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St Matthew, Evangelist

Are You Calling Me?

Yes, God is calling you. He is calling me. He is calling us to be evangelists. Are we prepared to walk away from our personal plans and ambitions?

Matthew was a first century Galilean who collected taxes from the Hebrew people for Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. He had become rich because of his trade, though he was despised like all the other tax collectors who worked for Rome. It must not have been an easy decision for Matthew to leave all that he had and follow an unknown itinerant preacher. After all, his call was very early in Jesus’ earthly ministry. He had little idea of what was being asked of him.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:9-13)

The Pharisees were gatekeepers. They made the rules and keep the scores, not for themselves but for everyone else. That is not what an evangelist does. The evangelist is the one who extends God’s mercy. Judgmental people do not understand evangelism. They may be pious. They may quote scripture. But do they understand the love of God

Matthew came in contact with the love of Jesus. It changed his whole direction. Are we ready to follow Jesus as Matthew did? Are we ready for a new direction? Do we know the love of God in our hearts? If so, then we will want to share it with others!

In proverbs we read:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Matthew, the tax collector, could answer the call of God because his heart had been touched. He set aside his agenda for that of the Lord Jesus. He did not know where Jesus would be leading him, but he trusted him nonetheless. Do we trust Jesus? Do we love Jesus? He is calling us to go on a adventure. We may never leave home, but we will see our neighbors in a whole new light. Our joy will be to share the good news of Christ with them and all whom we meet.

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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 9

Track 1: A Love Story

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45: 11-18
or Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Today we read about a servant of Abraham who was sent out on a mission:

Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.”   (Genesis 24:2-4)

With fear and trepidation the servant set out to search out a bridge among Abraham’s own people. Let us read a partial account of his journey:

“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” — let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’

“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”   (Genesis 24:42-49)

The servant was wise enough to seek God in prayer. And he was attentive enough to read the signals which God was giving him. Is that our approach in important assignments? God has the answers and he gives guidance to those who seek him. From today’s Gospel reading:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.   (Matthew 11:25-27)

God wants to reveal things to us. He does not want us to be the dark. If we are wise in our own eyes we will miss what God is saying.

Back to the servant’s account:

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her.   (Genesis 24:58-67)

This was a great journey of love which God, himself, orchestrated. Will God do the same today for those who seek a  spouse in prayer? Yes, if we seek him in prayer. Yes, if we listen to him carefully and not relying on our own preconceived notions. We may even use a dating service because God is sovereign. He is in charge of all aspects of our lives. As long as we are relying on him he will guide our every move.

What can we learn from this beautiful account? If we are looking for a souse, we need to look in the right place, not among the heathen. We must seek God and trust God in all things. We must not lose patience. We must follow through with God’s help, not getting ahead or falling behind.

There is even a greater love story here. This is the story between a loving God and a trusting bride. We, the Church, are the bride of Christ. Let us follow Jesus through our life as attentively as Abraham’s servant followed his master’s instructions. God makes promises to those who follow him:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,   (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

 

Track 2: This Generation

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-15
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Jesus lived in challenging times. He observed the behavior and speech of those around him, even the religious leaders. What God had intended for Israel and what they had become were so far apart.

Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”   (Matthew 11:16-19)

In the vernacular we might say: “I can’t win for losing. What ever I do is wrong.”

Israel was missing something. Nothing was satisfying them. They felt no inner peace, but they were not sure where to turn. What were they to do?

Jesus was describing a generation. He may have well been describing ours. Something is missing. What do people do when they fell that everything is out of control? Do they not cover up their feelings by seeking to control others? They make up rules for others to follow, hoping that what others do might be pleasing to them.

But then the rules change. What was once acceptable is no longer valid. People must now act and talk in a different way. Those who have become drunk on power must check to see if people will follow them no matter what they ask them to do. And when people comply they are all the more delighted at first, but boredom and depression soon follow. Something is missing. Something feels empty. This may be the way kids act at times. But should not kids grow into adulthood?

Perhaps the first step to recovery is a recognition that there is a problem. Something is missing which is vital. What must a person do? The Apostle Paul wrote about finding order and peace in a chaotic life:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:21-25)

Paul knew his struggle was a spiritual one. He also realized that, on his own, he could not overcome what he was experiencing. What was Israel missing? Perhaps we might ask what are we missing.

Israel was missing Jesus. He was in their midst, but many either did not recognize him or refused to recognize him. He came that they might have life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10). But they were addicted to power and control. They wanted to control others, but they could not even control themselves.

Is this how we feel? We observe chaos all around us. Some are contributing to it while others are trying desperately to stop it. We may all want order in our lives in some way, but we cannot agree on what to do. Surely it is not the control others so that they may conform to some Utopia which we have imaged as possible. Others have different desires which may not agree with ours.

Israel was missing Jesus. He called out to them:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   (Matthew 11:28-30)

Can the world make this promise? Perhaps we are missing Jesus. Our culture promises to eliminate chaos. How can it when it is so chaotic itself?

Jesus is our rest. Jesus is our teacher. His way seems gentile to all who put their trust in him. When we turn away from him the world seems over whelming. That is because the world is ruled by Satan. He rules us through chaos, all the while lying to us that he will fix everything if we follow him. Jesus  said:

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

Today, let us seek Jesus with all our hearts. He is still calling out to us. Will we come to hm in faith and find our reset. Will we discover our purpose in life in him?

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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.

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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.

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