Tag Archives: holiness

Second Sunday of Advent

Comfort My People

We have begun a new liturgical year. We will be reading from the Gospel of Mark. This is how the Gospel of Mark begins:

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;

the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”   (Mark 1:2-3)

The liturgical season of Advent is all about the coming of the Christ Child. Mark has quoted from the Prophet Isaiah.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.   (Isaiah 40:1)

This was the message of John the Baptist:

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.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”   (Isaiah 40:3-5)

John was saying that the kingdom of the Lord was coming. But first, things must be straiten out before his return. The kingdom of the Lord is stilling coming. It is not here yet. In our day, sin appears to be on the rise. Has the message of John the Baptist been lost? I believe that we have certainly lost part of it. The message began as a comforting one.

The psalmist wrote:

You have been gracious to your land, O Lord,
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.

You have forgiven the iniquity of your people
and blotted out all their sins.

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.   (Psalm 85:1-2,8-11)

The psalmist was celebrating what God had done for Israel. God was speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him. God is still doing that to those who will listen. The good news is that God is prepared to do al the straightening out for us. All we have to do is turn our hearts toward him. We cannot clean up and straighten ourselves out on our own.

This is the promise which the Lord makes through the Prophet Isaiah:

See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;

his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.   (Isaiah 40:10-11)

Are we willing to step aside and watch his hand move on our behalf?

Make no mistake, the Day of the Lord is coning. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.   (2 Peter 3:8-1)

We need to be living lives of holiness and godliness. That is the message. How we accomplish that is the part that the Church may have misunderstood. The message of John the Baptist was a comforting one for those who believed what he was saying. Many Israelites gave themselves to baptism by John in the Jordan River. Those who refused to listen did everything they could to deny Christ, eventually crucifying him,

This Season of Advent, are we able to admit to God the realities of our lives? God is able to cleanse us and restored us. If we are hearing this word for the first time, now is the time to come under the comfort and protection of Christ.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,   (Isaiah 40:11)

God is still saying:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.   (Isaiah 40:1)

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Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7C

Track 1: God Has Greater Plans

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
Psalm 42 and 43
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Elijah was just coming off his great triumph over the priests of Baal. But now his life was threatened. Reading from 1 Kings:

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.   But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”   (1 Kings 19:1-4)

From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat in one day! How did this happen? Elijah was running and hiding. Yet he was not alone. God was with him and asked him this question:

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah replied:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”   (1 Kings 19:9-10)

Jezebel was ruthless. She was relentless in exercising her destructive power over everything that was good. We still have her spirit operating in our government today, and even in our churches. Fear can confuse us and make us lose track of what is essential and true. The psalmist wrote:

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.   (Psalm 42:6-7)

We are not alone in this world. God is with us. The psalmist also wrote:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.   (Psalm 50L14-15)

We can have our victories in life. Elijah had a great one. But must remember that only God separates some either victory or defeat. Apart from him we can do nothing. The victory over Baal was God’s victory, not Elijah’s. Perhaps Elijah forgot that?

Evil has its plans. It wants to destroy all of God’s work and creation. From John’s Gospel:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.   (John 10:10)

Jesus has other plans for us. In whom do we put our trust. Fear is faith in Satan. It causes us to lose focus and distracts us from our ministry. God still had plans for Elijah:

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”   (! Kings 19:15-18)

God has plans for us. Our task is to put our trust in him. The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy:

God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

The power we have comes from God alone. Let us pray in the name of Jesus to accomplish those things which God has asked us to do. Are we ready for the front lines? Or will we shrink back in fear? Everyone is subject to fear, even the great prophet Elijah. Elijah was redirected and empowered to continue his ministry when he heard God speak to him. God has greater plans. Let us stop running and choose to listen to the voice of God.

 

 

Track 2: Deliver Us from Evil

Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

During his ministry on earth, Jesus was often directly confronted by evil forces. From today’s Gospel reading from Luke:

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)   (Luke 8:26-29)

Can we relate to this strange scene today? Some might say that we need a more up to date medical explanation of what was going on. But perhaps we should return to scripture itself to see if still speaks to us concerning demons and evil. In today’s Old Testament reading God spoke through the prophet Isaiah:

I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,

who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;

a people who provoke me
to my face continually,

sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;

who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;

who eat swine’s flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;

who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”   (Isaiah 65:2-5)

Who are these people who who “sit inside tombs and spend the night in secret places?” Perhaps it could be some of our political leaders. Does Skull and Bones right a bell. President John F. Kennedy spoke about the dangers of secret societies and how they could be a threat to democracy. It should be common knowledge that members of secret societies sit on both sides of the aisles of Congress. But it is not. This part of our government is kept under wraps.

This type of leadership is not confined to our government leaders. It is found, shockingly, in our churches as well.  Jesus warned about a certain kind of leadership:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?   (Matthew 7:15-16)

“Ravenous wolves” is an expressing that connotes those who are hungry for power over us. They are not people looking out for yhr good go others. Rather, they are looking out only for themselves at the expense of others. The demons wanted to dwell in the demoniac not to do him good. They wanted to torment the man for their own desires. Notice, the key words are secrecy and deception. Those possessed by demons do not want to be exposed. Isaiah explained that they do not want to come near to the holiness of God.

Do we have leaders both in our government and in our churches who consult evil spirits in secrecy? Yes, we do. It is time that we wake up. The Apostle Paul the Church in Corinth:

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.   (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

We are in a spiritual war. We always have been. We are in the same spiritual war that Jesus found himself in during his earthly ministry. Evil is real. It cannot be explained away by modern science.

What can we do about it? We can pray for discernment. But alone, we can do nothing. Jesus, however, is still delivering people from evil. His victory over evil and the grace can be our victory if we so identify with him in the Faith. We can call upon his name. The demons will still flee, for many of us have seen this happen numerous times. Jesus can replace this evil with himself for those who accept him as Savior and Lord.

There is another type of bondage found in church leaders that is a little more subtle than that which the demoniac had. Jesus spoke about these leaders:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.   (Matthew 23:27-28)

Again, we have the mention of tombs. These tombs could be ones of our own making. They have been whitewashed to look beautiful on the outside. But this is a cover. They are “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Maybe we do not belong to wicked, secret societies. However, we could still be bound by another form of evil which is working on the inside of us. We cannot judge and control others. It is not our place. We can pray for them. We can set an example for them. We may be able to speak the truth in love to them. But we cannot think that we are nay better than they are. Because we are not, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Is God too holy for us? Are we willing to expose ourselves to the holiness of God? Only then can we be truly delivered from evil. God is a God of love and forgiveness. He is also a God of deliverance.

We tend to keep quiet about deliverances. They may embarrass us. This is the wrong approach. Reading further from Luke:

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.   (Luke 8:38-39)

We need to expose evil and give testimony to the power of God. Satan works best in darkness. We need to bring everything to the light of Christ.

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Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

The Veil Was Torn Apart

During this Season of Epiphany we have been looking at various examples of how God manifested his presence and power. Today, we look at the Mount of Transfiguration experience of Peter, James, and John. These disciples had been taught directly by Jesus. They knew him as a great teacher of the Law of Moses. They had witnessed his healings and miracles first hand. They were starting to realize that Jesus was the promised Messiah. But they were not prepared for what was about to take place on the mountain. Reading from Luke:

About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”   (Luke 9:28-35)

The disciples saw Jesus in his glorious state, standing with Moses and Elijah. They were overwhelmed.

Moses had gone up to the mountain to talk with God. When he came down the Israelites were not prepared for what they saw:

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.   (Exodus 34:29-35)

The Israelites saw the reflected glory 0n the face of Moses. Just a hint of God’s glory could overwhelm the onlooker. Again, from Exodus:

Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.   (Exodus 34:29-35)

God is a holy God and we are sinners. God has had to veil himself so that anyone who has contact with him would not be destroyed. He established a temple arrangement in which the Ark of the Covenant would remain behind a curtain or veil in a room called the “most holy place.” Only the high priest could enter this place. He did it only once a year to offer the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.

How do we approach God today? Do we look to God through a veil? The Apostle Paul tells us that is unnecessary:

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.   (2 Corinthians 3:12-14)

Even today, preachers and teachers speak about going behind a veil to get in touch with God. There is no veil. The veil has been torn apart. From the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.   (Matthew 27:50-52)

We are allowed to look upon the glory of God. We are called to look upon the glory of God. The Apostle Paul has written:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And 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 3:17-18)

We become who or what we worship. Do we look upon glory or do we celebrate the flesh? But what about the high priest idea? We are not high priests. No we are not, but we have a high priest standing in for us. From the Book of Hebrews:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Are we ready to approach the throne of grace without any restrictions? Again, from Hebrews:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, et us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.   (Hebrews 10:19-23)

God is calling us. How will we respond? In fear or in joy?

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