Tag Archives: fear

All Saints’ Day, Year B

I Am Making All things New

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
or
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

We live in a world with great turmoil, trials, and tribulation. Persecutions are increasing for those embrace God’s word. Let us take heart. God is about to do a new thing. John, the revelator proclaimed:

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”   (Revelation 21:1-4)

We have a picture of the Millennial Reign of Christ Jesus. He is coming soon. When this happens, God will wipe away every tear and death will be no more. From Isaiah we read:

The Lord 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 25:7-8)

Death has been a shroud over us. It has caused us to live in fear. It has brought us great sorrow. Jesus experienced that sorrow at the death of his friend Lazarus. From today’s Gospel reading:

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”   (John 11:32-36)

Death is the last enemy of humankind. From 1 Corinthians we read:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.   (1 Corinthians 15:25-26)

Jesus came to destroy death, but first he had to destroy sin. Though he had not yet experienced the cross, he gave us a foretaste of what was to come with the raising of Lazarus.

So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”   (John 11:41-44)

Imagine what it must have been like for the family and friends of Lazarus. They were full of sorrow and grief. In a moment, Jesus made all things new for them. From Isaiah we read:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:10)

On this day we remember our loved ones who have gone before us. We remember joyful times and we remember sad times. As we celebrate their lives let us take comfort in the great promise that God has made to us. He will destroy both sin and death. Again from Revelation:

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.   (Revelation 21:5-6)

Are we ready to participate in this great promise of God? The culmination of Jesus’ ministry is fast approaching. God is making all things new. He is preparing the bride of Christ to be joined with him in eternity. Only God can make us his saints. We must be willing let go of the old and embrace the new. The psalmist wrote:

Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.   (Psalm 24:7)

Will we allow the King of glory to enter into our lives? If we open ourselves up to him he will cleanse us and present us spotless before God the Father. Come Lord Jesus and enter into us all the more. Amen.

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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21B

1102016075_univ_cnt_2_xlTrack 1: Courage

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

When we think of the courageous leaders of the Old Testament how can we ignore the tremendous courage of Queen Esther? Though she was favored by the king, the odds were stacked against her. She was Jewish, though the king did not realize this. The wicked Haman, an important man in the kingdom, instigated a plot to kill all of the Jews of ancient Persia. He attempted to convince King Ahasuerus to order the killing of Mordecai and all the Jews of the lands he ruled. (Mordecai had helped save the kings by informing him of a plot to kill him, unbeknownst to Haman). Haman’s beef with Mordecai is that he would not bow down to him. As a devout Jew, Mordecai could not bow down to anyone except God alone.

Esther was placed in a very difficult position. Mordecai was able to pass the word to Esther of this upcoming event. Unfortunately, she could not approach the king without his permission under threat of her life. What was she to do? She devised a plan, no doubt with God’s help, to inform the king of Haman’s threat. It would take great skill and cunning along with consummate courage.

She invited both the king and Haman to a banquet she prepared. This was a very risky move on her part. After waiting to find favor with the king, she then revealed the plot against her people to him. From Esther we read:

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.   (Esther 7:9-10)

No matter what form of government we may consider, it is clear that it has great power over the people. Moreover, it should also be very clear that there are powerful people within the government that have their own personal agenda that is not always in the beset interest of the people, or a certain group of people. The Jews of Esther’s day were under threat of annihilation, That is still true in many places today. What is also true is that Christians have become more vulnerable to numerous threats, even in so-called “Christian” nations.

What can we do about this? How can we contend with an all-powerful government? Without God’s help we can do little. We need his wisdom and understanding. Satan uses his weapon of fear to silence us and paralyze us. We need the courage of Esther. God will fight for us, but we must be willing to put our trust in him alone and wait on his timing.

We are seeing many Haman’s of our day being exposed by the hand of God. This is happening in every nation, even in the United States of American. As Christians we must pray for the protection of the saints. We must pray for our leaders to make wise decisions. And we must pray that many more Haman’s will be revealed and that justice may be served.

The psalmist wrote:

If the Lord had not been on our side,
let Israel now say;

If the Lord had not been on our side,
when enemies rose up against us;

Then would they have swallowed us up alive
in their fierce anger toward us;   (Psalm 24:1-3)

The plans and plots against God’s people are now being turned on the perpetrators. What happened to Haman may be the fate of many of them.

God moves in mysterious ways. His timing is not always our timing. But his timing is perfect. From Psalm 27:

Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.   (Psalm 37:1-4)

Nonetheless, we need to do more than applauding the exposure of  evil. James reminds us that, as Christians, we have a responsibility in helping to save the lost.

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.   (James 5:19-20)

Jesus tells us that we should pray for our enemies. We want justice to be done. We want the evil Haman’s to be apprehended. Nevertheless, the greatest justice of God is when people repent and turn their lives over to him. This is the justice of the cross. Let us not forget in our zeal for justice that we need to pray for sinners, all sinners.

 

 

 

Pentecost - Acts 2:1-4

Track 2: Outside the Tent

Numbers 11:4-6,10-16,24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Moses had been struggling to govern a large group of some very unruly people, the Children of Israel. He pleaded with God for help. In today’s Old Testament reading we have God’s answer:

So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.   (Numbers 11:16, 24-25)

From this we can observe that elders of the Church might be appointed by ecclesiastical authority, but they will not be under Godly authority unless he pours out his Spirit upon them.

How important are Church elders? Very important! Unfortunately, their position and function within the Church is often misunderstood. They may be overlooked and ignored when people are seeking spiritual help and healing. The author of the Book of James did not want this to happen:

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.   (James 5:13-16)

Elders are key to the healing ministry within the Church. This ministry is too big for one person. Nevertheless, elders must be true elders anointed by God. They must be properly trained. They must be righteous people operating under the Spirit of God. They must live transparent lives before God.

When Moses appointed elders in the wilderness, they were required to meet him at the test of meeting. A certain event outside the tent occurred which might have seem a disruption to the proceedings. From Numbers we read:

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”   (Numbers 11:26-29)

The danger with sharing ministry is that competition and jealousy can be stumbling blocks. Joshua son of Nun was concerned that protocol must be followed. In today’s Gospel reading we have another Joshua son of Nun named John:

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.   (Mark 9:38-41)

There is this notion that ministry must be done within the Tent. The tent represents the approved and sanctioned ministry of God. But God cannot be contained within a tent. He is larger than any of our tents.

Revival is coming to the Church. It certainly is needed. But it may not come as many anticipate it. The Azusa Street Revival was a historic revival led by William J. Seymour, an African-American preacher. It began with a meeting on April 9, 1906, and lasted for many years. But many “church authorities” and theologians thought that it was outrageous and unorthodox, and therefore, not legitimate. Yet many people were saved, healed and delivered. In many cases, people were repenting on the street before they ever got to the tent of meeting.

God’s power and authority cannot be contained in a tent. If we wish to experience all that God has prepared for us then we must be prepared for the Eldad’s and Medad’s of our day. Perhaps you are an Eldad or Medad? Be open to what the Lord is doing in your life. Your ministry is needed in the Church. If you are discouraged it may be time to change churches. Our ministry must be done under Godly authority, but all authority is not Godly.

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 18B

Track 1: Favoritism vs. the Favor of God

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm 125
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

How easy it is for us to judge the poor. The Book of James tells us that how we treat the poor says more about our character than that of the poor. James writes:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Jesus was once invited to the home of a leader of the Pharisees for a meal on the sabbath. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 14:8-11)

Why would we give preferential treatment to the rich over the poor? Is it because we believe that they may be more able to do something for us in return than would the poor? Jesus said this to his host:

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”   (Luke 14:12-14)

James was a very practical man with some of that Old Testament wisdom. He reminds us that the rich do not always reciprocate our favors to them. James writes:

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?   (James 2:1-7)

The prosperous person does not always show generosity. Too often their focus is entirely on themselves. If there is a scripture that flies in the face of the prosperity gospel it is this one:

Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?   (James 2:5)

How could a person be rich in faith and still be poor? Might it not be that his or her treasure is a more lasting one than any of the riches of this world. Earthly riches do not necessarily demonstrate that we have the favor of God as opposed to someone else. From Luke’s Gospel we read:

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.   (Luke 6:20)

What defines our worth before God? Is it not the cross of Jesus Christ. We inherit the kingdom by what Jesus has done for us and not by what we could ever do for him.

This understanding frees us from any favoritism because we have the favor of God already. The Syrophoenician woman in today’s Gospel must have understood this intuitively. She would not believe that the mercy of God did not cover her daughter.

In Proverbs we read:

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favour is better than silver or gold.

The rich and the poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.

Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor.

Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate;

for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them.   (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)

We remember the parable that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus was a poor man, covered with sores. The rich man paid him little attention. Both of them went on to their final reward, Lazarus in heaven and the rich man in hell. Perhaps if the rich man had understood that his favor with God was more important than his favor with men, he would have been a little more generous to Lazarus. God has shown us his riches and generosity by this mercy. How do we demonstrate our riches?

 

 

maxresdefaultTrack 2: The Syrophoenician Woman

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

How do we hold on to our faith under difficult circumstances? Today we have an example of how this is done by the famous Syrophoenician woman. From today’s Gospel we read:

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.   (Mark 7:24-30)

Did this woman outsmart Jesus? No, she just spoke from a sincere heart. And what did her heart reveal? First of all, she did not claim to be anyone special. She was willing to be classified as a dog. She was not holding on to her self-esteem. She was embracing a hope in the mercy and loving kindness of God. It was not about her character. It was about the character of the Almighty.

God spoke to the Prophet Isaiah:

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,

with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;   (Isaiah 35:4-7a)

We are all fearful of heart about something. But fear is not from God. Fear is one of the weapons used by Satan. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

In life our faith is tested. Jesus did test the woman’s faith. No doubt, this was not the first time her faith was tested. She was able to persevere in her faith. And although she was a Gentile, she was able to recognize who Jesus was. Do we know who Jesus is? Do we know that God loves us? Or are we still ruled by fear that he does not? In his First Epistle, John wrote:

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.   (1 John 4:18)

Today, let us settle in our hearts that God loves us. We remember what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. He has taken away all of our sins. Even without the knowledge of the cross, the Syrophoenician woman still knew that God loved her. She realized that the deliverance of her daughter did not depend so much on who she was, but on who God is. God is love. She would not give up on his love.

The Apostle Paul wrote this to the church in Rome:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.   (Romans 15:13)

How can we abound in hope as did the Syrophoenician woman? By abounding in God’s love. Paul wrote:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.   (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)

 

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