Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22

Track 1: The Stone that the Builders Rejected

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

Today we celebrate God giving the Law to Moses. Reading from today’s Old Testament scripture:

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.   (Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-17)

God wrote his commandments on stone tablets by his own hand. The stone meant that his commandments were permanent. They were to be perpetuated down through the ages. They would never be erased. They cannot be ignored or overlooked by humankind.

But Israel failed in keeping God’s commandments, just as we have failed. Our failure does not mean that his commandments have failed. We have dimply reject4ed God’s word and his requirements. Jesus spoke of this rejection:

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 21:42-44)

The psalmist wrote:

The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.   (Psalm 19:7-8)

The law is perfect, but who has kept the law of God perfectly? This is a vital question, because if we brake any part of God’s law we have  broken it all. The Apostle Paul tells us that no one has done this:

 It is written,

“No one is right with God, no one at all.
    No one understands.
    No one trusts in God.
All of them have turned away.
    They have all become worthless.
No one does anything good,
    no one at all.”    (Romans 3:11-12)

Jesus is the only one who kept the law without fail. He, in fact, has fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law by his life, death on the cross, and resurrection. He is the very embodiment of the law of God. He is the cornerstone of our church and of our lives.

If we have chosen Jesus as our rock, then we must stand on him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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;[e] 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[f] call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3::10-14)

Whom do we stand on today? Do we know him as Lord and savior? Or have we rejected him? Jesus give us this warning:

And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.   (Matthew 21:44)

 

 

Track 2: The Vineyard of the Lord

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

God provided for Israel. We read throughout the Old Testament how he nurtured them, fought for them, delivered them from bondage, provided a land with rich resources, and established a way for the people to receive his forgiveness and restoration.

Despite all of God’s faithfulness to his people, Israel proved unfaithful to God over and over again. God spoke through the Prophet:

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.   (Isaiah 5:1-2)

God called Israel his vineyard numerous times in scripture:

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 5:7)

In todays’ Gospel Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard:

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)

We also are Israel. We are the engrafted branches through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root[f] of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you.  (:17-20) 

Will are the branches if te vineyard, just as Israel. Jesus says to us:

“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)

God wants to display his glory through us. We read in Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.   (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus was referring to himself and he was taking about us. We are God’s tender plants. We we allow God to prune us, to nurture us? Jesus reminds us:

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing

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Saint Michael and All Angels

Spiritual 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 6:12-13)

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)

Angels 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.  Through 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. There is often a price to pay for doing so. We cannot cling to the things of this world. We may even have to face death, as in many parts of the world today, by proclaiming our faith.

We are in a battle. The same battle as the angels. It is a spiritual battle. Our weapon is prayer. But let us not forget that the power 0f our prayer is dependent upon holy living. The Book of James states:

Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.   (James 5:16)

We may also have to wage a war within ourselves. Paul wrote:

Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.   (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

But praise be to God we are not alone. God is with us. And his warring are on our side. 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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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21

Track 1: Is the Lord among Us

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Is God with me? Is he still on my side? Do we ever ask that? And if so, what would prompt us to ask it?

The children of Israel asked the same question. They had seen the miracles and the signs and wonders which God has performed on their behalf. Any yet they still doubted. It seems that when the least bit of uncertainty arises they immediately forget all that God has done in the past. It that us as well?

From today’s Old Testament reading:

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”   (Exodus 17:2-3)

Moses did not have an easy job. Apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers have followed suit. The ultimate questions that people ask can only be answered by God. God will surely answer them, yet he requires a level of faith on the part of the people who ask the questions.

Again we see that God is a God of miracles:

So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 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.   (Exodus 17:4-6)

God often puts us in places and situations where we, out of necessity, must call on him for help. Jesus put himself in that place for us. The Apostle 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.

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 the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:1-13)

This is the example Jesus has set for us:

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.

Can we learn to humble ourselves and become obedient? We do not face the cruel cross that Jesus faced because he has done that for us. But we do have a cross to bear. Our cross is to follow through on believing the good news of the Gospel. Jesus told this parable:

“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 21:28-32)

Are we the son who, though lacking in faith at first, learned to believe and follow through on the word of God? Or, are we the nominal Christian, who talks the talk but does not walk the walk? All that God requires of us is to believe in him, under all circumstances. That is our cross to bear. The Apostle Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

 

 

Track 2: The Fairness of God

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

The question of fairness is also a question of authority. Are we willing to give up our right to be right? The chief were not. Reading from today’s gospel:

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  (Matthew 21:23)

God has the authority to judge. But does he judge fairly? Jesus told this parable:

“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 21:28-32)

Those who are unwilling to keep God’s commandments from the heart are the ones who have the most questions about fairness. They go through the motions. They may even convince themselves that they are doing so, but what is their response when they are confronted by the authority of God?  God spoke through the Prophet Ezekiel:

Yet 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 1825-29)

God’s judgement of fairness is based on reality, the reality of the human heart. But he tempers that judgement with mercy and compassion. he psalmist wrote:

Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly.   (Psalm 25:5-8)

God has demonstrated his greatest compassion through the passion of his Son. All he requires is some humility from us. Will we give up our right to be right? Will we still try to justify ourselves before God? The priests and pharisees saw the miracle of Jesus, but they failed to believe in him. They held on to their own false teachings and their own false authority.

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St Matthew, Evangelist

Are You Calling Me?

Yes, God is calling you. He is calling me. He is calling us to be evangelists. Are we prepared to walk away from our personal plans and ambitions?

Matthew was a first century Galilean who collected taxes from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. He had become rich because of his trade, though he was despised like all the other tax collectors who worked for Rome. It must not have been an easy decision for Matthew to leave all that he had and follow an unknown itinerant preacher. After all, his call was very early in Jesus’ earthly ministry. He had little idea of what was being asked of him.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:9-13)

The Pharisees were gatekeepers. They made the rules and keep the scores, not for themselves but for everyone else. That is not what an evangelist does. The evangelist is the one who extends God’s mercy. Judgmental people do not understand evangelism. They may be pious. They may quote scripture. But do they understand the love of God

Matthew came in contact with the love of Jesus. It changed his whole direction. Are we ready to follow Jesus as Matthew did? Are we ready for a new direction? Do we know the love of God in our hearts? If so, then we will want to share it with others!

In proverbs we read:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Matthew, the tax collector, could answer the call of God because his heart had been touched. He set aside his agenda for that of the Lord Jesus. He did not know where Jesus would be leading him, but he trusted him nonetheless. Do we trust Jesus? Do we love Jesus? He is calling us to go on a adventure. We may never leave home, but we will see our neighbors in a whole new light. Our joy will be to share the good news of Christ with them and all whom we meet.

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