Tag Archives: Egypt

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 23A

Track 1: Interceding for the Nation

Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Back to the wilderness, we pick up where we left off. Moses is up on the mountain with God when God reveals to him the sin of the people:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”   (Exodus 32:7-10)

Fortunately for Israel Moses was able to dissuade God from what he wanted to do. The psalmist extolls the importance of Moses as an intercessor for Israel:

Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb
and worshiped a molten image;

And so they exchanged their Glory
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.

They forgot God their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,

Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham,
and fearful things at the Red Sea.

So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach,
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.   (Psalm 106:19-23)

[O America, how much your intercessors have provided covering for your idolatry!]

The psalmist also hints at the underlying cause of Israel’s idolatry. The people forgot who they were. They were made in the image of God and did not come from other forms of life. Now they were acting like a godless nation. They also forgot who brought them out of Egypt. How could they go so wrong so quickly? The answer lies in today’s reading from Exodus:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”   ()

God sometimes delays what he is going to do in order to test our faith. Do we have faith in him in all circumstances, or do the circumstances overcome our faith? The Apostle Paul wrote:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

Though we may not always be aware of it, God is near. He is with us. He is Emmanuel. Paul is suggesting that prayer will keep us from despair. If we lose faith, we are in danger of going back to our old idolatries and familiar spirits. What have these ever accomplished for us? They only lead us further astray without providing any lasting satisfaction or peace.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that there is spiritual exercise we can do while we wait upon the Lord. We can count our blessings:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.   (Philippians 4:8-9))

Perhaps it is time to turn off the 24 hour news cycle. Perhaps it is time to focus on what is good. Let us not so easily give up the lessons and wisdom which God has imparted to us. As Christians, the world is looking to us for hope and light, whether people realize it or not. We are the salt of the earth. It is no time to lose our savor.

We are living in the last days. Jesus told the parable about the wedding banquet. Many were invited but were distracted by the cares of this world. Then there was the guest who made it in the door but was later thrown out because he was not wearing a wedding garment. Is that not the casual Christian who does not understand the requirements of living for Christ? Is that any of us here today?

 

 

Track 2: The Wedding Garment

Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

The Prophet Isaiah was also a psalmist. Today we read one of his eschatological psalms. He writes about a feast that will be celebrated at some time in the future, presumably in Jerusalem:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.   (Isaiah 25:6-8)

Isaiah writes about a time when death will no longer be a factor. This sounds very much like a celebration of the millennial reign of Jesus. As Christians we should be waiting in expectation for this prophecy to be fulfilled. Those who are waiting for this event are, according to the prophet, will be the ones in attendance:

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.   Isaiah 25:9)

Jesus tells a parable in today’s Gospel reading which highlights this very same theme:

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.   (Matthew 22:1-10)

Notice who the guests were – ordinary people, both good and bad. God calls all who will listen. He is no respecter of persons. The people who would not come were too occupied with worldly cares. Some were even hostile to the point of killing those servants who were offering the invitation. This is very much the day in which we are living. The culture is now hostile to Christians.

Where do we stand today? Are we waiting for the return of our Lord Jesus with great expectation? This is not the time for being a causal or nominal Christian. There may be those who think that they have had their ticket punched. They are members of a church. They have been baptized. Of this group, there are those who thought they had a license to live however they liked without consequences. The parable addresses their condition at its conclusion:

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”   (Matthew 22:11-14)

Everyone is called by God for the messianic banquet. Not everyone is listening. Some hear the invitation but are distracted by other things more important to them. Some do not want an invitation because they are at odds with God. While still others believe they can get in the door at the last minute with the least amount of commitment. Jesus has provided us a robe of righteousness, but we must wear it.

The true Christian will be waiting with great expectation out of love for the Lord of hosts:

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.   (Isaiah 25:-9)

Is that true of us?

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20A

Track 1: Let Us Not Be Anxious about Earthly Things

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Have we ever found ourselves complaining against the Lord? The children of Israel had been liberated from slavery in Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders by God. Now, however. they were unsure that God would still provided for them. From Exodus we read:

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”   (Exodus 16:2-3)

Why is it that, when our faith is challenged, we want to go backwards, even when that means slavery to past problems? It is better for us to wait upon the Lord as he helps us to face the present.

God answered the complaints of his people:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”   (Exodus 16:4-8)

When we complain against God it is usually because we are focusing on the wrong things, the less important things in life. God knows our needs before we ask him. This beautiful prayer is found in the Book of Common Prayer:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Surely we are living in a time when earthly things are quickly passing away. How are we to be best prepared for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Today’s psalm may say it best:

Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.   (Psalm 105:1-4)

We remember that Jesus told a parable about a widow and an unjust judge. She continually sought the judge concerning her complaint. He finally granted her justice because he was tired of her complaining. Jesus said that Father in heaven would do better than the unjust judge:

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”   (Luke 18:7-8)

God responded to the concerns of the children of Israel in the wilderness. He has responded to our concerns in the past. But will we keep the faith? Will we seek his face on a daily basis? Will we continually praise his name? Will we tell others about the mighty things he has done, how he has given us salvation through the blood of his Son?

Let us not let the enemy steal our praise. Let us hold on to our holy hope. The world needs our witness all the more as the day grows darker and temporal things pass away. Jesus is calling us to keep the faith even in challenging times.

 


Track 2: The Privilege of Serving God

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

All of us are called by God for a specific ministry in his kingdom here on earth. Understanding our call and answering that call is just the beginning, though a very important first step. What happens when we accept that call and begin our ministry is a whole new level. Almost immediately, we are met with opposition from the enemy, particularly if we are following God’s plan for our lives. We often run into things that we did not expect to encounter. And the results that we wish to achieve are occasionally changed or transformed by the Holy Spirit, without our initial understanding of God’s purpose.

The prophet Jonah of the Old Testament was confused about his ministry. His ministry to the city of Nineveh offers a classic case of an expected result, at least on Jonah’s part. Nineveh was the notorious enemy of the Jewish people. As we remember, Jonah did not want to minister to Nineveh. He set sail in another direction, away from Nineveh. Eventually his sailing companions tossed him overboard when they discovered that his disobedience to God was jeopardizing the ship.

We now the story, Jonah was rescued when swallowed by a large fish. He then was persuaded by God to prophesy the destruction of this great city if its people did not repent. Unexpectedly, Nineveh repented, but this did not please Jonah. From the Book of Jonah we read:

This was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.   (Jonah 4:1-11)

Jonah wanted God to rain down destruction upon the people of Nineveh, even after they repented. What was Jonah’s problem? Perhaps he was too much into rewards and punishment. We can decided in our own minds who deserves punishment and who should be rewarded.

Jesus told a parable about workers in a vineyard which may help illustrate this point. As you recall, the owner of the vineyard hired laborers to work in his vineyard. Some of them were hired early in the day and others late. Some were hired even at the last hour. A problem arose because of this. We read in Matthew:

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”   (Matthew 20:8-12)

We may have a built-in understanding of what we think is fair play. (Keep in mind that we are talking about reward and punishment.) Again, from Matthew:

The owner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

This parable speaks on many issues. One issue is our sense of fairness. What is fair about “the last will be first, and the first will be last?” God’s order is not our order. His ways or not our ways. Just serving God is a privilegeThe Apostle Paul wrote:

Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well — since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have   (Philippians 1:27-30)

What keeps us from understanding the privilege of serving God? We have the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well. There are hardships in serving God. Things do not always go our way. But we are blessed to even be in the arena with God – to be counted as his servants. We are coworkers with Christ.

We are not working that we might receive salvation and enter into the kingdom of God. That is a free gift from God by faith in Christ Jesus. We do not have to keep score on ourselves or others. God is the one who keeps score. We recall the words of Jesus:

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’   (Luke 17:9-10)

These are harsh words for those who are working for rewards. But they are liberating words for those who know the joy alone of just serving Jesus in the vineyard, under any and all circumstances. To God be the glory!

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 19A

Track 1: The Lord Has Become My Salvation

Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
or
Exodus 15:1b-11,20-21
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

Before the grumbling in the wilderness, there was a special time for Israel when they celebrated their victory over the Egyptians by the mighty hand of God. In Exodus we read:

I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

The Lord is my strength and my might,
and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.   (Exodus 15:1-2)

Do we now remember the victories of the Lord in our Lives, or are we grumbling in the wilderness of sin? Life can deal some tough blows that is for sure. We can always find excuses to grumble. What about the victories? The Apostle Paul wrote that the circumstances in life count for little when compared to the glory of the resurrection. The greatest victory that we experience in our lives is that we belong to God:

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.   (Romans 14:7-9)

When we lose focus of the great triumph of the cross we tend to go back to grumbling and to judging others. Paul continued:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.   (Romans 14:10-12)

The disciple Peter wanted to know how many times he had to forgive someone, as if we should keep score:

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

The kingdom of God is not about keeping score on others. It is not about grumbling about the conditions in our lives. It is about living for God under all circumstances. This life is temporal and will soon come to an end. Now is the time to be ever more vigilant to ready ourselves to stand before the Lord. He is coming soon. Tanks be to God. In the meantime we will walk in love with a forgiving heart.

 

 

Track 2: Bad Things Turned into Good

Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

There was a celebrated book written by a Jewish rabbi entitle “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People.” The book had merit, but according to Jesus the promise was wrong. When someone called him “Good Master” he asked that person why he called him “good.” Jesus said that no one was good but the “Father” alone. (Mark 10:18)

The classic Old Testament case of bad things happening to someone who seemingly did not deserve all that happened to him was Joseph. His brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. He was put in prison there under false accusations. We pick up on the story in today’s Old Testament reading. It was a time of great famine and only Egypt was prepared for it. God had revealed the its coming to Joseph. Joseph is now second in charge of all Egypt. All stored up food supply are under his authority.

Joseph’s brothers now have to go before him to ask for mercy and assistance in a time of great crisis. Their concern is that Joseph may exact revenge upon them. As we read from Exodus notice that the brothers now want to identify with the God of their father:

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.”

Joseph’s reply was unexpected:

Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.   (Genesis 50:20-21)

What empowered Joseph to be so forgiving and so generous? He looked at things from God’s perspective and not a human perspective. What was intoned for evil God used for good. This can happen when we put our trust in the Lord and not try to take matters in our own hands.

All of us need the wisdom of Joseph. Two key elements were essential in Joseph’s life: trust in God and forgiveness of those who wronged him. Without trust it is hard to forgive. With trust we can more easily forgive.

Peter realized that forgiveness was important but wanted to know the limit of forgiveness. He asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone as if we are allowed to keep score. Before we become too hard on Peter we must search our own hearts. Jesus famous reply to Peter who wanted to know if we should forgive someone seven times:

“Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.   (Matthew 18:22)

Today’s psalm is the prayer of someone who seeks God’s perspective:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.

He forgives all your sins
and heals all your infirmities;

He redeems your life from the grave
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

He satisfies you with good things,
and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.

Let this psalm be our prayer. It helps us to remember the goodness of God in all circumstances. As we recite that goodness we remind ourselves that God can bring good out of bad situations. After all, God has redeemed our lives from the grave and crowned us with mercy and loving-kindness.

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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 18A

Track 1: Christ Is Our Passover

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

We are familiar with the Jewish Passover. It was appointed by God as a perpetual holy day of celebration, a time of remembering when God rescued his chosen people from slavery in Egypt. From today’s Old Testament reading:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.   (Exodus 12:1-13)

The Jewish Passover was a foretaste of the time of great delivery of all humankind from the slavery to sin and death. Passover was prophetically fulfilled on Good Friday when the blood of Jesus is sprinkled on our souls. Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Has the Passover of Jesus been fulfilled in our lives? That is what we celebrate when we partake of the Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. The question remains, however, what does it take for us to participate fully in the Passover? God passed over Hebrew homes in Egypt. He did not strike down their first born as he did the Egyptians. However, the Hebrews had to make preparation for this event if they were to remain safe and protected from God’s judgement. They had to apply some of the blood of the lambs and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of their houses.

How do we apply the blood of Jesus on our hearts? Surely Christian baptism is very much a part of this preparation. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.   (Romans 6:3-5)

What should not be missed, however, is the the Jewish people had to make an outward, visible sign over their door. This sign was very much a part of the Passover. Without it they would have been under the same judgement as the Egyptians. Jesus said:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.   (Matthew 10:32-33)

For the Jewish people the Passover was the beginning of a journey. They had to be prepared to move out from Egypt. God told Moses:

This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.   (Exodus 12:11)

Are we now prepared to move out with God? Or do we want to remain in Egypt? In Hebrews we read:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:23-27)

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.   (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

Amen!

 

Track 2:  Put on the Armor of Light

Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

We are at the close of the Church age. Have we been observing the warning signs? The Apostle Paul warning to the Early Church is all the more revenant to us today. He wrote:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.   (Romans 13:1114)

This is a time of warning. The prophet, preacher and teacher of righteousness must speak out. Through the Prophet Ezekiel God demand that they do:

You, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.   (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

God warns us today as he warned Israel in order to save us from the consequences of sin. Again, from Ezekiel:

“Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?   (Ezekiel 33:11)

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is also warning against sin. He tells the Church they must deal with sin and not sweep it under the rug:

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.   (Matthew 18:15-17)

Time is short and sin must be eradicated. This does not sound like the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” does it? Doctrines do not save us. Rather, we must chose to put on the Armor of Light. Jesus is that armor. He is that light.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”   (John 3:19-21)

Are we ready for the light? Do we want our evil deeds exposed? We cannot hide from God or hide our sins from God. He sees everything. Let us run to him and not away from him. Jesus said to his followers:

“The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”   (John 12:35-36)

When our sin is exposed what should we do? Offer ourselves up for cleansing and restoration. The Apostle John has written that this cleansing is very much a part of the Gospel:

 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)

Now is the time to put on the armor of light. It is our only protection in these uncertain times. Living as children of the light is for now and forever. There is no glorious future in darkness.

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17A

Track 1: I Am Who I Am

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

We are familiar of the story where God called out to Moses from a burning bush that did not consume itself. What a spectacle this must have been for Moses. The ensuing conversation is all the more incredible. God tells Moses that he wants him to go back to Egypt for the purpose of liberating the Hebrews from captivity. Moses responds:

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.   (Exodus 3:11-15)

In the past, the Hebrew people referred to God as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now God is telling his chosen people through Moses his title which had never been given before. This signals a new relationship between God and humankind. It signals a new era of intimacy in which God may be approached personally.

But who is this God? He is Yahweh, the great I AM. He is the creator and the source for all life. God is absolute reality. He is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is.He is sovereign. He is Alpha and Omega, he beginning and the end. It is hard to actually translate his name. Many scholars believe that the most proper meaning may be “He Brings into Existence Whatever Exists.”

God tells Moses that Yahweh is his name forever. Every generation should from this moment on should call him this name.

The psalmist writes:

Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.   (Psalm 105:1-4)

Yet the children of Israel did not call upon his Name. They did not seek his face. the name Yahweh came to be regarded by Jews as too sacred to be spoken, The temptation for all of us is to become so pious that we dismiss the opportunity for intimacy with God.

Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. He is calling out to us. He came that we might have a relationship with God. God wants intimacy with us. He paid a great price that we may have that intimacy with him. Why do we turn aside?

Jesus paid a price. We must also pay a price:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?   (Matthew 16:24-28)

The great I AM is the only reality. Are we ready to find our true life in him?

 

 

Track 2: Smarter than God

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Yet when Jesus went on to explain that the Messiah would be crucified, Peter would have none of it. Peter rebuked Jesus:

“God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”   (Matthew 16:21)

Before we are too hard on Peter we bust ask ourselves: Have we ever questioned God’s purposes? The Prophet Jeremiah did so. He was a great prophet of God. Nonetheless, he found that his ministry was costing him more than he bargained for. Thus he complained to God:

Why is my pain unceasing,
    my wound incurable,
    refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
    like waters that fail.

Therefore thus says the Lord:
If you turn back, I will take you back,
    and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
    you shall serve as my mouth.
It is they who will turn to you,
    not you who will turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
    but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
    to save you and deliver you,
says the Lord.   (Jeremiah 15:18-20)

We remember that Job of the Old Testament was enduring great suffering. He held his peace for a long time. Finally, however, he grew fed up and wanted to know why God was allowing such terrible things to happen to him.

When things seem to go badly for us we are tempted to question God’s fairness and purpose. His answer may not be what we are looking for, at least this seemed to be true for Job, Jeremiah, and Peter.

God answered Job this way:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.   (Job 38:4)

God answered Jeremiah this way:

If you turn back, I will take you back,
and you shall stand before me.

If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall serve as my mouth.

It is they who will turn to you,
not you who will turn to them.   (Jeremiah 15:19)

Jesus answered Peter this way:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Matthew 16:22-23)

What do these great men of God seem to have in common? What was motivating them to question the authority and understanding of God? Perhaps they thought they could explain things to God so that he could understand what was going on. Does that sound like any of our prayers?

From the Gospel appointed for today we read:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?   (Matthew 16:24-26)

We cannot understand the thinking of God by our own thinking. We cannot understand the purposes of God by our own purposes. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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[e] 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[g] 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 8:5-8)
God wants to give us a new worldview – his worldview. No doubt we will have to give up our right to be right. No doubt we will have to given up any thinking that we are smarter than God. Every time that we do we are given new understanding and revelation that brings joy to our heart. We move closer to an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and all loving God.

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 15A

Track 1: Unity in the Body of Christ

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

The psalmist wrote:

Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!

It is like fine oil upon the head
that runs down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron,
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

It is like the dew of Hermon
that falls upon the hills of Zion.

For there the Lord has ordained the blessing:
life for evermore.   (Psalm 133:1-5)

There is great blessing in unity, within the body of Christ as well as within our own lives. Unfortunately, experience tells us that coming together in unity can be most difficult.

The Apostle Paul was struggling with the problem of achieving unity within the Early Church. Paul considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles, though he was trained as a Pharisee, He received criticism from the Church in Jerusalem because his converts were not following the strict practices of Judaism. Paul attempted to explain why God does not show partiality to either Jew of Gentile:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.   (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)

The key to understanding unity between brothers and sisters of the Faith is that God has shown mercy to us all. Not one of us can say that we do not need his mercy. God has forgiven us by removing our sins through the shed blood of Jesus. We have earned no status with God on our own.

Mercy and forgiveness are the building blocks of unity. Joseph of the Old Testament understood this. We remember the Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt. That would have been devastating for most anyone who went from favored son to being falsely accused and thrown in prison in Egypt. Joseph held on to his trust in God and eventually this paid off. Today out of Genesis we read:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’   (Genesis 45:4-11)

As a forerunner of Christ, Joseph forgave his brothers and showed them mercy and kindness. Thus he was able to reconcile peacefully with his brothers. But there is one other thing that we might easily overlook and that is how Joseph was able to forgive his brothers. Joseph understood how his life fit into a wider plan that God had for his people. He told his brothers: “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

If we are to live in unity we must learn to forgive and show mercy to others as God has shown to us. But we must also see beyond our own selfish needs. We must pray ask how God is using us for the greater good, even when we are undergoing difficult circumstances. The Apostle Paul reminds us:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

Powerful forces are coming against the Church today, to create division and disunity. Let us reject these forces, which are of the Devil, and strive together to live in unity. It is not always so easy. However, when we do God’s blessing falls upon us. Though the struggle may be difficult, with God, all things are possible. Joseph learned this. We have the blood of Christ on our side. All the more reason for us to show love to others. Paul wrote:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.   (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

 

 

Track 2: Great Is Your Faith

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

The Apostle Paul was struggling with the problem of achieving unity within the Early Church. Paul considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles, though he was trained as a Pharisee, He received criticism from the Church in Jerusalem because his converts were not following the strict practices of Judaism. Paul attempted to explain why God does not show partiality to either Jew of Gentile:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.   (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)

In today’s Gospel reading we have a curious account of a conversation Jesus had with a Canaanite woman. The woman would not have been considered as one of God’s chosen people. She was not a practicing Jew.  At first it seems as if Jesus is trying to discourage the woman but then we begin to realize that he was testing her:

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.   (Matthew 15:21-28)

The Canaanite woman was not without faith. In someways she understood more about the ministry of Jesus than did his disciples who were trying to turn her away. She was not puffed up about her status with God. Nonetheless, she felt in her heart that Jesus might show her mercy if she asked him. The truth is that God will show anyone mercy who asked. The Apostle Paul writes:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.   (Ephesians 2:4-9)

God is no respecter of persons. The Prophet Isaiah spoke:

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,

for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,

all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant–

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.   (Isaiah 56:1,6-8)

We are the foreigners joined to the Lord. We are the ingrafted branches of Judaism. Our status before God is not about what we have done for him. Rather, our status is fully based on what Jesus has done for us.

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Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6A

Track 1: All Things Are Possible with God

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

God is the God of the miraculous. The Old Testament examples of his miracle-working power are numerous. Today we read about the three men who came to visit Abraham. Who were they? Were they three angels or perhaps three persons of the Holy Trinity? We do not know, but they had a message from God. Sarah, in her old age, would bear Abraham a son. For Sarah, the notion of bearing a child was laughable. In Genesis we read:

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”   (Genesis 18:9-14)

As we can see, one does not always take the promises of God seriously. Perhaps his promise is beyond one’s ability to believe. Our beliefs and our understandings can so easily limit us. God is not limited. The question for Abraham and Sarah and the question for us is: Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Well, God’s promise was for Abraham and Sarah. We are just ordinary people. Sarah and Abraham were just ordinary as well, as were most of our heroes in the Bible.

In today’s Gospel reading we see Jesus sending out very ordinary people on an extraordinary mission:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.   (Matthew 10:1-4)

God often sends his elect into hopeless situations. But we are not without hope. The Apostle Paul writes:

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

Yes, God makes extraordinary promises to us and he sends on extraordinary missions. We are asked to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones and preconceived boundaries. When we accept his gift to us and we accept his call, we often find ourselves in situations beyond our ability to handle. Less we lose hope, we must remember the words of Jesus: “You received without payment; give without payment.”

Jesus has made an extraordinary down-payment for us. He has given us his body and blood, and he has poured out his Spirit upon us. Are we to shrink back into our fearful, limited, and unbelieving selves?

Paul reminds us that we have access to God’s grace. And for that reason we are able to stand in his strength. We do not have to rely on ourselves. In our weaknesses God manifests his strength. Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

 

Track 2: You Are My Treasured Possession

Exodus 19:2-8a
Psalm 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Today’s reading from Exodus recaps God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from their exile and slavery in Egypt:

The Israelites had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”   (Exodus 19:2-6)

The exodus story is our story as we;;. We are also God’s treasured possession because we have been engrafted into the branches of Judaism through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us that by grace we have been saved through faith. He writes:

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.   (Romans 5:1-2)

The question remains: What will be our response? Are we ready to share the glory of God? Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their unbelief in what God was offering and requiring of them. Are we, too, in the wilderness? We are if we do not understand the covenant which God has established for us by the sacrifice of his Son:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.   (Romans 5:6-8)

That covenant has been freely given to us by the grace of  God. It requires, however, a response on our part. We must allow ourselves to be loved by God. Do we appreciate his love and demonstrate that appreciation in tangible ways. Do we:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name?   (Psalm 100:3)

The passion of Jesus Christ invokes a passion in us. Do we respond as the beloved bride of Christ? We are his treasured possession. Let us treasure the one who gave us his all. He is our beloved. In Song of Solomon we read:

“He has brought me to his banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love.  (Song of Solomon 2)

Do we long for the marriage feast of the Lamb more than anything this world has to offer?

For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.   (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

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