Tag Archives: self-centered

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22B

Track 1: Receiving the Kingdom of God

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

We are familiar with the story of how Satan asked God to test Job and his faith:

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

As we know, Satan is the “accuser of the brethren.” He specializes in bringing us down. Job was living n a lofty perch.

The psalmist wrote:

Give judgment for me, O Lord,
for I have lived with integrity;
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.

Test me, O Lord, and try me;
examine my heart and my mind.

For your love is before my eyes;
I have walked faithfully with you.

I have not sat with the worthless,
nor do I consort with the deceitful.   (Psalm 26:1-4)

This psalm was true of Job. He was head and shoulders above his peers. What could be possibly missing in Job’s? Job was outstanding in every way. This much we can say, Satan’s plan was not God’s plan. What Satan meant for ill God meant for good.

Job is a very difficult book to understand. It has numerous interpretations. It plunges very deep into the human psyche and raised many theological issues. It is an important book. We need to wrestle with it. And we need to read it in context with the rest of the Bible.

How does today’s Gospel reading impinge upon Job? Or does it? We read from Mark:

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.   (Mark 10:13-16)

Was Job not as innocent as these little children? Well, we all realize that children are not really innocent, especially as parents. Jesus saying something about children? I believe the key word here is “receive.” We must receive the kingdom of God like children. Children are dependent upon us as parents, teachers, and mentors. They have been placed in a position that requires them to be dependent. On their own, they are not able to contend with some of the challenges of life.

Job was highly successful. He had all that he needed to enable him to live a somewhat independent life. Was he missing something? Perhaps he was missing the concept that he, too, was a dependent person certain ways. On his own, he was not going to enter the kingdom of God. No one can earn their place in the kingdom, not even people like Job. In fact, people who are like Job will have the same disadvantage he had.

Job needed God. He needed his love. He needed his forgiveness. He needed his mercy. He needed to acknowledge that his very life came from God and was sustained by God.  When Job eventually gave up on determining what may be missing in him, God asked him this question: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) God is God. He is the creator. He is the eternal one. We cannot do anything to impress him. The question for us is: “Has God done enough to impress us?”

Jesus said: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) We cannot earn what God the Father desires to give us by his grace alone. Jesus has earned the kingdom for us. Yet we must receive it with thanksgiving and awe. We are, in fact, all God’s little children.

My very young granddaughter painted me a picture. On it she wrote: “Love is the complete abandonment. I give myself to you.” Her concept of love is beyond her years. Her statement helped me to better understand what I need to say in this homily. Today, am I able to surrender my crown to the one who wore a crown of thorns for me?

 

 

Track 2: The Institution of Marriage

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

The family unit is the basic building block of society. God used the institution of marriage to build and preserve it. From Genesis we read:

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;

this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.   ()

Recently someone said to me that the institution of marriage has failed. That seemed like a strange way of saying it. The person who said it was a church-goer. Have we not failed the institution rather than the other way around?  Perhaps what this person said was not so foreign to today’s Church since the divorce rate of churchgoers is the same as non church-goers.

Why is marriage so important to the family? It ensures strong parenting. God blesses marriages. If we live within his guidelines the parents become very strong individuals. They reenforce one another because, through marriage, they really do become one flesh. The parents who are one flesh are needed to raise children as God has intended. A man is really an incomplete parent without a wife. This is true for a woman as well.

But today we have the so-called “modern” family. Almost anything goes. The rules have been changed. The goal posts have been moved. When we find that we cannot obey God’s commandments today, we either ignore them or weaken them. This is true for society in general and it is also true for the Church.

Today is no exception. This was true in the time of Moses. From Mark’s Gospel we read:

Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”   (Mark 10:2-9)

Jesus was saying that when God declares something he does not change his mind later. We want to change things because we find it difficult to do all the things which God declares. The institution of marriage has not failed. God has not failed. He does not fail us. We fail him! What do we do when this happens? Jesus makes it clear that we cannot changer the rules and have God go along with us.

Divorce is not an unpardonable offense. When we fail at something we need to confess what we have done and not try to cover it up. Repentance is a large part of the Christian faith. God can help us in our weaknesses, but we must seek his help. Repentance is the framework. The cross of Jesus does not cover unconfessed sin. This may be news to some churches, but it is not news to the New Testament, Pauline theology, and the First Epistle of John.

If we do not follow God’s plans for us we ultimately become very weak. Our lives come more like the lives of worldly people. A great revival is needed. It must begin in the household of God. A reformation in the Church is needed. Reformation does not mean more watering down. The “seeker” church is not the reformed church. Moving the goal posts is not reformation.

In the meantime, we need to provide greater support for marriages and families. We need to provide the greatest support to unwed mothers and for those in broken homes and single parent homes. God does not fail them. We have failed them. Sincere repentance with humbly hearts will help usher in new beginnings. Christianity is always about new beginnings.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Abiding in the Love of Jesus

In many of our churches today we are offered doctrine that, when followed, assures us of our salvation. It could be one of the reasons why we have so many denominations. “Your church believes this but my church believes this.”

Ultimately, doctrine has to do with the fear of punishment. It cannot eradicate that fear, however, because it cannot pay the price of sin. Even though the doctrine keeps changing, even though the goal posts are moved, sin remains. And for that reason, fear remains. Only love conquers fear.

In his first Epistle John writes:

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)

If we could teach only one Christian principle, what would it be? Perhaps we should return to the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of John:

Jesus said to his disciples, ”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 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)

Church doctrine for many cases is an insurance policy. It guarantees our salvation should we stray from the faith. Have we accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior only to walk away from him? If we are his disciples then that is not an option. And perhaps, if we could comprehend his love for us, we would not want to walk away.

Jesus said:

Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”   (John 15:6-8)

Bearing fruit is a product of abiding in the love of Christ, We cannot do it on our own. When we try, we fail. The proof of our abiding is in how we treat others. Again we have the words of John in his First Epistle:

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.   (1 John 4:20-21)

How can we love others when we are so focused on the self? We are called to deny ourselves and take up our own cross and follow Jesus?

Let us remember what Jesus gave up for us. Philip Interpreted this scripture for the Ethiopian Eunuch:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”   (Acts 8:32-33)

When he understood what the scripture meant, the Eunuch immediately wanted to surrender his life to Christ. What is our response today? Are we ready to abide in the  presence of Jesus? If so, our salvation is sure because we are abiding in his perfect love.

Again, we are reminded of the words of the Apostle John:

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 4:18)

Doctrine is a very poor replacement for the love of Christ. All we need to do as true Christians is to abide in the love of our Savior.

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