Tag Archives: prayer

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 24C

Track 1: Covenant of the Heart

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

When a Pharisee asked Jesus what he thought the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   (Matthew 22:37-39)
Notice that Jesus mentioned the word “heart” first. Our relationship with God has to do with the condition of our heart. God wants a relationship with us. It is a love relationship.
God demonstrated his love for Israel when he rescued them from captivity in Egypt. He was leading them to a land he promised Abraham and his descendants. Through Mose he spoke to the people:

The Lord your God will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.

Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.   (Deuteronomy 30:5-6)

The heart can be a devious thing. Let us examine our own hearts evidence. God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah:

The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.   (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

If we are to truly love God then we need his help. God promised to circumcise the hearts of the Israelites. Yet, they offered him great resistance. They broke the covenant God made with their forefathers. They continually disobeyed him. God would have to take greater steps. He spoke through Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament reading:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt– a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

How could God make this promise and keep it. He would have to take extraordinary measures to deal with Sin. God is a just God and cannot overlook Sin or the punishment it requires. It took the cross of Jesus. The moment that Jesus died on the cross for our sins the curtain was torn from top to bottom – that is the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the remainder of the Temple in Jerusalem. The price for Sin was paid once and for all.

Now God could write his laws on our hearts. But what does he need from us? He needs our hearts. He wants to transform them. King David prayed:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.   (Psalm 51:10-11)
Only the blood of Jesus can purify our hearts. We need to accept his saving act on the cross. From this point God can begin writing his law on our hearts. Are we still withhold our hearts from him? Are we eager to hear his word? The psalmist wrote:

Your word I have treasured and stored in my heart, That I may not sin against You.   Psalm 119:11

Keeping the law of God is a matter of spiritual grow as we take in God’s word. The Apostle Paul wrote 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)

God writes on our hearts by his word. Without his word we will never truly love the Lord and obey him. The psalmist wrote:

I restrain my feet from every evil way,
that I may keep your word.

I do not shrink from your judgments,
because you yourself have taught me.

How sweet are your words to my taste!
they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.

Through your commandments I gain understanding;
therefore I hate every lying way.   (Psalm 119:101-104)

 

 

Track 2: The Unjust Judge

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told parables using familiar life experiences so that his listeners could relate to them. In today’s Gosple, Jesus spoke  of an unjust judge:

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”   (Luke 18:1-5)

People were familiar with examples of unjust judges when Jesus told this parable. Has anything changed today? No. The parable still rings true. Of course, we want justice for the widow, but there is a touch of humor with the attitude of the unjust judge. He does the right thing in this case, but for the wrong reason.

Jesus continued:

“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”   (Luke 18:6-8)

What do we take away from this parable? The first thing surely should be that God is not like the unjust judge. He is involved with our daily lives. He is not some casual observer who is indifferent to what he sees. He loves us. He cares about us and our wellbeing.

Why did Jesus end the parable with the statement: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” How could that statement relate to the rest of the parable?

There is always a danger of losing faith in God. Luke’s Gospel began the telling of the parable by saying that it was about “the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” We can lose heart. The enemy wants to discourage our hearts. Circumstances in life can be discouraging at times.

In today’s Old Testament reading we find Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob had been living under difficult circumstances. He had not entirely lost faith, but he was seriously seeking a blessing from God. And God blessed him and changed his name to Israel, a name that stands throughout the ages. God is faithful to those who put their trust in him.

We may find ourselves wrestling with God. That does not mean we have lost faith. But if we are to wrestle with God then the requirement is prayer. Prayer is our way of having a dialogue with God. Prayer is the key for maintaining our relationship with him. The parable was about praying always and not losing heart.

When we communicate with God the lies of Satin and this world fade away. We remember that God is a just God. As a righteous and just God, he must punish sin. He is also a loving God. He loves us so much that he took our punishment upon himself. This fact alone should establish our love relationship with him.

The solutions to our problems ib life are not always immediate. The psalmist wrote:

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!   (Psalm 27:14)

Go0d requites us to live by faith. This means we rely on God and not ourselves. The prophet of old wrote:

Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:4)

The difficulties we experience in life help build our character. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

God will help us through them all. Our part is to pray keep the faith. Prayer is, in fact, our keeper of faith. Paul wrote:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

God is faithful. He will come to our aid. Let us put our whole trust in him. In Christ Jesus we find our victory. In John’s Gospel we read these words of Jesus:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”   (John 16L33)

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 12C

Track 1: Idolatry is Settling for Less

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

It has been said that idolatry is the worship of something that is other than God, as if it were God. Prostitution is a form of idolatry. It is an attempt at mimicking the sexual intercourse between a man and a woman as if the two partners were married. When we engage in such activity we are telling God that we are satisfied with a counterfeit. We do not need the real expression of love that he has created for us. Worst than that, we are saying that we do not need his love and we do not need his blessing. We have found something that we like better.

This was the message that the children of Israel were sending to God in the days of the Prophet Hosea. God had a history with Israel. He had delivered them from bondage in Egypt. He had led them to the promise land. He had defeated their enemies and given them a bright future. Yet they had rejected him.

Hosea was called by God to give his response to their idolatry. From today’s Old Testament reading:

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.  (Hosea 1:2-3)

Today, are we going the way of ancient Israel? God has so blessed us, even beyond the Mosaic Covenant. We have a Savior who has given us a New Covenant which is eternally lasting. It is a covenant that eradicates all our sins and offers us Oneness with God. Yet do we fall for a false narrative and a counterfeit god?

The Apostle Paul warned against straying from the truth:

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.   (Colossians 2:8-14)

This is what our God has done for us. Why would we depart from him? Again, Paul writes:

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.   (Colossians 2:6-7)

God is the giver of every good gift. Who can we compare to him? James writes:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.   (James 1:17)

Jesus concludes his teaching on prayer in today’s Gospel this way:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”   (Luke 11:11-13)

Idolatry is the lost of focus. When we look away from God, Satan offers us a counterfeit which does not satisfy. In truth, it leads us astray, deceives us, and ultimately destroys us. He wants us to believe that we can live and do whatever we want without God or his blessings. In our rebellious flesh we fall into this trap.

God has something greater for us. He want to give us an abundant life – one that last for an eternity. All he needs from us is our appreciation. The psalmist writes:

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name,
because of your love and faithfulness;

For you have glorified your Name
and your word above all things.   (Psalm 85:1-3)

Today, God is calling us to worship. He wants to poor out this blessing upon us. What is our response? Jesus said:

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.   (Luke 11:9-10)

Let us open up our hearts to God alone.

 

 

Track 2: God’s Good Gift

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

There is a popular teaching in some churches about praying with faith. You probable have heard about it. The teaching is that if we pray with enough faith we will get what we ask for. One of the ways of showing that it to pray once for something and then just wait. Anything more would show a lack of faith on our part.

Clearly, faith is an important component to our prayers. In the Book of James we are told to pray with faith:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.   (James 1:5-7)

Is faith the only component to consider? Again from James:

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.   (James 4:2-3)

Right motives are important. Prayer is not to be used for selfish gain. This seems to rule out the “name it and claim it” way of praying. Our faith is not some way to manipulate God.

James adds two more important ingredients to prayer: confession of sin and righteous living. He writes:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.   (James 5:13-16)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is asked to teach his disciples how to pray. He offers an illustration of how to pray by this parable:

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”   (Luke 11:5-10)

By this parable Jesus seems to be stressing persistence in prayer. This persistence does not suggest a lack of faith, does it? Rather, is not Jesus simply encouraging us to continue to prayer and not lose heart?

The Apostle Paul writes:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

We need to pray with thanksgiving and praise. Out attitude towards God is important. Constant prayer helps us build a relationship with God.

Jesus continues his teaching of prayer in Luke’s Gospel by saying:

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.   (Luke 11:9-10)

God has many good gifts for us. When we pray to him we need to remember his nature and what he desires to give to us.

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”   (Luke 11:11-13)

The enemy gives us false hope. He entices us. If we listen to hm he then rewards us with trials and tribulations. He promises worldly riches and sometimes provides them. But they are not lasting and often cause great harm to us and to others. Let us go to the giver of every good gift instead. From James:

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or [r]shifting shadow.   (James 1:16-17)

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 9C

Track 1: Following God’s Directions

2 Kings 5:1-14
Psalm 30
Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Naaman was in high favor and he knew that he was. Reading from 2 Kings:

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”   (2 Kings 5:1-3)

Through a circuitous, almost laughable  route he eventually arrived at the Prophet Elisha’s house in all his slender:

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.   (2 Kings 5:9-12)

What went wrong? Naaman became offended. He was not teated with the respect that he deserve, or though he thought. How many times have we missed a blessing from God because we first got offended? Perhaps more than we have realized.

The psalmist wrote:

While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed.
You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”

Then you hid your face,
and I was filled with fear.  (Psalm 30:7-8)

Except for his leprosy, Naaman was on top. But now Naaman needed help. He was being ask to take more steps to receive help than he wanted to take, or that he felt were necessary. Fortunately, the wisdom of his servants persuaded him otherwise:

But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, `Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.   (2 Kings 5:13-14)

I know of someone who had quadruple bypass heart surgery. The surgery was successful and he was being kept in a coronary care unit of the hospital to be monitored while he recovered. He was a former military man who was not used to taking orders from someone below his station. He did not like being order around by his nurses. I told him his nurses were highly trained, things could go wrong that might impede his recovery, he had to be watched carefully, and that any directions he was given could be life saving. His attitude changed and he recovered nicely.

All is the healing. He may choose many different paths for our healing. But we must follow the steps that he gives us to help facilitate the process. Every healing we receive is a miracle from God. Perhaps the biggest miracle for many of us is that we stop and listen to God.

The Apostle wrote:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.   (Galatians 6:7-8)

Our healing is like a harvest-time. Do we listen to the distortions of fleshly thinking? Do we easily get offended? Do we give up too soon? Or do we ride along in the Spirit of God, putting our whole trust in him. An elderly lady told me, once, how she was cured of her mental illness. I asked how that happened. She said it was a lot of hard work on her part at first. She had to listen to God and not her own flesh. God does the hard part, but he often gives us simple directions to follow. None of us are too bid for little steps.

 

 

Track 2: The Lord of the Harvest

Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Jesus sent some of his disciples out into the fields to do evangelism:

The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.   (Luke 10:1-2)

This commission which Jesus gave to these disciples he has also given to us.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   (Matthew 28:16-20)

Evangelism can be difficult work. We may encounter many obstacles and setbacks. Jesus warned: I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. We need the comfort, encouragement, and protection of God to do this work. We have this promise through the Prophet Isaiah:

As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bodies shall flourish like the grass;

and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants,
and his indignation is against his enemies.”  
 (Isaiah 66:13-14)

If we are servants of God, then God is with us. Let us put our trust in him. God is better able to handle the enemy. Our weapon is prayer and obedience.

How did the seventy disciples succeed on their mission. They did very well indeed. They had followed the instructions of Jesus. They travelled light and put their faith in God. Jesus had told them:

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'”   (Luke 10:1-2)

We are all called to be evangelists. It is a Godly mission that only God can fulfill in us. Whether we go out into the fields or whether we witness in our Jerusalem. With God’s help, and when people respond to the message which God has given, miracles can take place.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”   (Luke 10:17-20)

The temptation to take credit for the Lord’s work is strong. Our motives for doing evangelism must be examined. Do we do it for the money, the accolades, or for credit to offset our shortcomings? Jesus warned that, in the final recording, the condition of our hearts will mean more than anything else:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’   (Matthew 7:22-24)

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