Tag Archives: Nazareth

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

A Sacred Journey

In the state of New York in the United States of America, abortion was approved from the time of conception up to the actual time of birth. Why? Perhaps the birth of a child does not always fit into the plans of the mother or father. What about the plans of God?

From today’s Old Testament reading:

The word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”   (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

How many prophets have we aborted? How many poets? How many physicians? How many priests?

Our lives are sacred to God. He has plans for them. His joy is to watch our lives unfold, to guide us and protect us along the way.

From the Book of Jeremiah we read:

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)

Our joy is to discover God’s plan for us. It is to seek him with all our heart. To receive God’s plan we must be willing to exercise our faith. From the Book of Hebrews:

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

Faith enables us to accept God’s plans. Without it, life itself may be in danger.

To be sure, God’s plan may often present great challenges to us. This was so for Jeremiah when God first called him. From today’s reading from Jeremiah:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.”   (Jeremiah 1:6-8)

What matters above all else is that God is with us on our journey. The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy:

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.   (1 Timothy 4:12)

People may tell us that we are too young or too inexperienced for a certain assignment. We need to remember that what God says is more important that what other people may say. There will always be opposition to following the calling of God.

David, the shepherd boy who became king, experienced great opposition. From today’s psalm we read:

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

For you are my hope, O Lord God,
my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.   (Psalm 71:4-6)

As we can see, David was aware that God had a calling on his life from an early age. That is true for us all.

Jesus, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was sent by God the Father to save his people. His very names means salvation. He studied the scriptures from his youth up, in preparation for his ministry. When it became time to proclaim his mission he met great opposition in his hometown. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.   (Luke 4:21-24)

Not only did his listeners reject what Jesus said, but they also wanted to hurl him off a cliff. They must have thought that, since they knew who Jesus was, how could he possibly be qualified to do the ministry that was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah.

This was not the only opposition that Jesus faced. His own family opposed some of the things he was doing. From the Gospel of Mark we read:

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”  (Mark 3:20-21)

People may think they know us better than ourselves. They may be well-meaning, but they do not know us the way God knows us. We are his creation and he has great plans for us.

The Apostle Paul experienced great opposition to his ministry. We will experience the same. He learned to listen to the voice of God over the nay sayers. From Galatians:

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.   (Galatians 1:10)

Discouragement is a primary weapon of the enemy. We remember how Satan tried to discourage Jesus in the wilderness, before he began his earthly ministry. He told Jesus to take a short cut with him, implying that God’s way may be too hard. Again, God does challenge us. We must remember, however, that we are not alone on our journey. God will enable us to do what he is asking us to do. Paul wrote:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.   (Philippians 4:13)

We may have failed along the way. Nonetheless, God tells us not to be discouraged. From the Book of Isaiah:

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
    do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
    and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.   (Isaiah 54:4-5)

Jesus may have been discouraged but he did not fail. He endured a cruel cross that we might be set free from all our sins and all our failures. He is our redeemer. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians:

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 3:12-14)

And from 2 Corinthians:

So 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.   (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

God still has a plan for us. We are his ambassadors for Christ. We are still on our journey with God. He is still guiding us. He is still delighting in us. We are not a mistake. Our sacred journey with him is not yet complete. Let us press on with faith and encouragement. And let us encourage others along their sacred path. After all, we are ministers of reconciliation.

Consider the alternative: the culture of division and death. Is that to be our legacy? It is not God’s way. Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.   (John 10:10)

Amen.

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Training in Righteousness

In today’s appointed readings from the lectionary we have two very different examples of how people responded to the reading of God’s word. The first example is from the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, the governor, was reestablishing Temple worship after the return of Israel from exile in Babylon. He had the priest Ezra read from the Law of Moses, from early morning until midday. This caused the people to weep as they were reminded of their failure to keep God’s commandments.

This is the power of the word. From The Book of Hebrews we read:

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.   (Hebrews 4:12-13)

The power of the word can also rejoice the heart. The psalmist reminds us:

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.   (Psalm 19:8)

Genuine repentance is the key. From the Book of Nehemiah we read:

Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”   (Nehemiah 8:8-10)

With real repentance there is forgiveness. Ezra helped explain and interpret the Law of God in a way that was more easily understood by the people.

Now let look at Jesus return to his home town of Nazareth:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus, the “Word of God made flesh” was reading and interpreting his own Word. But his listeners would have none of it. His message was not the message they wanted to hear. Jesus was proclaiming the year of God’s favor but that message apparently did not fit their timetable.

The Apostle Paul warned Timothy that he must preach the truth of God’s Word whether or not his listeners were ready to hear it. Paul wrote:

Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.   (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

Are we not living in an age when sound doctrine is becoming a casualty of false teaching and preaching. We remember when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Satan quoted scripture but in a twisted and perverse way. He was hoping that Jesus would take the bait. Are we to take the bait of unscrupulous preachers?

Those who preach falsely are placing themselves under a curse. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Galatians:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!   (Galatians 1:6-8)

We do not want to remain in a church that is under a curse. We want to be taught by someone who is using the scripture for Godly purposes. Paul reminds Timothy:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.   (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

We do not need a watered down Gospel. Are we to obscure the corrective measures of scripture and offer a more pleasing and popular message for worldly people? The psalmist reminds us that the commandment of the Lord is clear. It gives light to our eyes and rejoices our hearts.

Many of us believe that Jesus will soon return. He is looking for a church without spot or wrinkle. All of us need training in righteousness.

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”   (John 8:31-32)

What is our witness today? Are we continuing in the word? Are or we looking for false teachers who will tell us what our itching ears want to hear?

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