Tag Archives: God’s law

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C

Loving God with All Your Heart

The Christian faith draws us into a whole new world if we are willing to let go of the one we have been living in. The Apostle Paul alluded to these two world views in today’s Epistle. He wrote about moving from one to the other. He made it clear that he had not yet fully succeeded, but that he was committed to the process of fully participating in this new world. He wrote:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus,   (Philippians 3:10-14)

God was doing a new thing. He was building a new understanding for those who would listen. This was prophesied by Isaiah:

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

God was replacing the old covenant he made with Abraham and his descendants with a new covenant that was far superior. It was not so much that the old covenant was defective. What was defective was the Jewish understanding of that covenant. It had become merely a set of rules to follow. What was lost was an understanding of what was behind the rules. What did the rules actually convey?

In today’s Gospel reading we have two people with entirely different understanding of how to interpret the law of God.. One of these persons is Mary of Bethany and the other is Judas Iscariot. From the Gospel of John:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.   (John 12:1-8)

Judas must have understood Judaism as a set of rules to obey. He questing why Mary did not spend her money on the poor rather than on costly perfume. Does not the law require us to look after those who are less fortunate than ourselves? It does, but there was something deeper going on here with Mary’s costly gift.

Mary was pouring out her love for Jesus. She understood that he needed her love and she wanted to make it very clear just how much she loved him. We have to remember how Jesus summarized the law:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”   (Mark 12:29-31)

Mary loved God with all her heart. She understood the foundation of the law. If we are not careful, a rules based Christian faith can distract us from what is really important. Judas was locked into his limited understanding of the law. He was sitting under the teachings of Jesus daily, but he did not comprehend what Jesus was offering. He did not know who Jesus really was and is. He did not understand the ministry of Jesus. Satan had tricked him. If we are ruled based in our faith then Satan is better able to manipulate our thinking and reasoning.

Judas was painting by the numbers, making sure not to go outside the lines. Mary saw the law of God for the work of art that it is. Who are we today, Judas or Mary of Bethany? We might easily protest that we would never betray our Lord like Judas. But we do betray him if we refuse to grow in our faith. Otherwise, we tend to judge others by our rule based understand of the faith. We become a stumbling block to others. Our Christian walk and witness becomes parched and dry.

God is doing a new thing. Do we not perceive it? Again, from the Prophet Isaiah:

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.   (Isaiah 43:19-21)

We are part of God’s chosen people. He has formed us for himself. Are we able to declare his praise? Are we able to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? We are if we open ourselves us to his refreshing Spirit who is ready to teach un new things and give us greater understanding.

The psalmist writes:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.   (Psalm 126:1-4)

God has done great things for us. He has given us his only begotten Son. His Spirit has been poured out upon. Let us “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

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Second Sunday in Lent, Year C

Enemies of the Cross

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi about certain people who were the enemies of the cross of Christ:

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.    (Philippians 3:17-20)

Who were these enemies of the cross? Do they still exist today? To answer this question we must understand what the cross means. It means we have failed as human beings.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement[ by his blood, effective through faith.   (Romans 3:21-25)

Because we have sinned does not make us enemies of the cross. The real enemies of the cross are those who think they are righteous without the cross. The Pharisees believed that they were righteous because they kept the law of God. They were pious. They were religious. And they were judgmental of others. Their type still lives today, even in our churches.

As Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem one last time he wept over the city:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”   (Luke 13:34-35)

Jesus was facing death in Jerusalem. The Jewish leadership had rejected him. They had not just rejected him, they rejected his ministry. They believed that they did not need anything from Jesus because they had all that they wanted from their understanding of Judaism.

The Pharisees had a cursory understanding of the Law. But, as Jesus accused them, they neglected the weighty matters. From the Gospel of Matthew we read:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.   (Matthew 23:23)

The Pharisees failed to understand that God required righteousness. This could be imparted into them by God alone. It took the atoning act of Jesus on the cross, and it required their acceptance, appreciation, adoration, and praise. They would have none of it.

God was looking for Abrahams. From today’s Old Testament reading:

The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.    (Genesis 15:1-6)

God made of covenant with Abraham. All Abraham had to do was to believe it and receive it. Abraham had some doubts, at first, because it seemed as if he would have no offspring through whom the promise of God could be brought forth. God makes us promises, but we must believe him. The greatest promise he makes to us is forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal with him. We must believe him and we must trust him to bring this about.

Are we enemies of the cross today? That depends. Are we smug in our faith? Do we focus on the faults of others and overlook at own faults? If any of this is true about us, then we have misunderstood the cross altogether. Jesus said:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.   (Luke 9:23)

If we do not wish to follow Jesus in this way, then we are enemies of the cross. The cross demands that we deny ourselves. We do not have all the answers. We cannot make ourselves righteous by our good works. God demands more than we will ever be able to do on our own. He requires our faith and trust that he alone can make us righteous. We must believe in Jesus, but we must also follow him. Abraham believed and followed God. God reckoned it to him as righteousness.

During this Season of Lent, it is traditional for many to give up something they enjoy as an act of penance or spiritual discipline. If successful, the temptation might be that they become prideful about it. What about denying ourselves instead? What about giving up our right to be right? What about placing ourselves entirely in the hands of God? That frees him to fashion in the likeness of his Son, as only he can do.

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Monday in the First Week of Lent

You Shall Be Holy

God has set a standard for us. In Leviticus we read:

You shall be holy for I the Lord your God is holy.   (Leviticus 19:2)

Holiness is not optional. It is a requirement of God. What does it mean? Fortunately, Leviticus has given examples of holiness:

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.   (Leviticus 19:11-18)

Holiness is about how we treat others.  Jesus said:

for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’   (Matthew 25:42–45)

The good news is that true holiness is not possible by our own efforts. If we place all our substance and importance on the self, then we are defeated before we begin. Holiness is about denying oneself. It is not possible to live a holy life apart from divine help.

But with God all things are possible. First we must be sure that we fully embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. Then, by dying to ourselves and taking up our cross, we grow into the character of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We gain a new perspective on the world around us from God’s point of view. We become the servants of those around us. This is the realm of holiness to which God is calling us this day.

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