Tag Archives: signs and wonders

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21A

Track 1: Is the Lord among Us or Not?

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 2t1:23-32

In today’s Old Testament we once again read how the children of Israel lost faith, even when God almighty performed signs and wonders in their midst:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”   (Exodus 17:5-7)

Before we become too hard on the children of Israel let us ask ourselves how many times we have asked the same question about God when the challenges of life seemed to overwhelm us. It is altogether too easy to become blind to what God is doing when our faith is chanllenged. Faith is our spiritual sight. In Hebrews we read:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.   (Hebrews 11:1-3)

God, again, caused Moses to perform a miraculous sign to help restore the faith of the Israelites. The psalmist writes:

He split open the sea and let them pass through;
he made the waters stand up like walls.

He led them with a cloud by day,
and all the night through with a glow of fire.

He split the hard rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink as from the great deep.

He brought streams out of the cliff,
and the waters gushed out like rivers.   (Psalm 78:13-26

How much does it take for us to believe that God is with us? What if God chose to show up in person? He did! He became Emmanuel – God with us. His Son left his throne in heaven to share our human nature – to live and die as one of us. Paul writes:

Let the same mind be in you that was 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.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus has become part of us. We are inseparable, provided that we have accepted his unconditional love and sacrifice. Have we done so?

Paul continues:

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 theand every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:9-11)

When we make him Lord of our lives we become as much a part of him as he becomes of us. There is no longer the question: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Moses struck the rock in the desert and water flowed out. Jesus was struck in the side while he was hanging on the cross. Both blood and water flowed out. For those who believe, however, out of his side flowed rivers of living water as well. We have that living water, the Holy Spirit of God, living within us. Thanks be to God!

The question of whether or not God is with us needs to be changed. Are we with God? Have we given our life to Christ? If so, he is our deliverer, redeemer, healer, and friend. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: Repentance

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

“He is making a list, he is checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty or nice. Santa Clause is coming to town.” This well known song is not a version of the Gospel. It is a perversion. It may be cute but it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the clever false gospel of the fallen angel Satan. The song may be cute, but there is nothing truthful about it.

Satan attempts to warp our minds when it comes to sin. He tempts us into sin and then accuses us of being sinners. Satan’s tricks are very subtle. He works on the margin of truth. We should follow the laws of God, but without God’s help we cannot.

God wants to liberate our theology about sin. The Prophet Ezekiel gets at the very core of Satan’s deception:

You say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?   (Ezekiel 18:25-32)

Satan wants us to believe that we can store up points with God when we do good. God is saying through Ezekiel that our standing with God has to do with the condition of our hearts and not with our “good works.” Good works do not erase our sins. Good works do not restore us to God when we sin. God requires one thing only: repentance. He is looking for our change of heart.

Jesus illustrated this point with today’s parable from Matthew:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.   (Matthew 21:23-32)

The Pharisees were the gatekeepers. They were the scorekeepers. They decided who entered the Kingdom of God and who did not. The very ones they ruled out of the Kingdom God rules in. Tax collectors and the prostitutes who repented from their ways, who had a change of heart, who chose to live a new life in Christ, met God’s requirement. They repented of their sins and sought to lead a new life with God’s help.

If we are still keeping score on others or even on ourselves, then we do not understand the Gospel. The message is simple: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is also: repent and keep on repenting. In John’s First Epistle we read:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

Jesus has paid the price for our sin on the cross. He has freed us from the power of sin. Nevertheless, if we go on sinning it is because we are unwilling to confess our sins. We are unwilling to repent. We are saying that we accept the cross of Christ but we are unwilling to carry our own cross and follow him.

The Apostle Paul struggled with sin as do we all. In Romans he wrote:

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)

 

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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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Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

Seeing is Believing or Believing is Seeing?

We remember the story of doubting Thomas. He could not believe in the resurrection without physical evidence, even though others had testified that they had seen the risen Lord. Thomas got his chance to believe when Jesus appeared to his disciples a second time:

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  (John 20:26-29)

We should not be too hard on Thomas. His attitude represents for us a certain human skepticism that most of us share. Where does it come from? Perhaps it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Satan tricked humankind to believe that we could be like God through a secret wisdom alone. It was just a matter of going around God who, supposedly, was keeping important information from us. Is that not the quest of science today? In fact, for some of today’s scientist,  their quest is an effort to disprove God altogether.

In reality, when it comes to God, physical proof does not work. The children of Israel saw more signs and wonders from God than anyone has ever seen. Yet, within a generation, they almost lost their belief in the God who brought them out of Egypt and nourished them in the wilderness. “Seeing is believing” did not seem to work for them, nor will it work in our day as well.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter testified, in part:

David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”   (Acts 2:31)

The Apostles witness the resurrection of Jesus Christ first hand. Only a select few of people actually did. But their testimony has helped spread the Gospel around the world. Peter remarked:

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.   (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Personal testimonies are what touch people’s hearts. The risen Christ is very real to those who believe. They do not just have head knowledge. They have heart knowledge which is no less important. It may be even more important. This does not make Jesus any less real. It is just the God the Father has ordained faith as a required element in the conversion of souls. The Apostle Paul writes:

“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. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 10:8-10)

Paul tells us what it means to be saved. We received the word of God. We received the testimony and we believed. John Wesley said that his hearts was strangely warmed. Faith changes us.

We did not see the resurrected Lord as did the early apostles, but Jesus has called us blessed:

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

We have experienced Jesus within our hearts. Because we believed we have salvation in the name of Jesus. He can never be taken away from us if we hold him there. His life within us is transforming us more and more into his likeness. That transformation is our primary testimony and that is what changes the world. Many early Christian believers would not give up their testimony and were martyred for the Faith. Faith is all important because it guarantees an eternal inheritance with the Saints of light.

Let us go boldly into the world, as did Peter and the other apostles, and praise the glorious name of Jesus. “Believing is seeing.” May our belief help others to see.

Alleluia! He is risen!

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