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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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Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

Attitude of Disbelief or Fellowship of the Spirit

Thomas had an attitude. The other disciples of Jesus had seen their risen Lord, but Thomas was not with them at the time. He was skeptical, saying:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”   (John 20:25)

What was Thomas’s problem? Unbelief was one. Perhaps Thomas thought he was right and everyone else was wrong. He had not been on  the scene when Jesus first appeared to his disciples. Yet he must have believed that he knew more than those who saw Jesus alive. Do we see anyone in our churches like that today? They just know more than the rest of us.

Maybe we are being unfair to Thomas, He had been faithfully following Jesus. The whole experience of the cross, perhaps, was just too much for him to take in. He must have questiioned: Why did the Messiah have to go through that?

Our human understanding has limitations – grave limitations! People who are caught up in this world fai to understand that they are living in spiritual blindness. Without the light of Christ we cannot see. In his first letter the Apostle John wrote:

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 1:1-2:2)

If we are to fully participate in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ, which is the Church, we must be willing to be exposed by the light of Christ. Only if we walk in the light, John says, do we have fellowship with one another. We are all sinners. No one is more important than another. We have not arrived. We must be willing to confess our sins. Only then can God forgive us and cleanse us.

There is no unity when we are score keepers of others. There is no unity when we think we are better than others or know more than them. If we are transparent, if we are humble, if we are lovers of God and lovers of our neighbors, then and only then is true fellowship possible.

Here is Luke’s description of the Early Church:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.   (Acts 4:32-33)

Are we willing to be of one heart and soul? This cannot be legislated by any government. True sharing and mutual affection is from the heart – the heart of God. Thomas was outside the group, not just in a different location. He was outside of fellowship of his fellow believers because he could not accept their testimony.

Jesus forgave him. He forgives us all. But we must be transparent. We must be willing to confess our sins. It is time to check our attitudes. It is time to take off our masks. We are not better than any other believer, nor or we worse. In the Book of James we read:

Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.   (James 5:16)

A healthy community of believers is made up of grateful, humble people who believe in the gifts and grace of God. They are too excited about telling the good news of Christ’s love to others than to allow the circumstances of this life and the attitudes of the flesh to get in the way.

The psalmist wrote:

Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!   (Psalm 133:1)

Our churches must be a place of refuse, a place of acceptance, a place where we find forgiveness and the mercy of God. Are we going to stand in the way of that just because we have the Thomas attitude? That attitude is more than must doubt. It is one of a false sense of superiority and a blindness to one’s own faults.

The Apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 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.   (Philippians 2:1-8)

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