St. Philip and St. James

Greater Works Ministry

Today we celebrate the lives and ministries of the Apostles Philip and James, son of Alphaeus, often called “the Less.” James was called this name to distinguish him from James, the brother of John. Little is known about him. We know that he was chosen by Jesus and that he was among the twelve disciples on the Day of Pentecost. He was possibly an early witness to the resurrection if he is the James as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:7.

James the Less was martyred for the Faith because he would not renounce Jesus as required by the Jewish high priest. Thus, James was faithful to the end and serves as an example for us all. Without the commitment of James, and others like him, we would not have the Church today.

Let us now turn to the Apostle Philip. In today’s New Testament reading, he seems to be having doubts when he asked Jesus a very important question:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”   (John 14:8-14)

When the words of Jesus sank in this same Philip became a great evangelist. He began performing the “greater works” which Jesus promised. The signs and wonders he performed made a great impact on the people of Samaria when he preached the word there:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.   (Acts 8:4-8)

How did the skeptic Philip grow into such a powerful evangelist? He meditated on the teachings of Jesus. Jesus explained that the greater works that Philip and others were called to do would be accomplished in the same manner as Jesus accomplished them in his own ministry on earth. Jesus said:

“The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”   (John 14:10)

Jesus did not do the works. God the Father, in him, did the works. This may sound strange but we remember that the Son of God gave up all his divinity and spiritual power when he came to the earth. Jesus relied on prayer and his close relationship with the Father.

Are we ready to step into the “greater works” ministry? We must first step into Jesus and the Father by faith. Then we must receive the promise from the Father which is the Holy Spirit. If a skeptic like Philip could answer the call then why should we remain a skeptic when there is an exciting ministry ahead waiting for us?

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Saint Mark, Evangelist

saint-mark-1621Repent and Believe

The evangelist Mark was a traveling companion of Peter. He recorded Peter’s sermons and stories found in the Gospel of Mark. It is clear that Mark’s Gospel was written by a masterful storyteller. Though short, this Gospel has great impact and clarity. In the opening of his Gospel he gets right to the point:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-15)

Notice that Mark’s Gospel is an action Gospel. It moves quickly and it asks us to move along with it.

Mark was a great evangelist who got right to the point. The Apostle Paul gives us a perception on the importance of evangelism when he speaks about God’s gifts to the Church:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.   (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The evangelist follows the apostles and prophets in importance. Often times they are thought of as shallow or not very sophisticated. For Mark, the Gospel was simple: Repent and believe. That is the starting point for every Christian and should be the essential message of the Church. Too many of today’s “seeker” churches have forgotten this message.

Mark was willing to risk everything for the sake of telling the Gospel message. Ultimately, he paid the price with his life. What are we willing to risk today? Jesus told His disciples:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (Mark 16:15-20)

Are we prepared to join Mark? What will the Lord say about our feet?

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:7-10)

We are living in the last days. Evangelism is of paramount importance. There is little time for frills. At the very least we can earnestly pray for the rescue of all lost souls.

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Second Sunday of Easter, Year C

Coming to Believe

Today’s readings have to do with faith in the name of Jesus. Through faith in Jesus we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The reading from the Gospel of John makes this very clear:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.   (John 20:30)

From the reading from the Book of Acts, Peter declares

The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.   (Acts 5:30-31)

It is curious that in today’s Gospel reading from John we also read about the lack of faith on the part of the disciple Thomas. Thomas had not been with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them as a group after his resurrection. Thomas did not believe the testimony of his fellow disciples.

Then Jesus appeared to his disciples again:

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”   (John 20:26-29)

What does this reading tell us? It does indicate the weakness of Thomas’ faith. Faith is so important to our Christian walk. Nonetheless, Jesus did not condemn Thomas. He used his lack of faith as an illustration of two very significant aspects of the Christian faith that are often overlooked: the importance of Christian witness and the significance of spiritual growth.

We are blessed today because we have been witnessed to by others concerning the life and ministry of Jesus. We did not see him on earth as the early disciples did. Yet we have learned to believe in him. Faith development is an ongoing process.

Some might say that you either have faith or you don’t. It is as simple as that. The Book of James would say otherwise. This Book was thought to be so radical by Martin Luther he stated that it should have never been included in canon of New Testament scripture. He is one of the radical thoughts concerning faith by James:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.   (James 2:14-19)

James seems to be suggesting that a person’s faith can be too shallow. Faith should inform one’s whole being. It should motivate us to do good works.

Thomas had a problem. He found it too difficult to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Yet Thomas became a great missionary apostle. He grew in his faith. He matured over time. And he truly came to believe in his Lord and savior very deeply.

Jesus said:

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”   (John 20:29)

Blessed people are those who have come to believe. God gives us what we need to get started. Thomas needed to see his resurrected Lord in the flesh. Others did not. The blessing is in the coming to believe. This coming is a process and God is behind the process. He is with us in our struggles and he teaches us to believe in his precious promise of freedom from sin and eternal life with God.

How important is our witnessing the Gospel to others? It is as important as life and death. We are given the opportunity by the Holy Spirit to help bring others to an understanding of Christian message. Jesus is not dead. He has risen.

If we still find it difficult to witness to others then, perhaps, our faith has not matured as God has intended it. Witnessing helps lead to maturity and maturity helps lead us to witnessing.

Today, are we a doubting Thomas today in our faith? That is not the unforgivable sin. Jesus does not condemn us. He wants us to recognize where we are, but he also wants to lead us forward. When Thomas understood that Jesus had risen from the dear, he said:

“My Lord and my God!”

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Saturday in Easter Week

192Witnesses to the Resurrection

esus was not pleased with His disciples who had heard the testimony of the women but did not believe:

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.   (Mark 16:14-15)

The Apostles Peter and John, when they believed, became very bold in their faith. Without their witness the Church would never have survived or grown. So vital is the witness of the Christian believer that Satan will do all in his power to thwart it. We see this in today’s reading from Acts:

When the rulers and elders and scribes saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.   (Acts 4:13-21)

Today, we are called by God to be his witnesses. We are now the disciples of Jesus. Are we bold in our testimony? If we are then we soon discovered how much the enemy comes against us. Now in America, Christians are beginning to experience persecution that only existed in others parts of the world. As times goes on the persecution will become more intense. What will be our response? Will we still be able to speak of Jesus with Joy? The psalmist wrote:

Open for me the gates where the godly can go in.
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord.
    Only those who do what is right can go through it.
Lord, I will give thanks to you, because you answered me.
    You have saved me.

The stone the builders didn’t accept
    has become the most important stone of all.
The Lord has done it.
    It is wonderful in our eyes.
The Lord has done it on this day.
    Let us be joyful today and be glad.   (Psalm 118:19-24)

As our faith is tested, we will discover how deep our faith really is. Let us pray to God for the faith, courage, and strength to carry out our assignments. We find ourselves strengthen in our faith when we do express it to others. Not only that, but we encourage others in their faith as well.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.   (2 Corinthians 13;11)

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.   (1 Thessalonians 5:10-11)

 

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