Tag Archives: kingdom of heaven

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 11

Track 1: Surely the Lord Is in This Place

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

Jacob has stolen both his brother’s birthright and the blessing from his father Isaac. His brother Esau was planning to kill him. When Rebecca found this out she told Jacob to flee to Haran to her brother Laban’s house. Today, we pick up on the story. Jacob is in rout to Haran. He must have felt alone and that his future was uncertain. Reading from Genesis:

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’s dream must have quickly changed his perspective. He said: “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” For Jacob, the place where he experienced God was sacred. He wanted to mark the event.

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.   (Genesis 28:18-19)

Perhaps many of us can recall moments when God has spoken to us. We want to remember it always. God may not have spoken to us in an audible voice, but God revealed himself to us in a special way. We may have felt all alone and discouraged. I have certainly been there more than once. But God broke through my discouragement. He broke through my unbelief.

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.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,”

Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.   (Psalm 139:6-11)

The psalmist was writing that God is always near. Even when we do not want him around, he still remains faithful. We not be aware of God at times, but God is still aware of us. Why would we not want God’s presence at times? That is a good question. There must have been a time when the psalmist felt that way. His breakthrough came when he admitted to himself and to God that he felt that way.

Mountain top experiences may be wonderful. But we live in the valley of life. Is God with us in the valley? Are we with God in the valley? The psalmist David wrote:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff —
    they comfort me.   (Psalm 23:4)

Today, do we feel estranged from God in any way? Perhaps we have committed sin that we do not believe God can or should forgive? Or perhaps we have a rift with God because we do not feel that he has always been faithful to us? It is time to put things in order. It is time to see things through God’s perspective. The Apostle Paul wrote:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.   (Romans 8:28)

Our feeling of separation from God is only a feeling. Our feelings do not tell the full story. Often, they mislead us. Satan plays on our emotions. We need to pay more attention to the sound thinking which God has given us:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

Satan wants us to feel separated from God. He will do all that he can to convince us. But Satan is a liar. The Apostle Paul writes:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:35-39)

The name of Jesus is Emmanuel –  God with us. He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Let us open ourselves up more and more each day to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Track 2: The Final Harvest

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

Jesus often taught in parables. In today’s Gospel we have the one concerning the close of the age. This is the time in which we live. Jesus said:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”   (Matthew 13:24-30)

Notice that good seed was planted. But someone has contaminated the seed. We live on an evil world. God’s plan and provisions are always under attack. That is why it is up to the Church to fight for what is right, just, and true. The truest thing is the Word of God. His Word is truth. If we receive his Word then we become the good seed. However, false teachings and false reports have contaminated some of the seed. Measures need to be taken.

Jesus explains the parable and shows us what God is going to do about this corruption:

“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!   ()

Notice that Jesus says that his whole world is his kingdom. Everyone, good or bad, is included. But not everyone will remain in the kingdom. Even the Church contains both good and bad. The Apostle Peter writes:

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God?   (1 Peter 4:17)

God is examining his crop. The final harvest is near. Where do we stand? Are waiting eagerly for the return of Christ? The Apostle Paul wrote:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hopeerly. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.   ()

Now is not the time to be discouraged. Now is not the time to lose hope. The psalmist wrote:

Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.

I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
and glorify your Name for evermore.

For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.   (Psalm 139:11-13)

By the blood of Jesus Christ we have been delivered from sin and death. Let us hold on what has been promised to us. In Hebrews ew read:

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.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

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Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 6

Track 1: Our God Is Too Small

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

We maybe familiar with God’s promise to Abraham. God would make him the father of many nations. When Abraham was nearly 100 years old God promised him a son. His wife Sarah, who had been barren,  was far beyond her child baring years.

In today’s Old Testament reading we pick up on God’s promise. Three strangers came to visit Abraham. Abraham must have recognized that there was something special about these men. He welcomed them and hastened to prepare a meal for them. While he watched them eat they eventually asked this question:

“Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”   (Genesis 18:9-15,)

It was difficult for Sarah to believe the men. Have we ever been in situations where it has been difficult for us to believe God? God is a God of miracles. It is a miracle that God speaks to us and we actually listen to him. When that happens, it is not so unusual that God calls us to go beyond our expectations and comfort zone.

Jesus sent his disciples to go out and preach the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. He asked them to do more than that – to heal the sick and raise the dead. From today’s Gospel reading:

The twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 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. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.   (Matthew:5-8)

It was clear from Jesus’ charge that his disciples had to exercise their faith and rely only on the provisions God would supply them along the way. The disciples had great success because the Spirit of the LORD was with them. Is God with us? Are we with him? How big is our God. In the Book of Hebrews we read:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,[a] whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains[b] all things by his powerful word.   (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Is Jesus big enough to do what he has promised, to do what he has called us to do? We will not find out unless we exercise our faith? God is preparing an end time revival to bring in a full harvest. Will we join him?

Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”   (Matthew 9:35-38)

Intercessors have prayed and asked God for the harvest. Now God is asking us to join his labor force. Jesus is our message and he is our supply. A part from him we can do nothing. In him and by him and through him precious souls will be saved.

 

Track 2: A Priestly kingdom 

Exodus 19:2-8a
Psalm 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

God called the nation of Israel his chosen people, of all the peoples of the earth. What did that mean? From today’s Old Testament reading:

The Israelites had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 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 obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”   (Exodus 19:2-6)

Yes, God singled out Israel, but for a purpose. He wanted to use the nation as a way of reaching other nations and peoples. We are joined with Israel as ingrafted branches when we believe on the Lord Jesus and embrace him as Savior and Lord. The Apostle Paul writes:

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.   (Romans 5:1-2)

We have been called to share the glory of God. Paul writes:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:17=21)

Are we reconciled to God. If not, now is the time to be reconciled. Let us repent of our sins and ask Jesus to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Then God will empower us for his great commission. Jesus empowered his twelve disciples:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 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.   (Matthew 9:35-38)

Jesus is ready to empower us. Many of our churches may be dead. But let us be alive in Christ. We will break the mold. We will get back to basics. Let us say by faith, the kingdom of heaven is near. Let us invite the Holy Spirit of God to flow through us. We have been chosen for this purpose. Time to get out of our privileged pews and proclaim the power and presence of God. Time to join the priestly kingdom.

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

God calls each one of us up to his presence. How do we respond to his call? How do we respond to his love? He is our creator. Without his breath we would not be living. How do we approach such an awesome God? The Prophet Micah wrote:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?   (Micah 6:6)

The psalmist wrote:

Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,
who speaks the truth from his heart.

There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend;
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected,
but he honors those who fear the Lord.

He has sworn to do no wrong
and does not take back his word.   (Psalm 15:1-5)

God has called us, but he has certain requirements for us to enter into his presence and remain. They should not be difficult to understand.

The Prophet Micah continues:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.   (Micah 6:8)

Although these requirements are simple, we may find that they are actually difficult to do. When that proves to be true, the temptations are to modify them so that they are more easily followed. Our system of ethics can turn into situational ethics. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spells out the requirements of approaching God. He does not modify or lesson the righteous requirements of God in any way. He proclaims:

“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.   (Matthew 5:3-8)

If we are to approach God then we need to be pure in heart. This echos today’s appointed psalm 15. What does it take to be pure in heart? How do we do it?

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church at Corinth:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”   (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

In truth, we are not capable of being pure of heart on our own. The people of the Church of Corinth had a calling from God. None of them had what is takes. God chose them anyway, just as he has chosen us. What we can say is that none of us can boast in the presence of God. Humility before God, then, must be the key, remembering that Jesus is our source of perfection. Our heart has been made pure by his pure heart. He has sacrificed himself on a cruel cross and cleansed us from our sin so that we may boast in him.

Again, the Micah wrote: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Justice and kindness comes from walking humbly with our God. Jesus is the source of your life, who became for us “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Breaking Free from Bondage

One of the unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo appears to be a man trapped inside a marble slab, trying to brake free. In a way, it is illustrative of how many of us might feel at one time or another. Satan has enslaved us all through the disobedience he has sown into the world. We have this promise from God spoken through the Prophet Isaiah:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.   (Isaiah 9:2-4)

We do not have to live in bondage. God has come to our rescue:
God has broken the rod of our oppressor. The psalmist writes:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear?
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?   (Psalm 27:1)

Our sin has caused death to enter the world. Satan has held us captive by fear. He uses our fear of death to control and manipulate us. But “perfect love casts our fear.” (1 John 4:18) Jesus has overcome sin, hell, and the grave! From the Book of Hebrews:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Apostle Paul writes:

“O Death, where is your sting?
O grave, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

We live not only with the fear of death, but of those people who would harm us or to attack us in some way. Only God can lift us out of this trouble. The psalmist writes:

For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter;
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

Even now he lifts up my head
above my enemies round about me.   (Psalm 27:7-8)

There are other ways in which we are held in bondage. One of our greatest enemies is our very own flesh. The Apostle Paul writes:

So then, 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.   (Romans 8:12-15)

And again:

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.   (Galatians 5:16-18)

Our flesh causes us to focus on ourselves and the gratification of the self. This can lead us to all kinds of addictions. How do we counteract these addictions? We do not do so by focusing on them. Paul tells us to live by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is available to every Christian.

How do we access the power of the Spirit? We have the promise of the Gospel message. From the very beginning of his earthly ministry Jesus proclaimed:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”   (Matthew 4:17)

The Spirit has drawn near. We are to seek the giver of the Spirit. John the Baptist said that Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Hoy Spirit and with fire. Let us focus on Jesus and not on our addictions, and not on ourselves. The psalmist writes:

Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call;
have mercy on me and answer me.

You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”
Your face, Lord, will I seek.   (Psalm 27:10-11)

Today, whom do we seek? Whom do we follow? Who is our deliverer? Is it the one who defeated sin, addictions, and even death? Jesus calls to us: “Follow me.”

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