Tag Archives: fear

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 14


Track 1: The Word Is in Your Heart

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Today let us dive into the foundation of righteousness. Judaism understood that the only way of being righteous and pleasing God by the law was by keeping the entire Mosaic Law without fail. No one had ever done that before Jesus. Jesus lived his entire life without sin, thereby fulfilling the righteous requirements of the Law.

The Apostle Paul explains, however, that before the the Mosaic Law was given, there was Abraham:

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.   (Romans 4:1-5)

In today’s Epistle reading, Paul goes into greater depth concerning the righteousness by faith:

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”   (Romans 10:5-11)

What is Paul saying? Jesus, the word made flesh, is the answer to righteousness. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Do we know2 him? If we do, he is ever so close to us.

But how do we know him? Mary Magdalene knew Jesus as her deliverer and closest friend. She was the first person to witness his resurrection. But she did not yet grasp who Jesus was when she encountered him after the resurrection. Jesus said to her:

“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”   (John 20:17)

Jesus was her friend, She did not want to lose him to heaven. We cannot bring Jesus down from heaven to experience him on our terms.

The Apostle Thomas was very loyal to Jesus. He loved him so much and could not accept that he had died. It was not so much a question of faith for him as much as it was his profound sense of loss. How could his Lord and friend have died?Thomas wanted to bring back Jesus from the dead in the form that he knew him. But Jesus was no longer that person. He was now present to everyone who believed in him and understood his death and resurrection. All that was required now was faith in the risen Lord to satisfy all our needs, including our need for a right standing before God.

Do we know this Jesus? Do we know him in our hearts? Is he on our lips? Are we ready to give our testimony that we are sinners saved by grace? We have done nothing to deserve this great gift. We have simply joined the ranks of Abraham. We have believed God and he has reckoned it as righteousness.

The paalmist wrote:

Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.   (Psalm 105:1-40)

Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. But that does not tell us entirely who Jesus is. He wants to engrave his word in our hearts.

 

 

Track 2: Give Glory to God

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Do you remember the phrase: “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”? This phrase pretty much describes what the Prophet Elijah esperienced in the Old Testament. Elijah had humiliated the prophets of Baal in a contest to prove to the people who’s God was real. God had sent fire from heaven upon the altar that Elijah setup while the altar of Baal failed to ignite. Not only did the false prophets lose the contest, they also lost their lives. Reading from First Kings:

King Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.   (1 Kings 19:1-3)

Hi=ow quickly had the scene changed fro Elijah:

At Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”   (1 Kings 19:9-10)

In somewhat similar experience, Peter, on a lesser scale, pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory. It began when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea:

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”   (Matthew 14:22-27)

Peter became excited when he realized that who he was seeing was Jesus and not a ghost:

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”   (Matthew 14:28-32)

I only know of two people who have walked upon the water: Jesus and Peter. I never have, Have you? So perhaps we should not be too critical of Peter.What went wrong for Peter? What went wrong for Elijah? Reading again from First Kings:

God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”  (1 Kings 19:11-14)

Elijah thought he was alone, facing evil and his potential death. He had just won a major victory over the prophets of Baal, because God was with him. Where did he go wrong? Perhaps he took his eyes off of God and could only see his circumstances, which were grave.Surely this was the case with Peter. Perhaps Elijah, in his mind, hand taken credit for the victory over Baal. Pride gowa before a fall.

God was not finished with Elijah. We was not finished with Peter either. God’s ministry never ceases. To Elijah he said:

Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”   (1 Kings 19:15-18)

Peter was bold, but Peter stumbled. He denied his Lord three times. Yet we remember that Jesus restored him. He became the rock and leader of the Early Church. His leadership and example has resonated down to this day.

God calls upon us to do his ministry, but it is his ministry, not ours. We cannot take credit for it. And when we stumble all is not lost. God still has a plan and he will continue to use us if we have a heart of repentance. So let us rejoice and leave all who we are and all that God has called us to do in the skillful hands of God.

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Monday in Easter Week

phariseesGod’s Word is True

As we know, unlike the men, the women were quick to believe in the resurrection. The Jewish leaders realized the danger of Christian belief – and they took extraordinary steps to prevent this from happening. From the Gospel of Matthew:

Suddenly Jesus met Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, `His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.  (Matthew 28:9-15)

The tomb was empty. That was a fact. What was needed was a plausible explanation that the people might believe. Does this sound like today’s political games? Why must so much effort be made to obscure the truth? Because the truth is dangerous.

Peter was not known for political correctness:

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know– this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.  (Acts 2:14,22-25)

Where is the bold leadership today that we need? As people of God let us be filled with the Spirit and set free from the fear of worldly people. Let us proclaim the truth of the Gospel with boldness. Jesus is risen from the dead. Truth is on the side of Christians. Only God’s word is true. The falsehood of this world is quickly passing away.

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Resurrection Sunday: Easter Early Service

Do Not Be Afraid

One of the following readings from the Old Testament:

Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation] 
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood] 
Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac] 
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea] 
Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all] 
Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 [Learn wisdom and live]
Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit]
Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones] 
Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God’s people] 

Romans 6:3-11 
Matthew 28:1-10 
Psalm 114

Do we believe that we are living in difficult times? Our whole way of life is under attack? The future appears to be uncertain? This was true for the disciples of Jesus, after his crucifixion. Fear had taken over most of the disciples. In their minds all had been lost. The miracle worker was no longer with them. The promise of Israel’s had been dashed. Governmental and church authorities were breathing down their neck.

But the scene was about to change. The women went to Jesus’s tomb on the first day of the week. We read in Matthew:

Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”   (Matthew 28:9-10)

Jesus is risen. As Christians, we do not have to live in fear. On this resurrection Sunday, we celebrate the triumph of our Lord over sin, the grave, and Hell. What we could never accomplish on our own, Jesus has won for us, through his death and resurrection. He paid the price of sin on the cross and opened, for us, the door to heaven,

The good news of the Gospel is that our Lord’s resurrection is also our resurrection. The Apostle Paul writes:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.   (Romans 6:3-5)

Does this sound too good to be true? Again, Paul writes:

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.   (Romans 6:6-11)

Today, Jesus is telling us, as he told to the women at the tomb: “Do not be afraid. I have risen. Go and tell others that you have seen me.”

Are we still so focused on the world around us that we miss what he is saying? The disciples of Jesus were, at first. They had not yet encountered the risen Lord. But when Jesus appeared to them their whole world changed. If fact, the whole world changed for everyone, but especially for those who believed.

Have we encountered the risen Lord? If we have let us encourage those who are in despair with little hope. From the Old Testament reading of Zephaniah:

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you[a] in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.   (Zephaniah 3::14-19)

If we have not had an encounter with the risen Lord, it is not too late. Today is our day of salvation. Today is the day of our deliverance. All we need to do is to look away from our present circumstances for a moment and look to Jesus. Let us listen to the voice of the Lord:

Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.   (John 14:27)

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.   (John 11:25-26)

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 2Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.   (Matthew 11:28-30)

If any of us have never embraced Jesus as our Lord and Savior, now is the time to do so. He has been raised up so that he may raise. us up. Let us cry out to him for forgiveness. He wants to give us newness of life. He wants to pour out his Spirit upon us. He wants to impart to us the hope of glory.

Tribulations are very much a part of this world we live in. But this world is passing away. Jesus said:

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.   (John 16:33)

His victory is our victory. The Apostle Paul writes:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.   (Romans 8:37)

Let this be our joyful refrain:

Alleluia!  The Lord is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Breaking Free from Bondage

One of the unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo appears to be a man trapped inside a marble slab, trying to brake free. In a way, it is illustrative of how many of us might feel at one time or another. Satan has enslaved us all through the disobedience he has sown into the world. We have this promise from God spoken through the Prophet Isaiah:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.   (Isaiah 9:2-4)

We do not have to live in bondage. God has come to our rescue:
God has broken the rod of our oppressor. The psalmist writes:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear?
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?   (Psalm 27:1)

Our sin has caused death to enter the world. Satan has held us captive by fear. He uses our fear of death to control and manipulate us. But “perfect love casts our fear.” (1 John 4:18) Jesus has overcome sin, hell, and the grave! From the Book of Hebrews:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Apostle Paul writes:

“O Death, where is your sting?
O grave, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

We live not only with the fear of death, but of those people who would harm us or to attack us in some way. Only God can lift us out of this trouble. The psalmist writes:

For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter;
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

Even now he lifts up my head
above my enemies round about me.   (Psalm 27:7-8)

There are other ways in which we are held in bondage. One of our greatest enemies is our very own flesh. The Apostle Paul writes:

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.   (Romans 8:12-15)

And again:

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.   (Galatians 5:16-18)

Our flesh causes us to focus on ourselves and the gratification of the self. This can lead us to all kinds of addictions. How do we counteract these addictions? We do not do so by focusing on them. Paul tells us to live by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is available to every Christian.

How do we access the power of the Spirit? We have the promise of the Gospel message. From the very beginning of his earthly ministry Jesus proclaimed:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”   (Matthew 4:17)

The Spirit has drawn near. We are to seek the giver of the Spirit. John the Baptist said that Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Hoy Spirit and with fire. Let us focus on Jesus and not on our addictions, and not on ourselves. The psalmist writes:

Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call;
have mercy on me and answer me.

You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”
Your face, Lord, will I seek.   (Psalm 27:10-11)

Today, whom do we seek? Whom do we follow? Who is our deliverer? Is it the one who defeated sin, addictions, and even death? Jesus calls to us: “Follow me.”

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