Tag Archives: salvation

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 16A

Track 1: Points of Historical Inflection

Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

An inflection point is a point on a mathematical graph at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs. The graph is a representation of an underlying math function. The concept of inflection points is useful in other disciplines. History, for example, has points of inflection. Things were going one way, but then an expected course is altered. The inflection point might not be easily seen, but over time and with hindsight, one might see that at a certain moment in time the course of history was altered.

The birth of Moses was an inflection point. God intervened to restore the nation of Israel. We remember that Pharaoh had ordered that all male Hebrew babies should be killed. God gave the mother of Moses the wisdom to protect her child, even though she had to give up her child to a greater good. In Exodus we read:

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”   (Exodus 2:5-10)

We remember how Moses grew up in the house of Pharaoh, how he eventually escaped from Egypt, and how God used him to returned to Egypt to lead the Hebrews out of captivity. The psalmist looked back on these events and saw the hand of the Lord in history:

If the Lord had not been on our side,
let Israel now say;

If the Lord had not been on our side,
when enemies rose up against us;

Then would they have swallowed us up alive
in their fierce anger toward us;

Then would the waters have overwhelmed us
and the torrent gone over us;

Then would the raging waters
have gone right over us.

Blessed be the Lord!
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Our help is in the Name of the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.   (Psalm 124)

God has a hand in all that occurs. He can altar the course of history at any time he desires. As we look back on our lives  are we able to see points of inflection? Times when God was there to steer the ship when we were struggling just to ride out the storm with little or no direction?

We do not always understand what he is doing, or even observe that he has intervened in our lives  or in the life of our nation. Of course, like the children of Israel, when we do see what he has done, that does not always stop us from complaining about the direction things seemed to be going in.

Are our hearts open to the greater plans of God, plans that do not always conform to our preconceived notion and plans? Are we missing God’s points of inflection?

The greatest point of inflection in human history is when the Word of God came in the flesh, taking on our human nature to live and die as one of us, so that he might reconcile us to God the Father. The course of human history was potentially changed from death to life, from darkness to light, from destruction to eternal salvation and peace.

We do not want to miss this point of inflection. It has already occurred one two thousand years ago. Yet we must embrace it today in our own lives. Otherwise, we will go on complaining about our lives and miss the greatest gift of grace from a God who loves us unconditionally. Have we accepted his love? Have we accepted his Son? It is time to change the trajectory of lives and move in God’s direction. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: The Greatest Question of All

Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

When I was on seminary there was a movement to discover the historical Jesus. i believed the movement was called the ‘Jesus Movement.” Scholar are still playing the same game. At least they are aware of the importance of his identity and are searching for an answer.

Who Jesus is absolutely essential the the Christian faith. Jesus raised the question with his disciples:

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”   (Matthew 16:13-17)

As Christian believers we need to be aware of what people are saying and teaching about Jesus. But that is not enough. What is more important than anything else is what we say about Jesus and who we believe he is. Scripture tells us who he is, unlike many so-called biblical scholars who say they haven’t a clue. Nevertheless, the Bible testifies against them. From the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people.   (John 1:1-4)

And from Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in[i] him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.   (Colossians 1:15-20)

And from Philippians:

Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:5-11)

The Apostle Peter, however, did not have the New Testament scriptures to read. He had a testimony directly from God the Father. Jesus said to him: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” God the Father is still revealing his Son for those who will open up their hearts. Have we had a personal revelation from God?

Telling others who Jesus is of equal importance as knowing who Jesus is. Jesus said:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.   (Matthew 10:32-33)

Are we ashamed to mention the name of Jesus to a fallen world? This world is decaying and falling apart. Jesus is forever. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
    and my deliverance will never be ended.   (Isaiah 51:6)

We are nearer to the Day of the Lord than ever before. What is our testimony concerning who Jesus is and who he is to 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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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 14A

Track 1: Why Did You Doubt?

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Today we recall one of the great moments in the earthly ministry of Jesus:

Early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”   (Matthew 14:25-31)

Before we become too hard on Peter let us confess that probable none of us have ever walked on water. Jesus asked Peter: “Why did you doubt?” Why did Peter doubt at the last minute? To answer that question we must also answer: “Why do we doubt, sometimes at the last minuet?”

The strong winds and rough seas in life so easily capture our attention. The circumstances around us distract us. We lose our concentration. We quickly forget what God has done and what he is doing now. Jesus had been walking on the water, but that was not the focus of Peter now as he was sinking in the sea.

God led the children of Israel out of Egypt with many signs and wonders. He had parted the Red Sea. But when Moses went up on the mountain to be with God for forty days, the children of Israel quickly forgot what God had done for them. They made a golden calf to worship in his place. They lost their faith at the last minute so to speak.

Fortunately, when we sink into roaring seas of life Jesus does not sink with us. The psalmist reminds us:

Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.

Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Search for the Lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.

Remember the marvels he has done,
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,   (Psalm 105: 1-5)

Joseph could have easily lost his faith in God when his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. We remember that he had been given a dream in which his brothers would one day bow down to him. The psalmist goes on to remind us how this prediction came true:

Until his prediction came to pass,
the word of the Lord tested him.

The king sent and released him;
the ruler of the peoples set him free.

He set him as a master over his household,
as a ruler over all his possessions,   (Psalm 105: 19-21)

Probably very few of us will be tested in the extreme way that Joseph was tested. Nonetheless, our lives are full of tests. How do we respond? Do we forget that we serve a great God who has rescued us in the past? Do we dwell on the difficult circumstances that may surround us? Or do we look up to Jesus?

Peter was going under. He cried out to the Lord: “Save me!” Some of us need to cry out to him today. Now is the time to call upon his name, the name above all names. Now is the time to reach out to him. Now is the hour to cast all our cares upon him. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: Hiding from God

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

The Prophet Elijah was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and Moses. But in today’s Old Testament reading we find this same prophet hiding in a cave. He had recently had a showdown between himself and the prophets of Baal. As you may recall, he won hands down. Jezebel, however, the wife of King Ahas and worshiper of Baal, threatened his life. Elijah had fled to Mount Horeb to escape:

At Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”   (1 Kings 19:9-10)

It appears that Elijah had given up all hope. He responds to God’s question with an explanation of what is happening on the ground, so to speak, as if God’s needs his explanation to understand what is going on. What happened to Elijah? Perhaps he took some credit for the humiliation of the prophets of Baal. He was merely God’s messenger. God defeat these prophets.

God responds to Elijah’s concerns:

“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”    (1 Kings 19:11-14)

God speaks to Elijah in a still small voice to remind him of how close he is to Elijah and how close he has been always been. Elijah was never alone. God’s word was with him all along. The Apostle Paul echoes this closeness by quoting Moses from the Old Testament:

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.   (Romans 10:5-10)

God is with us. He is there for us. We may put our trust in him. But when we rely on ourselves or give ourselves credit for some great accomplishment, we ultimately find ourselves hiding from God, thinking that he is no longer with us. Fear of fighting our battles alone leads can lead us astray. If we are listening, God is calling us to return to him and put our whole faith and trust in him once more.

If we have never known his presence in our lives now is the time to confess him. If we believe that Jesus is Lord of all and that God the Father raised him from the dead, then let us confess: “Jesus is Lord!” If we do not believe then let us ask God to help us to believe. He is very near. We are now living because he is breathing his Spirit into us. He is residing in our hearts right now. All we have to do is call upon his name. Amen.

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