Tag Archives: desires of the flesh

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10

Track 1: Instant Gratification

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

The sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob, were totally unalike. We have an illustration from today’s Old Testament reading:

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.   (Genesis 25:29-34)

Jacob was quite a slick and opportunistic operator. Nevertheless, how could Esau have agreed to sell his birthright? He was very tired, we might say, and he could only think about the moment. Esau lived for the moment. The moment determines what is important and what one must do. The moment is interested in instant gratification. The future is just too far off to think about.

This is very strange thinking. Before we become too judgmental of Esau we may need to ask ourselves this question: Do we ever indulge in this type of thought? I will say that, for me, it is an easy trap to fall into. How do we explain this sort of behavior? Will our future take care of itself without any planning on our part? On what things do we place our value. Are our momentary needs more valuable to us than the gifts and plans which God surely established for our lives?

Another way of describing our momentary needs is by the word “flesh” which the Apostle Paul refers to quite often in his writings. From the Book of Romans:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.   (Romans 8:1-4)

The flesh is our enemy. The flesh is our sinful nature. Unfortunately, the flesh is still very much a part of who we are. The psalmist affirms his prerogative of doing what he pleases, but he humbly asks God to help him be pleased with doing the right thing.

Accept, O Lord, the willing tribute of my lips,
and teach me your judgments.

My life is always in my hand,
yet I do not forget your law.   (Psalm 119:108-109)

We do not have to choose he flesh. Paul writes:

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.   (Romans 8:9-11)

Jesus told a parable about the sower, sowing the seed. Jesus is that seed. The sower spreads the seed over various soil with varying results. Let us look at the interpretation that Jesus gives us:

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”   (Matthew 13:18-23)

Has Jesus planted good seed in us? Are we willing to wait for the increase? Do we value his word and what it can do for us in our battle against sin? If we just live in the moment as did Esau, then we too, may lose our birthright. Christ has given us a new birth that leads to eternal life. This is not a time for us to take our eyes off the prize. Our focus must be on the implanted word is us and not on this world. From the Gospel of John, Jesus said:

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”   (John 8:31-32

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.   (John 14:23)

This psalmist wrote:

With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.   (Psalm 119:11-12)

Where is our true treasure today? Let us hold on to our birthright that Jesus has given us through his death and resurrection.

 

 

Track 2: Bearing Fruit

Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus spoke many times in parables. In today’s Gospel we have a familiar one:

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”   (Matthew 13:1-9)

The parable had to do with seed planing. The Spirit is the planter and Jesus is the seed. The parable is about hearing the word of God. Jesus interprets the parable for his disciples:

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”   (Matthew 13:18-23)

We are living in a age full of thorns. What was true in the time of Jesus is equally true today. Persecutions against Christians are, in fact, are on the rise. Nominal Christians are taking cover. Hiding one’s faith is not really an option, however. Reading from the Gospel of John:

“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 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.   (John 15:1-6)

Jesus is the good seed. Are we good soil? We cannot be unless we are fertilized by the Spirit of God. The Apostle Paul writes:

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.   (Romans 8:1-)

We must be3 set free from the flesh. That is not possible if we are still holding on to it. Paul continues:

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.   (Romans 8:6-8)

The flesh will always try to protect itself. The last thing it wants in any sort of persecution. The flesh, which is our old self, needs to be crucified. Paul writes:

But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.   (Galatians 2:18-20)

By the Holy Spirit God has given us a promise:

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.   (Romans 8:9-11)

We need the Word. We need Jesus. Ww also need his Spirit, With the Spirit we are free:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you

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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Choose Life

How serious is it for us to faithfully keep the commandments of God? For the Children of Israel it was a matter of life and death. Before they entered the promised land, Moses gave them this warning:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  (Deuteronomy 30:15-18)

This is the God of the Old Testament we might be thinking. Surely the God of the New Testament would not sound so severe? Let us examine some of the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount contained in today’s Gospel:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.   (Matthew 5:27-30)

Does Jesus sound any less severe? Sin and death or righteousness and life. We have a choice. We can choose one or the other. Our choice is all important.

If we have to rely only on our human nature then we are lost. The Apostle Paul warned:

Brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.   (1 Corinthians 3:1-2)

Our human nature often does not want solid food. That was true for the Church in Corinth. They were caught up in jealousy and quarreling. Paul continues:

For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

The Church in Corinth had gotten off track. They were arguing over who was the true apostle. Do we not argue over which church is the true church? Let us concern ourselves over who can give the growth. God will do his part to help us, but we must do our part. We must seek him above all else. He has given his Son Jesus to wipe away our sins and the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. A part from him we can do nothing good.

God warns the Israelites and all of us by his word given through Moses:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.   (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

We cannot choose life without seeking the God of life. We must seek his word daily. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask: “Give us this day our daily prayer.” Jesus said:

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   (Matthew 4:4)

The psalmist wrItes:

With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.   (Psalm 119:10-16

We must seek the aid of the Holy Spirit as well. The Apostle Paul writes;

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.   (Romans 8:2-6)

Worldly people do not struggle with sin, only the disciples of Jesus Christ. He is at our side to help us. Let us choose life!

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

Happy are they who observe his decrees
and seek him with all their hearts!   (Psalm 119:1-2)

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Breaking Free from Bondage

One of the unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo appears to be a man trapped inside a marble slab, trying to brake free. In a way, it is illustrative of how many of us might feel at one time or another. Satan has enslaved us all through the disobedience he has sown into the world. We have this promise from God spoken through the Prophet Isaiah:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.   (Isaiah 9:2-4)

We do not have to live in bondage. God has come to our rescue:
God has broken the rod of our oppressor. The psalmist writes:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear?
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?   (Psalm 27:1)

Our sin has caused death to enter the world. Satan has held us captive by fear. He uses our fear of death to control and manipulate us. But “perfect love casts our fear.” (1 John 4:18) Jesus has overcome sin, hell, and the grave! From the Book of Hebrews:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Apostle Paul writes:

“O Death, where is your sting?
O grave, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

We live not only with the fear of death, but of those people who would harm us or to attack us in some way. Only God can lift us out of this trouble. The psalmist writes:

For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter;
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

Even now he lifts up my head
above my enemies round about me.   (Psalm 27:7-8)

There are other ways in which we are held in bondage. One of our greatest enemies is our very own flesh. The Apostle Paul writes:

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.   (Romans 8:12-15)

And again:

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.   (Galatians 5:16-18)

Our flesh causes us to focus on ourselves and the gratification of the self. This can lead us to all kinds of addictions. How do we counteract these addictions? We do not do so by focusing on them. Paul tells us to live by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is available to every Christian.

How do we access the power of the Spirit? We have the promise of the Gospel message. From the very beginning of his earthly ministry Jesus proclaimed:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”   (Matthew 4:17)

The Spirit has drawn near. We are to seek the giver of the Spirit. John the Baptist said that Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Hoy Spirit and with fire. Let us focus on Jesus and not on our addictions, and not on ourselves. The psalmist writes:

Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call;
have mercy on me and answer me.

You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”
Your face, Lord, will I seek.   (Psalm 27:10-11)

Today, whom do we seek? Whom do we follow? Who is our deliverer? Is it the one who defeated sin, addictions, and even death? Jesus calls to us: “Follow me.”

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