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Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 28

Track 1: The Character of God

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

Before Israel had kings, judges sat under God’s authority to help govern the people. One such judge was Deborah. We read today’s Old Testament:

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)

Barak believed what Deborah said. He went to Mount Tabor. There he defeated Sisera. Why did he trust what Deborah instructed him to do. He knew that Deborah was a prophetess. He trusted the word of God.

We need leaders who listen to God and follow his instructions. How many of our politicians do that? How many of our church leaders do that?

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus told the parable of the talents:

Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ ”  (Matthew 25:14-30)

Notice in the parable how the master promoted those men who proved trustworthy. They were trustworthy because they trusted their master. This was not the case for one of the master’s servants:

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.   (Matthew 25:14-30)

Why did this servant fail? He did not trust the master. Perhaps did not have a relationship with the master. Perhaps did not understand the character of the master. This was the master’s response:

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. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.   (Matthew 25:14-30)

It was not that the servant in the parable was unacquainted with the master. He worked for the master. But he did not know the master. He had a false concept of what the master was like.

Do we know the God we serve? Do we understand him enough to trust him? How many of us have a false concept of God. Many of our churches have not taught us who God really is. He is love. He is kind. He is merciful. Deborah knew this about God. She had a relationship with God.

We need some Deborah’s today in leadership. We need some Deborah’s in today’s church. We need some Deborah’s in our government. Maybe some of us should step up into a place of leadership. Is God calling us? Are we going to shrink back and bury our talents? Or are we going to be faithful with the gifts that God has given us? When we have proven ourselves faithful with a little, God will promote us. He will put us in charge of many things.

 

 

Track 2: Hiding Our Treasure

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

Our life is a great gift from God. The psalmist wrote:

The span of our life is seventy years,
perhaps in strength even eighty;
yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,
for they pass away quickly and we are gone.

Who regards the power of your wrath?
who rightly fears your indignation?

So teach us to number our days
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.   (Psalm 90:10-12)

Our lives depend on the breath of God. We are to value them. Do we realize that we are God’s treasure? He has given us some of his essence. He has invested in us. God must judge iniquity, but He has given us his Son Jesus to secure our salvation. By the stripes of Jesus we are being made whole and well.

The Apostle Paul has called us children of the light:

When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 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 5:3-11)

We are children of the God’s divine light. Jesus said:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.   (Matthew 5:14-15)

Are we to hide our light from the world? That is what Satan wants us to do. He wants us to forget who we are in Christ. He wants us to live in fear. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus told this parable:

Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 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.   (Matthew 25:14-30)

Why did this one man hide the investment that his master made in him? Perhaps he did not realize what he had been given he was. It was a moderate one, but it was a stepping stone to a bigger one. All he had to do was to trust the generosity of the master.

But apparently he did not understand the nature and character of his master. He hid has gift. Are we hiding our gift? Has Satan convinced us that God is a harsh master? Are we afraid of doing the wrong thing? Those are religious fears. But Christianity is not a religion. It is a way of life that is ever expanding. Day by day we grow in God’s grace. But we must stay planted in his soil. He must remain to his word. We must hold on to the hope that is within us that God has given us.

We must not allow fear to take over our lives. The Apostle John wrote:

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.   (1 John 4:17-19)

God is perfecting us in love. Only he can do it. Satan is not goinh to steal away our inheritance in Christ. Let us not forget hte true nature of God. Jesus said:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32)

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 8

Track 1: The Lord Will Provide

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Today we have the account of Abraham being severely tested. It speaks to us in so many ways.

God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.   (Genesis 22:1-8)

Abraham was a man of faith. What that meant is that he was faithful to the Lord. Truth faith produces faithfulness. It is easier to be faithful to God in good times. What about tough times? God was about to put Abraham through a severe test.

The prophets of God had difficult tasls. Jeremiah often complained about them. The messages which God gave his prophets to speak were not always welcomed by the people. People want to hear messages of good news. Has anything changed? From the Old Testament:

The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”   (Jeremiah 28:5-9)

What Jeremiah seems to be suggesting to Hananiah is that all prophecy needs to be tested, especially prophecy of good news. Easy times and hard times – the hard times are more difficult. Will we be faithful to God in hard times?

God wanted to know just how far Abraham would go in following his instructions. Abraham had the choice of following those instructions or rejecting them, justifying his decision for any number of reasons. Following them required a tremendous trust in God.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and he laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the alt on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”   (Genesis 22:9-14)

How did Abraham endure this severe test? He knew his  son Isaac was the child of a promise. God had told his that many nations would be blessed through his child. Thus Abraham trusted god to do what he promised.

The tests of faith which we face serve a purpose, perhaps many purposes.. We learn a lot about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, we learn more about God. The psalmist wrote:

But I put my trust in your mercy;
my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to the Lord, for he has dealt with me richly;
I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.   (Psalm 13:5-6)

This is how we should approach God? From Hebrews we read:

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.   (Hebrews 11:6-7)

Our whole approach to God must be by faith. We must learn to trust him. Our very salvation depends upon our trust in his gift of mercy and grace. Abraham was asked to give up his son. God did give up his Son. That should be enough for us to put our whole trust in God, He only asks us to do the things that will brings us blessings. Will we follow him in the good times and the bad?

Abraham called that place where he was going to sacrifice his son “The Lord will provide.” The Lord did provide. He provides his Son to stand in for us on the cross. He provides for us every day. Do we put our full faith and trust in him? Do we trust the plans that he has for us as did Abraham?

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.   (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

 

 

Track 2: A Cup of Cold Water

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4,15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

The Apostle Paul writes about spiritual gifts and callings within the Church in more than one place. I like this list because it includes the ministry of helps,

And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.   (1 Corinthians 12:28)

It has been my experience in churches that, in the minds of some in the congregation, there is a hierarchy of positions in leadership. People often seem to jockey for positions. The Apostle Paul attempted to put this kind of thinking to rest”

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.   (1 Corinthians 12:14-26)

Jesus explained that anyone who helps a prophet receives that same reward of a prophet:

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”   (Matthew 10:40-42)

How wonderful it is for the clergy to receive the ministry of helps. Believe me the clergy need all the help they can get. Our attitude in helping others has a bearing on how God will judge us. Jesus spoke these words about separates the sheep from the goats on judgement day:

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”   (Matthew 25:41-46)

The ministry of helps is perhaps the most important ministry of all. How do we stand in this category?

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