Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

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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Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloA Conversion Experience

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While in route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, 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. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are persecuting their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown-up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that Saul did grow-up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he describe himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His his Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul become the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world is counting on us give witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

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