Tag Archives: forgiveness

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

Do Not Fret Yourself

We live in an evil world. Sometimes we get overwhelmed. We get frustrated with all the evildoers who seemed to be getting away with their crimes and lies. Perhaps the appointed psalm has a word for us from God:

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers;
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.

For they shall soon wither like the grass,
and like the green grass fade away.

Put your trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

Take delight in the Lord,
and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him,
and he will bring it to pass.   (Psalm 37:1-5)

Joseph lived in an evil world. His brothers tried to kill him. They ended up selling him into slavery. Joseph was carried to Egypt and there he experienced many hardships, eventually being cast into prison.

Today, as we pick up the story of Joseph from the Old Testament, we see Joseph in a whole new place. He is now a ruler under Pharaoh of all of Egypt. His brothers who tried to kill him are now standing before him. They are terrified when they discover who Joseph is. But Joseph responds to them in love:

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.   (Genesis 45:7-11)

How could Joseph forgive his brothers for what they did? It was a matter of seeing things from God’s perspective and not his own. God’s perspective is greater than ours. We read from 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)

If we fail to understand what God is doing we will always be frustrated and disappointed. This will lead us into judging others. We will become bitter. The Book of Hebrews offers this advice:

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal.   (Hebrews 12:14-16)

From today’s Gospel reading, Jesus taught:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”   (Luke 6:37-38)

God is not calling us to be Esau’s. He is calling us to be Joseph’s. Continuing with today’s psalm:

Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him.

Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.

Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.

For evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land.

In a little while the wicked shall be no more;
you shall search out their place, but they will not be there.

But the lowly shall possess the land;
they will delight in abundance of peace.   (Psalm 37:7-12)

Let us climb down off our high horses and be a part of the lowly who possess the land. God has given us the victory just as he did for Joseph. Our task is to wait patiently on him and place our full trust in his plan for our lives. He speaks to us, from Jeremiah:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.   (Jeremiah 29:11)

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Fourth Sunday of Advent: Year C

His Mercy Is for Those Who Fear Him

During this Advent season we have been preparing our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child. Our reparations are all important. They get us into the flow of God’s Spirit. God is the master planner. If we are listening, he is the one who prepares us in every way for this life and for the life to come.

We might be taking our Advent preparation lightly. God does not take his preparation lightly. His preparation for us began long ago. From the Prophet Micah we read:

You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,

whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.   (Micah 5:2-3)

The prophet writes about a Messiah whose “origin is from old.” The Apostle Paul tells us that the Messiah was planned for us from the beginning of time:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.   (Ephesians 1:3-6)

The children of Israel were trained in a sacrificial system that taught them the seriousness to which God regards sin. Sin brought death into the world for which it must be punished. Jesus has supplanted the sacrifices of lambs because he is the lamb of God that was slain for us. When John the Baptist first saw Jesus he said:

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”  (John 1:29-30)

In Hebrews we read:

When Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;

in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.

Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”   (Hebrews 10:5-7)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, could not fully understand what God was preparing through her son, but she willing submitted herself to his divine plans:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1:47-55)

Mary gave herself to God, trusting him. We should have a greater understanding now than what Mary did at the time of the birth of Jesus. Are we interring into the preparation that God has made on our behalf? Christianity is not a spectator sport. Christian discipleship is a daily entering into God’s presence through the door which Jesus has provided.

We are not just preparing for Christmas. We are preparing for the age to come. Only Jesus can carry us there. John the Revelator on the Island of Patmos saw a vision of this age:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day — and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.   (Revelation 21)

We are shown our destination. It is only through Jesus that the gates of heaven are open. Today, let us heed his voice. He calls to us:

I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.   (Revelation 3:19-21)

Are we ready to give praise to God along with the Mother of Jesus:

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.   (Luke 1:49-50)

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Second Sunday of Advent: Year C

A Highway for Our God

John the Baptizer was special. He was spoken about in the Book of Isaiah:

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.   (Isaiah 40:3-4)

His father, the priest  Zechariah, prophesied over him when he was born:

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.   (Luke 1: 76-79)

John’s ministry was to prepare the way for the coming Messiah promised of old. Israel had not heard the voice of a prophet of God for four hundred years. There was a longing to hear from God. There was a longing for a savior that would save the nation from its enemies. But were they ready for John the Baptizer?

The Lord spoke through the Prophet Malachi concerning John:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.   (Malachi 3:1-3)

John the Baptizer was like a refiner’s fire. Israel needed purification. They were looking for someone to subdue their enemies, but like many of us, their real enemy was themselves. Are we ready to receive the Christ into our hearts today? Israel was not. They were living in a wilderness apart from God, though they were careful to observe their traditional religious practices. These practices were not necessarily wrong, but they were often empty.

God wants to build a highway in the wilderness which leads directly to him. Whether people consciously realize it or not, they are looking for God. God is offering them a highway on which to travel. What is that highway? Or who is that highway? The children of Israel were that highway. And today we are that highway.

The modern way of road building is to smooth out the terrain underneath. That was not always the case for Virginia before the interstates. I was once driving up and down the many hills from Richmond to Charlottesville, Virginia. My young daughter, who was riding in the back, got very sick. I won’t go into all the details. The highway we were riding was faithfully tracing out the contour of the land and it was very hilly.

What does it take to build a highway? A lot of heavy earth moving equipment. God is building his highway and we are the earth he is moving around.

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. e level,
    and the rough places a plain.”

God is refining us. He is reshaping us. If we will allow him to have his way the world around us will see a different terrain. Through us God will “shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide them into the way of peace.” We are living in a terrible darkness today. People need to see the light of Christ.

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Church in Philippi:

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.   (Philippians 1:9-11)

God is preparing his Church for the final harvest. He needs us to help produce that harvest. We must be pure and blameless. We must be the light of the world. That can only happen when we abide in our Lord Jesus Christ. This Advent season, will we allow God to use us as part of his highway. There may be some pain as God rearranges the earth. But if we bask in the love of Jesus all the while, not losing his peace, we will pave the way for a great harvest, both within the Church and the world around us. Amen.

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Saturday in the Second Week of Lent

Amazing Grace

How do we respond to God’s amazing grace? Scripture tells us that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. We are all in desperate need of his grace. Yet, the Pharisees had great difficulty with the fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Such thinking suggests that there should be limits on God’s grace.

We are familiar with parable of The Prodigal Son. He wasted his inheritance on riotous living. When the Father accepted his return that was one thing. But when the Father had a great celebration for him and killed the fatted calf, then that was quite another thing for the Father’s eldest son:

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.   (Luke 15:26-29)

Where was the fairness? Do we become jealous of those of whom God has chosen to bless? None of us are worthy of his blessing. If Gos has forgiven us, are we to keep score on others?

One of the greatest blessings we have received from the Lord is the freedom to allow others to be blessed by God. Or are we to instruct God on how he should dispense his amazing grace?

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