Tag Archives: family

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 18C

Track 1: Reshaped in God’s Hands

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Today’s Old Testament reading presents us a graphic picture of our creator God:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.   (Jeremiah 18:1-6)

God is the potter and we are the clay. That must mean that God is in charge of our lives when we yield to him. But a popular teaching in today’s church is that God will bless whatever we are doing as long as we have the faith that he will. In other words, we may be able to influence and manage God if we have the right formula.

The psalmist wrote in the Old Testament a very New Testament message:

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”   (Psalm 2:4-9)

What the psalmist is saying that God the Father has turned over his potter’s wheel to his Son. Jesus has the right and authority to mold us as he will. In order to do that he may first have to break some of us and then remold us.

Many people were initially attracted to Jesus and followed him. But did they understand the cost to them of what that meant. In today’s Gospel message Jesus made this shocking statement:

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.   (Luke 14:25-33)

Families are important. Jesus loved his family as he loves us all. We remember there was a time, however, when the family of Jesus wanted to stop his ministry and make him come home. From the Gospel of Mark:

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”   (Mark 3:31-35)

Members of the true family of God are the ones on the master potter’s wheel. Those who are not on the wheel may call us out. They may attempt to convince us to get off the wheel, leaving us to decide: o we love God more than anything or anyone, including our own family members?

When true Christian discipleship is involved tensions may arise. The temptation may be do whatever is required to keep the peace. But here is what the Prince of Peace has proclaimed:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”   (Luke 12:51-53)

There is only one master potter. Are we ready to go down to the potter’s house along with Jeremiah? God wants to mold us in his image. He is the potter, we are the clay. Or, like some, do we wish to change the image of God to our liking?

 

 

Track 2: Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

This was the last chance for Moses to speak to the children of Israel. They would soon enter the promise land, but Moses would not be going with them. Nonetheless, Moses had a word from God that they should take with them. It was a vital word that rings down to they day:

Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”   (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

The psalmist wrote about the benefits of obeying the word of God:

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.   (Psalm 1:1-2)

But, as we know, Israel did not always walk in God’s ways, observing his commandments. Because of their disobedience, Israel paid a high price. But that was the Old Covenant. What about the New Covenant? What has Jesus asked us to do? From today’s Gospel reading:

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.   (Luke 14:25-27)

Choosing God’s way is not a casual decision. It should be a sobering one. Moses present the choice as a life and death situation. If we do choose God’s way then we must be willing to follow through on our choice. Jesus spoke of a king preparing for war:

What king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. your possessions.   (Luke 14:31-32)

God makes demands on us. If we are to become disciples of Christ we must understand what those demands might mean. Many so-called “seeker churches” may want to minimize those demands. They may just scare too many church prospects away. We can talk about them later, sometime. No. Jesus is saying those demands must be considered up front. He concludes his parable of the king preparing for war this way:

So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all.   (Luke 14:33)

Let us consider what God gave up. He gave up his only eternal Son:

 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?

God wants to give us everything. We must be willing to open our hearts and hands to him. He is saying to us: Choose life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.   (John 3:16)

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

A Sacred Journey

In the state of New York in the United States of America, abortion was approved from the time of conception up to the actual time of birth. Why? Perhaps the birth of a child does not always fit into the plans of the mother or father. What about the plans of God?

From today’s Old Testament reading:

The word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”   (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

How many prophets have we aborted? How many poets? How many physicians? How many priests?

Our lives are sacred to God. He has plans for them. His joy is to watch our lives unfold, to guide us and protect us along the way.

From the Book of Jeremiah we read:

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. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.   (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Our joy is to discover God’s plan for us. It is to seek him with all our heart. To receive God’s plan we must be willing to exercise our faith. From the Book of Hebrews:

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

Faith enables us to accept God’s plans. Without it, life itself may be in danger.

To be sure, God’s plan may often present great challenges to us. This was so for Jeremiah when God first called him. From today’s reading from Jeremiah:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.”   (Jeremiah 1:6-8)

What matters above all else is that God is with us on our journey. The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy:

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.   (1 Timothy 4:12)

People may tell us that we are too young or too inexperienced for a certain assignment. We need to remember that what God says is more important that what other people may say. There will always be opposition to following the calling of God.

David, the shepherd boy who became king, experienced great opposition. From today’s psalm we read:

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

For you are my hope, O Lord God,
my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.   (Psalm 71:4-6)

As we can see, David was aware that God had a calling on his life from an early age. That is true for us all.

Jesus, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was sent by God the Father to save his people. His very names means salvation. He studied the scriptures from his youth up, in preparation for his ministry. When it became time to proclaim his mission he met great opposition in his hometown. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.   (Luke 4:21-24)

Not only did his listeners reject what Jesus said, but they also wanted to hurl him off a cliff. They must have thought that, since they knew who Jesus was, how could he possibly be qualified to do the ministry that was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah.

This was not the only opposition that Jesus faced. His own family opposed some of the things he was doing. From the Gospel of Mark we read:

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”  (Mark 3:20-21)

People may think they know us better than ourselves. They may be well-meaning, but they do not know us the way God knows us. We are his creation and he has great plans for us.

The Apostle Paul experienced great opposition to his ministry. We will experience the same. He learned to listen to the voice of God over the nay sayers. From Galatians:

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.   (Galatians 1:10)

Discouragement is a primary weapon of the enemy. We remember how Satan tried to discourage Jesus in the wilderness, before he began his earthly ministry. He told Jesus to take a short cut with him, implying that God’s way may be too hard. Again, God does challenge us. We must remember, however, that we are not alone on our journey. God will enable us to do what he is asking us to do. Paul wrote:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.   (Philippians 4:13)

We may have failed along the way. Nonetheless, God tells us not to be discouraged. From the Book of Isaiah:

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
    do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
    and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.   (Isaiah 54:4-5)

Jesus may have been discouraged but he did not fail. He endured a cruel cross that we might be set free from all our sins and all our failures. He is our redeemer. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:12-14)

And from 2 Corinthians:

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.   (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

God still has a plan for us. We are his ambassadors for Christ. We are still on our journey with God. He is still guiding us. He is still delighting in us. We are not a mistake. Our sacred journey with him is not yet complete. Let us press on with faith and encouragement. And let us encourage others along their sacred path. After all, we are ministers of reconciliation.

Consider the alternative: the culture of division and death. Is that to be our legacy? It is not God’s way. Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.   (John 10:10)

Amen.

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