Tag Archives: Abraham

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21C

Track 1: Hold on to Hope

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

Jeremiah lived in desperate times. The army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem and Jeremiah was the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace by Zedekiah, king of Judah. From today’s reading in Jeremiah:

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.   (Jeremiah 32:6-8)

This was not a time when one would expect a strong real-estate market. War was ready about ready to break out. But Jeremiah knew that God had spoken so he proceeded with the transaction:

In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.   (Jeremiah 32:13-15)

In troubling times in whom do we trust? The psalmist wrote:

You shall not be afraid of any terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flies by day;

Of the plague that stalks in the darkness,
nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.

Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

With long life will I satisfy him,
and show him my salvation.   (Psalm 91:5-6, 14-16)

Are we bound to God in love, no matter the circumstances? This was certainly the case for the Apostle Paul. He wrote Timothy to encourage him:

For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.   (2 Timothy 1:11-12)

Paul was undergoing persecution. This happens to every strong Christian. He is telling his young protege to not lose hope under any circumstances. Why? Because God has a plan for each of us that transcends anything else that we might be faced with on this earth.

Paul wrote the church in Rome:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

This life can be very difficult, especially for Christians. We must not give up regardless of the circumstances. We must go on with our lives because God is with when we put our trust in him. He is with us when we are bound to him in love. And he has a plan to see us through all of what we may be facing. Our task is to hold on to a holy hope. God has given us the power of his Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that this hope will not disappoint us. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: The Rich Man and Lazarus

Amos 6:1a,4-7
Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

Jesus told parables that were intriguing stories. Of course, they were much more than stories. They illustrated deep truths that cannot and should not be ignored. One of the questions that many people have, including some Christians, is whether or not there is an actual flaming hell. Today’s parable in the Gospel of Luke leaves no doubt:

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.

How did the rich man end up here? That is the vital question. What went wrong? In the parable Abraham implies that the poor person was overlooked:

Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.

The rich man was comfortable in life and well supplied with whatever he needed. The poor man was right at his gate, but the rich man obviously ignored him and his needs.

During the time of the Prophet Amos, God spoke out against those who were at ease and uncaring of others:

Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.

Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,

and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;

who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;

who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.   (Amos 6:1a,4-7)

Unfortunately, some contemporary American churches have stressed that financial blessings are available to those with enough faith. According to the Apostle Paul this emphasis is all wrong:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.   (1 Corinthians 15:19)

Paul understood first hand that being a strong Christian often meant persecution. He also believed that money can be a trap for many Christians:

There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.   (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Paul wrote that the love of money is evil. Money, itself, is not necessarily evil. It all depends on how it is used. Paul writes:

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.   (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Rich or rich in good works? Jesus laid down his life for us. Are we willing to lay down our lives for others?

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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 14C

Track 1: Strangers and Foreigners on the Earth

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Have you heard the saying that people can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good?” Obviously this suggests that certain spiritual or religious people are not down to earth enough in their thinking and, thus, are not in touch with what is going on, or that, maybe they are not practical in their thinking.

Does religion get in the way. It seems that God may be saying this through the Prophet Isaiah:

New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation–
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.   (Isaiah 1:13-14)

Israel was observing God’s appointed festivals, but their hearts were not really in them. The religious celebrations were empty because the people were disobeying God’s commandments.

What about the spiritual part. Can people be too spiritual? Certainly the depends on which Spirit to which we are referring. The Epistle reading speaks about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were promised a land of their own which they never lived in. Nevertheless, they were able, spiritually, to look beyond earthly realm. Reading from Hebrews:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

They put their faith and trust in God, regardless of their earthly circumstances. Perhaps the problem with the expression “earthly good” is that the earth is not good. Jesus would not let people call him good. He said that there is only one person who is good is God the Father.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.   (Romans 3:21-26)

Though God is the only one good, he prepared a way through his Son to consider us good by faith alone. Abraham believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Just as Abraham believed the Lord, so, too, we can believe on the redemptive act of our Lord Jesus Christ and be considered righteous by faith alone.

Perhaps we need to be heavenly minded. That is our only hope of overcoming sin and God’s judgement. The Apostle Paul writes:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.   (Colossians 3:1-3)

In todays Gospel, Jesus warned:

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”   (Luke 12:35-40)

Heavenly minded or earthly good? There is no earthly good apart from our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us stand in our faith and be ready for the coming of his kingdom on earth. Will no longer be strangers and foreigners on the earth. We will be right at home.

 

 

Track 2: The Righteousness by Faith

Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Abraham was on a journey with God. It was not just a geographical journey.  It was also a faith journey. From today’s Epistle reading:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old– and Sarah herself was barren– because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”   (Hebrews 11:8-12)

We do not have to conjure up faith on our own. Faith is a gift from God. God has given everyone a measure of faith. Exercising our faith is another matter. Obstacles often appear to be standing in our way. These difficulties, if we dwell upon them, can often lead to unbelief. This did not happen with Abraham. From today’s Old Testament lesson:

The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.   (Genesis 15:1-6)

God can reckon the we are righteous because Jesus has taken away our sins. The Apostle Paul writes:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The key phrase is “in him.” We cannot go it alone in this world. We need Jesus. Taking our eyes off him is what the tempter sells us each day. Jesus reassures us but also warns us:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”   (Luke 12:32-34)

Abraham was on a journey with God. We are on a journey with God. This requires faith, but also a measure of trust. Do we trust God? Do we trust Jesus? We cannot show that we trust him when we cling to the things of this world.

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Independence Day

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.

A More Perfect Union

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our great heritage as a nation, let us compare our nation with another great nation. In biblical times, this nation was given a great promise and covenant from God. This is the nation of Israel. Today, both of these nations are in a great struggle.

The founding fathers of these two nations had at least one thing in common, they trusted in and relied upon God for their formation and mission. One nation was to be a great missionary nation. The other was commissioned by God to be a holy nation and royal priesthood.

Let us look at America first. The delegates, who signed the Declaration of Independence, took on great personal risk. They were fighting for what they thought was a higher cause and purpose than any personal gain for themselves. As written in the Declaration, they affirmed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As part of this Declaration, they made a pledge:

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They did so, realizing the danger this pledge might bring to them personally. Nevertheless, they did not look back. They fully gave themselves to the cause.

The cost was steep. Five signers of the Declaration were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or hardships from the war.

Perhaps without realizing it, they were following the example of Abraham and his descendents. Abraham entered into a covenant with God. When he did so he entered into unknown territory. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.   (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Abraham did not look back. He endured hardship not only for the promise which God had made to him personally. He did so for the benefit of all the generations who would him. Those who followed Abraham endured great hardships as well. Again, from Hebrews we read:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The hardships were for a reason. God had chosen Israel for a divine purpose. At Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses concerning their mission: 

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”   (Exodus 19:4-6)

Over the years, God ha been shaping Israel. It has not yet become a holy nation or a royal priesthood. America has not yet become the land which God has called it to be. Nonetheless, what is impossible for humankind is possible with God

After the terrible battle of Gettysburg, which cost so many lives, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in his famous address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We have not fulfilled these words. Despite our efforts, we have fallen short of the dream that our forefathers had for America. We are not yet that one nation under God, which provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens. This does not mean that we should stop striving. Without God the dream would not even be possible.

Our nation is now under attack, both from without and from within. There are people and forces who  wish to destroy America as we know it in order to build their Utopia. While they tear down our institutions and work to destroy the family, they tell us to put our trust in them. They will save us if we follow them, promising peace without the Prince of Peace. The Apostle Paul writesL

When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!   (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

In today’s Old Testament lesson we read:

You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.   (Deuteronomy 10:20-21)

Moses was reminding the people of the true architect of the nation of Israel. Perhaps we need the same reminder?

God is calling us to perfection, but we must be willing to follow him. He is our perfection. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about perfection:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:43-48)

How will we ever achieve this perfection? We certainly cannot do it on our own. We need divine help. The hope for perfection is fulfilled by faith in Jesus Christ alone. It will take the Millennial Reign of Jesus on the Earth before that perfection fully comes.

Israel will one day be a holy nation. Since we are the ingrafted branches, the American dream and experiment will also be consummated as Christians believers the world over join the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, we must press on. We must return to our heritage and, once again, seek to be a nation whose God is the Lord.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.   (Psalm 33:12)

Amen.

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