Tag Archives: righteousness

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22A

MTZION-1Track 1: The Fear of the Lord

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

God calls us out of this fallen world. He wants us to come apart and be separate os that we may have fellowship with him. The story fo the children of Israel is our story.

When God came down on Mount Sinai to speak with the children of Israel it was a frightening experience for them. From Exodus we read:

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”   (Exodus 20:18-20)

Fear, however, kept the Israelites from wanting to come close to God. God is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Anyone who is in the near presence of God becomes manifestly aware of their sin. Though the Israelites told Moses they would listen to whatever God said through Moses, they did not want to hear from him directly.

History proved them wrong. They did not listen actually listen to God because they wanted to hold on to their sins. Moses told them that the fear they experienced in God’s presence was designed to keep them from sinning.

A Holy God must judge sin. People fear God because they fear his judgement. He read in Hebrews:

For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.   (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Is this fear bad? The psalmist tells us that fear of the Lord is a good thing:

The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.   (Psalm 19:9)

The Hebrew word translated as “clean” means “purifying.” Without a fear of God their is little desire to be purified. Obviously many people living in this world today have little fear of God.

In Proverbs we read:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.   (Proverbs 9:10)

Fear is not the end of wisdom, however. Fear has to do with punishment. The Apostle John places fear in the perspective of the Gospel.

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)

God is still calling us to come into his presence. Where do we stand today? Do we desire to get closer to him or do we stand back? The Apostle Paul did not stand back. In today’s Epistle we read:

I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:8-14)

Paul understood that he was not going to be able to fulfill the righteous requirements of God’s law on his own. He needed to press in to God by growing in knowledge of Christ. Paul rejected himself and what he could accomplish on his own. Rather, his building block became Jesus Christ.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, speaks about himself as the cornerstone:

“Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?   (Matthew 21:42)

Do we know Jesus as our cornerstone? He alone can satisfy the righteous requirements of the law. He alone can present us spotless before the Father in heaven. He alone can perfect us in love. He took our punishment on the cross so that we may boldly approach him by faith. Is he calling us today to come closer? If so, why would we stand back?

 

 

Track 2: The Unfruitful Vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

From today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah we have the Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard:

Let me sing for my beloved

    my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
    and people of Judah,
judge between me
    and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
    that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
    why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
    what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
    and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
    and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
    it shall not be pruned or hoed,
    and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
    that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
    but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
    but heard a cry!.   (Isaiah 5:1-7)

The house of Israel is the vineyard. God had great expectations for Israel. Of all the nations on earth God took great care to protect and nature Israel. He looked for Israel to produce fruit. They were to provide fruit upon which the whole world would feast. But this did not happen which brought judgement from God.

The psalmist asked:

Why have you broken down its wall,
so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?

The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it,
and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.

Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine;
preserve what your right hand has planted.   (Psalm 80:12-14)

God tends his vineyard. He provides the sunshine of his love. He waters the vineyard with his Word and Spirit. God expects fruit in return. The plants must simply drink in God’s nourishment.

Jesus tells a parable:

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”   (Matthew 21:33-41)

How could anyone act so atrociously? How could they be so selfish? What could have possibly prompted the tenants in the parable to behave in such a bizarre way? Perhaps they wanted to prove they could tend the vineyard on their own, without the landowner’s help? Perhaps they decided that they should take ownership of the vineyard and eliminate the Landowners participation altogether? How could they be so evil? And how could we crucify the Lord of Glory?

Israel is still the planting of the Lord. God has not abandoned them. We are the ingrafted branches of Israel. We, therefore, are also the planting of the Lord, provided that we have accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Do we see in our selves any of the characteristics that were in the tenants in the parable? Another way of asking this question: Are we producing fruit in our lives – fruit that remains. In John’s Gospel we read:

“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[a] 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)

The tenants in the parable thought they could produce fruit on there own. But they could not. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees through this parable. Is he speaking to us today?

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”   (Matthew :42-44)

If we are to produce fruit then we cannot reject Jesus, his teachings, and his gift of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. He is the vinedresser and we are the branches.

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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8A

Track 1: Obedience from the Heart

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

In today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis, God, seemingly, asked Abraham to do the unthinkable:

God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”   (Genesis 22:1-2)

Incredibly, Abraham obeyed God. He had to go a great distance and to great lengths to follow God’s instructions. Can we imagine how he must have felt while on this journey with his son Isaac? There is no other test in all the Bible like this one! Isaac was the son of great promise. God has told Abraham that he would make him the father of many nations through Isaac. Isaac’s very conception was miraculous, considering the age of Abraham and his wife Sarah. Now God was telling Abraham that he must kill his son.

Let us follow this remarkable account to its conclusion:

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”   (Genesis 22:9-12)

Abraham loved God and trusted him. He did so to the point of sacrificing his own son if need be. How many of us would have been willing to follow God’s commandments to this extreme? Abraham demonstrated his love for God by his obedience. Even undergoing an extreme test, he kept his faith and trust in God. He believed that God would keep his promise that he would be the father of many nations. Thus he was willing to do all that God asked of him.

The Apostle Paul wrote about obedience to God’s commandments from the heart:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.   (Romans 6:16-18)

Love leads to obedience. Jesus also spoke about the importance of obedience in the Gospel of John:

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.   (John 14:23-24)

Abraham demonstrated a love for God that was not dependent on circumstances. He was willing, if necessary, to sacrifice his own son Isaac. His unconditional love mirrors the love of God. The Apostle Paul helps put this love in context:

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.   (Romans 8:31-33)

Since God has given ups his all should we not respond with our whole heart. One of the best ways to respond is through obedience from the heart.

 

 

Track 2: Court Prophets

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4,15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

In the Old Testament there were prophets and there were “court prophets.” The course prophets worked for the king and were in charge of giving him good news about his kingdom and rule. Natural, to gain favor with the king one did not want to bring him bad news. In today’s Old Testament reading, the Prophet Jeremiah spoke out against such “prophets:”

The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”   (Jeremiah 28:5-9)

The problem was more than the prophecy given by these were in many cases untrue. This false prophecy was given in the name of the Lord. God had something to say about it. Again, in Jeremiah we read:

See, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their own tongues and say, “Says the Lord.” See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the Lord.

When this people, or a prophet, or a priest asks you, “What is the burden of the Lord?” you shall say to them, “You are the burden, and I will cast you off, says the Lord.”   (Jeremiah 23:31-33)

Do we have court prophets in the Church today? They were in the Church in the Apostle Paul’s day he warned Timothy concerning false prophecy. Paul warned his young protege Timothy:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.   (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

Jesus also warned against false prophets. In Matthew we read:

“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)

Who are the court prophets trying to please today? Do people go to prophecy conferences to pay the seers to give them a rosy picture about their future? Of course, the situation can be a little more subtle than that. Rosy sermons about prosperity and financial blessings are all very common today. The promise of a great ministry on the way is very exciting. But where is the message about holy living and self-sacrifice?

Not all of us are going to be wealthy. Not all of us will have great recognizable ministries. In today’s Gospel we read:

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”   (Matthew 10:40-42)

Faithful service is the key. The Gospel does not need to be embellished. God will determine our rewards. The greatest reward is our eternal salvation through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

The  Shepherd and Guardian of Our Souls

Without a shepherd we are lost. We are like unruly sheep. The prophet wrote:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:6)

The music of Handel’s Messiah set to this reading from Isaiah tells the story. It is so lighthearted and frivolous. As people, we can be so unconcerned about and unaware of the consequences of our actions. Who can save us? Jesus. The Apostle Peter quotes Isaiah:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.   (1 Peter 2:23-25)

As sheep we need a shepherd. We need our shepherd to be the one who laid down his life for us. He alone can forgive us and lead us into righteousness:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.   (Psalm 23:1-3)

Only Jesus can lead us along right pathways. The institutions of education, the media, the entertainment industry, and the popular culture have worked overtime to lead us astray. Group think, political correctness, demonic music, and the intimidation of free speech have worn down our inner defenses and left us vulnerable to attack from the enemy. In fact, these voices are part of the attack.

These are strange voices to which we do not want to listen of follow. Let us tune our ears to the voice of the Good Shepherd:

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”   (John 10:3-5)

We need Jesus as a shepherd, but he is more than shepherd, He leads us along right pathway and he revives our souls. Friends, our souls are dying without his presence in our lives. Are we embracing Jesus or are we being lead astray by strangers who want to kill and destroy us?

All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”   (John 10:8-10)

Thus, we see the ministry of Jesus as being two-fold. He is our shepherd, but he is also the guardian of our souls. The Greek word for guardian here is episkopoß (episkopos). As it is used in 1 Peter, it means more of a ministry than a position in the Church. Supplementing shepherd, the term suggests the pastoral work of watching over or guarding someone. It also means one who is doing this has the fullest knowledge.

We live in a very dangerous world, one in which the Devil is prowling about, seeking whom he can devour. There is no protection apart from Jesus. We say and believe that Jesus has saved our souls. That is what we should believe. But is Jesus guarding our souls? Is he reviving our souls? He wants us to follow where he is leading us. He is leading us to safety. He knows the pitfalls which lie ahead –  the ones that we do not see and cannot anticipate.

Christianity is an endurance race. We must keep the faith to the end. Too much is at stack for us to rely solely on  ourselves. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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