Tag Archives: faith

Saint Mary the Virgin

Il_Sassoferrato_-_Madonna_with_the_Christ_Child_-_WGA20874Trust in God’s Promises

The prophets of old foretold the Messiah and His ministry, but who could grasp all that they were saying? From Isaiah:

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  (Isaiah 53:1-3)

Mary understood that God had made promises to Abraham and she believed that He would keep them. She lived through terrible circumstances but never gave up her hope and trust in the Lord. Her God was full of love and mercy. Her reverence and humility before God are without question.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”   (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary did not always understand the ministry of her son, however. There was a time in the early ministry of Jesus when Mary was asking her son to come home.Like a good mother, she was concerned for the wellbeing of her son. She had not yet grasped how his ministry was unfolding and how it was fulfilling the promises of God.

We cannot fault Mary for her concern. There was no one ever like Jesus, either before or since. Again, from Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.   (Isaiah 53:4-5)

As the prophet Simeon foretold, her heart would be pierced and she would gain a greater understanding.

“Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  (Luke 2:34-35)

Our hearts must be pierced also if we are to understand the ministry and message of Jesus. How closely we follow Jesus in our lives will telegraph what we truly believe. Will we go the distance with Him as did His mother Mary? Mary was at the cross when most of Jesus’ disciples fled. She could not turn away. Her love for God was so great. She walked in the steps of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his own son if that were required by God.

It was after the cross and resurrection that Mary, along with the disciples, understood the ministry of Jesus. She rejoiced along the psalmist of old:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.   (Isaiah 61:10)

What is our witness today? We may not understand all that is going on. We may not fully grasp the miracle that God is working out. Nonetheless, we can still believe and trust in the promises of God as did Mary. Let us pray for grace to endure the pain while eagerly anticipating our Lord’s victory with patience and endurance? Mary did this and so much more. Her enduring faith and courage has inspired the Church down to this day.

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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 14C

Track 1: Strangers and Foreigners on the Earth

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Have you heard the saying that people can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good?” Obviously this suggests that certain spiritual or religious people are not down to earth enough in their thinking and, thus, are not in touch with what is going on, or that, maybe they are not practical in their thinking.

Does religion get in the way. It seems that God may be saying this through the Prophet Isaiah:

New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation–
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.   (Isaiah 1:13-14)

Israel was observing God’s appointed festivals, but their hearts were not really in them. The religious celebrations were empty because the people were disobeying God’s commandments.

What about the spiritual part. Can people be too spiritual? Certainly the depends on which Spirit to which we are referring. The Epistle reading speaks about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were promised a land of their own which they never lived in. Nevertheless, they were able, spiritually, to look beyond earthly realm. Reading from Hebrews:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

They put their faith and trust in God, regardless of their earthly circumstances. Perhaps the problem with the expression “earthly good” is that the earth is not good. Jesus would not let people call him good. He said that there is only one person who is good is God the Father.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.   (Romans 3:21-26)

Though God is the only one good, he prepared a way through his Son to consider us good by faith alone. Abraham believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Just as Abraham believed the Lord, so, too, we can believe on the redemptive act of our Lord Jesus Christ and be considered righteous by faith alone.

Perhaps we need to be heavenly minded. That is our only hope of overcoming sin and God’s judgement. The Apostle Paul writes:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.   (Colossians 3:1-3)

In todays Gospel, Jesus warned:

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”   (Luke 12:35-40)

Heavenly minded or earthly good? There is no earthly good apart from our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us stand in our faith and be ready for the coming of his kingdom on earth. Will no longer be strangers and foreigners on the earth. We will be right at home.

 

 

Track 2: The Righteousness by Faith

Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Abraham was on a journey with God. It was not just a geographical journey.  It was also a faith journey. From today’s Epistle reading:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old– and Sarah herself was barren– because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”   (Hebrews 11:8-12)

We do not have to conjure up faith on our own. Faith is a gift from God. God has given everyone a measure of faith. Exercising our faith is another matter. Obstacles often appear to be standing in our way. These difficulties, if we dwell upon them, can often lead to unbelief. This did not happen with Abraham. From today’s Old Testament lesson:

The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.   (Genesis 15:1-6)

God can reckon the we are righteous because Jesus has taken away our sins. The Apostle Paul writes:

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 5:21)

The key phrase is “in him.” We cannot go it alone in this world. We need Jesus. Taking our eyes off him is what the tempter sells us each day. Jesus reassures us but also warns us:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”   (Luke 12:32-34)

Abraham was on a journey with God. We are on a journey with God. This requires faith, but also a measure of trust. Do we trust God? Do we trust Jesus? We cannot show that we trust him when we cling to the things of this world.

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 12C

Track 1: Idolatry is Settling for Less

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

It has been said that idolatry is the worship of something that is other than God, as if it were God. Prostitution is a form of idolatry. It is an attempt at mimicking the sexual intercourse between a man and a woman as if the two partners were married. When we engage in such activity we are telling God that we are satisfied with a counterfeit. We do not need the real expression of love that he has created for us. Worst than that, we are saying that we do not need his love and we do not need his blessing. We have found something that we like better.

This was the message that the children of Israel were sending to God in the days of the Prophet Hosea. God had a history with Israel. He had delivered them from bondage in Egypt. He had led them to the promise land. He had defeated their enemies and given them a bright future. Yet they had rejected him.

Hosea was called by God to give his response to their idolatry. From today’s Old Testament reading:

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.  (Hosea 1:2-3)

Today, are we going the way of ancient Israel? God has so blessed us, even beyond the Mosaic Covenant. We have a Savior who has given us a New Covenant which is eternally lasting. It is a covenant that eradicates all our sins and offers us Oneness with God. Yet do we fall for a false narrative and a counterfeit god?

The Apostle Paul warned against straying from the truth:

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.   (Colossians 2:8-14)

This is what our God has done for us. Why would we depart from him? Again, Paul writes:

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.   (Colossians 2:6-7)

God is the giver of every good gift. Who can we compare to him? James writes:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.   (James 1:17)

Jesus concludes his teaching on prayer in today’s Gospel this way:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”   (Luke 11:11-13)

Idolatry is the lost of focus. When we look away from God, Satan offers us a counterfeit which does not satisfy. In truth, it leads us astray, deceives us, and ultimately destroys us. He wants us to believe that we can live and do whatever we want without God or his blessings. In our rebellious flesh we fall into this trap.

God has something greater for us. He want to give us an abundant life – one that last for an eternity. All he needs from us is our appreciation. The psalmist writes:

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name,
because of your love and faithfulness;

For you have glorified your Name
and your word above all things.   (Psalm 85:1-3)

Today, God is calling us to worship. He wants to poor out this blessing upon us. What is our response? Jesus said:

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.   (Luke 11:9-10)

Let us open up our hearts to God alone.

 

 

Track 2: God’s Good Gift

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

There is a popular teaching in some churches about praying with faith. You probable have heard about it. The teaching is that if we pray with enough faith we will get what we ask for. One of the ways of showing that it to pray once for something and then just wait. Anything more would show a lack of faith on our part.

Clearly, faith is an important component to our prayers. In the Book of James we are told to pray with faith:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.   (James 1:5-7)

Is faith the only component to consider? Again from James:

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.   (James 4:2-3)

Right motives are important. Prayer is not to be used for selfish gain. This seems to rule out the “name it and claim it” way of praying. Our faith is not some way to manipulate God.

James adds two more important ingredients to prayer: confession of sin and righteous living. He writes:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.   (James 5:13-16)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is asked to teach his disciples how to pray. He offers an illustration of how to pray by this parable:

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”   (Luke 11:5-10)

By this parable Jesus seems to be stressing persistence in prayer. This persistence does not suggest a lack of faith, does it? Rather, is not Jesus simply encouraging us to continue to prayer and not lose heart?

The Apostle Paul writes:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

We need to pray with thanksgiving and praise. Out attitude towards God is important. Constant prayer helps us build a relationship with God.

Jesus continues his teaching of prayer in Luke’s Gospel by saying:

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.   (Luke 11:9-10)

God has many good gifts for us. When we pray to him we need to remember his nature and what he desires to give to us.

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”   (Luke 11:11-13)

The enemy gives us false hope. He entices us. If we listen to hm he then rewards us with trials and tribulations. He promises worldly riches and sometimes provides them. But they are not lasting and often cause great harm to us and to others. Let us go to the giver of every good gift instead. From James:

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or [r]shifting shadow.   (James 1:16-17)

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First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

The Ministry of the Holy Trinity 

Today it is Trinity Sunday. It has been said that if anyone is able to explain the Holy Trinity they are probably a heretic. To be sure, the Trinity is certainly difficult to explain, or even to understand. Yet the scriptures clearly depict God in three persons. In today’s readings we have glimpses of how the three person of the Godhead interact with each other.

Let us first look at the act of creation. From Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness [a]was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.   (Genesis 1:1-2)

Here we have a picture of the Holy Spirit waiting to carry out the plans of the God the Father. We see that the Spirit was there in the beginning. He is often referred to as the Wisdom of God. Reading from Proverbs:

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?

On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;

beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.

Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,

when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;

and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,

rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”   (Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31)

Notice that the Spirit to took delight in the creation of humankind. The Spirit was very much involved in the creation. God the Father spoke to each Person of the Trinity when he said: “Let us.”

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”   (Genesis 1:26)

Where was God the Son in all this? Reading from the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

Jesus, the Word of God,  is said to be the agent of creation. Not only that, he became the Word made flesh. He entered into his own creation of our behalf.

It the Holy Trinity some theological concept far above our understanding? No, the Trinity is Emmanuel, God with us. The Trinity impinges upon our daily lives. How is that so? From today’s reading from John:

Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”   (John 16:12-15)

By the Holy Spirit, God will share his very essence with us. The Spirit will share all that the God the Father has – the very essence that was been given to Jesus and give it to us. Are we ready to move beyond gauge spiritual concepts and move into fellowship with all of God? This is our heritage.

The psalmist writes:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him?
the son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him but little lower than the angels;
you adorn him with glory and honor.   (Psalm 8:4-6)

God wants to adorn us with glory and honor. Do we believe that? If so, are we boldly ready to claim our inheritance? 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)

We are destined to share the glory of God. It is not something that we alone can accomplish. The Holy Trinity is working on our behalf. We need all three Persons of the Trinity. We need the commandments of God the Father. He has set the standard which will never change. He requires us to be holy. We need the ministry of God the Son to forgive us and remit all our sins as we confess them to God. By our faith alone Jesus continues to work on our behalf, interceding for us before the Father. We need the Holy Spirit, the third person of the God Head, to implant the law of God in our hearts and empower us for service. Jesus is returning for a Church without spot or wrinkle.

Have we in the Church been faithful in teaching the fullness of the Gospel? If we have left out anyone the Persons of the Trinity then we need to make some corrections. We should not dissect the Gospel into Liturgical, Evangelical, and Pentecostal. We need all three. Trinity Sunday asks us to look at the whole of the Gospel.

Thanks be to God for the sacred work of the Holy Trinity. God is still forming us into his image. The world around us is working to undermine what God is doing. This world is passing away. God will create a new heaven and a new earth. Let us put our whole trust in God alone.

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