Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 25C

 

Track 1: Finishing the Race

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

The Apostle Paul wrote his protégé Timothy:

I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.   (2 Timothy 4:6-7)

Paul compared his Christian journey as an athlete running a race. For example, he wrote the Church in Corinth:

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.   (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Let us look at this race which Paul talks about from three different perspectives: The start, the middle, and the end. How do we enter the race? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable of thePharisee and the tax collector:

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’    (Luke 18:11-13)

To inter the race we must first humble ourselves before God. We must acknowledge our sin. This is what the Pharisee failed to do. Jesus said that the tax collector was justified before God and not the Pharisee.

In running the race we must remain humble before God. The Apostle Paul wrote the Pjilippains:

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

Paul was acknowledging mistakes, but that he would not be held back by these mistakes. He would keep moving forward, trusting in Jesus. From the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Jesus is not only the pioneer of our faith, he is also the perfecter of our faith. We are running a race, but Jesus is running with us. We are not alone. Our focus must be on him. He is the power for our race as well as the destination. We will not waste any time comparing ourselves to others in the race. That is what the Pharisee did in the parable, to know effect.

How do we end the race? When I began my ordained ministry, I served communion to a pastor of advanced age who was in a hospice. He had began his ministry early in life and served many years. I asked him to share with me some of the lessons he had learned in ministry. He said that this is what he had learned: Lord, be merciful unto me, a sinner. We end the race just as we began it. Everything else we leave in God’s hands.

Paul goes on to tell Timothy:

From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   (2 Timothy 4:8)

The righteous judge will give us a crown and to everyone who long for him. Let us continue to long for him and keep the faith. Jesus said:

The one who endures to the end will be saved.   (Matthew 24:13)

 

 

Track 2: Blameless under the Law

Sirach 35:12-17
or Jeremiah 14:7-10,19-22
Psalm 84:1-6
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

In today’s Gospel reading we the familiar parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 18:9-14)

Luke’s Gospel clearly states what the parable is about. The Pharisee justified himself to be righteous because he was keeping the law of Moses much better than the tax collector. It is easy for us to see that in all the Gospels Jesus was critical of Pharisees.

Let us dig a little deeper. Was not Jesus critical of the behavior of the Pharisees more than the Pharisees themselves? Jesus did not come to the world to condemn anyone. He came to save sinners. In order to do so he, by his teaching and example, had to reveal the sin in all of us.

The Apostle Paul was once a Pharisee. As a Pharisee he boasted:

circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But Paul went on to say:

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.   (Philippians 3:5-7)

After his conversion, Paul realized that he was not blameless under the law. Only Jesus could fulfill the righteous requirements of the law.

Paul stressed that

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.   (Galatians 3:23-26)

Jesus Christ fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law on the cross. He received the punishment for our sin upon himself. Our task is to accept his gift of grace by faith.

Have we fully accepted the good news of the Gospel? We are in a much better position to understand what Jesus has done for us. We have the benefit of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The Pharisee in the parable would not have jhad this understanding.

If we are comparing ourselves to others today are we not like the Pharisees. Our righteousness had nothing to do with how we might compare to others in terms of keeping God’s commandments. Our righteousness is by faith in Jesus Christ. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.   (Psalm 84:4-5)

We will face difficulties in life that will challenge our faith. All we need to do is to hold on. We neither look to the right or the left. We do not rate ourselves compared to others. We look to Jesus. From the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

The Apostle Paul told Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

His race was against himself, against his flesh. He was the opponent. He was not running against anyone else. The same is true of us. Our posture before God must be the posture of the tax collector in the parable: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22C

Track 1: Rejoice in the Lord Always

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26
or Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

The palmist wrote:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered you, O Zion.

As for our harps, we hung them up
on the trees in the midst of that land.   (Psalm 137:1-2)

The exiles in Babylon were remembering Jerusalem. From Lamentations we read:

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;

among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;

her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.   (Lamentations 1:1-3)

Jerusalem had been destroyed. This meant that the Jewish people’s way of life, centered on Jerusalem, had been destroyed. It was almost too sad to contemplate for them. The psalmist wrote:

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing the Lord‘S song
upon an alien soil.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.

Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.   (Psalm 137:3-6)

It was hard for those in despair to sing the songs of Zion. But when they did the world changed around them. The songs were so uplifting that even their captors wanted to hear them.

Praising God changes things. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
    burst into song and shout,
    you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
    than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.   (Isaiah 54:1)

Let us not wait to praise God. We may think that we have no reason to praise him. Yet, he is still with us. He still has plans for us. Do we trust him enough to place all our hopes in him?

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

And again in Philippians 4:

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)

Paul experienced so many hardships in his ministry, but he did not loose hope in God. In today’s Epistle reading, as a prisoner, he proclaimed :

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. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.   (2 Timothy 1:12-14)

Paul knew that God still had a plan for him. He understand that this plan will bring blessings to others and that he had been given a treasure to share with them. We are no different that the great apostle. God has given us a treasure. He has put it in our hearts. When we sing the songs of Zion, when we praise the Almighty, we release that treasure. Others see that we are praising God despite the circumstances. This is one of the most powerful witnesses that anyone of the faith can make.

Today, are we ready to share our faith, our joy in the Lord, our hope of glory? God exhorts us: Sing, O barren one. Burst into song and shout.

The exiles in Babylon did not remain in despair. God has a plan for them. We read in Isaiah:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:10)

We are great beneficiaries of the courage and faith of the Jewish people who would not give up. Let us also follow their example. God is still working in our lives and in this world. He is counting on us to be his ambassadors. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: You Have Only Done Your Duty

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In today’s Gospel reading the disciples of Jesus asked him to increase their faith:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Notice that Jesus did not directly answer their question. He emphasized that faith was important, but he followed up with this teaching:

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”   (Luke 17:5-10)

How could this teaching relate to faith? Perhaps it had more to do the disciples’ question about faith. Perhaps Jesus was able to see the motive behind the disciples’ question.

We know that some of the disciples were very ambitious. James and John wanted to sit beside Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Jesus was saying that our positions in ministry should not be our focus. Our obedience to God’s call was much more significant.

The disciples did not realize, at first, what would be required of them. The Apostle Paul learned of the hardships of ministry first hand. He did not let that deter him from his calling, however. Paul writes:

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)

In ministry we must learn to trust Jesus, regardless of the circumstances. If we are focused on who we are and not on who Jesus is, then we are ripe for the picking by the devil. Faith and endurance are required for ministry. That requires us to simply do our duty. Jesus said: You have done only what you ought to have done! We are not working for rewards for ourselves.

In our Old Testament reading today, the Prophet Habakkuk complained to God that the wicked seem to be triumphing. He would not be satisfied until God answered him:

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.   (Habakkuk 2:1)

Are we not like Habakkuk? We want to see results, instant results.

Then the Lord answered me and said:

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

God moves at his appointed time.  Patience and faith are required. We must keep believing. We must keep doing our duty. This usually means some suffering is required on our part. How we respond to the challenges of ministry and life reveals our character. Pride can be a major obstacle in our way. It seeks instant results. Humility before the Lord, having faith in his promises, is key.

This was the example set by the Apostle Paul. He wrote:

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)

God has proven his love and faithfulness through the cross of Jesus Christ. Our place in life and ministry is to serve him because he has poured his very essence into us.

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 19C

 

Track 1: A Hot Wind out of the Desert

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Today, let us look at two types of winds that come from God. The first one we will look at is covered in today’s reading from Jeremiah:

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse– a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

“For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;

they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.”   (Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22)

This wind is not a cleansing wind. It is a wind that cannot be ignored. In fact, it brings us to our knees. Israel was not listening to God. What was prophesicd by Jeremiah came to pass:

For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. (Jeremiah 4:27)

God did not stop with this desert wind.  He has provided a cleansing wind and a winnowing wind. We remember in the Gospel of John that Jesus attempted to explain this wind to Nicodemus:

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:5-8)

Which wind of God is blowing in our lives today? Are we allowing the Holy Spirt of God to reshape us and refresh us? If not, we may be experiencing a strong hot wind that tells us that something is wrong. This wind does not cleanse us but it can move us to seek out the wind that does.

The Apostle Paul was once persecuting the body of Christ. God had to literally knock him off his horse and blind hm. Paul wrote:

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost.   (1 Timothy 1:12-15)

All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. That does not stop God for seeking us out. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells the parable of the lost coin:

“What woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”   (Luke 15:8-10)

The parable of the Lost Coin tells us how much God wants to rescue us. He wants to cleanse us. He wants to restore us. He wants to refresh us. God the Father’s heart longs for our soul to return to hm. He will use any means possible to reach us. Oftentimes that means we may experience that hot dry wind from out of the desert. This wind is a call to repentance.

Which wind of God is blowing in our lives today? Jesus breathed on his disciples and said: Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Are we ready for Jesus to breathe on us today, perhaps for the first time? Or perhaps to refresh us, restore our health, or equip us for further ministry in his name?

 

 

Track 2: The Lost Coin

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-11
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Jesus told many parables. They were able to capture the attention of the listener. This one always grabbed me:

“What woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”   (Luke 15:8-10)

The scribes and Pharisees, the religious authorities of Israel, did not understand the ministry of Jesus. Nor did they want to understand it. Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this is when Jesus went to visit the tax collector Zacchaeus. From the Gospel of Luke:

All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”   (Luke 19:7-10)

Jesus came to seek and to save. He is still very much in that ministry. His ministry to Zacchaeus illustrates one very key factor, however. Repentance is required on the part of those who were lost. The Great King David was lost. He had committed adultery and later, murder, to cover up his sin from the eyes of his subjects. God sees everything, however. When David was confronted by Nathan the prophet, David repented from his heart before God. His repentance is found in his beautiful Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight.  (Psalm 51:1-4)

The Apostle Paul was at one time lost. He had been persecuting the Early Church. He had zeal for the Mosaic Law. What he failed to understand was that Jesus came to fulfill that law. Paul writes:

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost.   (1 Timothy 1:12-15)

Are we a lost coin today? If we have sinned against God he will rescue us. He will not only forgive us but he will also cleanse us restore us. Nevertheless,  our repentance must be from our heart. David’s confession in Psalm 51 goes on to say:

For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.  (Psalm 51:7-11)

Lost coins can become dirty and dull. The good news is that God can clean them and shine them up. The blood of his Son Jesus washes away all of our sins. All we need to do is to turn to Jesus with all our hearts. He has already turned to us. Amen.

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