Tag Archives: humility

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 25C

 

Track 1: Finishing the Race

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

The Apostle Paul wrote his protégé Timothy:

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.   (2 Timothy 4:6-7)

Paul compared his Christian journey as an athlete running a race. For example, he wrote the Church in Corinth:

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.   (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Let us look at this race which Paul talks about from three different perspectives: The start, the middle, and the end. How do we enter the race? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable of thePharisee and the tax collector:

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’    (Luke 18:11-13)

To inter the race we must first humble ourselves before God. We must acknowledge our sin. This is what the Pharisee failed to do. Jesus said that the tax collector was justified before God and not the Pharisee.

In running the race we must remain humble before God. The Apostle Paul wrote the Pjilippains:

 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:10-14)

Paul was acknowledging mistakes, but that he would not be held back by these mistakes. He would keep moving forward, trusting in Jesus. From the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Jesus is not only the pioneer of our faith, he is also the perfecter of our faith. We are running a race, but Jesus is running with us. We are not alone. Our focus must be on him. He is the power for our race as well as the destination. We will not waste any time comparing ourselves to others in the race. That is what the Pharisee did in the parable, to know effect.

How do we end the race? When I began my ordained ministry, I served communion to a pastor of advanced age who was in a hospice. He had began his ministry early in life and served many years. I asked him to share with me some of the lessons he had learned in ministry. He said that this is what he had learned: Lord, be merciful unto me, a sinner. We end the race just as we began it. Everything else we leave in God’s hands.

Paul goes on to tell Timothy:

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 4:8)

The righteous judge will give us a crown and to everyone who long for him. Let us continue to long for him and keep the faith. Jesus said:

The one who endures to the end will be saved.   (Matthew 24:13)

 

 

Track 2: Blameless under the Law

Sirach 35:12-17
or Jeremiah 14:7-10,19-22
Psalm 84:1-6
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

In today’s Gospel reading we the familiar parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 18:9-14)

Luke’s Gospel clearly states what the parable is about. The Pharisee justified himself to be righteous because he was keeping the law of Moses much better than the tax collector. It is easy for us to see that in all the Gospels Jesus was critical of Pharisees.

Let us dig a little deeper. Was not Jesus critical of the behavior of the Pharisees more than the Pharisees themselves? Jesus did not come to the world to condemn anyone. He came to save sinners. In order to do so he, by his teaching and example, had to reveal the sin in all of us.

The Apostle Paul was once a Pharisee. As a Pharisee he boasted:

circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But Paul went on to say:

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.   (Philippians 3:5-7)

After his conversion, Paul realized that he was not blameless under the law. Only Jesus could fulfill the righteous requirements of the law.

Paul stressed that

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.   (Galatians 3:23-26)

Jesus Christ fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law on the cross. He received the punishment for our sin upon himself. Our task is to accept his gift of grace by faith.

Have we fully accepted the good news of the Gospel? We are in a much better position to understand what Jesus has done for us. We have the benefit of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The Pharisee in the parable would not have jhad this understanding.

If we are comparing ourselves to others today are we not like the Pharisees. Our righteousness had nothing to do with how we might compare to others in terms of keeping God’s commandments. Our righteousness is by faith in Jesus Christ. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.   (Psalm 84:4-5)

We will face difficulties in life that will challenge our faith. All we need to do is to hold on. We neither look to the right or the left. We do not rate ourselves compared to others. We look to Jesus. From the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

The Apostle Paul told Timothy:

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 4:7-8)

His race was against himself, against his flesh. He was the opponent. He was not running against anyone else. The same is true of us. Our posture before God must be the posture of the tax collector in the parable: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22C

Track 1: Rejoice in the Lord Always

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26
or Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

The palmist wrote:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered you, O Zion.

As for our harps, we hung them up
on the trees in the midst of that land.   (Psalm 137:1-2)

The exiles in Babylon were remembering Jerusalem. From Lamentations we read:

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;

among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;

her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.   (Lamentations 1:1-3)

Jerusalem had been destroyed. This meant that the Jewish people’s way of life, centered on Jerusalem, had been destroyed. It was almost too sad to contemplate for them. The psalmist wrote:

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing the Lord‘S song
upon an alien soil.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.

Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.   (Psalm 137:3-6)

It was hard for those in despair to sing the songs of Zion. But when they did the world changed around them. The songs were so uplifting that even their captors wanted to hear them.

Praising God changes things. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
    burst into song and shout,
    you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
    than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.   (Isaiah 54:1)

Let us not wait to praise God. We may think that we have no reason to praise him. Yet, he is still with us. He still has plans for us. Do we trust him enough to place all our hopes in him?

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

And again in Philippians 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

Paul experienced so many hardships in his ministry, but he did not loose hope in God. In today’s Epistle reading, as a prisoner, he proclaimed :

I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.   (2 Timothy 1:12-14)

Paul knew that God still had a plan for him. He understand that this plan will bring blessings to others and that he had been given a treasure to share with them. We are no different that the great apostle. God has given us a treasure. He has put it in our hearts. When we sing the songs of Zion, when we praise the Almighty, we release that treasure. Others see that we are praising God despite the circumstances. This is one of the most powerful witnesses that anyone of the faith can make.

Today, are we ready to share our faith, our joy in the Lord, our hope of glory? God exhorts us: Sing, O barren one. Burst into song and shout.

The exiles in Babylon did not remain in despair. God has a plan for them. We read in Isaiah:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:10)

We are great beneficiaries of the courage and faith of the Jewish people who would not give up. Let us also follow their example. God is still working in our lives and in this world. He is counting on us to be his ambassadors. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: You Have Only Done Your Duty

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In today’s Gospel reading the disciples of Jesus asked him to increase their faith:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Notice that Jesus did not directly answer their question. He emphasized that faith was important, but he followed up with this teaching:

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”   (Luke 17:5-10)

How could this teaching relate to faith? Perhaps it had more to do the disciples’ question about faith. Perhaps Jesus was able to see the motive behind the disciples’ question.

We know that some of the disciples were very ambitious. James and John wanted to sit beside Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Jesus was saying that our positions in ministry should not be our focus. Our obedience to God’s call was much more significant.

The disciples did not realize, at first, what would be required of them. The Apostle Paul learned of the hardships of ministry first hand. He did not let that deter him from his calling, however. Paul writes:

For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.   (2 Timothy 1:11-12)

In ministry we must learn to trust Jesus, regardless of the circumstances. If we are focused on who we are and not on who Jesus is, then we are ripe for the picking by the devil. Faith and endurance are required for ministry. That requires us to simply do our duty. Jesus said: You have done only what you ought to have done! We are not working for rewards for ourselves.

In our Old Testament reading today, the Prophet Habakkuk complained to God that the wicked seem to be triumphing. He would not be satisfied until God answered him:

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.   (Habakkuk 2:1)

Are we not like Habakkuk? We want to see results, instant results.

Then the Lord answered me and said:

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

God moves at his appointed time.  Patience and faith are required. We must keep believing. We must keep doing our duty. This usually means some suffering is required on our part. How we respond to the challenges of ministry and life reveals our character. Pride can be a major obstacle in our way. It seeks instant results. Humility before the Lord, having faith in his promises, is key.

This was the example set by the Apostle Paul. He 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)

God has proven his love and faithfulness through the cross of Jesus Christ. Our place in life and ministry is to serve him because he has poured his very essence into us.

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Holy Cross Day

Day of Judgment

The Prophet Isaiah forecast a time when God would hold a court to judge humankind for sin. God was speaking to the nation of Israel, but Israel was a proxy for all the nations of the world:

Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!

Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?

Was it not I, the Lord?
There is no other god besides me,

a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is no one besides me.   (Isaiah 45:21)

We are asked by God to present our case to him. God is also saying that he is qualified to judge our case because he is creator and has established all life. There is no other god besides him. Furthermore, his very nature and character qualifies him. He will be fair because he is not only a righteous God, but he is also our Savior.

A righteous God must be fair, but he must also be just. He must declare the injustice caused by sin. Sin cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. How is God able to accomplish this most difficult task, that of being both compassionate and just?

Before his verdict of guilty and penalty of death, God provided a path of escape. He did so through his Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the cruel crucifixion of Jesus by his own choice and desire:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:5-11)

In today’s Gospel reading we see a link between the judgement of God and a route of escape:

Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.   (John 12:31-33)

On the cross the sins of the whole world were judged. Jesus bore our sins for us while hanging from a cross and receiving the Father’s judgement.  The judgement of sin was once and for all, for all who believe. The Apostle Paul’ wrote:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 6:23)

Have we allowed God to judge our sins through his Son Jesus? If so, we must acknowledge it. We must turn towards Jesus. We must see him on the cross standing in for us.

God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:

“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;

all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.   (Isaiah 45:22-25)

Do we want triumph and glory? The only judgement of God that is left is the judgement of fallen angels. That judgement is not meant for us. Do we ignore such a great gift of salvation established on a Holy Cross? If Jesus humbled himself, why can we not humble ourselves? In Hebrews we read:

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will..   (Hebrews 2:1-4)

It is the cross was very cruel instrument of torture and death. We say that it is holy only because it can make us holy. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus.  If we refuse what Christ has done for us we nullify the power of the cross and join ourselves with fallen angels who await the lake of fire.

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