Tag Archives: courage

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21B

1102016075_univ_cnt_2_xlTrack 1: Courage

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

When we think of the courageous leaders of the Old Testament how can we ignore the tremendous courage of Queen Esther? Though she was favored by the king, the odds were stacked against her. She was Jewish, though the king did not realize this. The wicked Haman, an important man in the kingdom, instigated a plot to kill all of the Jews of ancient Persia. He attempted to convince King Ahasuerus to order the killing of Mordecai and all the Jews of the lands he ruled. (Mordecai had helped save the kings by informing him of a plot to kill him, unbeknownst to Haman). Haman’s beef with Mordecai is that he would not bow down to him. As a devout Jew, Mordecai could not bow down to anyone except God alone.

Esther was placed in a very difficult position. Mordecai was able to pass the word to Esther of this upcoming event. Unfortunately, she could not approach the king without his permission under threat of her life. What was she to do? She devised a plan, no doubt with God’s help, to inform the king of Haman’s threat. It would take great skill and cunning along with consummate courage.

She invited both the king and Haman to a banquet she prepared. This was a very risky move on her part. After waiting to find favor with the king, she then revealed the plot against her people to him. From Esther we read:

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.   (Esther 7:9-10)

No matter what form of government we may consider, it is clear that it has great power over the people. Moreover, it should also be very clear that there are powerful people within the government that have their own personal agenda that is not always in the beset interest of the people, or a certain group of people. The Jews of Esther’s day were under threat of annihilation, That is still true in many places today. What is also true is that Christians have become more vulnerable to numerous threats, even in so-called “Christian” nations.

What can we do about this? How can we contend with an all-powerful government? Without God’s help we can do little. We need his wisdom and understanding. Satan uses his weapon of fear to silence us and paralyze us. We need the courage of Esther. God will fight for us, but we must be willing to put our trust in him alone and wait on his timing.

We are seeing many Haman’s of our day being exposed by the hand of God. This is happening in every nation, even in the United States of American. As Christians we must pray for the protection of the saints. We must pray for our leaders to make wise decisions. And we must pray that many more Haman’s will be revealed and that justice may be served.

The psalmist wrote:

If the Lord had not been on our side,
let Israel now say;

If the Lord had not been on our side,
when enemies rose up against us;

Then would they have swallowed us up alive
in their fierce anger toward us;   (Psalm 24:1-3)

The plans and plots against God’s people are now being turned on the perpetrators. What happened to Haman may be the fate of many of them.

God moves in mysterious ways. His timing is not always our timing. But his timing is perfect. From Psalm 27:

Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.   (Psalm 37:1-4)

Nonetheless, we need to do more than applauding the exposure of  evil. James reminds us that, as Christians, we have a responsibility in helping to save the lost.

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.   (James 5:19-20)

Jesus tells us that we should pray for our enemies. We want justice to be done. We want the evil Haman’s to be apprehended. Nevertheless, the greatest justice of God is when people repent and turn their lives over to him. This is the justice of the cross. Let us not forget in our zeal for justice that we need to pray for sinners, all sinners.

 

 

 

Pentecost - Acts 2:1-4

Track 2: Outside the Tent

Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Moses had been struggling to govern a large group of some very unruly people, the Children of Israel. He pleaded with God for help. In today’s Old Testament reading we have God’s answer:

So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.   (Numbers 11:16, 24-25)

From this we can observe that elders of the Church might be appointed by ecclesiastical authority, but they will not be under Godly authority unless he pours out his Spirit upon them.

How important are Church elders? Very important! Unfortunately, their position and function within the Church is often misunderstood. They may be overlooked and ignored when people are seeking spiritual help and healing. The author of the Book of James did not want this to happen:

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 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 5:13-16)

Elders are key to the healing ministry within the Church. This ministry is too big for one person. Nevertheless, elders must be true elders anointed by God. They must be properly trained. They must be righteous people operating under the Spirit of God. They must live transparent lives before God.

When Moses appointed elders in the wilderness, they were required to meet him at the test of meeting. A certain event outside the tent occurred which might have seem a disruption to the proceedings. From Numbers we read:

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”   (Numbers 11:26-29)

The danger with sharing ministry is that competition and jealousy can be stumbling blocks. Joshua son of Nun was concerned that protocol must be followed. In today’s Gospel reading we have another Joshua son of Nun named John:

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.   (Mark 9:38-41)

There is this notion that ministry must be done within the Tent. The tent represents the approved and sanctioned ministry of God. But God cannot be contained within a tent. He is larger than any of our tents.

Revival is coming to the Church. It certainly is needed. But it may not come as many anticipate it. The Azusa Street Revival was a historic revival led by William J. Seymour, an African-American preacher. It began with a meeting on April 9, 1906, and lasted for many years. But many “church authorities” and theologians thought that it was outrageous and unorthodox, and therefore, not legitimate. Yet many people were saved, healed and delivered. In many cases, people were repenting on the street before they ever got to the tent of meeting.

God’s power and authority cannot be contained in a tent. If we wish to experience all that God has prepared for us then we must be prepared for the Eldad’s and Medad’s of our day. Perhaps you are an Eldad or Medad? Be open to what the Lord is doing in your life. Your ministry is needed in the Church. If you are discouraged it may be time to change churches. Our ministry must be done under Godly authority, but all authority is not Godly.

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Saint Mary Magdalene

The Resurrection’s First Witness

The Gospel of Luke made it clear that the roles of women in the ministry of Jesus Christ were significant:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  (Luke 8:1-3)

When we think of Jesus’ disciples we may primarily be thinking of the twelve that Jesus personally chose to follow Him. They were not alone, however. They were supported by many faithful women of which Mary Magdalene was included. She was not only included. She was prominent. She was the courageous and faithful one. When Jesus’ disciples deserted Him at the cross she was there:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  (John 19:25)

Jesus could have chosen any one of the twelve disciples to reveal Himself to after His resurrection. He chose a woman – Mary Magdalene:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.  (Mark 16:9-10)

Why did Jesus choose her? The testimonies of women were often considered unreliable. In fact, the disciples did not believer Mary’s testimony:

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  (Luke 24:10-11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed the order of things. Jesus attempted to explain this new order to His disciples before His crucifixion, but they had trouble understanding what He was telling them:

But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.  (Mark 9:34-35)

Mary Magdalene was a primary example of the servant leader who was faithful in her duties, following in the footsteps of her LORD. We remember her today as the resurrection’s first witness.

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Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles

The Messengers of the Gospel

The Apostles who have had the most profound impact on the Church are, without a doubt, Peter and Paul. One was an ordinary, uneducated fisherman who became the central leader of a movement and faith that has reverberated down through the ages. The other was the outstanding student of Judaism in his day who became a great theologian and missionary extraordinaire, writing a large part of the New Testament

Which one was more important? We cannot say. I believe that they both were needed by the Early Church and both of their messages are needed today. Peter and Paul needed each other as well. Their messages played off one another. Without the leadership of either one we would not have had the fullness of the Gospel preached to the world. Nonetheless, Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye. We read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:11-16)

Peter and Paul resolved their differences and came to a common understanding of the Gospel. With the help of James, the brothers of Jesus, they mapped out what they considered the essential tenets of the Faith. This opened the door for people of all nations to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Here is how Peter described Paul’s writings:

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:13-16)

Each apostle started his ministry in the Church from a position of weakness. We remember that Peter had denied his Lord three times before Jesus endured the cross:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”   (John 21:15-19)

In the flesh, Peter was weak. He became a giant of the Holy Spirit. People would be healed if even his shadow passed over them.

As a pharisee, Paul was persecuting the Church, thinking that he was saving Judaism from heresy. Without the intervention of Jesus he would not have become the great missionary that he was.

In looking back on his ministry, Paul wrote to Timothy:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

What is significant about both Peter and Paul is that, against all odds, they taught and preached the Gospel with boldness and perseverance. Although they both became martyrs for the faith, they did not shrink back from the great commission which the Lord Jesus had entrusted to them. The commonality in their leadership is that they did not rely on themselves but on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

They both emphasized that the Kingdom was not of this world. There message was not about getting ahead or being successful in this lifetime. They preached that Christian believers could look forward to the life to come with great hope. In the meantime, believers were to advance in purity and holiness. Peter and Paul were ultimately martyred for their faith. They willingly made every sacrifice for the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They set the highest standard for us to follow today.

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