Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles

the-apostles-st-peter-and-st-paul-xx-el-grecoThe Founding Apostles of the Church

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 central 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 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 they 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. With the help of James, the brothers of Jesus, they mapped out what they considered 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. 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 both became martyrs for the faith, 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. Christian believers could look forward to a life to come with great hope. In the meantime, believers were to advance in purity and holiness.

Let us summon the courage to persevere in our own day. By the grace of God and the guidance of his Holy Spirit, may we boldly witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need to remember that all the apostles were ordinary men with extraordinary callings. We, also, have our own callings. Let us follow the example of these two great apostles.

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Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7A

Track 1: God is Faithful

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Abraham had two sons. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, had given her maid Hagar to him so that she might bear him a son in her place, since she was barren. The son born of Hagar was Ishmael. God had promised Sarah a son, but she had trouble accepting this promise. We remember that Sarah did bear a son after all by God’s miraculous intervention.

In Genesis we read:

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”

Later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and the tension between the women returned. At a celebration after Isaac was weaned, Sarah found the teenage Ishmael playing her son. The original Hebrew word translated as “playing” is Tsachaq. This is better translated as “mocking.” Ishmael was mocking Isaac. This Sarah did not likeShe was so upset by it that she demanded that Abraham send Hagar and her son away. She declared that Ishmael would not share in Isaac’s inheritance. Abraham was greatly distressed but God told Abraham to do as his wife commanded because God’s promise would be carried out through both Isaac and Ishmael.

Early the next morning, Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out together. Abraham gave Hagar bread and water then sent them into the wilderness of Beersheba. She and her son wandered aimlessly until their water was completely consumed. In a moment of despair, she burst into tears. God heard her and her son crying and came to rescue them. The angel opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water. He also told Hagar that God “will make a great nation” of Ishmael.

Life can be cruel and often seem unfair. Hagar was in despair when Abrahan, at the wishes of his wife, sent her and her son away. She sound herself in the wilderness without the resources to care for her son. What was she to do? We read:

Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”

In Hagar’s state of hopelessness she discovered that God was with her. She cried out to him and he heard her prayer. The psalmist writes:

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer,
and attend to the voice of my supplications.

In the time of my trouble I will call upon you,
for you will answer me.   (Psalm 86:6-7)

God is the God of hope and not despair. Despair sets in when we give up on God. The Apostle Paul writes:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

All of us are on a journey. We are on a journey with God. We are not alone. He is on our side. The circumstances of life may prove difficult, but they do not change the fact that God is our source of strength and help. The psalmist wrote:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.   (Psalm 46:1-3)

Will the difficulties in life drive us away from God? If we hold on to our trust and faith in him these difficulties will only make us stronger. We will gain a closer relationship with God. Hagar discovered the mercy and faithfulness of God. How much more will we discover these qualities of God who have put our faith and trust in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ! If we have not done so now is the time.

 

 

Track 2: A Fire Shut up in My Bones

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

The Prophet Jeremiah was faithfully proclaiming the Word of God as God directed him. However, this was not making him popular. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Today we read one of the famous complaints that Jeremiah made to about being a prophet:

For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.

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.

The problem with speaking God’s word is that it changes things. The Prophet Isaiah wrote:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.   (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Some people do not like change. They will do everything possible to keep it from happening, including try to silence those who dare speak God’s word. Yet, if we are true believers do we have an option not to speak about our faith? Jesus said:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

If we are true disciples of Jesus Christ then we should expect ridicule and persecution.

Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

Do we have the fire of God in our bones? If so, we are compelled to speak out for the Gospel. We will not be able to stop ourselves and we will not want to stop ourselves. The Word made flesh has spoken for us on the cross with such sacrificial and unconditional love. For this reason we love and value Jesus more than anything on this earth.

But if we are a lukewarm Christian, being neither hot nor cold, we may not understand the power and beauty of sharing the love of God with others. We may not want to risk the criticism and persecution of doing so. This would be a very sad state for any Christian to be in.

In the Book of Revelation Jesus spoke to the Church in Laodicea:

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.   (Revelation 3:14-16)

Perhaps the only cure for the lukewarm condition is God’s fire in our bones. God will kindle that fire for all who seek him. He is a consuming fire:

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.   (Hebrews 12:25-29)

Do we have a fire shut up within our bones? Now is the time to ask for the fire of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one who is the baptizer of the Holy Spirit. We must not only ask him for the Holy Spirit, but ask him for the remission of our sins. We must do so continually. Amen.

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Saint Barnabas

Set Apart by the Spirit

Today we celebrate Saint Barnabas, the travelling companion of the Apostle Paul. He was more than a travelling companion. Barnabas was largely responsible for encouraging Paul to undertake an active ministry.

We know about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. We know that Jesus Himself called Paul into ministry. Nonetheless, Paul was not easily accepted as an apostle of Jesus by the leadership in Jerusalem. He had been persecuting the Church. Barnabas, however, looked at Paul through the eyes of Christ. He rescued Paul and presented him to the apostles, testifying that Paul was indeed a true believer. This was typical of Barnabas. His name meant “son of encouragement.”

Barnabas was chosen along with Paul for a special mission:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.   (Acts 13:1-3)

This was the beginning of the great mission to the Gentiles. Barnabas and Paul were were willing to travel without special requirements or treatment. They endured great hardships for the Gospel. They were willing to follow the instructions which Jesus gave His disciples concerning the conduct of ministry:

Jesus said to the twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.   (Matthew 10:7-10)

What can we learn from Barnabas about our own ministry? He did not care what others thought about Paul. He listened only to what God was telling him. He wanted the praises and approval of God more than that of human beings.

A positive attitude is helpful. Prayer and fasting is preparation. The support of a community is vital and of absolute necessity. A willingness to be set apart by the Holy Spirit for ministry directed by God and not by our own desires. Perhaps this last one is most difficult. The Holy Spirit may lead us into difficult places where we must rely solely on God.

We may not be asked by God to leave home and job. We may, however, be asked to give up some of our cherished beliefs about ministry. We may be asked to leave our comfort zones. We may be required to work with others who are not on the approved list. We just be called to offer encouragement and support to others in their ministry. God is still calling his Barnabas’s.

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First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday, Year A

A Trinitarian Understanding of God

God is a trinitarian God. We need to see him in his full dimension.

Let us observe God as creator. In the beginning, God the Father consulted God the Son and God the Holy Spirit about humankind. He said: “Let us make humankind in our likeness.”

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”   (Genesis 1:26-27)

Each aspect of God had a role to play in creation. The Son of God was the agent of creation. In the Gospel of John we read:

 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.   (John 1:1-4)

God the Father spoke life through his Son. The Holy Spirit also played a very important role. He carried out his assignment to bring everything into being by his power. In Genesis we read:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.   (Genesis 1:1-2)

God has revealed himself to us through his creation. He did so by exercising his total being in the process. Thus, we cannot just relate to one part of God while ignoring his other attributes.

The Apostle Paul helps us to understand how God moves through the Trinity of his being:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.   (2 Corinthians 13:13)

In this one blessing by Paul to the church in Corinth, we are able to see deep insights into God’s nature and character. God the Father is pure love. He best expresses that love through the grace he gives us through his Son. Jesus reveals the character of the Father. He is the voice of the Father, the Word made flesh. Jesus is the self-giving God. He sacrifices himself that we mighty have salvation in his name. We have fellowship and communion with the Father and Son through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit hovers over us just as he hovered the formless world. He has been given to us to bring us in alignment with God’s will and restore us to fellowship with the Father.

In his last words to his disciples Jesus spoke of baptizing believers by the fullness God as expressed in the Holy Trinity. In the Gospel of Matthew we read:

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   (Matthew 28:16-20)

Notice in this great commission the working of the Holy Trinity. The Church must teach all believers to obey all that Jesus has taught. Jesus, the voice of God, had taught us the true nature of God the Father and the essence of his commandments. But the power of the Holy Spirit is needed to help us to understand and obey all that Jesus has taught us.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew echoes Paul’s blessing to the Church in Corinth. Both declare the working of God through his trinitarian nature. Without and understanding of the Holy Trinity we are left without a very shallow faith indeed. While it is true that we cannot fully understand all the aspects of the Trinity, we can neither afford to ignore the Trinity. It is the Holy Trinity that helps us to focus our faith in God.

The good news is that the three persons of the Godhead are still working for us. They are still creating. Soon we shall see the culmination of their work when we are fully restored to the likeness of God. Let us be encouraged and not lose heart. Rather, let us hold onto a holy hope that God is at work in us and that he will fulfill all of his purposes for us. Amen.

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Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A

Why Do You Stand Here Looking Up?

The last words of Jesus spoken to his disciples before being taken up to heaven are extremely significant. In John we read:

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”   (Acts 1:6-11)

What is significant? Is it that Jesus said that we would be his witnesses. Yes! And the assurance from the angels that Jesus would return the same way he left. Yes! But the angels also said this: “Why do you stand here looking up?”

So many events and signs today point to the fact that we are living in the last days. It is right that we should be anticipating Jesus’s return. Even the Early Church did that. But they did much more than that. Because of their courageous witness the Gospel was spread throughout the world.

How are we doing today in terms of our witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are we telling others about the good news of salvation by faith in his saving act upon the cross? Or are re we just looking up and waiting? Do we have a bunker mentality or are we ready to take new ground for the Kingdom of God?

Our example is the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived through very difficult times. Yet his primary concern was to reveal the love of God the Father, whatever the cost. In John we read:

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.   (John 17:6-8)

The Early Church followed the example of our Lord. They were willing to go the distance, even to the point of death. The Greek word for witness in today’s reading from Acts is “Martus.” From this Greek word we get the word “martyr.” The dictionary defines the word martyr as a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle.

Jesus gave his life for us. Many of the early believers gave their life for us as well. What are we willing to give today?

Are we waiting on God? Are we waiting on His return? He is waiting on us. He is counting on our witness to the Gospel. Has the Gospel impacted our lives? If so, others should that it has.

What keeps many of us from witnessing today is the threat of persecution. This is increasing more and more throughout the world. Now we are experiencing it in America. Such persecution is promise. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.   (1 Peter 4:12-14)

The key is that God is with us. We are not alone. God is pouring out this glory through us when we boldly step out for him

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