Tag Archives: hope

All Saints Day, Year A

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

In his first epistle the Apostle John writes that, as children of God, we have a hope in Jesus which purifies us in Christ:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.   (1 John 3:1-3)

Is John writing about a purity that can only exist in heaven? In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks about a purity that brings about a reward in heaven, not a heaven which brings about our purity:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus states that his disciples will be identified by the purity of their heart, something that the world will not understand. Even though they will not understand what they see, they will be able to see the purity God has placed within us. In fact, the world will persecute us because of that purity.

As Christians, we have been called by God to purify ourselves. If we are pure in heart we will see God. If not, then our hearts will keep us from seeing God. Purity and holiness is by faith in Jesus, but we must exercise that faith daily in order that God may do a work in us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi:

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.   (Philippians 1:3-6)

What is a sign God is working in us? If we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Jesus said that if we are so persecuted, the the kingdom of heaven will be ours.

We have not had a ticket punched so that we may live any type of life we wish. This concept has to do with religion. Christianity is not a religion. When we commit our lives to Jesus we are leaving the ways of this world and entering into a way of living that can only be accomplished in Christ alone. The psalmist wrote:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are they who trust in him!

Fear the Lord, you that are his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.

The young lions lack and suffer hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

The Lord ransoms the life of his servants,
and none will be punished who trust in him.   (Psalm 34:8-10,22)

John. the author of Revelation, gives us a vivid picture of those ransomed by God who put their trust in Christ:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
    the sun will not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”   (Revelation 7:13-17)

How do we wash our robes? We wash them in the blood of Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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)

Saints of God are the one who hold onto a holy hope in Jesus. Is that who we are? If so, then we are saints of God. On this day we celebrate all those who put there trust in Jesus, no matter what the circumstances in our lives may be. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20A

Track 1: Let Us Not Be Anxious about Earthly Things

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Have we ever found ourselves complaining against the Lord? The children of Israel had been liberated from slavery in Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders by God. Now, however. they were unsure that God would still provided for them. From Exodus we read:

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”   (Exodus 16:2-3)

Why is it that, when our faith is challenged, we want to go backwards, even when that means slavery to past problems? It is better for us to wait upon the Lord as he helps us to face the present.

God answered the complaints of his people:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”   (Exodus 16:4-8)

When we complain against God it is usually because we are focusing on the wrong things, the less important things in life. God knows our needs before we ask him. This beautiful prayer is found in the Book of Common Prayer:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Surely we are living in a time when earthly things are quickly passing away. How are we to be best prepared for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Today’s psalm may say it best:

Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.   (Psalm 105:1-4)

We remember that Jesus told a parable about a widow and an unjust judge. She continually sought the judge concerning her complaint. He finally granted her justice because he was tired of her complaining. Jesus said that Father in heaven would do better than the unjust judge:

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”   (Luke 18:7-8)

God responded to the concerns of the children of Israel in the wilderness. He has responded to our concerns in the past. But will we keep the faith? Will we seek his face on a daily basis? Will we continually praise his name? Will we tell others about the mighty things he has done, how he has given us salvation through the blood of his Son?

Let us not let the enemy steal our praise. Let us hold on to our holy hope. The world needs our witness all the more as the day grows darker and temporal things pass away. Jesus is calling us to keep the faith even in challenging times.

 


Track 2: The Privilege of Serving God

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

All of us are called by God for a specific ministry in his kingdom here on earth. Understanding our call and answering that call is just the beginning, though a very important first step. What happens when we accept that call and begin our ministry is a whole new level. Almost immediately, we are met with opposition from the enemy, particularly if we are following God’s plan for our lives. We often run into things that we did not expect to encounter. And the results that we wish to achieve are occasionally changed or transformed by the Holy Spirit, without our initial understanding of God’s purpose.

The prophet Jonah of the Old Testament was confused about his ministry. His ministry to the city of Nineveh offers a classic case of an expected result, at least on Jonah’s part. Nineveh was the notorious enemy of the Jewish people. As we remember, Jonah did not want to minister to Nineveh. He set sail in another direction, away from Nineveh. Eventually his sailing companions tossed him overboard when they discovered that his disobedience to God was jeopardizing the ship.

We now the story, Jonah was rescued when swallowed by a large fish. He then was persuaded by God to prophesy the destruction of this great city if its people did not repent. Unexpectedly, Nineveh repented, but this did not please Jonah. From the Book of Jonah we read:

This was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.   (Jonah 4:1-11)

Jonah wanted God to rain down destruction upon the people of Nineveh, even after they repented. What was Jonah’s problem? Perhaps he was too much into rewards and punishment. We can decided in our own minds who deserves punishment and who should be rewarded.

Jesus told a parable about workers in a vineyard which may help illustrate this point. As you recall, the owner of the vineyard hired laborers to work in his vineyard. Some of them were hired early in the day and others late. Some were hired even at the last hour. A problem arose because of this. We read in Matthew:

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”   (Matthew 20:8-12)

We may have a built-in understanding of what we think is fair play. (Keep in mind that we are talking about reward and punishment.) Again, from Matthew:

The owner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:13-16)

This parable speaks on many issues. One issue is our sense of fairness. What is fair about “the last will be first, and the first will be last?” God’s order is not our order. His ways or not our ways. Just serving God is a privilegeThe Apostle Paul wrote:

Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well — since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have   (Philippians 1:27-30)

What keeps us from understanding the privilege of serving God? We have the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well. There are hardships in serving God. Things do not always go our way. But we are blessed to even be in the arena with God – to be counted as his servants. We are coworkers with Christ.

We are not working that we might receive salvation and enter into the kingdom of God. That is a free gift from God by faith in Christ Jesus. We do not have to keep score on ourselves or others. God is the one who keeps score. We recall the words of Jesus:

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’   (Luke 17:9-10)

These are harsh words for those who are working for rewards. But they are liberating words for those who know the joy alone of just serving Jesus in the vineyard, under any and all circumstances. To God be the glory!

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 15A

Track 1: Unity in the Body of Christ

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

The psalmist wrote:

Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!

It is like fine oil upon the head
that runs down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron,
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

It is like the dew of Hermon
that falls upon the hills of Zion.

For there the Lord has ordained the blessing:
life for evermore.   (Psalm 133:1-5)

There is great blessing in unity, within the body of Christ as well as within our own lives. Unfortunately, experience tells us that coming together in unity can be most difficult.

The Apostle Paul was struggling with the problem of achieving unity within the Early Church. Paul considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles, though he was trained as a Pharisee, He received criticism from the Church in Jerusalem because his converts were not following the strict practices of Judaism. Paul attempted to explain why God does not show partiality to either Jew of Gentile:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.   (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)

The key to understanding unity between brothers and sisters of the Faith is that God has shown mercy to us all. Not one of us can say that we do not need his mercy. God has forgiven us by removing our sins through the shed blood of Jesus. We have earned no status with God on our own.

Mercy and forgiveness are the building blocks of unity. Joseph of the Old Testament understood this. We remember the Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt. That would have been devastating for most anyone who went from favored son to being falsely accused and thrown in prison in Egypt. Joseph held on to his trust in God and eventually this paid off. Today out of Genesis we read:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’   (Genesis 45:4-11)

As a forerunner of Christ, Joseph forgave his brothers and showed them mercy and kindness. Thus he was able to reconcile peacefully with his brothers. But there is one other thing that we might easily overlook and that is how Joseph was able to forgive his brothers. Joseph understood how his life fit into a wider plan that God had for his people. He told his brothers: “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

If we are to live in unity we must learn to forgive and show mercy to others as God has shown to us. But we must also see beyond our own selfish needs. We must pray ask how God is using us for the greater good, even when we are undergoing difficult circumstances. The Apostle Paul reminds us:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access[b] 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)

Powerful forces are coming against the Church today, to create division and disunity. Let us reject these forces, which are of the Devil, and strive together to live in unity. It is not always so easy. However, when we do God’s blessing falls upon us. Though the struggle may be difficult, with God, all things are possible. Joseph learned this. We have the blood of Christ on our side. All the more reason for us to show love to others. Paul wrote:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.   (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

 

 

Track 2: Great Is Your Faith

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

The Apostle Paul was struggling with the problem of achieving unity within the Early Church. Paul considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles, though he was trained as a Pharisee, He received criticism from the Church in Jerusalem because his converts were not following the strict practices of Judaism. Paul attempted to explain why God does not show partiality to either Jew of Gentile:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.   (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)

In today’s Gospel reading we have a curious account of a conversation Jesus had with a Canaanite woman. The woman would not have been considered as one of God’s chosen people. She was not a practicing Jew.  At first it seems as if Jesus is trying to discourage the woman but then we begin to realize that he was testing her:

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.   (Matthew 15:21-28)

The Canaanite woman was not without faith. In someways she understood more about the ministry of Jesus than did his disciples who were trying to turn her away. She was not puffed up about her status with God. Nonetheless, she felt in her heart that Jesus might show her mercy if she asked him. The truth is that God will show anyone mercy who asked. The Apostle Paul writes:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.   (Ephesians 2:4-9)

God is no respecter of persons. The Prophet Isaiah spoke:

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,

for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,

all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant–

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.   (Isaiah 56:1,6-8)

We are the foreigners joined to the Lord. We are the ingrafted branches of Judaism. Our status before God is not about what we have done for him. Rather, our status is fully based on what Jesus has done for us.

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