Tag Archives: faith

Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Believing in His Promises

On of the greatest expressions of faith, if not the greatest, was made by Mary the mother of Jesus. On her visit to her cousin Elizabeth she proclaimed:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.   (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary believed in the promises that God made to his people Israel. Israel had not heard a prophetic word from God for over four hundred years. They nation of Israel was under foreign occupation, yet Mary still believed in God’s promises. She believed so strongly in them that she was willing to surrender all of herself to God’s providence.

Because he was now in prison and ostracized from the significant events that were occurring, John the Baptist began to have doubts about the one he had proclaimed as the Messiah. From today’s Gospel reading:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”   (Matthew 11:2-6)

Notice how Jesus answered John. He did not do so directly. Rather, he proclaimed that the promises of God were being fulfilled. Jesus, by his very works, was fulfilling the prophecy of old concerning himself. From the Prophet:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.   (Isaiah 35:5-6)

Do we believe in the promises of God? Circumstances around us can cause us to doubt them if we are not careful. Often times, the timing of the fulfillment of God’s promises is problematic. God’s timing may not be our timing. Yet, his timing is perfect. From the Book of James we read:

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.   (James 5:7-10)

Mary was patient. Mary was trusting. She was willing to wait upon the Lord, even though what God promised to do through her was beyond anything imaginable. How willing are we to believe in God’s promises today? In some ways, it may appear that the promises of God are losing ground. That is all the more reason for us to put our entire trust in him. We cannot take matters into our own hands. Only God can bring about his glorious word.

Let us remember that we are not alone on our Christian journey. We have our brothers and sisters in the faith to offer us encouragement:

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 5:9-11)

We also have a traveling companion who is our greatest encouragement. He is Jesus. He has established a road map for us. Isaiah prophesied:

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.   (Isaiah 35:1-10)

Many are unwilling to travel this highway. But this is the only highway that leads to he absolute fulfillment of the promises of God. Jesus said:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”   (John 14:6)

Those who hold on to the promises of God shall not be disappointed:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:6-10)

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Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 26C

Track 1: I Will Stand at My Watchpost

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

The Prophet Habakkuk was frustrated. He was discouraged. He complained to God:

Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous–
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.   (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

He believe there was no justice. God was slack in punishing the wicked while righteous people were being oppressed.

Have we ever felt the same way? We become discouraged because people seem to be getting away with evil and nothing is being done about it, Though discouraged, Habakkuk had not yet lost hope. He would wait upon God to see if he would eventually answer his complaint:

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.   (Habakkuk 2:1)

Habakkuk was an intercessor. He would wait, but he would also be praying concerning the situation. 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)

Intercessory prayer require some effort on our part. We must learn to be patient. We must learn to trust God.

God has called each one of us to be intercessors. It can be a lonely assignment. More often than not,  it does not bring instant results. We need to pray earnestly, from the heart. God needs our earnest prayers. The psalmist wrote:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.   (Psalm 130:1-6)

Waiting of the Lord means more than just exercising patience. It also means serving the Lord. He needs our attention. He needs our faith and hope.

God answered the complaint of Habakkuk this way:

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

God’s timing is not always our timing, but his timing is perfect. We must not lose faith in the justice of God. His justice goes beyond our idea of justice. From today’s appointed psalm:

Your justice is an everlasting justice
and your law is the truth.

Trouble and distress have come upon me,
yet your commandments are my delight.

The righteousness of your decrees is everlasting;
grant me understanding, that I may live.   (Psalm 119:142-144)

Let us not become so discouraged that we live like those who do not believe in the justice of God. Today’s Gospel reading tells of Zacchaeus, a tax collector. He knew what he was doing was wrong, but when he came into contact with Jesus he found hope that things could change. Because Jesus accepted him, he decided to make amends for his misdeeds:

Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:8-10)

God’s justice includes mercy. His justice is for more than today alone. His justice is eternal.

 

Track 2: Come Let Us Reason Together

Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm 32:1-8
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Through the Prophet Isaiah, God complained concerning the shallowness of his chosen people. Though they observed the appointed festivals and paid lip service in their worship of God, this had little bearing on their daily life. God required much more from them. He demanded much more:

When you stretch out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.   (Isaiah 1:15-17)

In his psalm of confession, King David expressed what he believed God was looking for:

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.   (Psalm 51:6-9)

David understood that he needed God’s help in order to change. God asks a lot of us, but is he unreasonable?

In today’s Gospel reading we learn of a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was anxious to know who Jesus was:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.   (Luke 19:1-6)

Why would a notorious sinner be happy to welcome Jesus? He saw something in Jesus that he did expect to find. He saw something that the grumblers failed to see:

All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”   (Luke 19:7-10)

What did Zacchaeus see in Jesus? Let us return to today’s reading from Isaiah. God said:

Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;

though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.   (Isaiah 1:18)

I like the way the King James Version puts this: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” God is exacting but he not unreasonable. He wants to work with us.

The psalmist wrote:

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not conceal my guilt.

I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.   (Psalm 32:3-6)

Confession is the beginning. God also wants to take us a step further. If we are willing, he will cleanse us, he will restore us, and he will give us a fresh new start. This is what excited Zacchaeus. Before Jesus could ask him to repent, he was ready ready to make amends for his sin.

Are we stuck today in some habitual sin? Perhaps it is a sin that we seem not to be able to overcome. In fact, alone, we cannot overcome it. The good news is that God wants to overcome for us. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:7-21)

Do we understand the true nature of God. He is forgiving, he is restorative, and he is our deliverer. “Come, let us reason together,” he tells us. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.”

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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 proclaim 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 helped formulate a 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 an 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?

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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