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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11

Track 1: Surely the Lord Is in This Place

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jacob has stolen both his brother’s birthright and the blessing from his father Isaac. His brother Esau was planning to kill him. When Rebecca found this out she told Jacob to flee to Haran to her brother Laban’s house. Today, we pick up on the story. Jacob is in rout to Haran. He must have felt alone and that his future was uncertain. Reading from Genesis:

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”   (Genesis 28:10-17)

Jacob’s dream must have quickly changed his perspective. He said: “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” For Jacob, the place where he experienced God was sacred. He wanted to mark the event.

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.   (Genesis 28:18-19)

Perhaps many of us can recall moments when God has spoken to us. We want to remember it always. God may not have spoken to us in an audible voice, but God revealed himself to us in a special way. We may have felt all alone and discouraged. I have certainly been there more than once. But God broke through my discouragement. He broke through my unbelief.

The psalmist wrote:

Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,”

Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.   (Psalm 139:6-11)

The psalmist was writing that God is always near. Even when we do not want him around, he still remains faithful. We not be aware of God at times, but God is still aware of us. Why would we not want God’s presence at times? That is a good question. There must have been a time when the psalmist felt that way. His breakthrough came when he admitted to himself and to God that he felt that way.

Mountain top experiences may be wonderful. But we live in the valley of life. Is God with us in the valley? Are we with God in the valley? The psalmist David wrote:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff —
    they comfort me.   (Psalm 23:4)

Today, do we feel estranged from God in any way? Perhaps we have committed sin that we do not believe God can or should forgive? Or perhaps we have a rift with God because we do not feel that he has always been faithful to us? It is time to put things in order. It is time to see things through God’s perspective. The Apostle Paul wrote:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.   (Romans 8:28)

Our feeling of separation from God is only a feeling. Our feelings do not tell the full story. Often, they mislead us. Satan plays on our emotions. We need to pay more attention to the sound thinking which God has given us:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

Satan wants us to feel separated from God. He will do all that he can to convince us. But Satan is a liar. The Apostle Paul writes:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:35-39)

The name of Jesus is Emmanuel –  God with us. He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Let us open ourselves up more and more each day to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Track 2: The Final Harvest

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jesus often taught in parables. In today’s Gospel we have the one concerning the close of the age. This is the time in which we live. Jesus said:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”   (Matthew 13:24-30)

Notice that good seed was planted. But someone has contaminated the seed. We live on an evil world. God’s plan and provisions are always under attack. That is why it is up to the Church to fight for what is right, just, and true. The truest thing is the Word of God. His Word is truth. If we receive his Word then we become the good seed. However, false teachings and false reports have contaminated some of the seed. Measures need to be taken.

Jesus explains the parable and shows us what God is going to do about this corruption:

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!   ()

Notice that Jesus says that his whole world is his kingdom. Everyone, good or bad, is included. But not everyone will remain in the kingdom. Even the Church contains both good and bad. The Apostle Peter writes:

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?   (1 Peter 4:17)

God is examining his crop. The final harvest is near. Where do we stand? Are waiting eagerly for the return of Christ? The Apostle Paul wrote:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hopeerly. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.   ()

Now is not the time to be discouraged. Now is not the time to lose hope. The psalmist wrote:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.

I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
and glorify your Name for evermore.

For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.   (Psalm 139:11-13)

By the blood of Jesus Christ we have been delivered from sin and death. Let us hold on what has been promised to us. In Hebrews ew read:

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.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

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First Sunday in Lent

Naked before the Lord

As we move into the Season of Lent, let us go back to the beginning. From today’s Old Testament reading:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ut the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.   (Genesis 3:1-7)

The goal for many of us in this season is to grow closer to God. How do we do that? To answer that question, perhaps it is best to try to understand why we may feel apart from God. Adam and Eve disobeyed God. They felt naked and ashamed for what they had done. God still wanted to commune with them, but they hid from God. It was not that God was hiding from them. They wanted to distance themselves from God.

God is a holy God. He is perfect, without fault. We are unholy. The Apostle Paul said that his righteousness was like filthy rags. When the Prophet Isaiah was called by God he said:

“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”   (Isaiah 6:5)

The children of Israel came came before God at Mount Sinai. From Exodus we read:

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid[d] and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”   (Exodus 20:18-20)

God is calling us to himself. He wants us to come as we are. Too often we are looking for a covering, rather than exposing ourselves to God. As part of our Lenten discipline, may fast certain things in an attempt to move closer God. Will that impress him? Is that what he wants from us? We recall the words of the prophet:

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?   (Amos 5:23-25)

There is nothing wrong with spiritual disciplines, but God is looking for more from us. Our sacrifices may just be a way of avoiding what he is asking of us. He is looking for righteousness. And we are reluctant to go before him naked. But that is what he wants. He, himself, will provide the covering that we need. The psalmist wrote:

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.   (Psalm 91:1-4)

Do we trust God’s covering? In the wilderness, Satan tested the trust of Jesus in the covering of God the Father:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”   (Matthew 4:5-7)

Satan was saying: “Take the short cut. Test God and see if he is there for you.” He does the same with us. He wants us to question our faith in God. He knows that our faith is part of the covering of God. Our faith has to do with our nakedness before God. That is how we are to approach him. When we do, we discover that God has provided for us. Jesus waited on the Father. He did not need to test God.

Today, what is our covering? Who is our covering? Is it the Lord Jesus Christ? In the Garden of Eden, God the Father made garments of skins for Adam and Eve by sacrificing animals (Genesis 3:20). God has made a covering for us by the shed blood of Jesus. Jesus has paid all our debt to God. If we believe that, we will need nothing more.

The Lent, are we ready to approach the throne of God boldly? Is our righteousness by faith in Jesus, or is it based on something else? God wants us to come before him, naked, with only our faith in Jesus. He will cover the rest. In fact, scripture tells us:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:5-9

Let us be transparent before God. He may reveal to us some sin that we have even hidden from ourselves. However, whatever God shines his light upon he is able to cleanse, if we let him. Thanks be to God who covers us with the blood of his Son.

The psalmist wrote:

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no guile!   ()Psalm 32:1-2)

 

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Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

The Veil Was Torn Apart

During this Season of Epiphany we have been looking at various examples of how God manifested his presence and power. Today, we look at the Mount of Transfiguration experience of Peter, James, and John. These disciples had been taught directly by Jesus. They knew him as a great teacher of the Law of Moses. They had witnessed his healings and miracles first hand. They were starting to realize that Jesus was the promised Messiah. But they were not prepared for what was about to take place on the mountain. Reading from Luke:

About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”   (Luke 9:28-35)

The disciples saw Jesus in his glorious state, standing with Moses and Elijah. They were overwhelmed.

Moses had gone up to the mountain to talk with God. When he came down the Israelites were not prepared for what they saw:

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.   (Exodus 34:29-35)

The Israelites saw the reflected glory 0n the face of Moses. Just a hint of God’s glory could overwhelm the onlooker. Again, from Exodus:

Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.   (Exodus 34:29-35)

God is a holy God and we are sinners. God has had to veil himself so that anyone who has contact with him would not be destroyed. He established a temple arrangement in which the Ark of the Covenant would remain behind a curtain or veil in a room called the “most holy place.” Only the high priest could enter this place. He did it only once a year to offer the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.

How do we approach God today? Do we look to God through a veil? The Apostle Paul tells us that is unnecessary:

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.   (2 Corinthians 3:12-14)

Even today, preachers and teachers speak about going behind a veil to get in touch with God. There is no veil. The veil has been torn apart. From the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.   (Matthew 27:50-52)

We are allowed to look upon the glory of God. We are called to look upon the glory of God. The Apostle Paul has written:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

We become who or what we worship. Do we look upon glory or do we celebrate the flesh? But what about the high priest idea? We are not high priests. No we are not, but we have a high priest standing in for us. From the Book of Hebrews:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Are we ready to approach the throne of grace without any restrictions? Again, from Hebrews:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, et us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.   (Hebrews 10:19-23)

God is calling us. How will we respond? In fear or in joy?

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