Tag Archives: love

Sixth Sunday of Easter

God Is with Us

There are various ways of thinking about God. Atheists believe that there is no God. Have they given the matter much thought? The Apostle Paul writes:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.   (Romans 1:18-21
A second way of thinking about God is that there might be a God, but we are not sure. This is the belief of agnostics. The Apostle Paul faced this type of thinking in the city of Athens:
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.   (Acts 17:22-23)
Having an unknown god left the door open to the possibility that there might be a real God. But who is this real God? Is he the and he has creator of all things? Many people believe this deep down in their hearts, whether they affiliated with a particular religion or not. But for some, God is a cold and distant God. He exists. He created the universe. But he is observing all that he has made from afar.
Paul continues his treatise on God:

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’   (Acts 17:24-28)

The disciples of Jesus were concerned because he had said that he would soon be departing them. In today’s Gospel reading

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”   (John 14:18-21)

This is another way of saying: “In him we live and move and have our being.” This is a thinking about God that is beyond simply that God exists. Can we move into this thinking? God wants to engage us. Jesus told his disciples:

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”   (John 14:15-17)

The prophet of old foretold this God:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”   (Matthew 1:22-23)

This God is with us. He is for us. He upholds us. The psalmist wrote:

Bless our God, you peoples;
make the voice of his praise to be heard;

Who holds our souls in life,
and will not allow our feet to slip.   (Psalm 66:7-8)

Do we know this God? This is the God who bled and died for us so that we might be with him forever. He has given us this assurance through the resurrection. Paul continues:

While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”   (Acts 17:30-31)

The Apostle Peter explains:

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.   (1 Peter 3:18)

Jesus wants us to be alive in the Spirit. If we have the Spirit then we have hope that, event hough we die,  God the Father will raise us up to eternal life just as he did his Son. Paul writes:

Therefore, 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)

The current world around us is in such despair. Many people have lost hope. Do we have anything to offer them? Do we have any comforting message? We do if we believe the message that Jesus has given us. He is with us. He is in us. He has not left us. Do we know this God today? If so, let us offer hope to those around us. Peter writes:

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do  it with gentleness and reverence.   (1 Peter 3:15-16)

We have “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Let us tell the world. But if we do not have him, it is time to ask him to come into our hearts. We must acknowledge our sin and repent, sincerely from the heart. Then

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)

God loves us. He is with us. He is for us. He has given us his Spirit. Let us show the world who this unknown God really is.

Leave a comment

Filed under Easter, Eucharist, Gospel, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year A

Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloA Conversion Experience

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While in route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, 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. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are persecuting their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown-up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow-up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he describe himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul became the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world is counting on us give witness to the love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

SaveSave

Leave a comment

Filed under Apostle Paul, Epiphany, Eucharist, Feast Day, Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, Saint Paul, sermon, sermon development, St. Paul, Year A

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Revised Common Lectionary