Tag Archives: sacrifice

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 15A

Track 1: Unity in the Body of Christ

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

The psalmist wrote:

Oh, how good and pleasant it is,
when brethren live together in unity!

It is like fine oil upon the head
that runs down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron,
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

It is like the dew of Hermon
that falls upon the hills of Zion.

For there the Lord has ordained the blessing:
life for evermore.   (Psalm 133:1-5)

There is great blessing in unity, within the body of Christ as well as within our own lives. Unfortunately, experience tells us that coming together in unity can be most difficult.

The Apostle Paul was struggling with the problem of achieving unity within the Early Church. Paul considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles, though he was trained as a Pharisee, He received criticism from the Church in Jerusalem because his converts were not following the strict practices of Judaism. Paul attempted to explain why God does not show partiality to either Jew of Gentile:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.   (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)

The key to understanding unity between brothers and sisters of the Faith is that God has shown mercy to us all. Not one of us can say that we do not need his mercy. God has forgiven us by removing our sins through the shed blood of Jesus. We have earned no status with God on our own.

Mercy and forgiveness are the building blocks of unity. Joseph of the Old Testament understood this. We remember the Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt. That would have been devastating for most anyone who went from favored son to being falsely accused and thrown in prison in Egypt. Joseph held on to his trust in God and eventually this paid off. Today out of Genesis we read:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’   (Genesis 45:4-11)

As a forerunner of Christ, Joseph forgave his brothers and showed them mercy and kindness. Thus he was able to reconcile peacefully with his brothers. But there is one other thing that we might easily overlook and that is how Joseph was able to forgive his brothers. Joseph understood how his life fit into a wider plan that God had for his people. He told his brothers: “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

If we are to live in unity we must learn to forgive and show mercy to others as God has show to us. But we must also see beyond our own selfish needs. We must pray ask how God is using us for the greater good, even when we are undergoing difficult circumstances. The Apostle Paul reminds us:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] 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 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)

Powerful forces are coming against the Church today, to create division and disunity. Let us reject these forces, which are of the Devil, and strive together to live in unity. It is not always so easy. However, when we do God’s blessing falls upon us. Though the struggle may be difficult, with God, all things are possible. Joseph learned this. We have the blood of Christ on our side. All the more reason for us to show love to others. Paul wrote:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.   (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

 

 

Track 2: Great Is Your Faith

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

The Apostle Paul was struggling with the problem of achieving unity within the Early Church. Paul considered himself an apostle to the Gentiles, though he was trained as a Pharisee, He received criticism from the Church in Jerusalem because his converts were not following the strict practices of Judaism. Paul attempted to explain why God does not show partiality to either Jew of Gentile:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.   (Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)

In today’s Gospel reading we have a curious account of a conversation Jesus had with a Canaanite woman. The woman would not have been considered as one of God’s chosen people. She was not a practicing Jew.  At first it seems as if Jesus is trying to discourage the woman but then we begin to realize that he was testing her:

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.   (Matthew 15:21-28)

The Canaanite woman was not without faith. In someways she understood more about the ministry of Jesus than did his disciples who were trying to turn her away. She was not puffed up about her status with God. Nonetheless, she felt in her heart that Jesus might show her mercy if she asked him. The truth is that God will show anyone mercy who asked. The Apostle Paul writes:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.   (Ephesians 2:4-9)

God is no respecter of persons. The Prophet Isaiah spoke:

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,

for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,

all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant–

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.   (Isaiah 56:1,6-8)

We are the foreigners joined to the Lord. We are the ingrafted branches of Judaism. Our status before God is not about what we have done for him. Rather, our status is fully based on what Jesus has done for us.

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Saint Mary the Virgin

Il_Sassoferrato_-_Madonna_with_the_Christ_Child_-_WGA20874Faith in God’s Promises

The prophets of old foretold the Messiah and His ministry, but who could grasp all that they were saying?

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  (Isaiah 53:1-3)

Mary understood that God had made promises to Abraham and she believed that He would keep them. She lived through terrible circumstances but never gave up her hope and trust in the Lord. Her God was full of love and mercy. Her reverence and humility before God are without question.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”   (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary did not always fully grasp the ministry of her son, however. We cannot fault her for that. There was no one ever like Jesus, either before or since. As the prophet Simeon foretold, her heart would be pierced and she would gain a greater understanding.

“Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  (Luke 2:34-35)

Our hearts must be pierced also if we are to understand the ministry and message of Jesus. How closely we follow Jesus in our lives will telegraph what we truly believe. Will we go the distance with Him as did His mother Mary? Mary was at the cross when most of Jesus’ disciples fled. She could not turn away. Her love for God was so great. She walked in the steps of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his own son if that were required by God.

What is our witness today? Are we highly favored of God? We may not understand all that is going on. We may not fully grasp the miracle that God is working out. Nonetheless, we can still believe and trust in the promises of God as did Mary. Let us pray for grace to endure the pain while eagerly anticipating our Lord’s victory with patience and endurance? Mary did this and so much more. Her enduring faith and courage has inspired the Church down to this day.

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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13A

Track 1: Encounter with God

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7,16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Jacob was in a precarious position. He was returning home to Canaan with his family and flocks. He would soon meet his brother Esau from whom he had stolen his inheritance. He was fearful of what might happen so he took precautions to protect himself and his family.

Life is full of uncertainties. We face numerous problems along the way, some of which we brought on ourselves as did Jacob. Jacob would either continue operating as Jacob or he would become Israel:

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man[a]said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”   (Genesis 32:24-28)

What caused Jacob to change? Jacob had an encounter with God. The psalmist wrote:

Weigh my heart, summon me by night,
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

I give no offense with my mouth as others do;
I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;
incline your ear to me and hear my words.

Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.   (Psalm 17:3-7)

Before his encounter with God when he was visited by night, Jacob was in charge of his life. He relied upon himself, his own strength, and his cunning. After his encounter, he knew that he needed God. He had run our of his own resources. He was desperate. Now he was living under the blessings of God.

How did that work for him? How does that work for us? Are we ignoring God, pushing him aside? God is not ignoring us. He is waiting upon us to enter into a relationship with him. Often and in many cases, our coming to God is a struggle.

The Apostle Paul was struggling against God. He was persecuting Christians. Then he had an encounter with God:

I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.   (Acts 26:13-15)

When we go it alone we become confused. We run out of resources. We become bitter, judgmental, frustrated, and exhausted. That was Paul. That was Jacob. They were self-centered. Today we might say that they were “self made men.” The self fails. When it does we get wounded. We may believe that God has bruised us, but has is not been our own doing?

Jesus has paid the price of our rescue. He has purchased provisions for us by his blood on he cross. If we have been fighting God as Jacob and Paul, we have been bruised. But Jesus has been bruised for us:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.   (Isaiah 53:4-5)

In our weakness God will manifest his strength. Now is the time to come to him. When we do He will multiply all that we have. We will discover as did the disciples of Jesus, at the feeding of the five thousand, that they had more than enough to do all that God asked of them. He is calling us. He is asking us to be his disciples today. And he is ready to supply all our needs as we put our trust in him. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: The Impossible Task

Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

The disciples of Jesus were faced with an impossible situation. Jesus asked them to feed five thousand people, not counting women and children, on short notice and in a very remote setting:

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”   (Matthew 14:15-18)

God gives us difficult assignments, on occasion. We must assume that, if God gives us an assignment, it must be important to him. Therefore, we should take it seriously as well. How we respond to the assignment is critical to its execution and success.

The assignment that the disciples were given was a real test of their faith. Much is said about faith in our churches today. Do we have enough faith? Do we have faith in faith? Let us look at faith as an approach to God. We read in the Book of Hebrews:

Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

We are looking past our own skills and resources and seeking the help of a God who has no limit in what he can do. He does not suffer from any lack of resources. Does he want to help us? From today’s Old Testament reading the Prophet Isaiah speaks to us:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.   (Isaiah 55:1-3)

We may wish to prove ourselves to God. What we may fail to realize is that God wants to proved himself to us.

The miracle is believing that whatever God asks us to do he will supply us with the means to accomplish that which he asks. Yet, we must begin the task with the tools and resources that we already have at hand. What are our loaves and fish? God will multiply that which we have, but first we must offer up to God all that we have, including ourselves, so that he may bless our endeavor. Jesus reminded his disciples:

“For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”   (Matthew 19:26)

God is with us and he is in partnership with us. Are we with him?

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