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty or nice. Santa Clause is coming to town.” This well known song is not a version of the Gospel. It is a perversion. It may be cute but it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the clever false gospel of the fallen angel Satan. The song may be cute, but there is nothing truthful about it.

Satan attempts to warp our minds when it comes to sin. He tempts us into sin and then accuses us of being sinners. Satan’s tricks are very subtle. He works on the margin of truth. We should follow the laws of God, but without God’s help we cannot.

God wants to liberate our theology about sin. The Prophet Ezekiel gets at the very core of Satan’s deception:

You say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?   (Ezekiel 18:25-32)

Satan wants us to believe that we can store up points with God when we do good. God is saying through Ezekiel that our standing with God has to do with the condition of our hearts and not with our “good works.” Good works do not erase our sins. Good works do not restore us to God when we sin. God requires one thing only: repentance. He is looking for our change of heart.

Jesus illustrated this point with today’s parable from Matthew:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:23-32)

The Pharisees were the gatekeepers. They were the scorekeepers. They decided who entered the Kingdom of God and who did not. The very ones they ruled out of the Kingdom God rules in. Tax collectors and the prostitutes who repented from their ways, who had a change of heart, who chose to live a new life in Christ, met God’s requirement. They repented of their sins and sought to lead a new life with God’s help.

If we are still keeping score on others or even on ourselves, then we do not understand the Gospel. The message is simple: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is also: repent and keep on repenting. In John’s First Epistle we read:

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)

Jesus has paid the price for our sin on the cross. He has freed us from the power of sin. Nevertheless, if we go on sinning it is because we are unwilling to confess our sins. We are unwilling to repent. We are saying that we accept the cross of Christ but we are unwilling to carry our own cross and follow him.

The Apostle Paul struggled with sin as do we all. In Romans he wrote:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

 

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Saint Michael and All Angels

649Spiritual Warfare

We are in a battle on this earth. The battle has been ongoing for a long time but it did not begin here. The battle began in heaven:

And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.   (Revelation 12:7-9)

We are in an epic battle and we must understand who our real enemy is. The Apostle Paul writes:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.   (Ephesians 6:12)

We are fighting the forces of evil. Evil is real. We cannot defeat it by our own strength. Fortunately, we are not in this battle alone. God is with us. His holy angels are on our side. The archangel Michael and his angels are still fighting for us. Today, we honor Michael and all the holy angels.

Yet, it is important for us to understand that we do not worship angles but the One true God who has made us all. Again, the Apostle Paul writes:

Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,   (Colossians 2:18)

Angle are not to be worshipped. They are to be honored. Let us show our appreciation for the warring angels through our prayers. The psalmist wrote:

The Lord has set his throne in heaven,
and his kingship has dominion over all.

Bless the Lord, you angels of his,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
and hearken to the voice of his word.

Bless the Lord, all you his hosts,
you ministers of his who do his will.   (Psalm 103:19-21)

We can give thanks to God for our guardian angels, but we should not pray to them, or to anyone else, but God alone.

The holy angels are fighting against evil and we must also fight evil. We have two primary weapons to do so. In Revelation we read:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,

“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,

for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.

But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,

for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.   (Revelation 12:10-12)

We have the blood of Jesus which covers our sins. This gives us access to the throne of God. By faith in the blood of Jesus we appropriate the righteousness of God in Christ. Thus we have authority over the devil. That is important to understand because prayer is our primary weapon against evil. We can bind evil with our prayers because we have authority over evil by the blood of the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ

Our faith must be complimented by our testimony, however, if our prayer is to be effective. If we claim the blood of Jesus then we must boldly tell others. Our prayers are also made powerful by the word of our testimony. Let us be bold as the Archangel Michael and not shrink back from the face of evil in this world. Amen.

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