Tag Archives: persecution

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 10

Track 1: Instant Gratification

Genesis 25:19-34
Psalm 119:105-112
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

The sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob, were totally unalike. We have an illustration from today’s Old Testament reading:

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.   (Genesis 25:29-34)

Jacob was quite a slick and opportunistic operator. Nevertheless, how could Esau have agreed to sell his birthright? He was very tired, we might say, and he could only think about the moment. Esau lived for the moment. The moment determines what is important and what one must do. The moment is interested in instant gratification. The future is just too far off to think about.

This is very strange thinking. Before we become too judgmental of Esau we may need to ask ourselves this question: Do we ever indulge in this type of thought? I will say that, for me, it is an easy trap to fall into. How do we explain this sort of behavior? Will our future take care of itself without any planning on our part? On what things do we place our value. Are our momentary needs more valuable to us than the gifts and plans which God surely established for our lives?

Another way of describing our momentary needs is by the word “flesh” which the Apostle Paul refers to quite often in his writings. From the Book of Romans:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.   (Romans 8:1-4)

The flesh is our enemy. The flesh is our sinful nature. Unfortunately, the flesh is still very much a part of who we are. The psalmist affirms his prerogative of doing what he pleases, but he humbly asks God to help him be pleased with doing the right thing.

Accept, O Lord, the willing tribute of my lips,
and teach me your judgments.

My life is always in my hand,
yet I do not forget your law.   (Psalm 119:108-109)

We do not have to choose he flesh. Paul writes:

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.   (Romans 8:9-11)

Jesus told a parable about the sower, sowing the seed. Jesus is that seed. The sower spreads the seed over various soil with varying results. Let us look at the interpretation that Jesus gives us:

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”   (Matthew 13:18-23)

Has Jesus planted good seed in us? Are we willing to wait for the increase? Do we value his word and what it can do for us in our battle against sin? If we just live in the moment as did Esau, then we too, may lose our birthright. Christ has given us a new birth that leads to eternal life. This is not a time for us to take our eyes off the prize. Our focus must be on the implanted word is us and not on this world. From the Gospel of John, Jesus said:

“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

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.   (John 14:23)

This psalmist wrote:

With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.   (Psalm 119:11-12)

Where is our true treasure today? Let us hold on to our birthright that Jesus has given us through his death and resurrection.

 

 

Track 2: Bearing Fruit

Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus spoke many times in parables. In today’s Gospel we have a familiar one:

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”   (Matthew 13:1-9)

The parable had to do with seed planing. The Spirit is the planter and Jesus is the seed. The parable is about hearing the word of God. Jesus interprets the parable for his disciples:

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”   (Matthew 13:18-23)

We are living in a age full of thorns. What was true in the time of Jesus is equally true today. Persecutions against Christians are, in fact, are on the rise. Nominal Christians are taking cover. Hiding one’s faith is not really an option, however. Reading from the Gospel of John:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.   (John 15:1-6)

Jesus is the good seed. Are we good soil? We cannot be unless we are fertilized by the Spirit of God. The Apostle Paul writes:

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.   (Romans 8:1-)

We must be3 set free from the flesh. That is not possible if we are still holding on to it. Paul continues:

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.   (Romans 8:6-8)

The flesh will always try to protect itself. The last thing it wants in any sort of persecution. The flesh, which is our old self, needs to be crucified. Paul writes:

But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 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 2:18-20)

By the Holy Spirit God has given us a promise:

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.   (Romans 8:9-11)

We need the Word. We need Jesus. Ww also need his Spirit, With the Spirit we are free:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you

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Third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7

Track 1: Finding New Life

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

In today’s Old Testament we have the story of Hagar and her son. Sarah, the wife of Abraham had given her slave Hagar to Abraham so that she might have children. Sarah had been barren. Hagar had a son Ishmael by Abraham. But this lead to complications. When Sarah later had her son Isaac, the child promised Abraham by God to be his heir, jealousy arose. Sarah said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.   (Genesis 21:14-19)

Hagar was in despair. She had been thrown out of her home along with her son. She lacked basic resources needed to sustain her life. Her future was uncertain. She had no one to turn to. Just when she was about to give up. God intervened in our lives. Has that ever happened to you in any degree? Ever felt like an outcast? Ever felt abandoned? You may not have experienced anything like this in your life. I, personally, can relate to what Hagar was going through. There have been times in my life, that without the intervention of God, I am not sure I would have ever found my way.

King David spoke to the Lord the words of this song:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge,
my savior; you save me from violence.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.   (2 Samuel 22:2-4)

David had been anointed to be the next king, but he was not yet king. King Saul was hunting him down to take his life. David had more enemies than friends at the time. What David knew is something that I have not always known. God is there for us. All we need to do is call upon him.

Crises may come to many of us in life. They can be devastating. But crises do serve a purpose. They often enable to find ourselves or to discover more about ourselves. Better than that, they help us to find God. Or they help us to discover a greater understanding of God and his love.

We do not like crises. We want to avoid turmoil and persecution. Jesus told his disciples:

A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!   (Matthew 10:24-25)

We cannot really avoid them. Jesus said: In this world you always have tribulation, but fear not, I have over come the world (John 16:33). Jesus is our overcomer. He is our rock. He is our deliver. He is the one we can trust and he is the one we need to call upon

And often we do not. Why? Perhaps it is because we want to hold on to the status quo. We may not like what is happening, but it is familiar. The alternative is an unknown, or at least that is what Satan tells us. Can we let go of what is holding us back? Jesus said:

Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.   (Matthew 10:39)

With Jesus everything is new and possible. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!   (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Hagar discovered the goodness and mercy of God. David did also. God is there for us: Jesus said{

So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.   (Matthew 10:26-31)

 

 

Track 2: The Fire Within

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

I love reading the Book of Jeremiah. The Prophet Jeremiah did not sanitize anything. His humanity came through. He wrote down the prophecies of God. He also wrote down his complaints against God. We have one of his complaints in today’s Old Testament reading:

O Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;

you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.

I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.

For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”

For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”

then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.   (Jeremiah 20:7-9)

The prophet wishes he could stop being  a prophet, but word of God constrains him. It is like a fire within him. What is that fire?

One of the resurrection appearances of Jesus is when he met two men walking on the road to Emmaus:

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”   (Luke 24:28-32)

It is the word of God that sets our hearts on fire. They were listening to the Word made flesh. If we listen to him he has a baptism to give us. From the Gospel of Matthew:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.   (Matthew 3:11)

To be set on fire is a glorious thing. But, as in the case of Jeremiah, it will cause us reproach. The psalmist wrote:

Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach,
and shame has covered my face.

I have become a stranger to my own kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.

 Zeal for your house has eaten me up;
the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.

I humbled myself with fasting,
but that was turned to my reproach.

I put on sack-cloth also,
and became a byword among them.

Those who sit at the gate murmur against me,
and the drunkards make songs about me.

But as for me, this is my prayer to you,
at the time you have set, O Lord:

“In your great mercy, O God,
answer me with your unfailing help.   (Psalm   68:8-15)

Have we ever had a complaint against God? The devil does all that he can to stoke our anger. We can rebel against God or draw more close to him by meditating on his word. True disciples of Jesus will suffer reproach. That will not stop them from their boldness in the Lord’s word. Jesus said:

A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!   (Matthew 10:24-25)

Let us hold fast to the truth in this day, because God is with us. He holds us n his everlasting arms. He needs our testimony to set other hearts on fire. Let us daily get fired up by his word. Then boldly allow ourselves to be directed by the Holy Spirit to speak the truth of God’s word in love. Others are waiting to hear the good news that someone shared with us.

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Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloA Conversion Experience

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While in route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are persecuting their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown-up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow-up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he describe himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

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)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul became the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world is counting on us give witness to the love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Saint Stephen

First Martyr for the Faith

For those who refuse to change, the truth of God is unbearable. This has always been true and is still true today. Let us look at some examples. God sent Jeremiah to King Jehoiakim to warn the nation of impending doom if the people did not repent. This is how the people in authority responded to his prophecy:

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, `This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.   (Jeremiah 26:7-9)

The messenger of God is rejected because the message of God is rejected.

Jesus lamented over Jerusalem:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”   (Matthew 23:37-39)

Jesus was crucified because the Jewish leaders could not bear his message. They rejected him because they also rejected God the Father. They rejected his plan for their nation and the whole world. They wanted a different message and a different Messiah.

In today’s Epistle lesson we have the example of Stephen:

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.   (Acts 6:8-11)

Stephen was not only a servant of the Church as a deacon, he was a powerful purveyor of the Gospel. The leaders could not withstand the message of Stephen which was by the Holy Spirit. Thus they rejected Stephen. Stephen became the first martyr for the Faith. He was an innocent man full of God’s grace and power, yet he was stoned to death in the name of religion.

People have a certain concept of God. When challenged by God’s truth they often will do anything , including destroying the messenger of God, to keep from hearing and complying with his Word. How far are we willing to go today to reject the Word of God?

The Word was made flesh for us and died on the cross as payment for our sins. Are we to reject such a great salvation? Are we to reject healings? Are we to reject prophecy in our day? Some of our churches and denominations do not allow for certain manifestation of God’s power and presence because they do not allow for God’s truth. Church doctrine does not take the place of the truth in God’s Word.

Where do we stand today? Are we open to God? Are we seeking his revelation in our lives? Is his Word all important to us? If so, then we will surely be persecuted, even within the Church. When that occurs, will we still hold on to the truth at all costs?

Stephen was a man whom the Word of God was all important to him. He was willing to die for it so that the truth might be told. Not only that, he was able to forgive the very people who were stoning him to death.

We would not have the Church today without the testimony of Stephen and many faithful martyrs for the cause of the Gospel. As in the days of Stephen, we are living in an age hostile to the Gospel, even in America. Will we step up and step out for the Gospel in our day?

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