Tag Archives: Moses

The Season of Pentecost

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (Hebrew: שבועות‎, lit. “Weeks”) is one of three main annual pilgrimage festivals in the Judaism. It commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai and it also celebrates the conclusion of the grain harvest in Israel. The date of Shavuot is directly linked to the celebration of the Jewish Passover. The grain harvest began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. The time in between was seven weeks or fifty days. This time frame also represents the time between Israel’s Exodus from Egypt until the giving of the Law at Sinai.

Pentecost is a major feast day of the Christian liturgical year. It is the Christian counterpart of Shavuot. The word Pentecost (Ancient Greek: Πεντηκοστή) means “the Fiftieth [day].” It occurs fifty days after Easter or Resurrection Sunday which roughly coincides with the Jewish festival of Shavuot. This is not coincidental. Just as Easter is the prophetic fulfillment of Passover, Pentecost is the prophetic fulfillment of Shavuot. The two feasts, Shavuot and Pentecost, have much in common, both historically and spiritually.

During the celebration of Shavuot the Jewish people were reminded of God’s Law:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.   (Deuteronomy. 8:3-4)

Often Jewish participants would spend all night during Shavuot studying the Torah. They would read significant portions of the Torah aloud.

Pentecost has to do with God’s Law as well. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote of a time that the Law would come in a new way:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Jeremiah 31:33)

This is what happens to us when the Holy Spirit comes upon us as it did on the Day of Pentecost for the early disciples. Jesus said that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). It is the action of the Holy Spirit to bring us more into alignment with God’s Law. We cannot keep the Law by our own efforts, but we can yield to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus said would lead us into all truth and make alive His teachings.

Pentecost is not simply a static day of celebration of the historical birth of the Christian Church. Surely it marked the beginning of the Church. As with Shavuot for the Jewish people, Pentecost is a time for us to reflect upon God’s Word, allowing the Spirit to renew our zeal for both the Law and the Gospel.

The Season of Pentecost is the longest season of the liturgical year. The Sundays following Pentecost and extending up to the beginning of the new liturgical year in Advent are filled with readings concerning Christian growth. To live in Christ one must grow in the Faith. Spiritual stagnation could ultimately lead to spiritual death and a forsaking of God’s Holy Law.

During the season after Pentecost, there are two tracks each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.

Track 1 of Old Testament readings  follows major stories and themes, read mostly continuously from week to week. In Year A we begin with Genesis, in Year B we hear some of the great monarchy narratives, and in Year C we read from the later prophets.

Track 2 follows the Roman Catholic tradition of thematically pairing the Old Testament reading with the Gospel reading.

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Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Look on the Lord and Live

During this Season of Lent we are reflecting upon the wilderness experience. In typical Gospel of Mark, which is like a quickly moving short story, we are told that the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness. Angels ministered to him there. The serpent was also there to temp Jesus.

The children of Israel under Moses also had an encounter with serpents in the wilderness. In today’s Old Testament scripture we read:

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.   (Numbers 21:4-9)

The children of Israel sinned against God. This rebellion is what brought on the serpents. Many Israelites died when bitten by these serpents. God, however, in his mercy, provided an escape from the punishment of their sin.

Today’s reading from the Gospel of John gives an explanation of the serpent in the wilderness experience:

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

“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.”   (John 3:14-16)

God has provided a means of escape from the punishment of our sins, just as he did for the Israelites in the wilderness. We simply have to believe that he has. The Apostle Paul further explains:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.   (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Why would anyone choose not to believe? Maybe it is because people do not know that they are in the wilderness and they are not aware of the many serpents which have infested our culture. The children of Israel were very much aware that they had sinned and that they were dying. In desperation they followed the commandment of Moses to look upon the bronze serpent.

We must look upon the cross of Jesus. But are we desperate? Do we realize that our entertainment industry, popular music, movies, TV shows, and cultural norms are ruled by Satan. Abortion for convenience is perfectly acceptable. It is normal now not to have prayer in your schools. In fact, it is considered even in bad taste to have traditions and values taught in our schools. And what about our churches? Do we find any serpents there? Have they invaded our seminaries? How about our Board meetings? How about our theologies? Do the seeker churches say we all serve the same god, no matter what our religion might be?

The psalmist reminds us that God has shown us mercy:

He sent forth his word and healed them
and saved them from the grave.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.

Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.   (Psalm 107:20-22)

Are we ready as a people  once again to give thanks to call? Can we look upon the old rugged cross? Of are we just too busy with the cares and culture of this world? This world has been corrupted. Perhaps it is time, while we still have time, to separate ourselves from this world. It is quickly passing away before our very eyes.

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, Lent, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B

Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

The Glory of God

During the Season of Epiphany we have been exploring ways in which God manifested his presence on the earth. In this last Sunday after the Epiphany the Gospel reading leads us to the Mount of Transfiguration. There was a moment when Jesus manifested his glory on the earth. We long for that moment to happen again. From the Gospel of Mark we read:

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.    (Mark 9:2-6)

Elijah, the great prophet, was one of the figures the mount with Jesus. We remember that Elijah  did not see death, but was taken up into heaven by God. The Prophet Elisha was chasing after Elijah to receive something from him before Elijah’s departure. From 2 Kings we read:

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”   ()

Did Elisha miss the point of Elijah’s greatness? He wanted the anointing of Elijah but did he want the God of Elijah. We remember that, after Elijah’s departure, Elisha took the cloak of Elijah and struck the Jordan River, saying: “Where is the God of Elijah?”

Peter wanted to build individual shrines for all three men he observed on the mount. God quickly corrected him:

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.   (Mark 9:7-8)

None of us are immunized from the temptation of worshipping the wrong thing or the wrong person. Perhaps we have spiritual mentors who have greatly influenced our lives. If we have lived long enough, at some point we have probably discovered that these mentors are not infallible. Peter wanted to venerate Moses and Elijah along with Jesus. God the Father told him that Jesus was his beloved Son. Our focus needs to be on Jesus!

Is God calling us to come to His mount of transfiguration? Are we ready? We are not to seek spiritual experiences per se. Rather, let us seek Jesus and His glory. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.   (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

There is nothing wrong with wanting to see the glory of God. Moses asked God to show him his glory. Jesus invited Peter, James, and John up the mountain to see, in part, his glory. Is God inviting you and me to see his glory today? He is. Are we listening.

Nonetheless, we must follow Jesus. If we want to see God’s glory today we must look into the face of Jesus:

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:17-18)

Are we ready to see God’s glory? Then we are to look into the face of Jesus. We are to worship Jesus as Lord and no one else. In truth, we become like the one we worship. If we worship the world then we become worldly. If we worship Jesus, then over time we become more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote about this mystery and described it this way: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”   (Colossians 1:27)

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Filed under Epiphany, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year B