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 are not prepared to answer the call from God. They may be pious. They may quote scripture. But they have not actually experienced to love of God in their hearts.

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!

Not always knowing the direction in which God is leading us, when we trust God and understand his love we will be ready to serve Christ to the fullest. 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)

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 19B

Track 1: Wisdom Calls Us

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Today we look at the wisdom of God. One of the first things we should notice from reading in Proverbs is that God wants to impart his wisdom to us:

Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.

At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?

Give heed to my reproof;

I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.

The wisdom of God cries out to us. Do we cry out to the wisdom of God? We do if we understand that we need his wisdom. The author of the Book of James writes:

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)

One of the ways in which God implants his wisdom in us is by our reading of the scriptures. The psalmist writes:

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)

When I was in seminary I asked the Lord for a mentor. I felt that I needed someone to help me understand and interpret God’s word. I had a certain minister in mind, but he did not seem all that interested in helping me. I complained to the Lord about this. Several years later I realized that this esteemed pastor and preacher had turned away from the truth of God’s word.

James warned us about some teachers:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.   (James 3:1)

If we had to say who is the best teacher of the word of God, who would that be? Perhaps the wisdom of God itself is our best teacher. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.   (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

If we are open to the Holy Spirit of God, he alone can lead us into all truth. Jesus said:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.   (John 16:12-14)

The wisdom of God has made provision for us. Are we ready to receive all the wonderful lessons which he wants to teach us. Wisdom is our primary source of understanding God’s word. He will give us that understanding through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Having a human mentor is not necessarily a bad idea, however. But we must choose very carefully. We must examine the fruit of their ministry. James writes:

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 need the pure wisdom of God. Let us always pray that we receive this wisdom. If we seek this wisdom we will find it. God has given us his promise.

 

 

Track 2: Man and Ministry

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-8
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Today we once more examine the question for the ages. Jesus brings it up in today’s Gospel reading, From Marks Gospel:

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.   (Mark 8:27-30)

What other people say about Jesus is not as critical to us as what we say about Jesus. God is looking for a declaration from us about who Jesus is to us. Not only that, he also wants us to understand what that might mean. Jesus explained to his disciples:

The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Mark 8:31-33)

What was Peter missing? He correctly identified who Jesus was and is, but he failed to understand what that might mean. Our Christology must include both the person and purpose of Jesus. The Apostle wrote to the Church in Rome:

But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 10:8-10

In today’s Gospel reading Peter does declare that “Jesus is Lord.” Paul implies that, not only must we declare who Jesus is, we must understand in our hearts what his ministry is about. Peter failed to understand the part about the cross and resurrection which Jesus was attempting to explain to his disciples. Later, Peter would understand after the resurrection.

The psalmist had an understand of the underlying ministry of God, even in his day. For that reason he called upon the name of the Lord:

The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me;
I came to grief and sorrow.

Then I called upon the Name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”

Gracious is the Lord and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.

The Lord watches over the innocent;
I was brought very low, and he helped me.

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,
for the Lord has treated you well.

For you have rescued my life from death,
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.   (Psalm 116:2-8)

Have we called upon the Lord Jesus? Can we say, as did the psalmist?:

I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.   (Psalm 116:8)

Jesus’ ministry is about life and life eternal. Let us live continually in the presence of the Lord. His blood washes away all of our sins. He is the only way to God the Father. That is the confession which we must make and that is the confession in which we must live. Jesus said:

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”   (Mark 8:38)

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Holy Cross Day

Day of Judgment

The Prophet Isaiah forecast a time when God would hold a court to judge humankind for sin. Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Israel, but Israel was a proxy for all the nations of the world.

Through Isaiah God made this declaration:

Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!

Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?

Was it not I, the Lord?
There is no other god besides me,

a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is no one besides me.   (Isaiah 45:21)

We are asked by God to present our case to him. God is also saying that he is qualified to judge our case because he is creator and has established all life. There is no other god besides him. Furthermore, his very nature and character qualifies him. He will be fair because he is not only a righteous God, but he is also our Savior.

A righteous God must be fair, but he must also be just. He must declare the injustice caused by sin. Sin cannot ignored or swept under the rug. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” according to Romans 6:23.

How is God able to accomplish a most difficult task, that of being both compassionate and just?

Before his verdict of guilty and penalty of death, God provided a path of escape. He did so through his Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the cruel crucifixion of Jesus by his own choice and desire:

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 2:5-11)

In today’s Gospel reading we see a link between the judgement of God and a route of escape:

Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.   (John 12:31-33)

On the cross the sins of the whole world were judged. Jesus bore our sins for us while hanging from a cross and received the Father’s judgement.  That final of judgement of sin was once and for all, for all who believe. The Apostle Paul’s full quote from Romans is this:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 6:23)

Have we allow God to judge our sins through his Son Jesus? If so, we must acknowledge it. We must turn towards Jesus. One more God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:

“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;

all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.   (Isaiah 45:22-25)

Do we want triumph and glory? The only judgement of God that is left is the judgement of fallen angels. That judgement is not meant for us. Do we ignore such a great gift of salvation established on a Holy Cross? If Jesus humbled himself, why can we not humble ourselves? In Hebrews we read:

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will..   (Hebrews 2:1-4)

It is the cross that makes us holy. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus.  God’s judgment day was on the day Jesus died on that cross. If we refuse what Christ has done for us we nullify the power of the cross and join ourselves with fallen angels who await the lake of fire.

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