Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C

The Power of Prayer and Praise

Today’s reading from the Book of Acts offers a great illustration of the power of prayer and praise. Paul and Silas had been called to go to Philippi. There they encountered a demon possessed woman who told fortunes. When God delivered her through their ministry trouble ensued. The magistrates beat them, put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. Reading from Acts:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord[c] to him and to all who were in his house.   (Acts 16:25-32)

Not only were Paul and Silas released from their chains but their jailer received salvation through faith in Jesus. By staying positive and putting their trust in God, they were able to accomplish what God had planned for them to do.

How would we have reacted in this situation? Reactions have consequences – good or bad. Would we follow the perscription of the Apostle Paul?

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)

This is how God desires for us to respond. It may be hard to do under difficult circumstances. But if we are praying without ceasing, if we are conscious of God’s presence with us, then we will be much better prepared for anything.

There is a payoff when we rejoice in God. Paul writes:

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)

We need to be connected to God. When we are connected to God, when we are part of God, we experience his peace. We place ourselves under his protection.

Paul tells us that the Lord is near and not far away. He is always there for us. Our strength is in our fellowship and unity with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus makes this possible for us. He prayed to the Father for his disciples as well as those who would follow them:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.   (John 17:20-23)

We are not alone. All we need to do is to believe the prayer of Jesus. We need to seek him out under all circumstances. The psalmist tells us:

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.   (Psalm 100:4)

The gateway to God is through our prayer and praise, believing that he will hear us and respond. Again the psalmist writes:

Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy Name.   (Psalm 97:12)

In believing and in seeking our quest will be fulfilled. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will revealed themselves to us.

Jesus concludes his high priestly prayer:

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”   (John 17:24-26)

Jesus wants us to be with him so that we may see him in all his glory. We have been talking about gateways. He is the final gateway to the glory of God. From the Book of Revelations we read:

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.   (Revelation 22:12-14)

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Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

Change can be difficult. There is a certain degree of comfort in the familiar. Some of us do not deal with change all that well. Can we imagine what it must have been like for the disciples of Jesus, when he told them he would soon be leaving them? He had been with them daily for three years. He was teaching them and feeding them spiritually. Now he was telling them that he was departing. Reading from John’s Gospel:

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.”   (John 14:25-28)

His statement must have been a shock. Jesus understood how they must have felt, that is why he said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He pointed out that they should rejoice because he was going to God the Father. This would make it possible for the Father to send the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would purchase that gift for us by his sacrifice on the cross. John wrote:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John 7:37-39)

Jesus was glorified on the cross and made it possible for us to share his glory. Without this possibility we could not reach the lost with the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul was on a missionary journey to Philippi. From Acts we read:

On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.   (Acts 16:13-15)

We need to share the Gospel story, but it takes an act of God for anyone to receive the gift of salvation. One of the primary purposes of the Holy Spirit is to illuminate the Gospel. The Holy Spirit points our heart directly to Jesus. Jesus said:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.   (John 14:26)

When Jesus spoke to his disciples about his departure he was also speaking to us. We live in troubling and uncertain times. The world is changing around us and it seems to be growing darker. Jesus reminds us the greatness of God the Father is greater than anything that we face or fear.

From today’s reading from Revelation:

In the spirit the angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.   (Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5)

This is drastic change. It is change for the good for all who believe. How do we navigate through such a change? We cling to Jesus. All though the world is changing Jesus is not. Scripture tells us that:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.   (Hebrews 13:8)

From Matthews Gospel:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.   (Matthew 24:35)

Jesus is the living Word of God, the Word made flesh. He is Immanuel, God with us.

The world as we know it will be no more. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.   (Isaiah 51:6)

A new and better world is coming. It is a world inhabited by those who are saved, who have given their hearts to Jesus and trusted in his saving act on the cross. If that is true for us then our salvation is secure. There is no assurance for nonbelievers.

Today, let us not fear the change that God is bringing. We cannot fully grasp it now. But we can put our trust in God alone. He will see us through.

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Third Sunday of Easter, Year C

Restoration and Redirection

Peter had denied his Lord three times. The guilt and shame must have been unbearable for him. It should have been a time of rejoicing for him now. Jesus had risen from the dead as he said he would. Yet Peter retreated to what he knew best to cover his pain. He went fishing but did not catch anything.

Notice Peter’s reaction when he realized that his risen Lord was waiting for him on shore:

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.   (John 21:4-8)

The risen Lord can make all the different no matter what the circumstances may be. Do we hide from him because of our shame or do we run to him? Jesus is always ready to restore us as he did Peter. He restore Peter in such a loving way:

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.”   (John 21:15-18)

Jesus wants to restore us, but he may also have to redirect us when we are going the wrong way. Are we ready to be restored? Are we ready to be redirected? That may be more difficult for us. We may be used to going our own way. Not only do we hide from Jesus because of our shame. We may also hide from him for fear that he might ask us to do something that we do not want to do. He may say to us:

“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.”   (John 21:18)

Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee who had gone down a wrong path. He believed he was doing the will of God by persecuting the Early Church. He needed redirection:

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”   (Acts 9:1-6)

Saul became Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles who wrote a large portion of the New Testament. Peter became the rock that the believers looked to for leadership and support. Peter and Paul were the great pillars of the Church. Both, however, started their ministries from a position of weakness. Both needed restoration. Both redirection. Both needed to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. With the blessing of Jesus they accomplished performed great ministries in his name.

God is calling us to ministry. He has prepared the ministry in advance and now he wants to prepare us. Are we ready? The psalmist wrote:

O Lord my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health .

You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.   (Psalm:2-3)

God does not want us to die. He wants us to live for him. Jesus has died for us so that we may live in the newness of life. There is no need for shame and doubt. He went to the cross for us:

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.   (Isaiah 53:4-5)

All we are asked to do is believe on him. We may believe that we are not capable. Jesus is capable. Our ministry is with him. We may think that he will ask us to do something that we cannot do or something that we will not want to do. We need to step away from our flesh and ride the winds of the Holy Spirit. He is prepared to take us on a beautiful journey.

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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 the Apostle Paul 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)

Paul goes on to say:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

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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