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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

God calls each one of us up to his presence. How do we respond to his call? How do we respond to his love? He is our creator. Without his breath we would not be living. How do we approach such an awesome God? The Prophet Micah wrote:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?   (Micah 6:6)

The psalmist wrote:

Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,
who speaks the truth from his heart.

There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend;
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected,
but he honors those who fear the Lord.

He has sworn to do no wrong
and does not take back his word.   (Psalm 15:1-5)

God has called us, but he has certain requirements for us to enter into his presence and remain. They should not be difficult to understand.

The Prophet Micah continues:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.   (Micah 6:8)

Although these requirements are simple, we may find that they are actually difficult to do. When that proves to be true, the temptations are to modify them so that they are more easily followed. Our system of ethics can turn into situational ethics. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spells out the requirements of approaching God. He does not modify or lesson the righteous requirements of God in any way. He proclaims:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.   (Matthew 5:3-8)

If we are to approach God then we need to be pure in heart. This echos today’s appointed psalm 15. What does it take to be pure in heart? How do we do it?

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church at Corinth:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”   (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

In truth, we are not capable of being pure of heart on our own. The people of the Church of Corinth had a calling from God. None of them had what is takes. God chose them anyway, just as he has chosen us. What we can say is that none of us can boast in the presence of God. Humility before God, then, must be the key, remembering that Jesus is our source of perfection. Our heart has been made pure by his pure heart. He has sacrificed himself on a cruel cross and cleansed us from our sin so that we may boast in him.

Again, the Micah wrote: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Justice and kindness comes from walking humbly with our God. Jesus is the source of your life, who became for us “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Second Sunday after Christmas

Old Testament Readings

Track 1: Out of Egypt I Have Called My Son

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was responsive to God’s call and direction. We see this when he was willing to marry Mary who was already with child. Today’s Gospel reading offers another example of his responsiveness:

After the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”   (Matthew 2:13-15)

How quickly things can change! After receiving gifts and honor from the wisemen, the family of Jesus had to immediately flee to Egypt for safety from Herod.

Egypt was a temporary home. It was not a place where one would want to remain. Sometimes in life we are put in a holding pattern, so to speak. Why is that? The Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;

say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,

over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;

their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.   (Jeremiah 31:10-12)

For a season, God will keep us protected from those who want to damage or destroy us. Their hands are too strong for us to resist. While doing so, he is preparing us to step out in higher realm of service. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.   (Ephesians 1:17-19)

Are we ready to learn about the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe? Our defense is not dependent upon our power but on the power of an almighty God! God wants to enlighten our hearts to the riches of his glorious inheritance. We do not gain this understanding overnight. Nonetheless, if we put our full faith and trust in God he will teach us, step by step, provided that we hold on to his promises. The devil will attempt to distract us. He will try to sew seeds of unbelief. 

However, if we are attentive to God’s word as was Joseph, we will not miss what God has prepared for us. We read in Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be a healing for your flesh
    and a refreshment for your body.   (Proverbs 3:5-8)

God has called us out of Egypt. Let us follow where he leads us.

 

Track 2: I Must Be in My Father’s House

Today we read from the Gospel of Luke about an incident that occurred in the life of Jesus when he was only twelve years old:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.   (Luke 2:41-43)

Later we read that they had to go back to Jerusalem to search for him when discovering that Jesus was missing:

When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”   (Luke 2:45-49)

We understand by his answer to his parents that he was still a child. But at the time he was beginning to understand what his mission might be and the importance of God’s Word and teaching.

As disciples many of us are still babes in Christ. Have we discovered find our identity, purpose, and direction must be found God’s presence and not in the distractions of this world. The psalmist wrote:

How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

Happy are they who dwell in your house!
they will always be praising you.   (Psalm 84)

Do we rejoice in the living God? Do we long for his presence? If not, then we are dying along with unbelievers in a decaying and dying world. Are we seeking to know him and follow him along the path that he has laid out for us? The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.   (Ephesians 1:17-19)

This type of learning about God only comes from God. It comes by remaining close to God. A verse rom the Prophet Isaiah:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.   (Isaiah 2:3)

God will teach us, but we must seek his presence and council always. Will we say: “I must be in my Father’s house?”

 

 

Track 3: A Ruler to Shepherd My People Israel

In today’s Gospel reading we find Herod worried and perplexed:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”   (Matthew 2:2-6)

Herod was afraid of this child that was said to have been born a king. Herod was king and he was not looking for a replacement. What Herod did not recognize was that this new king would not only take his place, but also the places of every would be ruler on the earth. He would not be like Herod or any other king.

Jesus would be the shepherd king. He would be a ruler that shepherded the people of God rather than dictating to them what they must do. In other words, Jesus would lead them by example and lovingly teach them his ways. Is that the type of ruler that we want?

The Apostle Paul wrote:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.   (Ephesians 1:17-19)

A new world is coming. It is a world lead by the shepherd king. Each of us will have a place in it. Each of us will have an assignment, provided we all our Lord Jesus to prepare us and teach us his ways. If we think his world will be like our world, if we think his rule will be like the rulers of this world, then we do not know him. We would not have not received a spirit of wisdom and revelation from him because we did not look in his direction.

God is working in us, his Son is shining in us, his power is surging through us when we realize that he is not only our king, but he is the shepherd of our souls.

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Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7C

Track 1: God Has Greater Plans

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
Psalm 42 and 43
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Elijah was just coming off his great triumph over the priests of Baal. But now his life was threatened. Reading from 1 Kings:

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.   But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”   (1 Kings 19:1-4)

From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat in one day! How did this happen? Elijah was running and hiding. Yet he was not alone. God was with him and asked him this question:

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah replied:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”   (1 Kings 19:9-10)

Jezebel was ruthless. She was relentless in exercising her destructive power over everything that was good. We still have her spirit operating in our government today, and even in our churches. Fear can confuse us and make us lose track of what is essential and true. The psalmist wrote:

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?

Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.   (Psalm 42:6-7)

We are not alone in this world. God is with us. The psalmist also wrote:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.   (Psalm 50L14-15)

We can have our victories in life. Elijah had a great one. But must remember that only God separates some either victory or defeat. Apart from him we can do nothing. The victory over Baal was God’s victory, not Elijah’s. Perhaps Elijah forgot that?

Evil has its plans. It wants to destroy all of God’s work and creation. From John’s Gospel:

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

Jesus has other plans for us. In whom do we put our trust. Fear is faith in Satan. It causes us to lose focus and distracts us from our ministry. God still had plans for Elijah:

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”   (! Kings 19:15-18)

God has plans for us. Our task is to put our trust in him. The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy:

God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

The power we have comes from God alone. Let us pray in the name of Jesus to accomplish those things which God has asked us to do. Are we ready for the front lines? Or will we shrink back in fear? Everyone is subject to fear, even the great prophet Elijah. Elijah was redirected and empowered to continue his ministry when he heard God speak to him. God has greater plans. Let us stop running and choose to listen to the voice of God.

 

 

Track 2: Deliver Us from Evil

Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

During his ministry on earth, Jesus was often directly confronted by evil forces. From today’s Gospel reading from Luke:

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)   (Luke 8:26-29)

Can we relate to this strange scene today? Some might say that we need a more up to date medical explanation of what was going on. But perhaps we should return to scripture itself to see if still speaks to us concerning demons and evil. In today’s Old Testament reading God spoke through the prophet Isaiah:

I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,

who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;

a people who provoke me
to my face continually,

sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;

who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;

who eat swine’s flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;

who say, “Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”   (Isaiah 65:2-5)

Who are these people who who “sit inside tombs and spend the night in secret places?” Perhaps it could be some of our political leaders. Does Skull and Bones right a bell. President John F. Kennedy spoke about the dangers of secret societies and how they could be a threat to democracy. It should be common knowledge that members of secret societies sit on both sides of the aisles of Congress. But it is not. This part of our government is kept under wraps.

This type of leadership is not confined to our government leaders. It is found, shockingly, in our churches as well.  Jesus warned about a certain kind of leadership:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?   (Matthew 7:15-16)

“Ravenous wolves” is an expressing that connotes those who are hungry for power over us. They are not people looking out for yhr good go others. Rather, they are looking out only for themselves at the expense of others. The demons wanted to dwell in the demoniac not to do him good. They wanted to torment the man for their own desires. Notice, the key words are secrecy and deception. Those possessed by demons do not want to be exposed. Isaiah explained that they do not want to come near to the holiness of God.

Do we have leaders both in our government and in our churches who consult evil spirits in secrecy? Yes, we do. It is time that we wake up. The Apostle Paul the Church in Corinth:

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.   (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

We are in a spiritual war. We always have been. We are in the same spiritual war that Jesus found himself in during his earthly ministry. Evil is real. It cannot be explained away by modern science.

What can we do about it? We can pray for discernment. But alone, we can do nothing. Jesus, however, is still delivering people from evil. His victory over evil and the grace can be our victory if we so identify with him in the Faith. We can call upon his name. The demons will still flee, for many of us have seen this happen numerous times. Jesus can replace this evil with himself for those who accept him as Savior and Lord.

There is another type of bondage found in church leaders that is a little more subtle than that which the demoniac had. Jesus spoke about these leaders:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.   (Matthew 23:27-28)

Again, we have the mention of tombs. These tombs could be ones of our own making. They have been whitewashed to look beautiful on the outside. But this is a cover. They are “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Maybe we do not belong to wicked, secret societies. However, we could still be bound by another form of evil which is working on the inside of us. We cannot judge and control others. It is not our place. We can pray for them. We can set an example for them. We may be able to speak the truth in love to them. But we cannot think that we are nay better than they are. Because we are not, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Is God too holy for us? Are we willing to expose ourselves to the holiness of God? Only then can we be truly delivered from evil. God is a God of love and forgiveness. He is also a God of deliverance.

We tend to keep quiet about deliverances. They may embarrass us. This is the wrong approach. Reading further from Luke:

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.   (Luke 8:38-39)

We need to expose evil and give testimony to the power of God. Satan works best in darkness. We need to bring everything to the light of Christ.

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