Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

saint-john-the-apostle-08Walk in the Light

When all the other disciples had deserted Jesus at the cross John was there with Mary the mother of Jesus. He was called the disciple that Jesus loved. He wrote a Gospel which has the simplest structure and words with regard to reading level, but which contains some of the deepest understandings of the nature of God and His purposes. John was probably the only Apostle who died of old age. John was exceptional in so many ways. His message was also exceptional. Many scholars want to write off the authenticity and validity of John’s Gospel as well as his epistles. Others will say that his Book of Revelation was some sort of mystery code written only for its day. However, John cannot be ignored if we are to grasp the essence of the Christian Faith.

What is John’s message? Can we summarize what the Spirit of God was saying through his writings? Let us say that John was the messenger of Light in a dark world. Jesus is that Light and He draws us to Himself through a community of love:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 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 1:5-9)

For many people today Christianity is a self-help program. John teaches us that we must live in community, that we cannot have true fellowship with one another unless we are transparent. We must live in the Light of God if we are to have true fellowship. The only downside is that we will be exposed for who we really are. We are sinners. That is why we prefer the darkness of this world:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.   (John 3:18-20)

If we understand the Gospel of John then we will not stop at the edge of the Light. We must enter into the Light. We must enter into Jesus. When we do we have this promise from him:

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John’s teachings are the culmination of the season of Advent message and an invitation to live in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Will that be our Christmas this year? If so, how long can we make it last? It will last for an eternity if we remain in the Light.

SaveSave

Leave a comment

Filed under Christmas, Feast Day, Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, St. John, Year C

Saint Stephen

First Martyr for the Faith

For those who refuse to change, the truth of God is unbearable. This has always been true and is still true today. Let us look at some examples. God sent Jeremiah to King Jehoiakim to warn the nation of impending doom if the people did not repent. This is how the people in authority responded to his prophecy:

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, `This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.   (Jeremiah 26:7-9)

The messenger of God is rejected because the message of God is rejected.

Jesus lamented over Jerusalem:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”   (Matthew 23:37-39)

Jesus was crucified because the Jewish leaders could not bear his message. They rejected him because they also rejected God the Father. They rejected his plan for their nation and the whole world. They wanted a different message and a different Messiah.

In today’s Epistle lesson we have the example of Stephen:

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.   (Acts 6:8-11)

Stephen was not only a servant of the Church as a deacon, he was a powerful purveyor of the Gospel. The leaders could not withstand the message of Stephen which was by the Holy Spirit. Thus they rejected Stephen. Stephen became the first martyr for the Faith. He was an innocent man full of God’s grace and power, yet he was stoned to death in the name of religion.

People have a certain concept of God. When challenged by God’s truth they often will do anything , including destroying the messenger of God, to keep from hearing and complying with his Word. How far are we willing to go today to reject the Word of God?

The Word was made flesh for us and died on the cross as payment for our sins. Are we to reject such a great salvation? Are we to reject healings? Are we to reject prophecy in our day? Some of our churches and denominations do not allow for certain manifestation of God’s power and presence because they do not allow for God’s truth. Church doctrine does not take the place of the truth in God’s Word.

Where do we stand today? Are we open to God? Are we seeking his revelation in our lives? Is his Word all important to us? If so, then we will surely be persecuted, even within the Church. When that occurs, will we still hold on to the truth at all costs?

Stephen was a man whom the Word of God was all important to him. He was willing to die for it so that the truth might be told. Not only that, he was able to forgive the very people who were stoning him to death.

We would not have the Church today without the testimony of Stephen and many faithful martyrs for the cause of the Gospel. As in the days of Stephen, we are living in an age hostile to the Gospel, even in America. Will we step up and step out for the Gospel in our day?

SaveSave

1 Comment

Filed under Christmas, Feast Day, Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, Saint Stephen, sermon, sermon preparation, Year C

Christmas Day: Proper I

The Kingdom of Light

These readings are traditionally used during the Christmas Eve service in many liturgical churches. They may be used on Christmas Day as well.

In today’s Old Testament reading, the Prophet Isaiah foretells a great event:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  (Isaiah 9:6)

At the time this prophecy was being fulfilled the world had become immersed in darkness, much like it is today. Israel was under Roman rule. Rome had laid upon the people a heavy tax. In today’s Gospel we read:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.   Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  (Luke 2:1-4)

Who would come and save them from the burden of Rome? A prophet of God had not spoken to them in 400 years. Many had lost hope that God would ever deliver them from the tyranny of foreign rule. This was about to change:

Joseph went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.   (Luke 2:5-7)

A far greater tyranny existed than Rome. This tyranny was a spiritual one imposed by the ruler of darkness. As a result, many Israelites had lost the meaning of God’s great love for them. Perhaps this is still true for many of us today.

Into this darkness a great message of hope was spoken, to shepherds no less:

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”   (Luke 2:8-14)

The light of Christ had come

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.  (Isaiah (9:2-4)

Satan had blinded the understanding of God’s people. Though Rome was oppressive, the way the Law of Moses was interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees was even more so. Heavy burdens had been placed on the people through numerous religious rules and regulations.

Only the light of Christ could dispel this great darkness. His teachings and his examples clearly demonstrated God’s love for his people. Not only that, but he took on all our burdens by his death on the cross.

Are we still living in darkness today? What about the song: “He is making a list and checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty or nice?” Do we measure up? Can God still love us? Have we done enough?

Jesus has done enough! He is still lifting our burdens if we will allow him. Again, from Isaiah:

His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.  (Isaiah 9:7)

We no longer need to live under the tyranny of darkness which tells us that God does not truly love us unless we measure up. God loves us because he measures up. He will establish justice and righteousness for this time onward and forevermore. Human beings cannot do this, though some falsely say that they can. Only God has the means, the authority, and the zeal to accomplish this.

Under this world’s governmental system there will always be some form of oppression. However, this world is passing away. The Kingdom of Light is growing and expanding. Do we not see it? Jesus is still calling people into his everlasting kingdom. Everyone is invited. Have we opened our invitation to join him? This is the true gift of Christmas.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let every hearts prepare him room. Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christmas, Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

Christmas Day: Proper II

mangerThe Greatest Gift of All

These readings are traditionally used during the Christmas Day service in many liturgical churches.

Homily for Adults

Christmas is an exciting time. Children have been anticipating the day all year. The Jewish people were waiting for their Messiah for a very long time. In fact, they had not heard from a prophet for four-hundred years. Were they now ready to hear directly from God? Are we ready?

Can we imagine how excited the shepherds were when they heard a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”   (Luke 2:14)

The shepherd could not have fully understood what the angels were say, but they did not sit idly by:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  (Luke 2:15-16)

The message to the shepherds is a universal message. How do we respond to it today? We are talking about the greatest gift of all. Do we receive it? Do we unwrap it? Children do not need to be told to unwrap their presents.

The Apostle Paul helps us unwrap God’s gift:

When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.   (Titus 3:4)

Part of unwrapping Christmas is understanding and receiving the new birth in Christ. This gift from God is for each one of us, but we must acknowledge it with thanksgiving. We cannot taken it for granted. It is not meant to be set aside and forgotten.

An often neglected part of unwrapping Christmas is the receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is for our renewal. God will pour his Spirit on us and into us. This is the Spirit which leads us into all truth and fully explains all that Jesus has taught us and is still teaching us.

If we have received God’s gift, then we, like the shepherds, will have cause for great celebration:

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.   (Luke 2:20)

Are we excited about the greatest gif of all enough to want to unwrap it and share it with others?

 

Homily for Children

Gather the children together up near the altar. Give them a chance to settle down and feel comfortable.

Homilist: Do you enjoy getting gifts at Christmas?

   Kids: Yes!

Homilist: Do you like unwrapping them?

   Kids: Of course!

Homilist: How can you tell that a gift is yours?

   Kids: It has my name on it.

Homilist: Would you like to wait a little while before opened your gifts?

   Kids: No!

Homilist: What would you do with a gift when it has been opened?

   Kids: We would look at it and maybe play with it!

Homilist: What if you got the Greatest Gift of all time and your name was written to it? Would you not unwrap it?

    Kids: No way!

Homilist: Now remember that you have to send thank-you notes to everyone who has given you a gift.

    Kids; Yeah, we know. But what about that gift you were talking about? What kind of gift is it?

Homilist: It is a gift from God.

   Kids: Wow! What is it?

Homilist: The birth of His Son Jesus who came to the earth for us.

    Kids: Oh! The baby Jesus.

Homilist: Why is His birth important?

    Kids: Because He came to save us?

Homilist: Yes. Do you think everyone who knows about this gift should unwrap it?

   Kids: If their name was on it.

Homilist: Everyone’s name is on this gift!

   Kids: What do you mean unwrap it?

Homilist: Take it out of the box and play with it.

   Kids: Jesus wants to play with us?

Homilist: Yes, and after we do we should send Him a thank-you note.

    Kids:  Can you send a note to heaven?

Homilist: He is listening to us and He is always with us. If we just say we are thankful He would hear.

     Kids: Oh! When should we thank Him?

Homilist: Every day. Wouldn’t it be sad if someone didn’t open God’s gift?

     Kids: No way. They have to open it.

Homilist: I want to read a verse from scripture to you:

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.   (Ephesians 2:4-8)

Homilist: Do you see that grace is a gift of God?

   Kids: Yes. But do we really have to send God a thank-you note?

Homilist: Let me read you this scripture:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.   (Romans 10:9-10)

Homilist: God needs us to thank Him with our mouths.

   Kids: Can we do that now?

Homilist: Yes, and at each new day we need to thank him for the greatest gift of all.

 

Obviously this homily is not a script to be memorized by the children. It will not do the homilist any good to memorize it either, because at some point our listeners are going to take off on a tangent. This advice from our Lord apples:

“Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”   (Luke 12:11-12)

What is desired is a dialogue with the children. They are a fearsome force to face, but with patience, listening carefully what the children may be saying, and waiting on the Holy Spirit, some good may emerge. We need to have courage and place ourselves fully in the hands of the Lord.

SaveSave

1 Comment

Filed under children service, Christmas, Christmas Day, Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B