Tag Archives: salvation

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

A Sacred Journey

In the state of New York in the United States of America, abortion was approved from the time of conception up to the actual time of birth. Why? Perhaps the birth of a child does not always fit into the plans of the mother or father. What about the plans of God?

From today’s Old Testament reading:

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)

How many prophets have we aborted? How many poets? How many physicians? How many priests?

Our lives are sacred to God. He has plans for them. His joy is to watch our lives unfold, to guide us and protect us along the way.

From the Book of Jeremiah we read:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.   (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Our joy is to discover God’s plan for us. It is to seek him with all our heart. To receive God’s plan we must be willing to exercise our faith. From the Book of Hebrews:

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

Faith enables us to accept God’s plans. Without it, life itself may be in danger.

To be sure, God’s plan may often present great challenges to us. This was so for Jeremiah when God first called him. From today’s reading from Jeremiah:

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)

What matters above all else is that God is with us on our journey. The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy:

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.   (1 Timothy 4:12)

People may tell us that we are too young or too inexperienced for a certain assignment. We need to remember that what God says is more important that what other people may say. There will always be opposition to following the calling of God.

David, the shepherd boy who became king, experienced great opposition. From today’s psalm we read:

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

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 71:4-6)

As we can see, David was aware that God had a calling on his life from an early age. That is true for us all.

Jesus, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, was sent by God the Father to save his people. His very names means salvation. He studied the scriptures from his youth up, in preparation for his ministry. When it became time to proclaim his mission he met great opposition in his hometown. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.   (Luke 4:21-24)

Not only did his listeners reject what Jesus said, but they also wanted to hurl him off a cliff. They must have thought that, since they knew who Jesus was, how could he possibly be qualified to do the ministry that was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah.

This was not the only opposition that Jesus faced. His own family opposed some of the things he was doing. From the Gospel of Mark we read:

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”  (Mark 3:20-21)

People may think they know us better than ourselves. They may be well-meaning, but they do not know us the way God knows us. We are his creation and he has great plans for us.

The Apostle Paul experienced great opposition to his ministry. We will experience the same. He learned to listen to the voice of God over the nay sayers. From Galatians:

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.   (Galatians 1:10)

Discouragement is a primary weapon of the enemy. We remember how Satan tried to discourage Jesus in the wilderness, before he began his earthly ministry. He told Jesus to take a short cut with him, implying that God’s way may be too hard. Again, God does challenge us. We must remember, however, that we are not alone on our journey. God will enable us to do what he is asking us to do. Paul wrote:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.   (Philippians 4:13)

We may have failed along the way. Nonetheless, God tells us not to be discouraged. From the Book of Isaiah:

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
    do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
    and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.   (Isaiah 54:4-5)

Jesus may have been discouraged but he did not fail. He endured a cruel cross that we might be set free from all our sins and all our failures. He is our redeemer. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians:

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 3:12-14)

And from 2 Corinthians:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.   (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

God still has a plan for us. We are his ambassadors for Christ. We are still on our journey with God. He is still guiding us. He is still delighting in us. We are not a mistake. Our sacred journey with him is not yet complete. Let us press on with faith and encouragement. And let us encourage others along their sacred path. After all, we are ministers of reconciliation.

Consider the alternative: the culture of division and death. Is that to be our legacy? It is not God’s way. Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.   (John 10:10)

Amen.

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Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloA Conversion Experience

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While in route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, 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. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are persecuting their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown-up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow-up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he describe himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His his Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul become the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world is counting on us give witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

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Christmas Day: Proper III

The Word Made Flesh

The Gospel of John does not have an Infancy narrative as do the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Rather, John speaks of a time before the birth of the Christ Child. He writes of the One who pre-existed the world and was the very agent of all creation:

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, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

The reading from Hebrews echoes this same theme:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.  (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Do we know Jesus beyond the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes? Many of His own Jewish people did not comprehend who Jesus was and is:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  (John 1:10-11)

The remarkable thing is that the creator God entered His own the world of His own creation on our behalf. In Jesus, God made himself vulnerable to humankind in order to reveal his true nature and heart:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

As prophesied by Isaiah, God made himself visible through demonstrations of his power and might. Lastly, he demonstrated his victory of the power of sin and death through the resurrection of his Son which brought the opportunity of salvation for the whole world:

The Lord has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:10)

God made himself visible that all the world might see his glory. However, we are now living in an ever darkening world. It has become incorrect to celebrate the birth of Christ. We are not to pray in our schools. We are told not to give testimony. Jesus must be folded into other religions in order to be acceptable. Why is that? The world wants us to hide the glory of God and his plan for salvation. We know that worldly people are hiding from God because they do not understand that he died for them. Are we to hide from God as well?

Now is the time for what may be the greatest missionary work of all. Are we up to the task? We are not alone in carrying out this mission. God is Emmanuel. He is with us in our struggles. God became flesh for us so that we might become part of his flesh. In the Incarnation, God took us our flesh. Now we are to take up his nature. John reminds us again:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

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Second Sunday of Advent: Year C

A Highway for Our God

John the Baptizer was special. He was spoken about in the Book of Isaiah:

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.   (Isaiah 40:3-4)

His father, the priest  Zechariah, prophesied over him when he was born:

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.   (Luke 1: 76-79)

John’s ministry was to prepare the way for the coming Messiah promised of old. Israel had not heard the voice of a prophet of God for four hundred years. There was a longing to hear from God. There was a longing for a savior that would save the nation from its enemies. But were they ready for John the Baptizer?

The Lord spoke through the Prophet Malachi concerning John:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.   (Malachi 3:1-3)

John the Baptizer was like a refiner’s fire. Israel needed purification. They were looking for someone to subdue their enemies, but like many of us, their real enemy was themselves. Are we ready to receive the Christ into our hearts today? Israel was not. They were living in a wilderness apart from God, though they were careful to observe their traditional religious practices. These practices were not necessarily wrong, but they were often empty.

God wants to build a highway in the wilderness which leads directly to him. Whether people consciously realize it or not, they are looking for God. God is offering them a highway on which to travel. What is that highway? Or who is that highway? The children of Israel were that highway. And today we are that highway.

The modern way of road building is to smooth out the terrain underneath. That was not always the case for Virginia before the interstates. I was once driving up and down the many hills from Richmond to Charlottesville, Virginia. My young daughter, who was riding in the back, got very sick. I won’t go into all the details. The highway we were riding was faithfully tracing out the contour of the land and it was very hilly.

What does it take to build a highway? A lot of heavy earth moving equipment. God is building his highway and we are the earth he is moving around.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain. e level,
    and the rough places a plain.”

God is refining us. He is reshaping us. If we will allow him to have his way the world around us will see a different terrain. Through us God will “shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide them into the way of peace.” We are living in a terrible darkness today. People need to see the light of Christ.

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Church in Philippi:

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.   (Philippians 1:9-11)

God is preparing his Church for the final harvest. He needs us to help produce that harvest. We must be pure and blameless. We must be the light of the world. That can only happen when we abide in our Lord Jesus Christ. This Advent season, will we allow God to use us as part of his highway. There may be some pain as God rearranges the earth. But if we bask in the love of Jesus all the while, not losing his peace, we will pave the way for a great harvest, both within the Church and the world around us. Amen.

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