Tag Archives: love

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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Saturday in the First Week of Lent

Covenant Keeping

The children of Israel are a covenant people. God made great promises to them which would be fulfilled as long as they kept his commandments:

This very day the Lord your God is commanding you to observe these statutes and ordinances; so observe them diligently with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him. Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments; for him to set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honor; and for you to be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.   (Deuteronomy 26:16–19)

As Christians we are also a covenant people. We are in-grafted into the promises God made to Israel by our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Our covenant with God is better than the Old Covenant that God made with Abraham. Nonetheless, we are still required to live by faith as was Abraham.

Yes, we have great promises and blessings, but with them come responsibilities. Living by faith means trusting in Jesus to supply us with grace to help us to keep the commandments of God. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it very clear that we are to obey all the commandments from the heart. He said:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   (Matthew 5:48)

We have not been given a blank check to live any way we want. Our Covenant with God under the blood of Jesus does not cover deliberate sin:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Do we consider ourselves a treasured people, holy to God? If so, we will find great joy in keeping the commandments as God supplies us with his grace.

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD!

Happy are they who observe his decrees
and seek him with all their hearts!   (Psalm 119:1–2)

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Friday in the First Week of Lent

Fairness

Jesus told the parable of the workers in the field. The ones who worked only the last h0ur got the same wages that the ones who worked all day long. The early workers thought that their pay was unfair. They were not prepared for the master’s response:

Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   (Matthew 20:14-16)

Some of us are late bloomers. Thanks be to God for his mercy! God does not judge the way we judge. He does not keep score by the amount of work we do for him. Rather, he judges the heart. Love does not keep a record of wrongs, but rejoices in the right (1 Corinthians 13:5-6). If we need a theological explanation then here it is:

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.   (Ezekiel 18:25-28)

It is time for us to give up score-keeping on others, and even on ourselves. The Psalmist wrote:

If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?   (Psalm 130:2)

Jesus said:

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.   (Matthew 5:23-24)

The Gospel should free us from all score-keeping because we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. We should then forgive others and seek their forgiveness as well.

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