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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Holiness of God

During this Season of Epiphany we have been looking at ways God manifested himself to his people. Our appointed readings for today have two examples of this, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Though the span of time was around seven hundred years between the two, they seem to have some commonality.

Let us first look at the Old Testament one. We have an account of the calling of Isaiah the prophet:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”   (Isaiah 6:1-5)

Moving now to the New Testament we have an account of Jesus calling his first disciples:

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”    (Luke 5:1-10)

They both of these epiphanies revealed God’s presence and power. Isaiah and Simon were awestruck. Isaiah said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Simon said: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” We might say that each man had an encounter of the holiness of God. In the presence of God’s holiness their sinful nature was made abundantly clear.

What is the holiness of God? Is it not his power and might? Yes, but it is also his nature and character. God is pure and above reproach. Referring to God, the Prophet Habakkuk wrote:

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrong.”   Habakkuk 1:13)

God is a holy God and he requires us to be holy. We read from Leviticus:

For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy.   (Leviticus 11:45)

And from the Book of Hebrews:

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.   (Hebrews 12:14)

Is it even possible for us to live a holy life? Not on our own. We need God’s help. The good news is that he wants to help us. Again from Leviticus:

Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.   (Leviticus 20:8)

He enabled Isaiah to become a great prophet. Again from today’s Old Testament reading:

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”   (Isaiah 6:6-8)

Simon thought he was unworthy to serve the Lord Jesus. Jesus answered him this way – from today’s Gospel reading:

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.   (Luke 5:11)

Jesus changed Simon’s perspective and transformed his life. He became Peter, the rock.

Each one of us is called by God. Each one of us is destined to be the righteousness of God. Jesus has made that possible for us by his crucifixion. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus has called us into himself. Our task is to remain in him. He tells us to fear not. He is removing our shame and he is changing our lives. If we put our trust in him then we will abide in him. In today’s Epistle the Apostle Paul writes:

I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain.   (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

When we stand with Jesus and not this sinful world, we have a precious promise from God. Paul writes:

All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:18)

 

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First Sunday after Christmas, Year C

The Word Became Flesh

The Gospel of John does not have an Infancy narrative as do the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Rather, John speaks of a time before the birth of the Christ Child. He writes of the One who pre-existed the world and was the very agent of all creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

Do we know Jesus beyond the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes? Many of His own Jewish people did not comprehend who Jesus was when they were privileged to see him in person:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  (John 1:10-11)

The remarkable thing is that the creator God entered he world of His own creation on our behalf. He did so on our behalf. In Jesus, God made himself vulnerable to humankind, in order to reveal his true nature and heart:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

Though the Gospel of John does not speak about the infancy of Jesus, it does allude to a different sort of infancy narrative. It speaks of our infancy narrative. We are reborn as children of God in him. The Apostle Paul writes:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.   (Galatians 4:4-7)

Do we recognize who Jesus is? Has his Spirit entered into our hearts? Only by his Spirit can we be reborn. We cannot become righteous on our own. The law of God can never make us righteous. It serves as our education concerning righteousness. Jesus, alone, is the one who makes us righteous. John writes:

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.   (John 1:16-19)

As an infant Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes. From the Gospel of Luke:

And Mary brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.   (Luke 2:7)

Have we been wrapped by Jesus? The psalmist wrote:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.   (Isaiah 61:10)

As infants, we need the swaddling of the Holy Spirit. All we need to do is recognize our need and allow a loving Savior to wrap us in his love. The Christmas Season is a special time to experience the warmth of Jesus. At times we may feel all alone, but he is always with us. He is Immanuel, God with us. Let us bask in the glory and glow of his presence. Amen.

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