Tag Archives: faithfulness

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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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year A

Saint Mary Magdalene

The Resurrection’s First Witness

The Gospel of Luke made it clear that the roles of women in the ministry of Jesus Christ were significant:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  (Luke 8:1-3)

When we think of Jesus’ disciples we may primarily be thinking of the twelve that Jesus personally chose to follow Him. They were not alone, however. They were supported by many faithful women of which Mary Magdalene was included. She was not only included. She was prominent. She was the courageous and faithful one. When Jesus’ disciples deserted Him at the cross she was there:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  (John 19:25)

Jesus could have chosen any one of the twelve disciples to reveal Himself to after His resurrection. He chose a woman – Mary Magdalene:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.  (Mark 16:9-10)

Why did Jesus choose her? The testimonies of women were often considered unreliable. In fact, the disciples did not believer Mary’s testimony:

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  (Luke 24:10-11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed the order of things. Jesus attempted to explain this new order to His disciples before His crucifixion, but they had trouble understanding what He was telling them:

But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.  (Mark 9:34-35)

Mary Magdalene was a primary example of the servant leader who was faithful in her duties, following in the footsteps of her LORD. We remember her today as the resurrection’s first witness.

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Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7A

Track 1: God is Faithful

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Abraham had two sons. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, had given her maid Hagar to him so that she might bear him a son in her place, since she was barren. The son born of Hagar was Ishmael. God had promised Sarah a son, but she had trouble accepting this promise. We remember that Sarah did bear a son after all by God’s miraculous intervention.

In Genesis we read:

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”

Later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and the tension between the women returned. At a celebration after Isaac was weaned, Sarah found the teenage Ishmael playing her son. The original Hebrew word translated as “playing” is Tsachaq. This is better translated as “mocking.” Ishmael was mocking Isaac. This Sarah did not likeShe was so upset by it that she demanded that Abraham send Hagar and her son away. She declared that Ishmael would not share in Isaac’s inheritance. Abraham was greatly distressed but God told Abraham to do as his wife commanded because God’s promise would be carried out through both Isaac and Ishmael.

Early the next morning, Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out together. Abraham gave Hagar bread and water then sent them into the wilderness of Beersheba. She and her son wandered aimlessly until their water was completely consumed. In a moment of despair, she burst into tears. God heard her and her son crying and came to rescue them. The angel opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water. He also told Hagar that God “will make a great nation” of Ishmael.

Life can be cruel and often seem unfair. Hagar was in despair when Abrahan, at the wishes of his wife, sent her and her son away. She sound herself in the wilderness without the resources to care for her son. What was she to do? We read:

Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”

In Hagar’s state of hopelessness she discovered that God was with her. She cried out to him and he heard her prayer. The psalmist writes:

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer,
and attend to the voice of my supplications.

In the time of my trouble I will call upon you,
for you will answer me.   (Psalm 86:6-7)

God is the God of hope and not despair. Despair sets in when we give up on God. The Apostle Paul writes:

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)

All of us are on a journey. We are on a journey with God. We are not alone. He is on our side. The circumstances of life may prove difficult, but they do not change the fact that God is our source of strength and help. The psalmist wrote:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.   (Psalm 46:1-3)

Will the difficulties in life drive us away from God? If we hold on to our trust and faith in him these difficulties will only make us stronger. We will gain a closer relationship with God. Hagar discovered the mercy and faithfulness of God. How much more will we discover these qualities of God who have put our faith and trust in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ! If we have not done so now is the time.

 

 

Track 2: A Fire Shut up in My Bones

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

The Prophet Jeremiah was faithfully proclaiming the Word of God as God directed him. However, this was not making him popular. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Today we read one of the famous complaints that Jeremiah made to about being a prophet:

For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”

then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;

I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.

The problem with speaking God’s word is that it changes things. The Prophet Isaiah wrote:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.   (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Some people do not like change. They will do everything possible to keep it from happening, including try to silence those who dare speak God’s word. Yet, if we are true believers do we have an option not to speak about our faith? 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.”

If we are true disciples of Jesus Christ then we should expect ridicule and persecution.

Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

Do we have the fire of God in our bones? If so, we are compelled to speak out for the Gospel. We will not be able to stop ourselves and we will not want to stop ourselves. The Word made flesh has spoken for us on the cross with such sacrificial and unconditional love. For this reason we love and value Jesus more than anything on this earth.

But if we are a lukewarm Christian, being neither hot nor cold, we may not understand the power and beauty of sharing the love of God with others. We may not want to risk the criticism and persecution of doing so. This would be a very sad state for any Christian to be in.

In the Book of Revelation Jesus spoke to the Church in Laodicea:

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.   (Revelation 3:14-16)

Perhaps the only cure for the lukewarm condition is God’s fire in our bones. God will kindle that fire for all who seek him. He is a consuming fire:

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.   (Hebrews 12:25-29)

Do we have a fire shut up within our bones? Now is the time to ask for the fire of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one who is the baptizer of the Holy Spirit. We must not only ask him for the Holy Spirit, but ask him for the remission of our sins. We must do so continually. Amen.

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