Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

Labor Day

pottery1The Dignity of Work 

Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32a
Psalm 107:1-9 or Psalm 90:1-2, 16-17
1 Corinthians 3:10-14
Matthew 6:19-24

God is our creator. He is the master craftsman of the universe. We are made in his image. Thus, a large part of our life on earth is the discovery of the God-given talent and creativity which he has placed within us, This discovery gives us joy but also contributes to the wellbeing of others.

King Solomon wrote about the skills of the potter:

He molds the clay with his arm and makes it pliable with his feet; he sets his heart to finish the glazing, and he takes care in firing the kiln. All these rely on their hands, and all are skillful in their own work. Without them no city can be inhabited, and wherever they live, they will not go hungry.   (Ecclesiasticus 38:29-32)

We are familiar with King Solomon. He was the wisest and the most wealthy ruler of his time, or perhaps any time. Yet, Solomon found that all that material wealth was “vanity and striving after wind.” It did not satisfy. Again he wrote:

So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them? (Ecclesiastes 3:22)

This Labor Day let us pause and rest. But let us also enjoy and appreciate our work and that of others. Any type of work is honorable. If we are still on the discovery to find our God-given vocation, we should not give us. God is with us. The psalmist wrote:

May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork.   (Psalm 90:17)

There is great dignity in any kind of work. All work if for the betterment of society. To not work is a drag on society and on others. The Ap0stle Paul warned:

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.   (2 Thessalonians 3:7-11)

While on the earth Jesus never stopped working:

“My Father is still working, and I also am working.”   (John 5:17)
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”   (John 9:4-5)
We need to follow his example. Soon the darkness will come upon us. We want to be working up to that day in the Kingdom of God. Then we will be prepared to work for him in his millennial reign.
Today, let us pause and give thanks for all our workers and citizen saints who keep us going. Let us also pray for better days ahead.
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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13A

Track 1: Encounter with God

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7,16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Jacob was in a precarious position. He was returning home to Canaan with his family and flocks. He would soon meet his brother Esau from whom he had stolen his inheritance. He was fearful of what might happen so he took precautions to protect himself and his family.

Life is full of uncertainties. We face numerous problems along the way, some of which we brought on ourselves as did Jacob. Jacob would either continue operating as Jacob or he would become Israel:

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man[a]said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”   (Genesis 32:24-28)

What caused Jacob to change? Jacob had an encounter with God. The psalmist wrote:

Weigh my heart, summon me by night,
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

I give no offense with my mouth as others do;
I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;
incline your ear to me and hear my words.

Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.   (Psalm 17:3-7)

Before his encounter with God when he was visited by night, Jacob was in charge of his life. He relied upon himself, his own strength, and his cunning. After his encounter, he knew that he needed God. He had run our of his own resources. He was desperate. Now he was living under the blessings of God.

How did that work for him? How does that work for us? Are we ignoring God, pushing him aside? God is not ignoring us. He is waiting upon us to enter into a relationship with him. Often and in many cases, our coming to God is a struggle.

The Apostle Paul was struggling against God. He was persecuting Christians. Then he had an encounter with God:

I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.   (Acts 26:13-15)

When we go it alone we become confused. We run out of resources. We become bitter, judgmental, frustrated, and exhausted. That was Paul. That was Jacob. They were self-centered. Today we might say that they were “self made men.” The self fails. When it does we get wounded. We may believe that God has bruised us, but has is not been our own doing?

Jesus has paid the price of our rescue. He has purchased provisions for us by his blood on he cross. If we have been fighting God as Jacob and Paul, we have been bruised. But Jesus has been bruised for us:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.   (Isaiah 53:4-5)

In our weakness God will manifest his strength. Now is the time to come to him. When we do He will multiply all that we have. We will discover as did the disciples of Jesus, at the feeding of the five thousand, that they had more than enough to do all that God asked of them. He is calling us. He is asking us to be his disciples today. And he is ready to supply all our needs as we put our trust in him. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: The Impossible Task

Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

The disciples of Jesus were faced with an impossible situation. Jesus asked them to feed five thousand people, not counting women and children, on short notice and in a very remote setting:

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”   (Matthew 14:15-18)

God gives us difficult assignments, on occasion. We must assume that, if God gives us an assignment, it must be important to him. Therefore, we should take it seriously as well. How we respond to the assignment is critical to its execution and success.

The assignment that the disciples were given was a real test of their faith. Much is said about faith in our churches today. Do we have enough faith? Do we have faith in faith? Let us look at faith as an approach to God. We read in the Book of Hebrews:

Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

We are looking past our own skills and resources and seeking the help of a God who has no limit in what he can do. He does not suffer from any lack of resources. Does he want to help us? From today’s Old Testament reading the Prophet Isaiah speaks to us:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.   (Isaiah 55:1-3)

We may wish to prove ourselves to God. What we may fail to realize is that God wants to proved himself to us.

The miracle is believing that whatever God asks us to do he will supply us with the means to accomplish that which he asks. Yet, we must begin the task with the tools and resources that we already have at hand. What are our loaves and fish? God will multiply that which we have, but first we must offer up to God all that we have, including ourselves, so that he may bless our endeavor. Jesus reminded his disciples:

“For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”   (Matthew 19:26)

God is with us and he is in partnership with us. Are we with him?

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Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles

the-apostles-st-peter-and-st-paul-xx-el-grecoThe Founding Apostles of the Church

The Apostles who have had the most profound impact on the Church are, without a doubt, Peter and Paul. One was an ordinary, uneducated fisherman who became the central leader of a movement and faith that has reverberated down through the ages. The other was the outstanding student of Judaism in his day who became a great theologian and missionary extraordinaire, writing a large part of the New Testament. Which one was more important? We cannot say. I believe that they both were needed by the Early Church and they are needed today.

Peter and Paul needed each other as well. Their messages played off one another. Without the leadership of either one we would not have had the fullness of the Gospel preached to the world. Nonetheless, Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye. We read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:11-16)

Peter and Paul resolved their differences and came to a common understanding of the Gospel. With the help of James, the brothers of Jesus, they mapped out what they considered the essential tenets of the Faith. This opened the door for people of all nations to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Here is how Peter described Paul’s writings:

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:13-16)

Each apostle started his ministry in the Church from a position of weakness. We remember that Peter had denied his Lord three times before Jesus endured the cross:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”   (John 21:15-19)

In the flesh, Peter was weak. As a pharisee, Paul was persecuting the Church, thinking that he was saving Judaism from heresy. Without the intervention of Jesus he would not have become the great missionary that he was.

In looking back on his ministry, Paul wrote to Timothy:

As for me, 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. 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 4:6-8)

What is significant about both Peter and Paul is that, against all odds, they taught and preached the Gospel with boldness and perseverance. Although they both became martyrs for the faith, they did not shrink back from the great commission which the Lord Jesus had entrusted to them. The commonality in their leadership is that they did not rely on themselves but on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

They both emphasized that the Kingdom was not of this world. Christian believers could look forward to a life to come with great hope. In the meantime, believers were to advance in purity and holiness.

Let us summon the courage to persevere in our own day. By the grace of God and the guidance of his Holy Spirit, may we boldly witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need to remember that all the apostles were ordinary men with extraordinary callings. We, also, have our own callings. Let us follow the example of these two great apostles.

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