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Thanksgiving Day

breaking of breadA Sacrifice 0f Praise and Thanksgiving

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 100
Philippians 4:4-9
John 6:25-35

Observing a day of thanksgiving is an ancient tradition. While the Children of Israel were still in the wilderness, God instituted a day of thanksgiving, Moses announced:

The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.   (Deuteronomy 26:8-11)

The Israelites had not yet received the promise land and did not have any first fruits to present to God. Nonetheless, God instructed them to remember that he had brought them out of Egypt with signs and wonders and protected them on their journey. They were to celebrate and remember what God had done in an annual celebration called First Fruits.

During hard times we may find it difficult to celebrate. How do with give thanks in time of lack?  The Apostle Paul wrote that we should begin by counting our blessings. When we make our requests before God we should do it with thanksgiving:

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)

Thanksgiving and praise is a way of entering into the presence of God. The psalmist wrote:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.

For the LORD is good;
his mercy is everlasting;
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.   (Psalm 100:4-5)

During times of great material blessings we face a different challenge. We may become too satisfied with those blessings. The tempter will always try to distract us with temporal things as he did with Jesus:

The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   (Matthew 4:3-4)

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus warned us against putting temporal blessings ahead of that which is eternal:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

The people who had received a miraculous feeding from Jesus and were looking for more of the same. They equated this miracle with the miracle of the manna that God gave to Israel in the wilderness. Jesus taught them that there would be a greater blessing in store for them if they could receive it:

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”   (John 6:31-33)

Jesus was referring to receiving his body and blood through Holy Communion. The word that is used for Communion in many liturgical churches is “Eucharist.” This word comes from the Greek noun εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) which means “thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving Day in America is a special day of celebration with family and friends. We remember that America is a gift to us from God, and not to us only, but also to the world. There are dark forces that want us to ridicule and curse America, and even God. We are told that it is wrong to celebrate America. It is out of place to give praise. This is so far from the truth of God’s Holy Word.

Let us continually celebrate and remember what God has done for us. Let us remember that God is the one who established America, though our founding fathers had to understand what he was doing and be willing to sacrifice their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. What are we prepared to sacrifice today? Are we still willing to give even a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving before the naysayers?

America is still a work in progress. Liberty and justice for all is still a dream. But should that stop our praise? In Hebrews we read:

For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.   (Hebrews 13:14-16)

Perfection will be attained only in the Millennial Reign of Christ. Let us strive together, as a people, work toward that perfection which only Jesus consummate. Let us do so with prayer and thanksgiving unto God.

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22C

Track 1: Rejoice in the Lord Always

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26
or Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

The palmist wrote:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered you, O Zion.

As for our harps, we hung them up
on the trees in the midst of that land.   (Psalm 137:1-2)

The exiles in Babylon were remembering Jerusalem. From Lamentations we read:

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;

among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;

her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.   (Lamentations 1:1-3)

Jerusalem had been destroyed. This meant that the Jewish people’s way of life, centered on Jerusalem, had been destroyed. It was almost too sad to contemplate for them. The psalmist wrote:

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing the Lord‘S song
upon an alien soil.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.

Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.   (Psalm 137:3-6)

It was hard for those in despair to sing the songs of Zion. But when they did the world changed around them. The songs were so uplifting that even their captors wanted to hear them.

Praising God changes things. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
    burst into song and shout,
    you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
    than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.   (Isaiah 54:1)

Let us not wait to praise God. We may think that we have no reason to praise him. Yet, he is still with us. He still has plans for us. Do we trust him enough to place all our hopes in him?

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians:

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)

And again in Philippians 4:

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)

Paul experienced so many hardships in his ministry, but he did not loose hope in God. In today’s Epistle reading, as a prisoner, he proclaimed :

I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.   (2 Timothy 1:12-14)

Paul knew that God still had a plan for him. He understand that this plan will bring blessings to others and that he had been given a treasure to share with them. We are no different that the great apostle. God has given us a treasure. He has put it in our hearts. When we sing the songs of Zion, when we praise the Almighty, we release that treasure. Others see that we are praising God despite the circumstances. This is one of the most powerful witnesses that anyone of the faith can make.

Today, are we ready to share our faith, our joy in the Lord, our hope of glory? God exhorts us: Sing, O barren one. Burst into song and shout.

The exiles in Babylon did not remain in despair. God has a plan for them. We read in Isaiah:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:10)

We are great beneficiaries of the courage and faith of the Jewish people who would not give up. Let us also follow their example. God is still working in our lives and in this world. He is counting on us to be his ambassadors. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: You Have Only Done Your Duty

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In today’s Gospel reading the disciples of Jesus asked him to increase their faith:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Notice that Jesus did not directly answer their question. He emphasized that faith was important, but he followed up with this teaching:

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”   (Luke 17:5-10)

How could this teaching relate to faith? Perhaps it had more to do the disciples’ question about faith. Perhaps Jesus was able to see the motive behind the disciples’ question.

We know that some of the disciples were very ambitious. James and John wanted to sit beside Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Jesus was saying that our positions in ministry should not be our focus. Our obedience to God’s call was much more significant.

The disciples did not realize, at first, what would be required of them. The Apostle Paul learned of the hardships of ministry first hand. He did not let that deter him from his calling, however. Paul writes:

For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.   (2 Timothy 1:11-12)

In ministry we must learn to trust Jesus, regardless of the circumstances. If we are focused on who we are and not on who Jesus is, then we are ripe for the picking by the devil. Faith and endurance are required for ministry. That requires us to simply do our duty. Jesus said: You have done only what you ought to have done! We are not working for rewards for ourselves.

In our Old Testament reading today, the Prophet Habakkuk complained to God that the wicked seem to be triumphing. He would not be satisfied until God answered him:

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)

Are we not like Habakkuk? We want to see results, instant results.

Then the Lord answered me and said:

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 moves at his appointed time.  Patience and faith are required. We must keep believing. We must keep doing our duty. This usually means some suffering is required on our part. How we respond to the challenges of ministry and life reveals our character. Pride can be a major obstacle in our way. It seeks instant results. Humility before the Lord, having faith in his promises, is key.

This was the example set by the Apostle Paul. He wrote:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access 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 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 has proven his love and faithfulness through the cross of Jesus Christ. Our place in life and ministry is to serve him because he has poured his very essence into us.

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 16C

Track 1: Before I Formed You I Knew You

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Children are born with a purpose and a calling from God. That was true of Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”   (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

It is difficult for many of us to understand who God is calling us to be. When we begin to comprehend what God is asking of us, we often protest. Jeremiah did:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.”   (Jeremiah 1:6-8)

The assignment which God give us may seem well beyond our capabilities. What we need to understand is that we are not alone. God is with us.

The psalmist wrote:

For you are my hope, O Lord God,
my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.   (Psalm 71:5-6)

This is the beauty and mystery of our calling. It is an opportunity to know God and have an intimate relationship with our creator and redeemer. This is not what the world teaches. This is not what Satan wants. In fact, Satan wants to abort as many children as possible. Children with a calling from God are dangerous to him.

God has a plan for our lives. Our lives are very much a part of his overall plan for humanity. He has called us in order to reshape us, the deliver us, and heal us. He has called us into his kingdom which is unshakable. The world is passing as we know it is passing away.

From today’s Epistle reading:

At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken– that is, created things– so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.   (Hebrews 12:26-29)

Satan wants us crippled and bound to his lies. God wants to set us free. He sets us free so that we may rejoice and help set others free. In today’s Gospel we read:

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.   (Luke 13:10-13)

Healing and deliverance are often controversial, however. The “authorities” often object to it. They did concerning the ministry of Jesus:

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”   (Luke 13:14-16)

Who are these authorities? They were not appointed by God. We are his authorities when we answer his call.

Will we answer his call today? Will we enter into his unshakable kingdom? Will we celebrate our freedom and joy for all to see? None of us are too small or too insignificant. We are all destined for his glory. We all have a ministry and a calling. The crippled calling may have only been to glorify God. That could be the greatest calling of us all.

 

 

Track 2: By His Stripes We Are Healed

Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Healing is very much a part of the ministry of Jesus. Yet it is still controversial, even to this day. His healing ministry often got him into trouble with the authorities. From today’s Gospel reading:

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.   (Luke 13:10-17)

You would have thought that everyone there should have celebrated this woman’s healing. Not so:

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”  (Luke 13:14-16)

The healing ministry is very much a part of the new covenant which Jesus established for us by his sacrificial death on a cruel cross. He spilt his blood on our behalf  so that we might be set free from the power of sin and death. Today’s reading from Hebrews speaks of this new covenant:

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.   (Hebrews 12:22-24)

There is power in the blood of Jesus.

The psalmist wrote:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.

He forgives all your sins
and heals all your infirmities;

He redeems your life from the grave
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

He satisfies you with good things,
and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.   (Psalm 103:1-5)

Notice the forgiveness of sins becomes before healing. We must acknowledge our sins. Jesus bore them on the cross. He also bore our infirmities. From Isaiah:

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.   (Isaiah 53:4-5)

The crippled woman whom Jesus healed immediately began praising God. She was bound by Satan but Jesus set her free. Are we still bound by his lies and deception? Or are we ready to affirm, participate in, and celebrate the healing ministry of our Lord?

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