Tag Archives: faith

Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 28A

Track 1: Go, Take Your Position

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

There were many great female leaders in the Bible along with the men. Today, let us look at the ministry of the prophetess Deborah who was Judge of all Israel. She served at a time when Israel was disobedient to God. As a result, God had delivered the Israelites into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan.

From Judges we read:

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”   (Judges 4:4-7)

The the commander of King Jabin’s army was Sisera. Sisera was formidable. He had he hundred chariots of iron. His strength would have been far too great for Israel to face alone. The assignment that Deborah was giving Barak son of Abinnam would be difficult at best, if not impossible. Why would he want to accept it?

Why would we accept a difficult assignment? For Barak, the answer lies in the fact that Deborah’s charge was also God’s charge. Not only that, but he had the assurance from God that God would be with him and bring him the victory. Of course, he still had to trust God and carry out what God was asking.

What about us? We are living in difficult times today. God is still giving out difficult assignments. He is still saying: Go, Take Your Position. God has a position for each of us. That  position is important, not only to us, but to the people who are counting on us. In fact, God is counting on us. Will we take up our position?

If the answer is yes, then it will still take great faith and trust on our part, because we will always face formidable opposition from the enemy. We will first want to hear from God clearly about our assignment. We cannot go off on our own, even for a cause that we believe is right. God determines the right cause for each of us.

Further more, we cannot claim any victory on our own, The Apostle Paul wrote:

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved,[a] be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.   (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

Israel needed the mercy of God Deborah’s time. We need the mercy of God today. Our country needs his mercy. There are enemies afoot, both within and without. To overcome our enemies we must seek the will of God each day in our lives. The psalmist wrote:

To you I lift up my eyes,
to you enthroned in the heavens.

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he show us his mercy.   (Psalm 123:1-3)

Are we looking to the Lord our God? Are we listening to him? If so, then he has an assignment for us. And he is saying: Go, Take Your Position.

 

 

Track 2: I Knew That You Were a Harsh Man

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Many of us are familiar with the parable of the talents. In the parable, the master gave certain talents to his servants to invest while he was away. (A talent represented a rather large sum of money) Some servants received more talents than their fellow servants. Nonetheless, when the master returned it appears that he though each one of his servants had invested wisely

There was exception – the foolish servant who buried what he had been given by the master. From Matthew we read:

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.   (Matthew 25:24-27)

Why did this man bury his talents? He stated his reason in the parable: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”

Is that the way we see God? Maybe we had parents who were very demanding, or a boss, or a teacher. In the parable, the master was fair. Even though his servants did not receive the same amount, he reward them according to how well they used the talents they were given, not by any absolute universal standard. The expectation of the master was that each servant would do their best to add to what they had been given, regardless of the amount of money they were asked to invest. The foolish servant had misread the character of the master. If we are not careful, we can misread the character of God. God’s true character may be seen in his Word and by his deeds.

The foolish servant was afraid of the master. Did he think he was all alone and could not ask for help? Have we ever felt that way? The  Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.   (Jeremiah 33:2-3)

We are not alone. We are not asked to prove ourselves before God by our own wisdom and strength. The foolish servant was in a state of paralysis, but the foolish servant did not understand the character and nature of the master.

Of course, there is accountability with God. He cannot overlook sin. The Prophet Zephaniah warned of the coming day of the Lord:

Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is at hand;

the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people

who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,

“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”

Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.

Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;

though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.

The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;

the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.

  (Zephaniah 1:7,12-14)

For Christians, the day of the Lord has already come. The prophet wrote that God had prepared a sacrifice. That sacrifice was his son Jesus hanging from a cruel cross. It was a time of darkness. It was the day in which God punished all sin. We are participants of that day, provided that we have placed our sins upon Jesus.

There is a time of judgment coming. It is hastening towards us. But this time of judgment is not for us. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.   (1 Thessalonians 5:8-11)

Let us not misunderstand the character of God. Now is the time for us to encourage one another. It is not time to hide our gifts. Jesus Christ is our hope of glory. Let us shine for all the world to see. Amen.

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All Saints Day, Year A

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

In his first epistle the Apostle John writes that, as children of God, we have a hope in Jesus which purifies us in Christ:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.   (1 John 3:1-3)

Is John writing about a purity that can only exist in heaven? In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks about a purity that brings about a reward in heaven, not a heaven which brings about our purity:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus states that his disciples will be identified by the purity of their heart, something that the world will not understand. Even though they will not understand what they see, they will be able to see the purity God has placed within us. In fact, the world will persecute us because of that purity.

As Christians, we have been called by God to purify ourselves. If we are pure in heart we will see God. If not, then our hearts will keep us from seeing God. Purity and holiness is by faith in Jesus, but we must exercise that faith daily in order that God may do a work in us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi:

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.   (Philippians 1:3-6)

What is a sign God is working in us? If we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Jesus said that if we are so persecuted, the the kingdom of heaven will be ours.

We have not had a ticket punched so that we may live any type of life we wish. This concept has to do with religion. Christianity is not a religion. When we commit our lives to Jesus we are leaving the ways of this world and entering into a way of living that can only be accomplished in Christ alone. The psalmist wrote:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are they who trust in him!

Fear the Lord, you that are his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

The Lord ransoms the life of his servants,
and none will be punished who trust in him.   (Psalm 34:8-10,22)

John. the author of Revelation, gives us a vivid picture of those ransomed by God who put their trust in Christ:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
    the sun will not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”   (Revelation 7:13-17)

How do we wash our robes? We wash them in the blood of Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore, 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)

Saints of God are the one who hold onto a holy hope in Jesus. Is that who we are? If so, then we are saints of God. On this day we celebrate all those who put there trust in Jesus, no matter what the circumstances in our lives may be. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

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Saint James of Jerusalem

Faith and Works

James, brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem, and author of the Epistle of James is still speaking to the Church today. Are we listening?

How important was James to the Early Church? The Apostle Paul writes about the people whom Jesus personally appeared to after His resurrection:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.   (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

It would be an understatement to say that James has not always been understood or appreciated. He is almost like a Rorschach test. People often project on him their own theology. We may be familiar with Martin Luther’s statement about the Epistle of James being an “epistle of straw.” Luther’s theology did not agree with the tone and tenor of James’ Epistle. At the risk of oversimplification, Luther emphasizes sola fide, “faith alone” whereas James states that “good works” demonstrates a genuine faith. James was writing from wisdom and experience and he did not want to make allowances for an easy grace without accountability.

James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. A dispute broke out in the Early Church concerning whether or not Gentile converts to the Faith needed to follow Judaic Law. This dispute had the potential of dividing the Church. Accordingly, a council met at Jerusalem to consider what rules Gentile Christians should be required to keep. James formulated the final consensus as to what the requirements for Gentiles should be:

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21)

Without this vital agreement the work of the Gentile Church would have been gravely hindered. We see that James was not locked in ideology or his own peculiar theology. He was a traditionalist when it came to interpreting the Mosaic Law. Yet he was open and flexible. He sets the proper tone for the Church today. Are we divided over many doctrines or have we identified the crucial matters of the faith as did James?

A Spirit lead ecumenical movement is once again emphasizing what is important (not the false spirit that wants to harmonize all religions). This ecumenical movement does not reduce the Church to the lowest common denominator. Rather, it stresses a need for agreement by leaders who will come together in prayer.

What James has taught us is that faith without works is dead. The Church needs to work together, trusting in the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must arise and take up the challenges that lie ahead of us.

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Filed under Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, St. James of Jerusalem, Year A