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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13C

Track 1: I Took Them up in My Arms

Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

The Children of Israel were not just the children of Israel. They were the Children of God. This is how God describes them to the Prophet Hosea:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
    the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
    and offering incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    I took them up in my arms;
    but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with bands of love.
I was to them like those
    who lift infants to their cheeks.
    I bent down to them and fed them.   (Hosea 11:1-11)

When Jesus went up to Jerusalem one last time to face his crucifixion, he stopped to weep over the city:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!   (Matthew 23:37)

In the days of Hosea, Israel had turned away from God. Over and over again, Israel continued to do so, even to the point of crucifying God’s own Son. Did they not realize that it was God who fed them, protected them, and delivered them in times of trouble?

The psalmist wrote:

They were hungry and thirsty;
their spirits languished within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

He put their feet on a straight path
to go to a city where they might dwell.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.   (Psalm 107:5-8)

God is the Father of Israel. He is also our Father. He is the Father of all things. What father does not want to provide for his children, does not want to look after them, protect them, and teach them? Have we every experienced our own children ignore us or push us away at times? If so, how did that make us feel?

Unfortunately, it seems, that part of our human nature is to want to prove to ourselves that we can get along on our own. Not only did Israel forsake their Father. At times in our lives we have done the same. God patiently waits for us to return to him. He is our loving Father He wants us to discover, on our own, that we need him.

What happens if we continually we ignore the truth? Insecurity starts to set in. Worry and anxiety may then overtake us.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells that parable about the rich fool. He tears down his barns and builds bigger barns to store up supplies for the future. Are riches ever enough? For a moment the rich fool is able to bask in his wealth. But things quickly change for him. From Luke:

I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:19-21)

Greed is not the only reason for wanting to amass a fortune. The future is uncertain. Without God, things will always be uncertain. Our earthly riches, whatever they may be, will ultimately fail us. But we have greater riches which God has given us . He has given us his only begotten Son to secure our future, both for now and for an eternity. Today, where is our treasure?

God still wants to take us in his arms. Will we let him today? Can we find in our hearts a love for God, the one who loves us and will never fail us?

 

 

Track 2: Heavenly Treasure

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm 49:1-11
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool:

“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”   (Luke 12:16-21)

King Solomon echos a similar theme in Ecclesiastes:

I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.   (Ecclesiastes 2:20-21)

A crude paraphrase might be: You cannot take it with you. Worldly riches are eventually cut off by death alone, if not otherwise. The psalmist writes:

The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods,
and boast of their great riches?

We can never ransom ourselves,
or deliver to God the price of our life;

For the ransom of our life is so great,
that we should never have enough to pay it,

In order to live for ever and ever,
and never see the grave.

For we see that the wise die also;
like the dull and stupid they perish
and leave their wealth to those who come after them.   (Psalm 49:5-9)

Death is a great obstacle. It is a fact of life that we cannot overcome. There is only one person that has defeated death – the Lord Jesus Christ who died on a cross and rose again on the third day. Because of his victory we, too, can now overcome death.

The Apostle Paul explains that we have been buried with Christ in our baptism. When we identify with the death of Christ we no longer live to ourselves. We now have a new life in him through his resurrection. From today’s Epistle:

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When C.hrist who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.   (Colossians 3:1-4)

Our riches is not of this world. We are destined for a glorious life which is eternal. Are we still storying up treasures on earth? This earth is passing away. Our old lives have already passed away if we are in Christ. Paul tells us not to look back, but to look above. We are now living in the resurrection. Death has lost its power.

Paul writes:

When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”   (1 Corinthians 15:54-56)

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Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7C

Track 1: God Has Greater Plans

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
Psalm 42 and 43
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Elijah was just coming off his great triumph over the priests of Baal. But now his life was threatened. Reading from 1 Kings:

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.   But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”   (1 Kings 19:1-4)

From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat in one day! How did this happen? Elijah was running and hiding. Yet he was not alone. God was with him and asked him this question:

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah replied:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”   (1 Kings 19:9-10)

Jezebel was ruthless. She was relentless in exercising her destructive power over everything that was good. We still have her spirit operating in our government today, and even in our churches. Fear can confuse us and make us lose track of what is essential and true. The psalmist wrote:

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.   (Psalm 42:6-7)

We are not alone in this world. God is with us. The psalmist also wrote:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.   (Psalm 50L14-15)

We can have our victories in life. Elijah had a great one. But must remember that only God separates some either victory or defeat. Apart from him we can do nothing. The victory over Baal was God’s victory, not Elijah’s. Perhaps Elijah forgot that?

Evil has its plans. It wants to destroy all of God’s work and creation. From John’s Gospel:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.   (John 10:10)

Jesus has other plans for us. In whom do we put our trust. Fear is faith in Satan. It causes us to lose focus and distracts us from our ministry. God still had plans for Elijah:

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”   (! Kings 19:15-18)

God has plans for us. Our task is to put our trust in him. The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy:

God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

The power we have comes from God alone. Let us pray in the name of Jesus to accomplish those things which God has asked us to do. Are we ready for the front lines? Or will we shrink back in fear? Everyone is subject to fear, even the great prophet Elijah. Elijah was redirected and empowered to continue his ministry when he heard God speak to him. God has greater plans. Let us stop running and choose to listen to the voice of God.

 

 

Track 2: Deliver Us from Evil

Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

During his ministry on earth, Jesus was often directly confronted by evil forces. From today’s Gospel reading from Luke:

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)   (Luke 8:26-29)

Can we relate to this strange scene today? Some might say that we need a more up to date medical explanation of what was going on. But perhaps we should return to scripture itself to see if still speaks to us concerning demons and evil. In today’s Old Testament reading God spoke through the prophet Isaiah:

I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,

who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;

a people who provoke me
to my face continually,

sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;

who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;

who eat swine’s flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;

who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”   (Isaiah 65:2-5)

Who are these people who who “sit inside tombs and spend the night in secret places?” Perhaps it could be some of our political leaders. Does Skull and Bones right a bell. President John F. Kennedy spoke about the dangers of secret societies and how they could be a threat to democracy. It should be common knowledge that members of secret societies sit on both sides of the aisles of Congress. But it is not. This part of our government is kept under wraps.

This type of leadership is not confined to our government leaders. It is found, shockingly, in our churches as well.  Jesus warned about a certain kind of leadership:

“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?   (Matthew 7:15-16)

“Ravenous wolves” is an expressing that connotes those who are hungry for power over us. They are not people looking out for yhr good go others. Rather, they are looking out only for themselves at the expense of others. The demons wanted to dwell in the demoniac not to do him good. They wanted to torment the man for their own desires. Notice, the key words are secrecy and deception. Those possessed by demons do not want to be exposed. Isaiah explained that they do not want to come near to the holiness of God.

Do we have leaders both in our government and in our churches who consult evil spirits in secrecy? Yes, we do. It is time that we wake up. The Apostle Paul the Church in Corinth:

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.   (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

We are in a spiritual war. We always have been. We are in the same spiritual war that Jesus found himself in during his earthly ministry. Evil is real. It cannot be explained away by modern science.

What can we do about it? We can pray for discernment. But alone, we can do nothing. Jesus, however, is still delivering people from evil. His victory over evil and the grace can be our victory if we so identify with him in the Faith. We can call upon his name. The demons will still flee, for many of us have seen this happen numerous times. Jesus can replace this evil with himself for those who accept him as Savior and Lord.

There is another type of bondage found in church leaders that is a little more subtle than that which the demoniac had. Jesus spoke about these leaders:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.   (Matthew 23:27-28)

Again, we have the mention of tombs. These tombs could be ones of our own making. They have been whitewashed to look beautiful on the outside. But this is a cover. They are “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Maybe we do not belong to wicked, secret societies. However, we could still be bound by another form of evil which is working on the inside of us. We cannot judge and control others. It is not our place. We can pray for them. We can set an example for them. We may be able to speak the truth in love to them. But we cannot think that we are nay better than they are. Because we are not, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Is God too holy for us? Are we willing to expose ourselves to the holiness of God? Only then can we be truly delivered from evil. God is a God of love and forgiveness. He is also a God of deliverance.

We tend to keep quiet about deliverances. They may embarrass us. This is the wrong approach. Reading further from Luke:

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.   (Luke 8:38-39)

We need to expose evil and give testimony to the power of God. Satan works best in darkness. We need to bring everything to the light of Christ.

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Day of Pentecost, Year C

Empowered by the Holy Spirit

Today we remember and celebrate the beginning of the Christian Church, when the Holy Spirit fell upon the early disciples. Reading from the second chapter of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.   (Acts 2:1-4)

The Day of Pentecost was the beginning of the great acts of the apostles of Jesus. It was the beginning but not the end. The promise of the Holy was for us today also. In his sermon of Pentecost, Peter preached:

In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.   (Acts 2:17-18)

Many of his listeners were greatly moved and asked what they should do. Peter replied:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”   (Acts 2:38-39)

Peter makes it clear that the promise of the Holy Spirit was not just for the apostles. It was everyone, including those “who are far off.” That would include us.

Jesus made it very clear that the acts of the apostles were for anyone who believes in him:

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.   ()

The acts are by the Holy Spirit. We must believe and receive the Holy Spirit. And we must do everything in the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus also means the character of Jesus. Jesus was led by the Spirit while on the earth. We are to be led by the same. The Apostle Paul writes:

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 8:14-17)

We are joint heirs with Christ because we have received a spirit of adoption. Our destiny is to be glorified along with him. The Bo0k of Acts did not have an ending. The acts are still going on. Are we participating?

What could possibly stop us? How could the power of the Spirit be dampened in us and in our churches? Perhaps through fear. Paul warns about falling back into fear. Fear is not from God. Paul encouraged his protege Timothy to rekindle the Spirit within him:

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.   (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

Satan is the one who uses fear. He wants to confuse us and make us forget our inheritance in Christ. How does he do it? Through intimidation, through ridicule, through persecution. Does the Church today need to be politically correct? Does the Church need to be relevant and make the world feel right at home? Too much “seeker friendly” perhaps? What is the answer? I am not sure, to be honest. But this much we should know, we will not be glorified with Jesus if we do not suffer with him.

We cannot avoid suffering and have the power of the Spirit working in us. Our own power is not what has advanced the Church. It is the Spirit of God which has established and enriches the Church. Let us stir up the gift that is within us. Let us anoint people in the name of Jesus and set them apart for the greater works that God has prepared for them. Let us fulfill our own calling, not by our  will and power, but by the will and power of God. And let us not be ruled by fear. God’s perfect love casts out fear:

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 are called to serve under Christ by his Spirit and power. We have been freed from the spirit of fear! God is perfecting us in his love. Let us have our own Pentecost, in our hearts and in our churches. Amen.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C

Loving God with All Your Heart

The Christian faith draws us into a whole new world if we are willing to let go of the one we have been living in. The Apostle Paul alluded to these two world views in today’s Epistle. He wrote about moving from one to the other. He made it clear that he had not yet fully succeeded, but that he was committed to the process of fully participating in this new world. He wrote:

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)

God was doing a new thing. He was building a new understanding for those who would listen. This was prophesied by Isaiah:

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

God was replacing the old covenant he made with Abraham and his descendants with a new covenant that was far superior. It was not so much that the old covenant was defective. What was defective was the Jewish understanding of that covenant. It had become merely a set of rules to follow. What was lost was an understanding of what was behind the rules. What did the rules actually convey?

In today’s Gospel reading we have two people with entirely different understanding of how to interpret the law of God.. One of these persons is Mary of Bethany and the other is Judas Iscariot. From the Gospel of John:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.   (John 12:1-8)

Judas must have understood Judaism as a set of rules to obey. He questing why Mary did not spend her money on the poor rather than on costly perfume. Does not the law require us to look after those who are less fortunate than ourselves? It does, but there was something deeper going on here with Mary’s costly gift.

Mary was pouring out her love for Jesus. She understood that he needed her love and she wanted to make it very clear just how much she loved him. We have to remember how Jesus summarized the law:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”   (Mark 12:29-31)

Mary loved God with all her heart. She understood the foundation of the law. If we are not careful, a rules based Christian faith can distract us from what is really important. Judas was locked into his limited understanding of the law. He was sitting under the teachings of Jesus daily, but he did not comprehend what Jesus was offering. He did not know who Jesus really was and is. He did not understand the ministry of Jesus. Satan had tricked him. If we are ruled based in our faith then Satan is better able to manipulate our thinking and reasoning.

Judas was painting by the numbers, making sure not to go outside the lines. Mary saw the law of God for the work of art that it is. Who are we today, Judas or Mary of Bethany? We might easily protest that we would never betray our Lord like Judas. But we do betray him if we refuse to grow in our faith. Otherwise, we tend to judge others by our rule based understand of the faith. We become a stumbling block to others. Our Christian walk and witness becomes parched and dry.

God is doing a new thing. Do we not perceive it? Again, from the Prophet Isaiah:

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.   (Isaiah 43:19-21)

We are part of God’s chosen people. He has formed us for himself. Are we able to declare his praise? Are we able to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? We are if we open ourselves us to his refreshing Spirit who is ready to teach un new things and give us greater understanding.

The psalmist writes:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.   (Psalm 126:1-4)

God has done great things for us. He has given us his only begotten Son. His Spirit has been poured out upon. Let us “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

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