Tag Archives: punishment

Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 23B

Track 1: Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Psalm 22:1-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

Job had a complaint against God. He felt like God had abandoned him. From Job we read:

“Today also my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy despite my groaning.

Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!

I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.

I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.

Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.

There an upright person could reason with him,
and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.   (Job 23::2-7)

There may be times in our lives when feel that God has abandoned us. But has he? King David wrote this famous psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff —
    they comfort me.   (Psalm 23:1-4)

We remember the many challenges that David had in his life. King Saul tried to kill him on more than one occasion. Yet, David never gave up on God. He put his whole trust in God alone. The enemy wants to defeat us and destroy. One of his primary ways is through discouragement. That is when we need to trust the word of God perhaps the most. From Hebrews we read:

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”   (Hebrews 13:5-6)

The Apostle Paul writes:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.   (Romans 8:31-35, 37)

There was only one time when God ever abandoned anyone. It was when Jesus cried out from the cross:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?  (Psalm 22:1)

Some have said that Jesus was just quoting from the Twenty-second Psalm. This is one interpretation, but I believe that much more was going on here. The Twenty-second Psalm was prophetic. It described a crucifixion in detail when such punishment was not yet invented by the Romans. Rather, was it not that God did actually abandon his Son when his Son bore all the sins of the world upon himself? The ultimate punishment for sin is separation from God. The is what Jesus bore for us so that we might never be abandoned by God. And because Jesus did this for us we are able to call upon him in times of need.

From Hebrews:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Great is the mercy of God. Great is the sacrifice of his Son. Can we not exercise our faith in such a great God? Can we not put our whole trust in him? In life there will be tests and trials. Jesus said:

The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 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 16:32-33)

 

 

 

christ-rich-young-ruler-hofmann-1020802-gallery-noticeTrack 2: The Rich Young Man

Amos 5:6-7,10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

What does it mean to be a seeker of God and his kingdom? Today, we have the illustration of the right young man. From Mark:

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.   (Mark 10:17-22)

The young man was sincere in his quest for the kingdom. He tried to keep the commandments of God. Jesus realized that and he love him for it. (He love us all, but he has a special love tor those who seek to do God’s will). But Jesus required him to do something that was unexpected. He had to go and sell all that he had. The young man’s response was very telling. He could not so what Jesus had asked him even though he wanted to do so.

What was wrong? Was the man’s wealth a problem? Again, from Mark:

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”   (Mark 10:23-27)

It would seem that the disciples of Jesus might have had a “prosperity gospel.” No, in the case of the young man and in any case, money is not the problem. It was something more. The young man had many possessions. Whether or not we are rich or poor, we can all have too many possessions. The danger is that we become possessed by our possessions. Rather than owning them, they own us! In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned:

Do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.   (Matthew 6:31-33)

Notice that in today’s reading from Mark, Jesus did not say it is impossible for the rich alone to enter the kingdom of God. He said:  “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Whether rich or poor we need God’s help and grace. But we need to make a step in his direction. We cannot allow our possessions to be all important. We must understand that God is the true treasure. He is the one we seek. From Jeremiah we read:

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,   (Jeremiah 29:13)

Jesus understands our worldly distractions. He understands our temptations. He alone can help prepare us for the kingdom of God.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   (Hebrews 4:14-16)

How much do we seek the kingdom of God? Do we seek it more than our possessions? All we have to do, if that is so, is to be honest with God about it. He is more than capable of doing the rest for us.

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

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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Abiding in the Love of Jesus

In many of our churches today we are offered doctrine that, when followed, assures us of our salvation. It could be one of the reasons why we have so many denominations. “Your church believes this but my church believes this.”

Ultimately, doctrine has to do with the fear of punishment. It cannot eradicate that fear, however, because it cannot pay the price of sin. Even though the doctrine keeps changing, even though the goal posts are moved, sin remains. And for that reason, fear remains. Only love conquers fear.

In his first Epistle John writes:

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:16-18)

If we could teach only one Christian principle, what would it be? Perhaps we should return to the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John:

Jesus said to his disciples, ”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.   (John 15:1-5)

Church doctrine for many cases is an insurance policy. It guarantees our salvation should we stray from the faith. Have we accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior only to walk away from him? If we are his disciples then that is not an option. And perhaps, if we could comprehend his love for us, we would not want to walk away.

Jesus said:

Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”   (John 15:6-8)

Bearing fruit is a product of abiding in the love of Christ, We cannot do it on our own. When we try, we fail. The proof of our abiding is in how we treat others. Again we have the words of John in his First Epistle:

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.   (1 John 4:20-21)

How can we love others when we are so focused on the self? We are called to deny ourselves and take up our own cross and follow Jesus?

Let us remember what Jesus gave up for us. Philip Interpreted this scripture for the Ethiopian Eunuch:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”   (Acts 8:32-33)

When he understood what the scripture meant, the Eunuch immediately wanted to surrender his life to Christ. What is our response today? Are we ready to abide in the  presence of Jesus? If so, our salvation is sure because we are abiding in his perfect love.

Again, we are reminded of the words of the Apostle John:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.   (1 John 4:18)

Doctrine is a very poor replacement for the love of Christ. All we need to do as true Christians is to abide in the love of our Savior.

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