Tag Archives: Jacob

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13A

Track 1: Encounter with God

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7,16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Jacob was in a precarious position. He was returning home to Canaan with his family and flocks. He would soon meet his brother Esau from whom he had stolen his inheritance. He was fearful of what might happen so he took precautions to protect himself and his family.

Life is full of uncertainties. We face numerous problems along the way, some of which we brought on ourselves as did Jacob. Jacob would either continue operating as Jacob or he would become Israel:

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man[a]said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”   (Genesis 32:24-28)

What caused Jacob to change? Jacob had an encounter with God. The psalmist wrote:

Weigh my heart, summon me by night,
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

I give no offense with my mouth as others do;
I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;
incline your ear to me and hear my words.

Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.   (Psalm 17:3-7)

Before his encounter with God when he was visited by night, Jacob was in charge of his life. He relied upon himself, his own strength, and his cunning. After his encounter, he knew that he needed God. He had run our of his own resources. He was desperate. Now he was living under the blessings of God.

How did that work for him? How does that work for us? Are we ignoring God, pushing him aside? God is not ignoring us. He is waiting upon us to enter into a relationship with him. Often and in many cases, our coming to God is a struggle.

The Apostle Paul was struggling against God. He was persecuting Christians. Then he had an encounter with God:

I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.   (Acts 26:13-15)

When we go it alone we become confused. We run out of resources. We become bitter, judgmental, frustrated, and exhausted. That was Paul. That was Jacob. They were self-centered. Today we might say that they were “self made men.” The self fails. When it does we get wounded. We may believe that God has bruised us, but has is not been our own doing?

Jesus has paid the price of our rescue. He has purchased provisions for us by his blood on he cross. If we have been fighting God as Jacob and Paul, we have been bruised. But Jesus has been bruised for us:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.   (Isaiah 53:4-5)

In our weakness God will manifest his strength. Now is the time to come to him. When we do He will multiply all that we have. We will discover as did the disciples of Jesus, at the feeding of the five thousand, that they had more than enough to do all that God asked of them. He is calling us. He is asking us to be his disciples today. And he is ready to supply all our needs as we put our trust in him. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: The Impossible Task

Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

The disciples of Jesus were faced with an impossible situation. Jesus asked them to feed five thousand people, not counting women and children, on short notice and in a very remote setting:

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”   (Matthew 14:15-18)

God gives us difficult assignments, on occasion. We must assume that, if God gives us an assignment, it must be important to him. Therefore, we should take it seriously as well. How we respond to the assignment is critical to its execution and success.

The assignment that the disciples were given was a real test of their faith. Much is said about faith in our churches today. Do we have enough faith? Do we have faith in faith? Let us look at faith as an approach to God. We read in the Book of Hebrews:

Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

We are looking past our own skills and resources and seeking the help of a God who has no limit in what he can do. He does not suffer from any lack of resources. Does he want to help us? From today’s Old Testament reading the Prophet Isaiah speaks to us:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.   (Isaiah 55:1-3)

We may wish to prove ourselves to God. What we may fail to realize is that God wants to proved himself to us.

The miracle is believing that whatever God asks us to do he will supply us with the means to accomplish that which he asks. Yet, we must begin the task with the tools and resources that we already have at hand. What are our loaves and fish? God will multiply that which we have, but first we must offer up to God all that we have, including ourselves, so that he may bless our endeavor. Jesus reminded his disciples:

“For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”   (Matthew 19:26)

God is with us and he is in partnership with us. Are we with him?

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11A

Track 1: The Gate of Heaven

Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23
or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Today we reflect upon Jacob’s well known dream of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven:

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”   (Genesis 28:10-17)

Jacob had an encounter with God. God blessed him and made great promises to him. Jacob celebrated the moment and the place where he heard from God, Nonetheless, one of his reactions to all of this was fear. Why was Jacob afraid? We can only speculate. Perhaps it was because Jacob, though a grandson of the great Abraham, was a conniver and a trickster. His character was less than stellar. Often times we may want to hide from God because of our feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

The psalmist wrote:

Where can I go then from your Spirit?
where can I flee from your presence?

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me
and your right hand hold me fast.   (Psalm 139:6-9)

The psalmist understood his own frailty, but he also understood that God was faithful to lead and guide him.

We remember that old hymn about our climbing Jacob’s ladder, but in Jacob’s dream only the angels of God were climbing up and down the ladder. I believe the ladder signifies that God has chosen to minister to us, regardless of who we are and what we might have done. We do not merit his favor nor do we have to climb a ladder to reach God.

In order to fully experience God we must allow his love to wash over us. The Apostle John wrote in his first epistle:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:18)

We need to focus on the love of God rather than our shortcomings. We do not want to miss his visitation to us because of our feelings of unworthiness. Jesus has paid the price for our sins, provided that we have acknowledged our debt to him. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.   (Romans 8:12-?)

Have we experienced an encounter with God? Have we experienced the gate of heaven? God has opened that gate for by the blood of his Son. When Jesus died on the cross the curtain in the Temple in Jerusalem, which separated the most holy place from the holy place, was torn from top to bottom. What is keeping us from entering into his presence. Even now he is calling us. Even now he is ministering to us. Amen.

 

 

iuTrack 2: The Wheat and the Tares

Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jesus told a parable about the wheat and the tares found in the same field. The essence of the parable is that the wheat and the tares are found mixed together. When the workers ask if they should attempt to pull out the tares, the owner tells them to let the wheat and tares grow up together. He knows that it is often difficult to tell them apart in the beginning.  If the workers pull out any of the tares prematurely then they might also damage the wheat. At the time of harvest the tares can then be removed safely and burned.

Later, Jesus explains the meaning of the parable to his disciples:

“The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”   (Matthew 13:36-43)

We live in very confusing times. How are we to know the truth when both the good and the bad exist side by side? To compound the problem, the good is often presented as evil and evil is called good. Isaiah prophesied that this would occur:

Ah, you who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!   (Isaiah 5:20)

Are we not living in such a time? Even in today’s Church in America there seems to be confusion about fundamental things. That which God has called abominations we are now told are within the orthodoxy of the Church.

Jesus gave us this criteria for determining false prophets and false teachers:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.   (Matthew 7:15-20)

We need spiritual discernment which comes from reading and studying the Bible, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Unless we are Spirit filled and have a daily walk with God through prayer and meditation upon his word, we will not understand the times we are in nor what the Lord requires of us.

We do need to avoid the temptation of identifying specifically who are the wheat and who are the tares. This is a trap that the enemy sets for us. Only God can distinguish between the two. Only God can know the heart of each individual person. Jesus said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.   (Matthew 7:1-2)

God alone is judge. The psalmist wrote:

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.

Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.   (Isaiah 44:6-?)

The parable of the wheat and the tares serves as a warning to us. Those of us who consider ourselves wheat may actually be part of the tares. Only God can say. Worldly appearances and worldly approval count for nothing. The enemy is constantly reassuring us that the broad way of the world is OK.

In his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.   (Matthew 7:13-14)

God has given us guidelines in his holy word which we should follow, ignoring the cultural standards of the media, entertainment industry, and fallen institutions of education and government.

At the end of the age it will be clearly revealed who are the wheat and who are the tares. Let us hold fast to our Lord Jesus Christ and his teachings until the end.

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10A

Tract 1: Despising Our Birthright

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

We all know the story of Jacob taking advantage of his brother Esau and stealing his birthright. From Genesis we read:

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.   (Genesis 25:29-34)

Jacob and Esau were twins, but Esau was born first. Since he was the first-born, he stood in place to receive an inheritance passed down from his family. Yet, Esau was willing to give up his birthright for some stew. How could he do that? How could he be so stupid? How could he be so shortsighted?

Jesus told a parable about the sower sowing seed. The seed was the word of God. The seed fell on good ground which represents hearts open to his word. On the other hand, thorny ground was a different matter. Jesus explained:

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.   (Matthew 13:22)

In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters. We either serve God or Mammon (that is worldly riches). The desires of the flesh will choke out our spiritual inheritance just as it did for Esau.

These desires of the flesh will so poison our minds so that we will not even be able to comprehend the true riches of God. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.   (Romans 8:5-8)

The commandments of God are what guarantee our spiritual inheritance. Jesus, our Savior, is the one who helps us keep those  commandments. The psalmist wrote:

Your decrees are my inheritance for ever;
truly, they are the joy of my heart.

I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes
for ever and to the end.   (Psalm 119:111-112)

Do we find joy in following the commandments of God?

God has given us an eternal inheritance in his Kingdom through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing on earth today or in the world to come can compare with it.

 

 

Parable of the SowerTrack 2: Seed for the Heart

Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Today we have the parable of the Sower. The sower scatters the seed. What happens to that seed depends upon where it lands. Jesus said:

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”   (Matthew 13:3-9)

What is the seed? It is the very word of God, without which there would not be any life. We are the recipient of that life, provided that the word is planted in our hearts. Our hearts must be open to receiving God’s word. Without the word in our hearts we have no hope for salvation, no hope for eternal life with God.

This concept of the word as seed is not just New Testament. The Apostle Paul quotes Moses concerning the word of God and adds his commentary:

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.   (Romans 10:5-9)

Is the word of God in our hearts? If so, then we will put our trust in the saving act of our Lord Jesus Christ. When our hearts are closed to the word then they are the hard ground that Jesus speaks about in the parable:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.   (Matthew 13:19)

Receiving the word is so important that the Devil will do everything in his power to keep that from happening. He will distract us with worldly cares. Jesus said;

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.   (Matthew 13:22)

Worldly cares are the thorns which Jesus spoke about in the parable, which choke off the word. This is a favorite distraction by the Devil. You may remember that he even tried this technique with Jesus when he was in the wilderness:

The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   (Matthew 4:3-4)

To be sure, we are saved by grace through faith (). Faith is vital. God gives everyone a measure of faith. But we must feed our faith. Paul writes:

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.    (Romans 10:17)

The righteous live by faith, but faith will be diminished without a continual feeding on the word of God. The psalmist wrote:

With my whole heart I seek you;
    do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
    so that I may not sin against you.   (Psalm 119:10-12)

What kind of fruit we produce as Christians is very much dependent upon how we treasure the word in our hearts. In the parable Jesus said:

But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”   (Matthew 13:23)

Pray that our hearts are good soil, that we hear and understand. And that the cares of this world do not lead us astray. Pray that we treasure the word of God in our hearts. Amen.

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