Tag Archives: Israel

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 24C

Track 1: Covenant of the Heart

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

When a Pharisee asked Jesus what he thought the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   (Matthew 22:37-39)
Notice that Jesus mentioned the word “heart” first. Our relationship with God has to do with the condition of our heart. God wants a relationship with us. It is a love relationship.
God demonstrated his love for Israel when he rescued them from captivity in Egypt. He was leading them to a land he promised Abraham and his descendants. Through Mose he spoke to the people:

The Lord your God will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.

Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.   (Deuteronomy 30:5-6)

The heart can be a devious thing. Let us examine our own hearts evidence. God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah:

The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.   (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

If we are to truly love God then we need his help. God promised to circumcise the hearts of the Israelites. Yet, they offered him great resistance. They broke the covenant God made with their forefathers. They continually disobeyed him. God would have to take greater steps. He spoke through Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament reading:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt– a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

How could God make this promise and keep it. He would have to take extraordinary measures to deal with Sin. God is a just God and cannot overlook Sin or the punishment it requires. It took the cross of Jesus. The moment that Jesus died on the cross for our sins the curtain was torn from top to bottom – that is the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the remainder of the Temple in Jerusalem. The price for Sin was paid once and for all.

Now God could write his laws on our hearts. But what does he need from us? He needs our hearts. He wants to transform them. King David prayed:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.   (Psalm 51:10-11)
Only the blood of Jesus can purify our hearts. We need to accept his saving act on the cross. From this point God can begin writing his law on our hearts. Are we still withhold our hearts from him? Are we eager to hear his word? The psalmist wrote:

Your word I have treasured and stored in my heart, That I may not sin against You.   Psalm 119:11

Keeping the law of God is a matter of spiritual grow as we take in God’s word. The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.   (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

God writes on our hearts by his word. Without his word we will never truly love the Lord and obey him. The psalmist wrote:

I restrain my feet from every evil way,
that I may keep your word.

I do not shrink from your judgments,
because you yourself have taught me.

How sweet are your words to my taste!
they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.

Through your commandments I gain understanding;
therefore I hate every lying way.   (Psalm 119:101-104)

 

 

Track 2: The Unjust Judge

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told parables using familiar life experiences so that his listeners could relate to them. In today’s Gosple, Jesus spoke  of an unjust judge:

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”   (Luke 18:1-5)

People were familiar with examples of unjust judges when Jesus told this parable. Has anything changed today? No. The parable still rings true. Of course, we want justice for the widow, but there is a touch of humor with the attitude of the unjust judge. He does the right thing in this case, but for the wrong reason.

Jesus continued:

“Listen to what the unjust judge says. 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 18:6-8)

What do we take away from this parable? The first thing surely should be that God is not like the unjust judge. He is involved with our daily lives. He is not some casual observer who is indifferent to what he sees. He loves us. He cares about us and our wellbeing.

Why did Jesus end the parable with the statement: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” How could that statement relate to the rest of the parable?

There is always a danger of losing faith in God. Luke’s Gospel began the telling of the parable by saying that it was about “the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” We can lose heart. The enemy wants to discourage our hearts. Circumstances in life can be discouraging at times.

In today’s Old Testament reading we find Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob had been living under difficult circumstances. He had not entirely lost faith, but he was seriously seeking a blessing from God. And God blessed him and changed his name to Israel, a name that stands throughout the ages. God is faithful to those who put their trust in him.

We may find ourselves wrestling with God. That does not mean we have lost faith. But if we are to wrestle with God then the requirement is prayer. Prayer is our way of having a dialogue with God. Prayer is the key for maintaining our relationship with him. The parable was about praying always and not losing heart.

When we communicate with God the lies of Satin and this world fade away. We remember that God is a just God. As a righteous and just God, he must punish sin. He is also a loving God. He loves us so much that he took our punishment upon himself. This fact alone should establish our love relationship with him.

The solutions to our problems ib life are not always immediate. The psalmist wrote:

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!   (Psalm 27:14)

Go0d requites us to live by faith. This means we rely on God and not ourselves. The prophet of old wrote:

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

The difficulties we experience in life help build our character. 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[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[d] 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 will help us through them all. Our part is to pray keep the faith. Prayer is, in fact, our keeper of faith. Paul wrote:

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)

God is faithful. He will come to our aid. Let us put our whole trust in him. In Christ Jesus we find our victory. In John’s Gospel we read these words of Jesus:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”   (John 16L33)

Leave a comment

Filed under Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year C

Independence Day

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.

A More Perfect Union

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our great heritage as a nation, let us compare our nation with another great nation. In biblical times, this nation was given a great promise and covenant from God. This is the nation of Israel. Today, both of these nations are in a great struggle.

The founding fathers of these two nations had at least one thing in common, they trusted in and relied upon God for their formation and mission. One nation was to be a great missionary nation. The other was commissioned by God to be a holy nation and royal priesthood.

Let us look at America first. The delegates, who signed the Declaration of Independence, took on great personal risk. They were fighting for what they thought was a higher cause and purpose than any personal gain for themselves. As written in the Declaration, they affirmed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As part of this Declaration, they made a pledge:

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They did so, realizing the danger this pledge might bring to them personally. Nevertheless, they did not look back. They fully gave themselves to the cause.

The cost was steep. Five signers of the Declaration were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or hardships from the war.

Perhaps without realizing it, they were following the example of Abraham and his descendents. Abraham entered into a covenant with God. When he did so he entered into unknown territory. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.   (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Abraham did not look back. He endured hardship not only for the promise which God had made to him personally. He did so for the benefit of all the generations who would him. Those who followed Abraham endured great hardships as well. Again, from Hebrews we read:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The hardships were for a reason. God had chosen Israel for a divine purpose. At Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses concerning their mission: 

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”   (Exodus 19:4-6)

Over the years, God ha been shaping Israel. It has not yet become a holy nation or a royal priesthood. America has not yet become the land which God has called it to be. Nonetheless, what is impossible for humankind is possible with God

After the terrible battle of Gettysburg, which cost so many lives, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in his famous address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We have not fulfilled these words. Despite our efforts, we have fallen short of the dream that our forefathers had for America. We are not yet that one nation under God, which provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens. This does not mean that we should stop striving. Without God the dream would not even be possible.

Our nation is now under attack, both from without and from within. There are people and forces who  wish to destroy America as we know it in order to build their Utopia. While they tear down our institutions and work to destroy the family, they tell us to put our trust in them. They will save us if we follow them, promising peace without the Prince of Peace. The Apostle Paul writesL

When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!   (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

In today’s Old Testament lesson we read:

You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.   (Deuteronomy 10:20-21)

Moses was reminding the people of the true architect of the nation of Israel. Perhaps we need the same reminder?

God is calling us to perfection, but we must be willing to follow him. He is our perfection. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about perfection:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:43-48)

How will we ever achieve this perfection? We certainly cannot do it on our own. We need divine help. The hope for perfection is fulfilled by faith in Jesus Christ alone. It will take the Millennial Reign of Jesus on the Earth before that perfection fully comes.

Israel will one day be a holy nation. Since we are the ingrafted branches, the American dream and experiment will also be consummated as Christians believers the world over join the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, we must press on. We must return to our heritage and, once again, seek to be a nation whose God is the Lord.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.   (Psalm 33:12)

Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Declaration of Independence, Fourth of July, Holy Day, Independence Day, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, sermon, sermon preparation, Year C

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

Standing on the Promises of God

Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. When the child in Elizabeth’s womb hears Mary’s voice he leaps for joy. This child is John the Baptist. This moment of celebration brings joy to Mary and she prophesies:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1:47-55)

What is remarkable about Mary and Elizabeth also is that they believed in the promise of God, even though great miracles of God were required. Mary, a virgin, had conceived a child and Elizabeth, who was well beyond any child bearing age, had also conceived. Nevertheless, these chosen instruments of God were able to believe God as did Abraham before them.

Are we able to believe in the miraculous today? Mary and Elizabeth understood that the promises God made to them were not just about them. Jesus and John the Baptist are children of the promise which God made to Abraham. Their births extended and expanded this promise down through the ages. Today, we are recipients of the promise.

God has made promises to us as well. His plans for us may not be as dramatic as that of Mary or Elizabeth, but they are important to God’s plan. Are we willing to believe in those promises and hold on to them. There may be obstacles in the way of our receiving God’s promise. The Apostle Paul tells us how to overcome these obstacles with this prescription:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.   (Romans 12:12)

In time, the promises of God will come to pass. The blessing is in the believing and perseverance. Too often me take matters in our own hands and thwart God’s plans and purposes for us. Others are depending upon us to make the right choices. In fact, their future blessings depend upon our faithfulness. Let us be willing to see beyond ourselves as the wonders of God’s work unfolds.

God will do great things for us but he requires that we exercise our faith. Are we willing to hear, believe, and stand on the promises of God?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Eucharist, Feast Day, Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, The Visitation, visitation of the blessed virgin, Year A