Tag Archives: Gospel

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 18C

Track 1: Reshaped in God’s Hands

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Today’s Old Testament reading presents us a graphic picture of our creator God:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.   (Jeremiah 18:1-6)

God is the potter and we are the clay. That must mean that God is in charge of our lives when we yield to him. But a popular teaching in today’s church is that God will bless whatever we are doing as long as we have the faith that he will. In other words, we may be able to influence and manage God if we have the right formula.

The psalmist wrote in the Old Testament a very New Testament message:

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord has them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”   (Psalm 2:4-9)

What the psalmist is saying that God the Father has turned over his potter’s wheel to his Son. Jesus has the right and authority to mold us as he will. In order to do that he may first have to break some of us and then remold us.

Many people were initially attracted to Jesus and followed him. But did they understand the cost to them of what that meant. In today’s Gospel message Jesus made this shocking statement:

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.   (Luke 14:25-33)

Families are important. Jesus loved his family as he loves us all. We remember there was a time, however, when the family of Jesus wanted to stop his ministry and make him come home. From the Gospel of Mark:

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”   (Mark 3:31-35)

Members of the true family of God are the ones on the master potter’s wheel. Those who are not on the wheel may call us out. They may attempt to convince us to get off the wheel, leaving us to decide: o we love God more than anything or anyone, including our own family members?

When true Christian discipleship is involved tensions may arise. The temptation may be do whatever is required to keep the peace. But here is what the Prince of Peace has proclaimed:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”   (Luke 12:51-53)

There is only one master potter. Are we ready to go down to the potter’s house along with Jeremiah? God wants to mold us in his image. He is the potter, we are the clay. Or, like some, do we wish to change the image of God to our liking?

 

 

Track 2: Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

This was the last chance for Moses to speak to the children of Israel. They would soon enter the promise land, but Moses would not be going with them. Nonetheless, Moses had a word from God that they should take with them. It was a vital word that rings down to they day:

Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”   (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

The psalmist wrote about the benefits of obeying the word of God:

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.   (Psalm 1:1-2)

But, as we know, Israel did not always walk in God’s ways, observing his commandments. Because of their disobedience, Israel paid a high price. But that was the Old Covenant. What about the New Covenant? What has Jesus asked us to do? From today’s Gospel reading:

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.   (Luke 14:25-27)

Choosing God’s way is not a casual decision. It should be a sobering one. Moses present the choice as a life and death situation. If we do choose God’s way then we must be willing to follow through on our choice. Jesus spoke of a king preparing for war:

What king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. your possessions.   (Luke 14:31-32)

God makes demands on us. If we are to become disciples of Christ we must understand what those demands might mean. Many so-called “seeker churches” may want to minimize those demands. They may just scare too many church prospects away. We can talk about them later, sometime. No. Jesus is saying those demands must be considered up front. He concludes his parable of the king preparing for war this way:

So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all.   (Luke 14:33)

Let us consider what God gave up. He gave up his only eternal Son:

 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?

God wants to give us everything. We must be willing to open our hearts and hands to him. He is saying to us: Choose life.

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.   (John 3:16)

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 15C

Track 1: The Lord of the Harvest

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

The psalmist wrote:

You have brought a vine out of Egypt;
you cast out the nations and planted it.

You prepared the ground for it;
it took root and filled the land.   (Psalm 80:8-10)

The Prophet Isaiah wrote:

Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:

My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.

He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;

he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;

he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,

judge between me
and my vineyard.

What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?

When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?   (Isaiah 5:1-7)

God watched over Israel. They were his tender plants. He poured his love into them that they might grow into his kingdom of priests, setting the world on fire, that many people might be saved. God has done the same for us, his engrafted branches. He has given us his very best, his only begotten Son.

Now he is looking for the fruit. Have we produced the fruit of his Spirit? The Apostle Paul wrote:

The works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.   (Galatians 5:19-23)

Do we not realize that it is time for the harvest. God is looking for his fruit in us. Jesus said:

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”   (Luke 12:54-56)

We are living in the time of the harvest. It began with the earthly ministry of Jesus. John the Baptist foretold of this time. He was sent to prepare Israel for the harvest. But the religious leaders of the day did not fully grasp what God required. Reading from Matthew:

When he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.   (Matthew 3:7-8)

We, along with Israel, are to bear fruit. How are we to do that. We cannot do it on our own. But God the Father has made it possible through his Son. Jesus said:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.   (John 15:1-6)

Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest. The Harvest is upon us. Jesus has done and is doing his part to prepare us. This is not the time to turn back. Are we to become wild grapes? Let us choose the fruit of the Spirit over the works of the flesh. The time is short. Very short.

We must start with repentance. And we must continue with repentance, allowing Jesus to prune us and shape us. We must continue in his word. And we must abide in him that he may transform is from glory to glory.

When Jesus spoke to the men traveling to Emmaus they were touched by the fire of his word:

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (Luke 24:32)

We still need that fire today. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: The Fire of God’s Word

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah:

I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back– those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?   (Jeremiah 23:25-29)

The prophets and preachers of old were tasked to speak God’s word faithfully. But his word was not always popular with the people. Wanting to be liked and accepted, they often did the opposite. They substituted their words for God’s word. God warned them that they should speak his word. Only his word would produce his desired result.

The Apostle Paul warned Timothy:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.   (2 Timothy 4:22-5 NIV)

There are often consequences for the preacher who faithly preaches God’s word. Jeremiah grew weary of speaking God’s word because of the grief he was receiving. There was a time when he wanted to quit. He pondered:

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.   (Jeremiah 20:9)

The Apostle Paul wroteL

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!   (1 Corinthians 9:16)

The word of God is for a specific purpose. Jesus said:

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”   (Luke 12:54-56)

We are in the time of God’s harvest. The preaching is to prepare  souls for that harvest, Nothing must stand in the way. Jesus was resolute. He said:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   (Luke 12:34-38)

The word of God may upset people. It often does. Are we, then, to substitute our words for God’s word? Are we to preach our own dreams and not his? If we do we are telling the people that our dream is God’s dream. We would be leading the people astray and denying them their salvation in Christ Jesus.

God has a better dream for us. His dream is glorious. His dream is lasting, Nevertheless, his dream is only fulfilled by way of the cross. From today’s Epistle:

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 12:1-2)

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Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles

The Messengers of the Gospel

The Apostles who have had the most profound impact on the Church are, without a doubt, Peter and Paul. One was an ordinary, uneducated fisherman who became the principle leader of a movement and faith that has reverberated down through the ages. The other was the outstanding student of Judaism in his day who became a great Christian theologian and missionary extraordinaire, writing a large part of the New Testament.

Which one was more important? We cannot say. I believe that they both were needed by the Early Church and both of their messages are needed today. Peter and Paul needed each other as well. Their messages played off one another. Without the leadership of either one we would not have had the fullness of the Gospel preached to the world. Nonetheless, Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye. We read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:11-16)

Peter and Paul resolved their differences and came to a common understanding of the Gospel. They mapped out what have become the essential tenets of the Faith. This opened the door for people of all nations to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Here is how Peter described Paul’s writings:

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:13-16)

Each apostle started his ministry in the Church from a position of weakness. We remember that Peter had denied his Lord three times before Jesus endured the cross:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”   (John 21:15-19)

In the flesh, Peter was weak. He became a giant of the Holy Spirit. People would be healed if even his shadow passed over them.

As a pharisee, Paul was persecuting the Church, thinking that he was saving Judaism from heresy. Without the intervention of Jesus he would not have become the great missionary that he was.

In looking back on his ministry, Paul wrote to Timothy:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

What is significant about both Peter and Paul is that, against all odds, they taught and preached the Gospel with boldness and perseverance. Although they faced many hardships martyrs, they did not shrink back from the great commission which the Lord Jesus had entrusted to them. The commonality in their leadership is that they did not rely on themselves but on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

They both emphasized that the Kingdom was not of this world. There message was not about getting ahead or being successful in this lifetime. They preached that Christian believers could look forward to the life to come with great hope. In the meantime, believers were to advance in purity and holiness. Peter and Paul were ultimately martyred for their faith. They willingly made every sacrifice for the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They set the highest standard for us to follow today.

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