Tag Archives: grace

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B

The Cost of Covenant

God has given us a New Covenant to live under. It is better than the older one which governed the children of Israel. It is a covenant full of grace and mercy. But we must remember that it came out of the Old Covenant and is mentioned in the Old Testament of our Bible.

In Jeremiah we read:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.   (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

God was going to do something he had not yet done and then this covenant would be established. What was God going to do and what did he actually do? He poured out his unmerited favor. He offered such unconditional love that is beyond our human understanding. But it cost God something. It cost him a great deal.

As he was facing the cross, we read the Gospel of John, Jesus explained to his disciples what God was about to do and why it was necessary. He used an analogy of the grain of wheat and how it produces growth. He said:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.   (John 12:24-26)

What was Jesus saying? New life comes out of death. The old way has to die before the new can come. When the grain falls to the earth it must die so that new wheat is formed. Jeremiah prophesied that new life would be coming for the people of God. Jesus explained that this new life would be impossible without the death of the old.

The temple worship would have to die so that Christ might become the new temple. The sacrifice of the lamb for Passover would have to end so that he might become the spotless lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of the whole world. Jesus was, in fact, the grain of wheat of which he spoke. He would have to die so that he might be resurrected from the dead.

The Book of Hebrews goes into great depth concern the cost of this new covenant:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.   (Hebrews 5:5-9)

This covenant cost Jesus his life. Hebrews also explains that it will cost our lives as well. If God is to write his law upon our hearts so that we can obey, something must happen. The Old must die before the new comes.

We are also the grain of the New Covenant. King David, in his prayer of repentance, spoke about his inner  being:

For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.   (Psalm 51:7-11)

God looks for his truth deep within us. He must change our hearts. In order for him to change our hearts the old heart must die away. David said: “Create in me a clean heart.”

There is a price to pay for this New Covenant. I cost God the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. We, also, must die. Not a cruel death, but a liberating death which brings new life, and abundant life that only God can provide for those who put their trust in him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.   (Romans 6:1-11)

Has God written his law on our hearts? That depends on whether or not we are still holding on to our grain of wheat. Jesus tells us to let it go. He let everything go for us.


Leave a comment

Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Look on the Lord and Live

During this Season of Lent we are reflecting upon the wilderness experience. In typical Gospel of Mark, which is like a quickly moving short story, we are told that the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness. Angels ministered to him there. The serpent was also there to temp Jesus.

The children of Israel under Moses also had an encounter with serpents in the wilderness. In today’s Old Testament scripture we read:

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.   (Numbers 21:4-9)

The children of Israel sinned against God. This rebellion is what brought on the serpents. Many Israelites died when bitten by these serpents. God, however, in his mercy, provided an escape from the punishment of their sin.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of John gives an explanation of the serpent in the wilderness experience:

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal 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 3:14-16)

God has provided a means of escape from the punishment of our sins, just as he did for the Israelites in the wilderness. We simply have to believe that he has. The Apostle Paul further explains:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.   (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Why would anyone choose not to believe? Maybe it is because people do not know that they are in the wilderness and they are not aware of the many serpents which have infested our culture. The children of Israel were very much aware that they had sinned and that they were dying. In desperation they followed the commandment of Moses to look upon the bronze serpent.

We must look upon the cross of Jesus. But are we desperate? Do we realize that our entertainment industry, popular music, movies, TV shows, and cultural norms are ruled by Satan. Abortion for convenience is perfectly acceptable. It is normal now not to have prayer in your schools. In fact, it is considered even in bad taste to have traditions and values taught in our schools. And what about our churches? Do we find any serpents there? Have they invaded our seminaries? How about our Board meetings? How about our theologies? Do the seeker churches say we all serve the same god, no matter what our religion might be?

The psalmist reminds us that God has shown us mercy:

He sent forth his word and healed them
and saved them from the grave.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.

Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.   (Psalm 107:20-22)

Are we ready as a people  once again to give thanks to call? Can we look upon the old rugged cross? Of are we just too busy with the cares and culture of this world? This world has been corrupted. Perhaps it is time, while we still have time, to separate ourselves from this world. It is quickly passing away before our very eyes.



Leave a comment

Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

Good Friday

Behold the Lamb of God

Long before the cross was even an instrument of torture and death there was prophecy concerning a certain death by crucifixion. Long before anyone had experienced this torturous death we have a perfect description of the crucifixion of Jesus:

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are disjointed;
my heart is like wax,
melting within me.

My strength is dried up like baked clay;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You put me into the dust of death.

For dogs have surrounded me;
a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet.

I can count all my bones;
people look and stare at me.

They divided my garments among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.  (Psalm 22:14-18)

What was the purpose for such an agonizing death? The Prophet Isaiah tells us:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)

In the face of so great a sacrifice on our behalf what are we to do?

Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He has inaugurated for us, through the curtain (that is, His flesh); and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.  (Hebrews 10:19-23)

The cross always brings us to the point of decision. We cannot look away from it. We must look upon the Lamb of God in His agony. If we are to participate in the victory of Jesus on the cross, we must first taste of His passion. It is a defeat of our flesh. It is a defeat of our will. It is a defeat of our pride. Down through the ages the cross has spoken to humankind. What is the cross saying to us today?

Leave a comment

Filed under Good Friday, Holy Day, Holy Week, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Passion, The Passion