Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

The Season of Lent

The Wilderness Experience

The Season of Lent is a time of fasting and prayer for the Church. It corresponds to the time of preparation that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry. Scripture tells us Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit for forty days of fasting and prayer. Thus, Lent begins with the service of Ash Wednesday and runs through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. This time period is actually forty six days, because the six Sundays in between the beginning and end of the Lenten Season are not really part the days of fasting. Sundays are always days of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.

Historically, in the Easter Church, Lent has provided a time in which new converts were prepared for Holy Baptism. This practice is still observed in many liturgical churches.

Why should we observe this time of preparation and what does it mean to each of us and the Church today? Clearly this observance is not required for salvation. The saving act of Jesus on the cross and our response to His loving sacrifice is required, followed by our endurance in the Faith with His help. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that life does present us with wilderness experiences.

What is false is a church that suggests that Christians should not have them. We do have them. Job stood head and shoulders above his peers as a righteous man in his day, yet he experienced a terrible wilderness experience. The false triumphalism found in some of today’s churches would have us believe that such experiences should not occur, bringing condemnation on those who go through them because they do not have enough faith.

If we have wilderness experiences as a matter of course then why designate an appointed time to go through one within the Church Year? Is not this appointed time artificial? It is my belief that the Season of Lent in the early church was very much influenced by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is better to observe a wilderness experience appointed by the Holy Spirit than the one that is unscheduled and catches us by surprise. We may still endure unscheduled ones but we might be better prepared for them, having benefited from the teachings and disciplines of Lent. Jesus required preparation in the wilderness through the Holy Spirit in order to begin His ministry on earth. He experienced other wildernesses as well, Gethsemane being one of them.

Our purpose for Lent should be the same purpose that Jesus had for entering the wilderness: to prepare for ministry. We all have a ministry if we are Christian believers. Lent should be a time of fasting and prayer, self-examination and repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. It should be a time of setting aside the things of this world that so easily creep in and devote ourselves more to God and His Word.

What should Lent not be? It should not be about our attempt to impress God by what we are giving up for Him or ny what spiritual gymnastics we are putting ourselves through. The “giving-up” notion is fundamentally flawed. It makes us dread Lent. We then cannot wait for Lent to be over. That is why Mardi Gras or Carnival has such an appeal for many people.

Too often Lenten promises are like New Years resolutions. We make them but we don’t keep them and then we are under condemnation. Satan has a field day with us. He loves our false humility and piety. God does not want us to prove who we are. He wants to prove who we are, if we will allow him to do so. He is the author and finisher of our faith. We just need to submit ourselves to him.

It is said that we often grow through our struggles and trials. This may be true, but it is not necessarily true. A greater truth is that our struggles do teach us that we cannot get through life on our own strength alone. The struggles often drive us to God. It is God who then changes us and not our struggles. Why should we wait for a crisis to go to God? Why not go to Him early and often?

Perhaps the best observance of Lent would be to approach God with faith in the saving blood of Jesus, asking Him what He would have us discover about ourselves and about Him. Let Lent be a time of intentional fellowship with God in prayer, seeking His will and wisdom for our lives so that we might be better disciples of Jesus Christ and living examples of God’s love for the world.

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Homily 1: Formed by God’s Hand

Let us explore two servants today who were called by God. The first one is Samuel, a young b0y serving God in the sanctuary. Reading from 1 Samuel:

Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”    (1 Samuel 3:4-10)

Samuel, the son of Elkanah (of Ephraim) and Hannah, was born in answer to the prayer of his previously childless mother. In gratitude she dedicated him to the service of the chief sanctuary of Shiloh, in the charge of the priest Eli.

The second servant is Nathanael. Reading from the Gospel of John:

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”   (John 1:43-49)

Samuel and Nathanael had some things in common. When Samuel was called, scripture tells us:

The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.   (1 Samuel 3:1)

In the case of Nathanael, God has not spoken to Israel through a prophet for over four hundred years. But suddenly, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, as prophesied by Malachi:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?   (Malachi 3:1-2)

Things were about to change. God had chosen both of these two men to serve him in momentous times. Samuel was the last of the Old Testament judges and the prophet who help usher in the Davidic Kingdom which led to birth of Jesus. Nathanael would help establish the Church and prepare it for the Millennial Reign of Christ.

Perhaps there were differences in the way these two men were selected for service. We remember that Samuel’s mother Hannah had dedicated her son to God. She had prayed for a son and promised God that she would offer her son to God in gratitude. Thus, God had a hand in selecting her son.

On the other hand, it would appear that Jesus may have just picked Nathanael. But not so fast. The psalmist wrote:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
    My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.   (Psalm 139:13-16)

Perhaps Nathanael was chosen like Jeremiah:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.   (Jeremiah 1:5)

Jesus told Nathanael that he was Israelite in whom there is no deceit, how did he know that about Nathanael? He had never met him before. But he knew him before he was in his mother’s womb. He formed him by his own hands, Reading from John’s Gospel

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.   (John 1:1-3)

Like Samuel, Nathanael was called for a specific purpose. He was born in a specific time. We have something in common with both of them. We are living in a momentous time. God ordained it. And he is inspiring us to serve him in special ways that only we can do.

Our book has already been written in heaven. He formed us so that we might be ready for this day. Will we listen, like Samuel, to his voice. Will we be as open and transparent as Nathanael? Will we be willing? Many of you have already accepted your call to ministry.

We need to discover our true life and identity in Christ. Jesus said:

Jesus said to him, “I am the wayand the truthand the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.   (John 14:6)

Jesus is our life. We find our true value and calling through him. From John’s Gospel:

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 1:4-5)

The Apostle Paul adds a very important footnote:

Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.   (1 Corinthians 6:16-20)

Does this sound like a “woman’s right to choose” or a man’s right to require a mother to have an abortion? 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 10:9-10)

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The Baptism of Our Lord

Tear Open the Heavens

Today, let us consider successive forms of God’s creation. The  first one is found in Genesis:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.   (Genesis 1:1-5)

God gave us the sun. He also gave us his light, the glory of his presence. God called the light good. But part of it did not remain good. The sun still shines but his light was diminished due to the fall of humankind. Though humans were made in the image of God, they lost that image. Without God’s presence, the world gradually turned to spiritual darkness. God’s word was no longer respected. Something had to be done to save God’s creation. The Prophet Isaiah cried out to God:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
    so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
     as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    so that the nations might tremble at your presence!   (Isaiah 64:1-2)

God answered the prayer of Isaiah. He tore open the heavens and came down. Reading from today’s Gospel of Mark:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”   (Mark 1:9-11)

Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, came to join human kind, to share our nature as one of us. This was a second great creation. By so doing God would reconcile the world to himself. Through his death on the cross to pay the price for our sin, Jesus would cause another tearing open of the heavens. We read from the Gospel of Mark:

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”   (Mark 15:37-38)

God had joined us. Christ has now made it possible for us to join God. This is the third great creation. No longer would God call the Temple in Jerusalem his House. Jesus became the New Temple. All the fullness of God was embodied in Christ. Not only that, but the separation between God and humankind was no more. The Holy of Holies no longer existed.

God invited us to join him in Christ. Jesus told his disciples:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.   (John 14:15-17)

The Spirit of God would knit our spirits together with his.

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.   (John 14:21-23)

We are the new creation of God. We are not part of the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.   (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Jesus, the agent of creation, who made humankind in the image of God, has restored that image which we lost through our his sacrifice on the cross. He has done even more than that. Reading from John’s Gospel:

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. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.   (John 1:10-13)

We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to become the son and daughters of God.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.   (Romans 8:14-18)

Are we ready to step into our inheritance? The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;   (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

God has given us the power of his Holy Spirit which recreates us into the glorified sons and daughters of God. Do we receive his Power today, with thanksgiving and praise?

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.   (Hebrews 13:20-21)

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Second Sunday after Christmas

 

Homily 1: A Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation

Today, more than ever, we need a spirit of wisdom and revelation in this world, even in the church. This has always been needed. It is a special privilege to know the glorious presence and power of Almighty God. The human mind, alone, cannot conceive or understand the riches of God. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth::

But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God,   (1 Corinthians 2:7-10)

God has destined us to know him, to understand his character, to seek his presence in our lives, not just his favor. Satan does not want that to happen. He clouds our minds. He seeks to destroy any understanding of God. The last thing he wants is Immanuel, God with us. He wants us to believe that God is not with us and that he we never be with us. When King Herod learned of the Christ child he sought to kill. He did not really know who this new born was, but the demons who entered him did. From the Gospel of Matthew we read:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”   (Matthew 2:1-6)

We understand why Herod was inquiring about the birthplace of Jesus. He wanted to kill the child because was a threat to him. He was not only a threat to him, but to the whole world order, even the order of our day. Evil does not seek out the wisdom of God. Rather, evil does its best to cover up that wisdom.

The wise men from the East were seeking wisdom. They were not Jews, but they had read some of the prophets. They desired to know wisdom. They desired to know God. God led them to seek his wisdom. God led them to seek Jesus. Jesus is God’s wisdom. From John’s Gospel:

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)

Are we living in darkness or are seeking the light of God? Are we seeking the wisdom of God? Are we seeking to know God? God has come in the flesh. But to fully know him we still need to diligently seek what this means:

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.   (Hebrews 11:6)i

We must approach God with faith. And we must seek him above everything else:

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,   (Jeremiah 29:13)

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Church in Ephesus:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.   (Ephesians 1:17-18)

Let us take the time and energy to seek God as did the wise men. The travelled a great distance to do so. Are we willing and prepared to go the distance in our day?

 

Homily 2: How Dear to Me Is Your Dwelling

The  psalmist wrote:

How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

Happy are they who dwell in your house!
they will always be praising you.   (Psalm 84:1-3)

It should not have been surprising that the young boy Jesus would seek out the House of God the Father. The Temple in Jerusalem was that place for the Jewish people. It was a place of pilgrimage, the high altar of God, where people received atonement for their sins. From Luke we read:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  (Luke 2:41-49)

Mary, the mother of Jesus would later understand. For the moment, both parents were surprised and confused:

But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.   (Luke 2:50-51)

The Temple in Jerusalem was the House of God. That was ordained and established by God. But that was about to change. At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus spoke there words:

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.   (John 2:19-22)

After the the resurrection of of Jesus a transference occurred. Jesus was now the Temple of God. This was khown at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross:

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)

Jesus is the House of God now. How desirous are we to enter the House of God” Again, the psalmist wrote:

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

For the Lord God is both sun and shield;
he will give grace and glory;

No good thing will the Lord withhold
from those who walk with integrity.

O Lord of hosts,
happy are they who put their trust in you!   (Psalm 84:9-12)

We live in very troubling times. Our only refuge is the Lord Jesus Christ. But there are keys to entering the House of God. Everyone one is invited, but not everyone is accepted. Scripture tells us:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.   (100:4-5)

We are not good. Only God is good. We may only enter with a grateful heart. God is also looking for a contrite heart. Is that who we are?

For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
“I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite.   (Isaiah 57:15)

John, the revelator, heard in heaven:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,   (Revelation 21:3)

Jesus will soon be setting u his millennial kingdom on the earth. We must not wait. Now is the time that we should join ourselves to God. Reading from the Prophet Zechariah:

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the LordMany nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.   (Zechariah 2:10-12)

Amen.

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