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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22B

Track 1: Receiving the Kingdom of God

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

We are familiar with the story of how Satan asked God to test Job and his faith:

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

As we know, Satan is the “accuser of the brethren.” He specializes in bringing us down. Job was living n a lofty perch.

The psalmist wrote:

Give judgment for me, O Lord,
for I have lived with integrity;
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

Test me, O Lord, and try me;
examine my heart and my mind.

For your love is before my eyes;
I have walked faithfully with you.

I have not sat with the worthless,
nor do I consort with the deceitful.   (Psalm 26:1-4)

This psalm was true of Job. He was head and shoulders above his peers. What could be possibly missing in Job’s? Job was outstanding in every way. This much we can say, Satan’s plan was not God’s plan. What Satan meant for ill God meant for good.

Job is a very difficult book to understand. It has numerous interpretations. It plunges very deep into the human psyche and raised many theological issues. It is an important book. We need to wrestle with it. And we need to read it in context with the rest of the Bible.

How does today’s Gospel reading impinge upon Job? Or does it? We read from Mark:

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.   (Mark 10:13-16)

Was Job not as innocent as these little children? Well, we all realize that children are not really innocent, especially as parents. Jesus saying something about children? I believe the key word here is “receive.” We must receive the kingdom of God like children. Children are dependent upon us as parents, teachers, and mentors. They have been placed in a position that requires them to be dependent. On their own, they are not able to contend with some of the challenges of life.

Job was highly successful. He had all that he needed to enable him to live a somewhat independent life. Was he missing something? Perhaps he was missing the concept that he, too, was a dependent person certain ways. On his own, he was not going to enter the kingdom of God. No one can earn their place in the kingdom, not even people like Job. In fact, people who are like Job will have the same disadvantage he had.

Job needed God. He needed his love. He needed his forgiveness. He needed his mercy. He needed to acknowledge that his very life came from God and was sustained by God.  When Job eventually gave up on determining what may be missing in him, God asked him this question: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) God is God. He is the creator. He is the eternal one. We cannot do anything to impress him. The question for us is: “Has God done enough to impress us?”

Jesus said: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) We cannot earn what God the Father desires to give us by his grace alone. Jesus has earned the kingdom for us. Yet we must receive it with thanksgiving and awe. We are, in fact, all God’s little children.

My very young granddaughter painted me a picture. On it she wrote: “Love is the complete abandonment. I give myself to you.” Her concept of love is beyond her years. Her statement helped me to better understand what I need to say in this homily. Today, am I able to surrender my crown to the one who wore a crown of thorns for me?

 

 

Track 2: The Institution of Marriage

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

The family unit is the basic building block of society. God used the institution of marriage to build and preserve it. From Genesis we read:

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;

this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.   ()

Recently someone said to me that the institution of marriage has failed. That seemed like a strange way of saying it. The person who said it was a church-goer. Have we not failed the institution rather than the other way around?  Perhaps what this person said was not so foreign to today’s Church since the divorce rate of churchgoers is the same as non church-goers.

Why is marriage so important to the family? It ensures strong parenting. God blesses marriages. If we live within his guidelines the parents become very strong individuals. They reenforce one another because, through marriage, they really do become one flesh. The parents who are one flesh are needed to raise children as God has intended. A man is really an incomplete parent without a wife. This is true for a woman as well.

But today we have the so-called “modern” family. Almost anything goes. The rules have been changed. The goal posts have been moved. When we find that we cannot obey God’s commandments today, we either ignore them or weaken them. This is true for society in general and it is also true for the Church.

Today is no exception. This was true in the time of Moses. From Mark’s Gospel we read:

Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”   (Mark 10:2-9)

Jesus was saying that when God declares something he does not change his mind later. We want to change things because we find it difficult to do all the things which God declares. The institution of marriage has not failed. God has not failed. He does not fail us. We fail him! What do we do when this happens? Jesus makes it clear that we cannot changer the rules and have God go along with us.

Divorce is not an unpardonable offense. When we fail at something we need to confess what we have done and not try to cover it up. Repentance is a large part of the Christian faith. God can help us in our weaknesses, but we must seek his help. Repentance is the framework. The cross of Jesus does not cover unconfessed sin. This may be news to some churches, but it is not news to the New Testament, Pauline theology, and the First Epistle of John.

If we do not follow God’s plans for us we ultimately become very weak. Our lives come more like the lives of worldly people. A great revival is needed. It must begin in the household of God. A reformation in the Church is needed. Reformation does not mean more watering down. The “seeker” church is not the reformed church. Moving the goal posts is not reformation.

In the meantime, we need to provide greater support for marriages and families. We need to provide the greatest support to unwed mothers and for those in broken homes and single parent homes. God does not fail them. We have failed them. Sincere repentance with humbly hearts will help usher in new beginnings. Christianity is always about new beginnings.

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Holy Cross Day

Day of Judgment

The Prophet Isaiah forecast a time when God would hold a court to judge humankind for sin. Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Israel, but Israel was a proxy for all the nations of the world.

Through Isaiah God made this declaration:

Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!

Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?

Was it not I, the Lord?
There is no other god besides me,

a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is no one besides me.   (Isaiah 45:21)

We are asked by God to present our case to him. God is also saying that he is qualified to judge our case because he is creator and has established all life. There is no other god besides him. Furthermore, his very nature and character qualifies him. He will be fair because he is not only a righteous God, but he is also our Savior.

A righteous God must be fair, but he must also be just. He must declare the injustice caused by sin. Sin cannot ignored or swept under the rug. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” according to Romans 6:23.

How is God able to accomplish a most difficult task, that of being both compassionate and just?

Before his verdict of guilty and penalty of death, God provided a path of escape. He did so through his Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the cruel crucifixion of Jesus by his own choice and desire:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:5-11)

In today’s Gospel reading we see a link between the judgement of God and a route of escape:

Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.   (John 12:31-33)

On the cross the sins of the whole world were judged. Jesus bore our sins for us while hanging from a cross and received the Father’s judgement.  That final of judgement of sin was once and for all, for all who believe. The Apostle Paul’s full quote from Romans is this:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 6:23)

Have we allow God to judge our sins through his Son Jesus? If so, we must acknowledge it. We must turn towards Jesus. One more God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:

“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;

all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.   (Isaiah 45:22-25)

Do we want triumph and glory? The only judgement of God that is left is the judgement of fallen angels. That judgement is not meant for us. Do we ignore such a great gift of salvation established on a Holy Cross? If Jesus humbled himself, why can we not humble ourselves? In Hebrews we read:

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will..   (Hebrews 2:1-4)

It is the cross that makes us holy. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus.  God’s judgment day was on the day Jesus died on that cross. If we refuse what Christ has done for us we nullify the power of the cross and join ourselves with fallen angels who await the lake of fire.

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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 14B

Track 1: O My Son Absalom, My Son

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

We live in a time when many families are weakened, if not torn apart. Families are the basic unit that God has given us for support and encouragement. What has happened? The same thing that happened in the time of King David. David sinned against God. He failed to live by some of the basic commandments of God. And devastation followed.

David’s family was a mess. Absalom was estranged from his Father David for a period of time. We could go into the details of why this happened, but much of it stemmed from David’s adultery and murder of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba.

Even though there were attempts at reconciliation between Absalom and David, Absalom never felt fully reconciled with his father. He ultimately rebelled against his father. He raised an army and attempted to take over the kingdom from his father.

Today in Second Samuel we read of the tragic end of Absalom and of David’s profound grief at the loss of his son:

And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”

The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”   (2 Samuel 18:15, 31-33)

Many families are in need of reconciliation today. The Apostle Paul wrote about reconciliation:

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; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.   (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Notice that Paul said we must first be reconciled to God. Reconciliation begins with each one of us. We have all sinned. We see the terrible consequences of that sin. God wants to hear our heartfelt confession and repentance. The psalmist wrote:

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you;
therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope.   (Psalm 130:1-4)

There is forgiveness with God, but there must be true repentance. In today’s Epistle reading Paul gives us examples of what that might mean:

Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.   (Ephesians 4:25-27)

We must allow God to heal us of our hurts and now allow bitterness to take root in us. They it is much easier to be reconciled to others. Paul goes on the write:

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.   (Ephesians 4:29-5:2)

The commandments of God are designed to protect the family as well as ourselves. God will forgive us, but there will still be consequences for our sin. Obedience is our best path to avoid those consequences. When we do sin, a quick and heartfelt repentance is the best path to reconciliation for all concerned.

 

 

Track 2:  I Am the Living Bread

1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

The Prophet Elijah was running from Jezebel for fear of his life. He was on his way to Mount Horeb, the mount of God. He would not have made it, however without food and water. Were it not the intervention of an angel he would have died. From 1 Kings we read:

Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.   (1 Kings 19:4-8)

We need nourishment for our bodies, but our spirits also need nourishment. Without spiritual nourishment our faith may die. We can make false assumptions and go in wrong directions. Elijah was very much in need of a word from God. He was running but he was not listening. God was ready to speak to him at any moment no matter where he was physically. The same is true for us. Are we willing to slow down and listen?

We remember that the risen Lord Jesus was revealed to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. It was by both Word and Sacrament. Jesus taught to them from the scriptures, but he also shared his first Holy Communion with them after the resurrection. It is then when the travelers understood who he was.

Many churches have been remiss in not teaching what the Holy Communion is. It is a meal. The psalmist wrote:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are they who trust in him!   (Psalm 34:8)

Jesus wants us to taste him. From John’s Gospel:

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”   John 6:51)

Jesus’ words at the Last Supper with his disciples were: “Do this in memory of me” (Greek: “τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν“, (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Anamnesis (transliterated from ἀνάμνησιν) means, in the Greek, much more than a remembrance. It means a re-presentation. Participation in the Holy Communion is an active and ongoing experience. The Communion is a feeding of the very life force of Jesus.

Are we going to observe Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, the way in which Jesus invited us to observe it? Why is the Church so divided over the meaning of the Holy Communion? It is because we split hairs over doctrine without going deeper into the words of Jesus? He has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.

If we are to succeed in our mission we will need the nourishment of Christ. Elijah could not have gone on without the feeding provided by God. We have a living Lord who wants to continually share himself with us. He is the living Word made flesh. We meet him in the scriptures. His very life interprets them. He is also the living bread which came down from heaven. From John:

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; or my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”   (John 6:53-58)

Our very salvation is tied up in the Holy Communion. It is not just an occasional memorial service that reminds of what Jesus did. It is about what Jesus continues to provide for us that will never grow stale. He is risen. He is the living bread. Amen.

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