Tag Archives: Passion

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21

Track 1: Is the Lord among Us

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Is God with me? Is he still on my side? Do we ever ask that? And if so, what would prompt us to ask it?

The children of Israel asked the same question. They had seen the miracles and the signs and wonders which God has performed on their behalf. Any yet they still doubted. It seems that when the least bit of uncertainty arises they immediately forget all that God has done in the past. It that us as well?

From today’s Old Testament reading:

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”   (Exodus 17:2-3)

Moses did not have an easy job. Apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers have followed suit. The ultimate questions that people ask can only be answered by God. God will surely answer them, yet he requires a level of faith on the part of the people who ask the questions.

Again we see that God is a God of miracles:

So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.   (Exodus 17:4-6)

God often puts us in places and situations where we, out of necessity, must call on him for help. Jesus put himself in that place for us. The Apostle Paul writes:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:1-13)

This is the example Jesus has set for us:

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.

Can we learn to humble ourselves and become obedient? We do not face the cruel cross that Jesus faced because he has done that for us. But we do have a cross to bear. Our cross is to follow through on believing the good news of the Gospel. Jesus told this parable:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:28-32)

Are we the son who, though lacking in faith at first, learned to believe and follow through on the word of God? Or, are we the nominal Christian, who talks the talk but does not walk the walk? All that God requires of us is to believe in him, under all circumstances. That is our cross to bear. The Apostle Paul writes:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

 

 

Track 2: The Fairness of God

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

The question of fairness is also a question of authority. Are we willing to give up our right to be right? The chief were not. Reading from today’s gospel:

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  (Matthew 21:23)

God has the authority to judge. But does he judge fairly? Jesus told this parable:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:28-32)

Those who are unwilling to keep God’s commandments from the heart are the ones who have the most questions about fairness. They go through the motions. They may even convince themselves that they are doing so, but what is their response when they are confronted by the authority of God?  God spoke through the Prophet Ezekiel:

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. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?   (Ezekiel 1825-29)

God’s judgement of fairness is based on reality, the reality of the human heart. But he tempers that judgement with mercy and compassion. he psalmist wrote:

Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly.   (Psalm 25:5-8)

God has demonstrated his greatest compassion through the passion of his Son. All he requires is some humility from us. Will we give up our right to be right? Will we still try to justify ourselves before God? The priests and pharisees saw the miracle of Jesus, but they failed to believe in him. They held on to their own false teachings and their own false authority.

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Good Friday

Behold the Lamb of God

Long before the cross was even used an instrument of torture and death there was a prophecy which foretold crucifixion. Psalm 22 offers a perfect description of the crucifixion of Jesus:

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are disjointed;
my heart is like wax,
melting within me.

My strength is dried up like baked clay;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You put me into the dust of death.

For dogs have surrounded me;
a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet.

I can count all my bones;
people look and stare at me.

They divided my garments among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.  (Psalm 22:14-18)

What was the purpose for such an agonizing death? The Prophet Isaiah tells us:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)

In the face of so great a sacrifice on our behalf what are we to do? The Apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost, declared:

Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.   (Acts 2:38-39) 

Let us draw near to the cross.today. God is calling each of us to keep watch during the hours that Jesus poured out his limitless love for all humankind. He poured ti out for each one of us.

In Hebrews we read:

Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He has inaugurated for us, through the curtain (that is, His flesh); and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.  (Hebrews 10:19-23)

The cross always brings us to the point of decision. We cannot look away from it. We must look upon the Lamb of God who suffers for us.

Through the Prophet Isaiah God speaks:

See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.   (Isaiah 52:13)

Jesus told his disciples:

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.   (John 12:31-33)

And 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.   (John 3:14-15)

Good Friday was a day of agony for Jesus, but it was also a day of triumph. He defeated sin, the grace, and Hell. Is his victory we find our victory? Not if we look away. We must look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

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Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Crucified with Christ

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From Matthew’s Gospel we read:

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”   (Matthew 21:6-11)

It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the criminal whom they crucified.

How could the people change so quickly we ask. In defense of those who got caught up in the frenzy, we must remember that chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty with tyrannical leaders. Propaganda and lies were used to sway the people. The government, and even the synagogs, were the last places to discover what was actually happening. In fact, both church and state were perpetuating a false narrative on purpose, Their agenda was to obscure what was really true.

When manipulation and control supplant faith and proclamation, the people are deceived and confused. Betrayal of God’s purposes becomes the order of the day. Does this apply to our day as well?

Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.   (Matthew 26:31-35)

We remember that Peter did portray his Lord as Jesus predicted:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.   (Matthew 26:69=75)

Where did Peter go wrong? Why did he betray his Lord when Jesus said that Peter would be the rock? Perhaps if we can understand this we might also understand why we might betray our Lord. Peter did not understand the crucifixion. We remember when Jesus foretold his death on the cross:

Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.   (Matthew 16:22-25)

Is our mind still set on human things? Our flesh does not want to understand the cross. The cross is where we die to the flesh. We need the mind of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Have we humbled ourselves before the Lord? Have we given up our ways to take on the way which is Jesus Christ. He is the only way to the Father. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.   (Romans 6:3-8)

We are freed from sin only by the extent that we have died to our flesh. Yes, we are made righteous by faith in Jesus. But where is our faith if we do not trust him enough to die to ourselves. Psalm Sunday is a celebration. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” But Psalm Sunday is also about the crucifixion. We may say that we have died to the Lord. Paul said that he died daily.

Who is in charge of our life today? Is it Jesus, or are we still gratifying the flesh and doing our own thing? We need to have victory over our flesh, but we cannot not do it on our own. Let us declare, as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,[a] who loved me and gave himself for me.   (Galatians 2:19-20)

The new creation in Christ only comes through crucifixion. Otherwise, we will be ruled by our flesh, and as Paul wrote:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.   (Romans 7:18)

The flesh is easily manipulated and controlled. If we do not take up our own cross and follow Jesus, we will soon deny him in so many ways, as many Christians are doing today. Let us declare as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.    (Galatians 2:19-20)

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