Tag Archives: forgiveness

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Turning Away From Evil

The message of John the Baptist was also the message of Jesus. Reading from today’s Gospel:

After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”   (Mark 1:14-15)

The good news of the Gospel followers repentance. It is the repentance part that often obscured. Today’s Old Testament reading will explain:

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.   (Jonah 3:1-5, 10)

Nineveh was a wicked city and very much the enemy of the Jewish people. We remember that Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. He initially ran the other way from his assignment from God to preach repentance there. But when he did something happened. God had a drastic change of mind what he was planning for Nineveh. What happened?

The people of Nineveh repented. They did more than confess their sins. They did more than say they were sorry. They actually turned away from evil. Words of repentance mean nothing when they are not put into action. The action part is difficult. We have to let go and abandon what we have been doing in order to change. How difficult for us is that? How many people are prepared to do that at a moment’s notice. Jesus’ disciples were. Reading from the Gospel of Mark:

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.   (Mark 1:16-20)

What is remarkable is that these fishermen left their nets, they left their livelihoods, they left their way of life. How could they do that on such short notice? How could all of Nineveh do so on such short notice? The psalmist wrote:

For God alone my soul in silence waits;
truly, my hope is in him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

In God is my safety and my honor;
God is my strong rock and my refuge.

Put your trust in him always, O people,
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath,
even those of low estate cannot be trusted.

On the scales they are lighter than a breath,
all of them together.   (Psalm 62:6-11)

We are all lighter than a breath, In fact, we live only by the breath of God. From Genesis we read:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.   (Genesis 2:7)

Much of what we may hold dear is just a fleeting fancy. Are we possessed by our possessions? Are we captive to our captivations? Or are we ready to turn away from these things? For some of us, in order to turn away from the evil we cling to, we must see something infinitely better. Circumstances in life can bring us to an understanding that what we have falls far short of what God has prepared for us. As it is written:

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—   (1 Corinthians 2:9)

The disciples saw the glory of God in Jesus and they were immediately drawn to him. Do we see Jesus for who is?

For those of us who are stubborn, there is an element that drives us away from evil, once we clearly see it. The citizens of Nineveh must have seen it, that is the fear of the Lord. They heard the preaching of Jonah and they believed what he said. The wrath of God was coming upon them if they did not heed the warning. The wrath of God is coming in this last day for those who refuse to walk away from evil.

John, the Revelator, was asked a question:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.   (Revelation 7:13-14)

Do we need a washing today?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12L1-20

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Second Sunday of Advent

Comfort My People

We have begun a new liturgical year. We will be reading from the Gospel of Mark. This is how the Gospel of Mark begins:

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;

the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”   (Mark 1:2-3)

The liturgical season of Advent is all about the coming of the Christ Child. Mark has quoted from the Prophet Isaiah.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.   (Isaiah 40:1)

This was the message of John the Baptist:

A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”   (Isaiah 40:3-5)

John was saying that the kingdom of the Lord was coming. But first, things must be straiten out before his return. The kingdom of the Lord is stilling coming. It is not here yet. In our day, sin appears to be on the rise. Has the message of John the Baptist been lost? I believe that we have certainly lost part of it. The message began as a comforting one.

The psalmist wrote:

You have been gracious to your land, O Lord,
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.

You have forgiven the iniquity of your people
and blotted out all their sins.

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.   (Psalm 85:1-2,8-11)

The psalmist was celebrating what God had done for Israel. God was speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him. God is still doing that to those who will listen. The good news is that God is prepared to do al the straightening out for us. All we have to do is turn our hearts toward him. We cannot clean up and straighten ourselves out on our own.

This is the promise which the Lord makes through the Prophet Isaiah:

See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;

his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.   (Isaiah 40:10-11)

Are we willing to step aside and watch his hand move on our behalf?

Make no mistake, the Day of the Lord is coning. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.   (2 Peter 3:8-1)

We need to be living lives of holiness and godliness. That is the message. How we accomplish that is the part that the Church may have misunderstood. The message of John the Baptist was a comforting one for those who believed what he was saying. Many Israelites gave themselves to baptism by John in the Jordan River. Those who refused to listen did everything they could to deny Christ, eventually crucifying him,

This Season of Advent, are we able to admit to God the realities of our lives? God is able to cleanse us and restored us. If we are hearing this word for the first time, now is the time to come under the comfort and protection of Christ.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,   (Isaiah 40:11)

God is still saying:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.   (Isaiah 40:1)

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First Sunday of Advent

The Sun Will De Darkened

We live in a very dark world. The darkness is growing exponentially. We may fell that there is little we can do about it. This feeling is not a new for us. That is the way the Prophet Isaiah felt when he prayed:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence–

as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil–

to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.   (Isaiah 64:1-3

The psalmist echoed the Prophet:

Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
stir up your strength and come to help us.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.   (Psalm 80:1-3)

What is this source of darkness that we face? The Prophet Isaiah confessed:

We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity,   (Isaiah 64:6-7)

Perhaps we are responsible for some of the darkness. Perhaps we need to confess our failure to call upon God for help? The psalmist recognized he needed a savior when he wrote::

Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand,
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

And so will we never turn away from you;
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.   (Psalm 80:16-18)

The good news is that God has given us a savior. He has torn open the heavens and come down. Jesus has come to shine in the darkness. From the Gospel of John we read:

Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it   (John 1:4-5)

Do we seek the light of Christ? In the Season of Advent the Church celebrates the light of Christ coming into the world. That light is still coming into the world down to this day.

Yet the light of Christ is a double edged sword for many. Jesus came to expose the darkness and liberate us from it. However, the darkness does not go away. As the light of Christ is expanding, so is the darkness. We are given a choice: Choose darkness or light. From John’s Gospel we read:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”   (John 3:19-21)

The judgement of God is upon those who choose darkness. Darkness is ever increasing. Those who choose the light will escape judgement, but will experience some suffering. Jesus said that in this world we would always have tribulation. But we should fear not because he ahas overcome the world.

As the darkness increases there is a day of culmination. Just before it peaks God will judge the earth. Reading from today’s Gospel:

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.   (Mark 13:24-25)

Jesus is describing what is biblically referred to as the Day of the Lord. That day is coming very soon. He goes on to say:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”   (Mark 13:32-37)

Will we be ready? Will we be awake.? So many people are asleep. To be ready we must be blameless. Is that something we can do on our own? The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus will strengthen us to the end:

He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.   (1 Corinthians 1:8-9)

Jesus can do that and he will do that, provided that we have chosen the light. The light of Christ reveals sin. But, Alleluia, the light of Christ purifies us from all unrighteousness. From the First Epistle of John:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.   (1 John :5-7)

The challenge of the Season of Advent is ultimately a life and death one. Advent never ends until the Lord comes in all his glory.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.   (Book of Common Prayer)

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20

Track 1: Complaining against God

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

The children of Israel had seen signs and wonders by God that no one else has even seen, either before or after. But they did not trust God. They weren’t sure that he was on their side. They complained to Moses about having to cross a desert without a food supply. God replied to them through Moses:

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”   (Exodus 16:9-15)

The Israelites even complained about the food that God miraculously provided them. Moving on the the New  Testament, Jesus told a parable about people complaining:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’   (Matthew 20:1-12)

Do we seem to have difficulty understanding God’s ways? He does not always do the things we expect him to do. As a result, God often gets the label of being unfair. Our viewpoint is not God’s viewpoint. God spoke though the Prophet Isaiah;

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.   (Isaiah 55:8-9)

What is the beef of the disgruntle workers? Reading the landowner’s reply to his workers:

“‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

A good work ethic is commendable. But the kingdom of heaven is not about works. We want to earn our way and we resent others not having to work as hard as we have had to do. We compare ourselves to others to see how we measure up. Are we better than they are? This is the mindset of those who want to prove themselves worthy before God. They forget that God has already approved them, not by their works, but by his Son.

Perhaps the children of Israel did not want to be so dependent on God for their supply. They wanted to prove themselves worthy. Never mind the miracles. Miracles get in the way of those who want to do something on their own, by their own talent and strength. This mindset often cannot understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, it may extend to an actual unwillingness to receive the generosity of God even when it is extended. Receiving it means that they really do need his help.

The Apostle Paul has written:

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.   (Romans 7:32)

We cannot justify ourselves before God. The sooner we can understand this, the sooner we can receive his great, with thanksgiving. In the Apostle Paul’s words:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

Today, are we ready to receive te mercy of God? Are we ready to acknowledge our sins and our need for his forgiveness? Are we ready to receive our salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ? Or do we want to complain against a God who has paid all our debt to him? If so, we just like to complain more being set free. Jesus came to set us free from our bondage to sin. Often times that means being set free from the bondage of our own thoughts and attitudes. This is not the time for an attitude. Today is the day of salvation. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Track 2: Our Sense of Fairness

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Jonah sent God to Nineveh to preach repentance he did not want to go. Nineveh was a notorious city, hated by the Jews. The last thing he wanted was to see the city spared. Reading from Jonah:

When God saw what the people of Nineveh did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.   (Jonah 3:10-4:11)

Jonah could not believe that God would spare Nineveh. They did not keep the law of Moses as he did. When we believe that life is unfair, this means, of course, that we think God is unfair. Jesus told this parable:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vinoseseyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standhere idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’    (Matthew 20:1-12)

The workers who went into the field early were disgruntled. The landowner had been unfair. They were keeping score. The landowner was not playing by their rules.

But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

The psalmist wrote:

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness   (Psalm 145:8)

That i what made Jonah mad. God was stilll dealing with him:

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not  be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”   (Jonah 3:10-4:11)

Let us ask ourselves, how fair was it for God to take the punishment for our sins? This is, perhaps, the most unfair act of all.

Do we want to judge and condemn people, as did Jonah? Let us compare this thinking with that of God:

“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.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:16-17)

Let us thank God that his fairness is so much more than ours.

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