Tag Archives: kingdom of heaven

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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Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Root  of Jesse

On this second Sunday of Advent we hear from the Prophet Isaiah:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.   (Isaiah 11::1-2)

Jesse was the father of King David. The stump of Jesse refers to the rule of King David and his family line that had been cut off. Only foreign nations were ruling Israel by the end if the Old Testament. The Prophet Malachi closed the age with this message from God:

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.   (Malachi 4:5–6)

Just when many of the Jews thought that all was lost, a new age was beginning. It began with the preaching of John the Baptist. From today’s Gospel reading:

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”   (Matthew 3:1-3)

The kingdom of heaven had come near, indeed. John preached one more powerful than he would usher in this age:

I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.   (Matthew 3:11)

Did the Jewish people reject this new leader? Not everyone did. Many who were baptized by John in the River Jordan were prepared for the coming of Christ Jesus. They wanted to believe what John was saying. They repented of their sins and were willing to undergo a baptism which was reserved for Gentiles. This was a drastic step for them.

It was a drastic step for a Pharisee named Saul who became the Apostle Paul. He was called by God to preach to the Gentiles. Paul quoted from the Old Testament concerning his ministry:

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;

and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”   (Romans 15:9-13)

We are those Gentiles. Do we find our hope in Jesus? That has, for many of us, been a drastic step. But our journey is not yet complete. We are now facing the close of an age.

The age of the Gentiles is closing. We have been living in a difficult age. It is an age that has become more troubling by the day. It has not been easy to confess the lordship of Jesus Christ in many parts of the world. This is now true for America. We are living in transition to a new age. Have we lost our hope? Has our Christian witness diminished?

For some of us it may be a time for repentance. Jesus is preparing us now for a new age. We can no longer hide ourselves in a darkened world. Jesus sees everything. From Isaiah:

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.   (Isaiah 11:3=5)

A new age is coming. It is just around the corner. It is the millennial reign of Jesus on the earth. Are we ready for this age?

In this new age the root of Jesse will have fully blossomed. Again, from Isaiah:

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.   (Isaiah 11:10)

The psalmist wrote:

He shall defend the needy among the people;
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure,
from one generation to another.

He shall come down like rain upon the mown field,
like showers that water the earth.

In his time shall the righteous flourish;
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.   (Psalm 72:4-7)

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