Tag Archives: mercy

Second Sunday of Advent

Comfort My People

We have begun a new liturgical year. We will be reading from the Gospel of Mark. This is how the Gospel of Mark begins:

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;

the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”   (Mark 1:2-3)

The liturgical season of Advent is all about the coming of the Christ Child. Mark has quoted from the Prophet Isaiah.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.   (Isaiah 40:1)

This was the message of John the Baptist:

A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”   (Isaiah 40:3-5)

John was saying that the kingdom of the Lord was coming. But first, things must be straiten out before his return. The kingdom of the Lord is stilling coming. It is not here yet. In our day, sin appears to be on the rise. Has the message of John the Baptist been lost? I believe that we have certainly lost part of it. The message began as a comforting one.

The psalmist wrote:

You have been gracious to your land, O Lord,
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.

You have forgiven the iniquity of your people
and blotted out all their sins.

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.   (Psalm 85:1-2,8-11)

The psalmist was celebrating what God had done for Israel. God was speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him. God is still doing that to those who will listen. The good news is that God is prepared to do al the straightening out for us. All we have to do is turn our hearts toward him. We cannot clean up and straighten ourselves out on our own.

This is the promise which the Lord makes through the Prophet Isaiah:

See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;

his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.   (Isaiah 40:10-11)

Are we willing to step aside and watch his hand move on our behalf?

Make no mistake, the Day of the Lord is coning. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.   (2 Peter 3:8-1)

We need to be living lives of holiness and godliness. That is the message. How we accomplish that is the part that the Church may have misunderstood. The message of John the Baptist was a comforting one for those who believed what he was saying. Many Israelites gave themselves to baptism by John in the Jordan River. Those who refused to listen did everything they could to deny Christ, eventually crucifying him,

This Season of Advent, are we able to admit to God the realities of our lives? God is able to cleanse us and restored us. If we are hearing this word for the first time, now is the time to come under the comfort and protection of Christ.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,   (Isaiah 40:11)

God is still saying:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.   (Isaiah 40:1)

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20

Track 1: Complaining against God

Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

The children of Israel had seen signs and wonders by God that no one else has even seen, either before or after. But they did not trust God. They weren’t sure that he was on their side. They complained to Moses about having to cross a desert without a food supply. God replied to them through Moses:

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”   (Exodus 16:9-15)

The Israelites even complained about the food that God miraculously provided them. Moving on the the New  Testament, Jesus told a parable about people complaining:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’   (Matthew 20:1-12)

Do we seem to have difficulty understanding God’s ways? He does not always do the things we expect him to do. As a result, God often gets the label of being unfair. Our viewpoint is not God’s viewpoint. God spoke though the Prophet Isaiah;

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.   (Isaiah 55:8-9)

What is the beef of the disgruntle workers? Reading the landowner’s reply to his workers:

“‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 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 20:13-16)

A good work ethic is commendable. But the kingdom of heaven is not about works. We want to earn our way and we resent others not having to work as hard as we have had to do. We compare ourselves to others to see how we measure up. Are we better than they are? This is the mindset of those who want to prove themselves worthy before God. They forget that God has already approved them, not by their works, but by his Son.

Perhaps the children of Israel did not want to be so dependent on God for their supply. They wanted to prove themselves worthy. Never mind the miracles. Miracles get in the way of those who want to do something on their own, by their own talent and strength. This mindset often cannot understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, it may extend to an actual unwillingness to receive the generosity of God even when it is extended. Receiving it means that they really do need his help.

The Apostle Paul has written:

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.   (Romans 7:32)

We cannot justify ourselves before God. The sooner we can understand this, the sooner we can receive his great, with thanksgiving. In the Apostle Paul’s words:

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)

Today, are we ready to receive te mercy of God? Are we ready to acknowledge our sins and our need for his forgiveness? Are we ready to receive our salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ? Or do we want to complain against a God who has paid all our debt to him? If so, we just like to complain more being set free. Jesus came to set us free from our bondage to sin. Often times that means being set free from the bondage of our own thoughts and attitudes. This is not the time for an attitude. Today is the day of salvation. Thanks be to God.

 

 

Track 2: Our Sense of Fairness

Jonah 3:10-4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Jonah sent God to Nineveh to preach repentance he did not want to go. Nineveh was a notorious city, hated by the Jews. The last thing he wanted was to see the city spared. Reading from Jonah:

When God saw what the people of Nineveh did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.   (Jonah 3:10-4:11)

Jonah could not believe that God would spare Nineveh. They did not keep the law of Moses as he did. When we believe that life is unfair, this means, of course, that we think God is unfair. Jesus told this parable:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vinoseseyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standhere idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’    (Matthew 20:1-12)

The workers who went into the field early were disgruntled. The landowner had been unfair. They were keeping score. The landowner was not playing by their rules.

But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 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 20:13-16)

The psalmist wrote:

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness   (Psalm 145:8)

That i what made Jonah mad. God was stilll dealing with him:

The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not  be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”   (Jonah 3:10-4:11)

Let us ask ourselves, how fair was it for God to take the punishment for our sins? This is, perhaps, the most unfair act of all.

Do we want to judge and condemn people, as did Jonah? Let us compare this thinking with that of God:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   (John 3:16-17)

Let us thank God that his fairness is so much more than ours.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C

The Wideness in God’s Mercy

The Apostle Peter had preached to the Cornelius the Centurion, who became the first Gentile Christian believer. His association with Gentiles lead to complications, however. The circumcised believers in Jerusalem wanted to know why Peter ate with uncircumcised men. Peter explained:

“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, `Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, `By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, `What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, `Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”   (Acts 11:5-18)

This question was not new to Peter. Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors who were considered uncircumcised. The Pharisees questioned his disciples why he ate with them. When Jesus heard their question he explained:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”   (Matthew 9:12-13)

Jesus quoted from the Prophet Hosea:

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.   (Hosea 6:6)

It is time for all of us to learn the knowledge of God. We need to understand who God is. God is mercy. The psalmist wrote:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.   (Psalm 103:11-14)

Without God’s mercy none of us would have any hope.

When Jesus was being betrayed and facing the cross, he gave his disciples a new commandment:

At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   (John 13:31-35)

We have been given mercy by God. Jesus is calling us to show mercy to others. The Prophet Micah wrote:

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?   (Micah 6:8)

If, even as believers we have fallen into sin, let us not give up on God. Our sin does not remove God’s mercy. His mercy is everlasting. We should not take it for granted, however. Our nation is in need of revival. Our churches are in need of reformation.

Let us pray like the Prophet Habakkuk:

O Lord, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work. In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known; in wrath may you remember mercy.   (Habakkuk 3:2)

From today’s reading from Revelation we have a picture of the new heaven and the new earth:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”   (Revelation 21:3-4)

Only by God’s mercy can we participate in his eternal gift. Let us cling to it. Let us demonstrate it to others. Amen.

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