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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22B

Track 1: Receiving the Kingdom of God

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

We are familiar with the story of how Satan asked God to test Job and his faith:

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

As we know, Satan is the “accuser of the brethren.” He specializes in bringing us down. Job was living n a lofty perch.

The psalmist wrote:

Give judgment for me, O Lord,
for I have lived with integrity;
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

Test me, O Lord, and try me;
examine my heart and my mind.

For your love is before my eyes;
I have walked faithfully with you.

I have not sat with the worthless,
nor do I consort with the deceitful.   (Psalm 26:1-4)

This psalm was true of Job. He was head and shoulders above his peers. What could be possibly missing in Job’s? Job was outstanding in every way. This much we can say, Satan’s plan was not God’s plan. What Satan meant for ill God meant for good.

Job is a very difficult book to understand. It has numerous interpretations. It plunges very deep into the human psyche and raised many theological issues. It is an important book. We need to wrestle with it. And we need to read it in context with the rest of the Bible.

How does today’s Gospel reading impinge upon Job? Or does it? We read from Mark:

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.   (Mark 10:13-16)

Was Job not as innocent as these little children? Well, we all realize that children are not really innocent, especially as parents. Jesus saying something about children? I believe the key word here is “receive.” We must receive the kingdom of God like children. Children are dependent upon us as parents, teachers, and mentors. They have been placed in a position that requires them to be dependent. On their own, they are not able to contend with some of the challenges of life.

Job was highly successful. He had all that he needed to enable him to live a somewhat independent life. Was he missing something? Perhaps he was missing the concept that he, too, was a dependent person certain ways. On his own, he was not going to enter the kingdom of God. No one can earn their place in the kingdom, not even people like Job. In fact, people who are like Job will have the same disadvantage he had.

Job needed God. He needed his love. He needed his forgiveness. He needed his mercy. He needed to acknowledge that his very life came from God and was sustained by God.  When Job eventually gave up on determining what may be missing in him, God asked him this question: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) God is God. He is the creator. He is the eternal one. We cannot do anything to impress him. The question for us is: “Has God done enough to impress us?”

Jesus said: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) We cannot earn what God the Father desires to give us by his grace alone. Jesus has earned the kingdom for us. Yet we must receive it with thanksgiving and awe. We are, in fact, all God’s little children.

My very young granddaughter painted me a picture. On it she wrote: “Love is the complete abandonment. I give myself to you.” Her concept of love is beyond her years. Her statement helped me to better understand what I need to say in this homily. Today, am I able to surrender my crown to the one who wore a crown of thorns for me?

 

 

Track 2: The Institution of Marriage

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

The family unit is the basic building block of society. God used the institution of marriage to build and preserve it. From Genesis we read:

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;

this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.   ()

Recently someone said to me that the institution of marriage has failed. That seemed like a strange way of saying it. The person who said it was a church-goer. Have we not failed the institution rather than the other way around?  Perhaps what this person said was not so foreign to today’s Church since the divorce rate of churchgoers is the same as non church-goers.

Why is marriage so important to the family? It ensures strong parenting. God blesses marriages. If we live within his guidelines the parents become very strong individuals. They reenforce one another because, through marriage, they really do become one flesh. The parents who are one flesh are needed to raise children as God has intended. A man is really an incomplete parent without a wife. This is true for a woman as well.

But today we have the so-called “modern” family. Almost anything goes. The rules have been changed. The goal posts have been moved. When we find that we cannot obey God’s commandments today, we either ignore them or weaken them. This is true for society in general and it is also true for the Church.

Today is no exception. This was true in the time of Moses. From Mark’s Gospel we read:

Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”   (Mark 10:2-9)

Jesus was saying that when God declares something he does not change his mind later. We want to change things because we find it difficult to do all the things which God declares. The institution of marriage has not failed. God has not failed. He does not fail us. We fail him! What do we do when this happens? Jesus makes it clear that we cannot changer the rules and have God go along with us.

Divorce is not an unpardonable offense. When we fail at something we need to confess what we have done and not try to cover it up. Repentance is a large part of the Christian faith. God can help us in our weaknesses, but we must seek his help. Repentance is the framework. The cross of Jesus does not cover unconfessed sin. This may be news to some churches, but it is not news to the New Testament, Pauline theology, and the First Epistle of John.

If we do not follow God’s plans for us we ultimately become very weak. Our lives come more like the lives of worldly people. A great revival is needed. It must begin in the household of God. A reformation in the Church is needed. Reformation does not mean more watering down. The “seeker” church is not the reformed church. Moving the goal posts is not reformation.

In the meantime, we need to provide greater support for marriages and families. We need to provide the greatest support to unwed mothers and for those in broken homes and single parent homes. God does not fail them. We have failed them. Sincere repentance with humbly hearts will help usher in new beginnings. Christianity is always about new beginnings.

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Holy Cross Day

Day of Judgment

The Prophet Isaiah forecast a time when God would hold a court to judge humankind for sin. Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Israel, but Israel was a proxy for all the nations of the world.

Through Isaiah God made this declaration:

Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!

Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?

Was it not I, the Lord?
There is no other god besides me,

a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is no one besides me.   (Isaiah 45:21)

We are asked by God to present our case to him. God is also saying that he is qualified to judge our case because he is creator and has established all life. There is no other god besides him. Furthermore, his very nature and character qualifies him. He will be fair because he is not only a righteous God, but he is also our Savior.

A righteous God must be fair, but he must also be just. He must declare the injustice caused by sin. Sin cannot ignored or swept under the rug. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” according to Romans 6:23.

How is God able to accomplish a most difficult task, that of being both compassionate and just?

Before his verdict of guilty and penalty of death, God provided a path of escape. He did so through his Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the cruel crucifixion of Jesus by his own choice and desire:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:5-11)

In today’s Gospel reading we see a link between the judgement of God and a route of escape:

Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.   (John 12:31-33)

On the cross the sins of the whole world were judged. Jesus bore our sins for us while hanging from a cross and received the Father’s judgement.  That final of judgement of sin was once and for all, for all who believe. The Apostle Paul’s full quote from Romans is this:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 6:23)

Have we allow God to judge our sins through his Son Jesus? If so, we must acknowledge it. We must turn towards Jesus. One more God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:

“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;

all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.   (Isaiah 45:22-25)

Do we want triumph and glory? The only judgement of God that is left is the judgement of fallen angels. That judgement is not meant for us. Do we ignore such a great gift of salvation established on a Holy Cross? If Jesus humbled himself, why can we not humble ourselves? In Hebrews we read:

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will..   (Hebrews 2:1-4)

It is the cross that makes us holy. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus.  God’s judgment day was on the day Jesus died on that cross. If we refuse what Christ has done for us we nullify the power of the cross and join ourselves with fallen angels who await the lake of fire.

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13B

Track 1: You Are the Man

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

David had committed murder and adultery. He was king and in a position to cover it up. God sees everything and sent Nathan the prophet to confront him:

The thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”   (2 Samuel 12:1-6)

It is our human nature to judge the deeds of others. We remember the statement of the Pharisee in a parable told by Jesus: “I am glad I am not like that man over there.” Do we take comfort in the shortcomings of others? That is not the way of love and it does not please God. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.   (Matthew 7:1-5)

Nathan, the prophet,  revealed to David who the man in the parable represented:

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”   (2 Samuel 12:7-13)

In David’s favor he was quick to acknowledge his sin. David’s Psalm 51 illustrates that David did so from the heart:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight.

And so you are justified when you speak
and upright in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.   (Psalm 51:1-13)

David acknowledged that his sin was a rebellion against God. That is true for all of us. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” We cannot cover up our sin. We must acknowledge for God to be able to deal with it. In his First Epistle, John writes:

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 1:8-9)

We cannot cover up our sin, but God has made provision for our sins to be covered:

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.   (1 John 1:5-7)

We need to move away from darkness and into the light. That is a step that only we can make. King David could not hide in darkness. God and his mercy exposed his deed to the light. Let us pray that God will grant us the mercy and grace to live in the light of Christ. Our mistake is to believe that the world has more to offer than Jesus. It does not. In today’s Gospel we read:

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”   (John 6:35)

Our Lord satisfies those who come to him. Why should we be looking elsewhere? Or why should we be judging the sins of others when we are doing the same thing. Remember that Nathan told David: “You are the person in the parable.”

 

 

 

Track 2:  The Bread of Life

Exodus 16:2-4,9-15
Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

In today’s Old Testament reading we are reminded how God provided bread for the Children of Israel in the wilderness. The psalmist celebrated this event:

So he commanded the clouds above
and opened the doors of heaven.

He rained down manna upon them to eat
and gave them grain from heaven.

So mortals ate the bread of angels;
he provided for them food enough.   (Psalm 78:23-25)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is contrasting the difference between the Mana that God provided in the wilderness, food that perishes, with food that endures for eternal life. In both cases he is speaking about real food, one that is physical and the other that is spiritual. From John we read:

So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.   (John 6:30-35)

Do we see the imagery of the Holy Communion here?. The Gospel of John does not always spell things out, but communicates a depth of knowledge and understanding that is vital to our Christian faith. We cannot, and should not, ignore what this Gospel is saying. What is it saying to us today?

Jesus continues his teaching:

Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”   (John 6:47-51)

We cannot overstate the importance of Holy Communion in our Christian lives. From what Jesus has said, this meal is not optional.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”   (John 6:53-58)

The Communion is a meal. It is a spiritual meal. Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life. He is the spiritual meal. We need the nourishment of his body and blood. What he has provided for us are bread and wine which represent his body and blood. These elements stand in place for him when we partake of them by faith in the words he has said about them. They become the nourishment that we need and seek when we do so by faith. If there is controversy about this spiritual meal it is a distraction. The devil cannot destroy the power of the Holy Communion, but he can distract us from it. He can impede our faith. Even church doctrine can be used to distract us if it obscures the very clear and direct words of Jesus concerning his body and blood. Controversies over technicality should never enter into our acceptance, by faith, of the words of Jesus.

The Apostle Paul wrote about the building up of the body of Christ

“When Jesus ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.   (Ephesians 4:9-13)

We cannot grow to maturity without the meat of God’s word. Doctrine is not what feeds us. Paul continues:

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.   (Ephesians 4:14-16)

The Holy Communion has been given to us as a key element in the building up the body of Christ. Thanks be to God for it. Amen.

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