Tag Archives: prayer

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 26C

Track 1: I Will Stand at My Watchpost

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

The Prophet Habakkuk was frustrated. He was discouraged. He complained to God:

Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous–
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.   (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

He believe there was no justice. God was slack in punishing the wicked while righteous people were being oppressed.

Have we ever felt the same way? We become discouraged because people seem to be getting away with evil and nothing is being done about it, Though discouraged, Habakkuk had not yet lost hope. He would wait upon God to see if he would eventually answer his complaint:

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.   (Habakkuk 2:1)

Habakkuk was an intercessor. He would wait, but he would also be praying concerning the situation. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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)

Intercessory prayer require some effort on our part. We must learn to be patient. We must learn to trust God.

God has called each one of us to be intercessors. It can be a lonely assignment. More often than not,  it does not bring instant results. We need to pray earnestly, from the heart. God needs our earnest prayers. The psalmist wrote:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.   (Psalm 130:1-6)

Waiting of the Lord means more than just exercising patience. It also means serving the Lord. He needs our attention. He needs our faith and hope.

God answered the complaint of Habakkuk this way:

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

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

God’s timing is not always our timing, but his timing is perfect. We must not lose faith in the justice of God. His justice goes beyond our idea of justice. From today’s appointed psalm:

Your justice is an everlasting justice
and your law is the truth.

Trouble and distress have come upon me,
yet your commandments are my delight.

The righteousness of your decrees is everlasting;
grant me understanding, that I may live.   (Psalm 119:142-144)

Let us not become so discouraged that we live like those who do not believe in the justice of God. Today’s Gospel reading tells of Zacchaeus, a tax collector. He knew what he was doing was wrong, but when he came into contact with Jesus he found hope that things could change. Because Jesus accepted him, he decided to make amends for his misdeeds:

Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:8-10)

God’s justice includes mercy. His justice is for more than today alone. His justice is eternal.

 

Track 2: Come Let Us Reason Together

Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm 32:1-8
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Through the Prophet Isaiah, God complained concerning the shallowness of his chosen people. Though they observed the appointed festivals and paid lip service in their worship of God, this had little bearing on their daily life. God required much more from them. He demanded much more:

When you stretch out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.   (Isaiah 1:15-17)

In his psalm of confession, King David expressed what he believed God was looking for:

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.   (Psalm 51:6-9)

David understood that he needed God’s help in order to change. God asks a lot of us, but is he unreasonable?

In today’s Gospel reading we learn of a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was anxious to know who Jesus was:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.   (Luke 19:1-6)

Why would a notorious sinner be happy to welcome Jesus? He saw something in Jesus that he did expect to find. He saw something that the grumblers failed to see:

All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”   (Luke 19:7-10)

What did Zacchaeus see in Jesus? Let us return to today’s reading from Isaiah. God said:

Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;

though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.   (Isaiah 1:18)

I like the way the King James Version puts this: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” God is exacting but he not unreasonable. He wants to work with us.

The psalmist wrote:

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not conceal my guilt.

I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.   (Psalm 32:3-6)

Confession is the beginning. God also wants to take us a step further. If we are willing, he will cleanse us, he will restore us, and he will give us a fresh new start. This is what excited Zacchaeus. Before Jesus could ask him to repent, he was ready ready to make amends for his sin.

Are we stuck today in some habitual sin? Perhaps it is a sin that we seem not to be able to overcome. In fact, alone, we cannot overcome it. The good news is that God wants to overcome for us. 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! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:7-21)

Do we understand the true nature of God. He is forgiving, he is restorative, and he is our deliverer. “Come, let us reason together,” he tells us. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.”

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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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