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All Saints’ Day

All Who Have this Hope in Him

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day. Have you ever wondered who saints are? Often times we may think of them as miracle workers are healers. This is definitely true for many saints. This has even been true for my ministry, but I must say that this does not qualify me for being a saint. I remember the words of Jesus:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”   (Matthew 7:21-23)

This tells me that any deeds of power do not qualify us to be saints of God. They do not even guarantee our salvation. In fact, we should never take credit them. They are the works of God. God alone is the healer and miracle worker.

What, then, are the requirements of becoming a saint? Perhaps we could start with today’s psalm:

Fear the Lord, you that are his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

The Lord ransoms the life of his servants,
and none will be punished who trust in him.   (Psalm 34:9-19, 22)

We are to fear God. We are to respect God. We are to seek God. Then the Lord ransoms our lives. He has done so by the blood of his Son.

What type of lives do saints live? We read from today’s Gospel the beautiful beatitudes from Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”   (Matthew 5:3-12)

Is this true of me? I have tried to live this way but I have fallen short many times. I need help – lots of help. Perhaps you do too? We live in a difficult age. Christians have always been persecuted. Now that persecution ha come to the forefront, even in America. Our task is to cling to the faith.

The Apostle John was given a vision of the saints of God in heaven:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.   (Revelation 7:13-14)

Only God cleanse us from our sins. We must allow him to do so.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.   (1 John 3:1-3)

Do we have the hope in him to purify ourselves? I do not know about others, but I am going to hand on to the faith for dear life, for life eternal.

Very early in my days of the ordained ministry I was taking communion to parishioners who were dying in a hospice. There was one very elderly gentleman there who was not a parishioners, In talking with him I found out that he had been in the ordained ministry for almost his entire life. Just getting started in ministry I asked him to share what he has learned from his faith and ministry over the years. He said to me: Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. I remember what he said because I had found a true saint of God.

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22

Track 1: The Stone that the Builders Rejected

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Today we celebrate God giving the Law to Moses. Reading from today’s Old Testament scripture:

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.   (Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-17)

God wrote his commandments on stone tablets by his own hand. The stone meant that his commandments were permanent. They were to be perpetuated down through the ages. They would never be erased. They cannot be ignored or overlooked by humankind.

But Israel failed in keeping God’s commandments, just as we have failed. Our failure does not mean that his commandments have failed. We have dimply reject4ed God’s word and his requirements. Jesus spoke of this rejection:

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”   (Matthew 21:42-44)

The psalmist wrote:

The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.   (Psalm 19:7-8)

The law is perfect, but who has kept the law of God perfectly? This is a vital question, because if we brake any part of God’s law we have  broken it all. The Apostle Paul tells us that no one has done this:

 It is written,

“No one is right with God, no one at all.
    No one understands.
    No one trusts in God.
All of them have turned away.
    They have all become worthless.
No one does anything good,
    no one at all.”    (Romans 3:11-12)

Jesus is the only one who kept the law without fail. He, in fact, has fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law by his life, death on the cross, and resurrection. He is the very embodiment of the law of God. He is the cornerstone of our church and of our lives.

If we have chosen Jesus as our rock, then we must stand on him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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

Whom do we stand on today? Do we know him as Lord and savior? Or have we rejected him? Jesus give us this warning:

And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.   (Matthew 21:44)

 

 

Track 2: The Vineyard of the Lord

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

God provided for Israel. We read throughout the Old Testament how he nurtured them, fought for them, delivered them from bondage, provided a land with rich resources, and established a way for the people to receive his forgiveness and restoration.

Despite all of God’s faithfulness to his people, Israel proved unfaithful to God over and over again. God spoke through the Prophet:

My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.

He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;

he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;

he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.   (Isaiah 5:1-2)

God called Israel his vineyard numerous times in scripture:

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,

and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;

he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;

righteousness,
but heard a cry!   (Isaiah 5:7)

In todays’ Gospel Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard:

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”   (Matthew 21:33-41)

We also are Israel. We are the engrafted branches through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root[f] of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you.  (:17-20) 

Will are the branches if te vineyard, just as Israel. Jesus says to us:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.   (John 15:1-5)

God wants to display his glory through us. We read in Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.   (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus was referring to himself and he was taking about us. We are God’s tender plants. We we allow God to prune us, to nurture us? Jesus reminds us:

Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing

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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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