Tag Archives: Sin

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Holiness of God

During this Season of Epiphany we have been looking at ways God manifested himself to his people. Our appointed readings for today have two examples of this, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Though the span of time was around seven hundred years between the two, they seem to have some commonality.

Let us first look at the Old Testament one. We have an account of the calling of Isaiah the prophet:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”   (Isaiah 6:1-5)

Moving now to the New Testament we have an account of Jesus calling his first disciples:

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”    (Luke 5:1-10)

They both of these epiphanies revealed God’s presence and power. Isaiah and Simon were awestruck. Isaiah said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Simon said: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” We might say that each man had an encounter of the holiness of God. In the presence of God’s holiness their sinful nature was made abundantly clear.

What is the holiness of God? Is it not his power and might? Yes, but it is also his nature and character. God is pure and above reproach. Referring to God, the Prophet Habakkuk wrote:

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrong.”   Habakkuk 1:13)

God is a holy God and he requires us to be holy. We read from Leviticus:

For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy.   (Leviticus 11:45)

And from the Book of Hebrews:

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.   (Hebrews 12:14)

Is it even possible for us to live a holy life? Not on our own. We need God’s help. The good news is that he wants to help us. Again from Leviticus:

Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.   (Leviticus 20:8)

He enabled Isaiah to become a great prophet. Again from today’s Old Testament reading:

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”   (Isaiah 6:6-8)

Simon thought he was unworthy to serve the Lord Jesus. Jesus answered him this way – from today’s Gospel reading:

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.   (Luke 5:11)

Jesus changed Simon’s perspective and transformed his life. He became Peter, the rock.

Each one of us is called by God. Each one of us is destined to be the righteousness of God. Jesus has made that possible for us by his crucifixion. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus has called us into himself. Our task is to remain in him. He tells us to fear not. He is removing our shame and he is changing our lives. If we put our trust in him then we will abide in him. In today’s Epistle the Apostle Paul writes:

I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain.   (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

When we stand with Jesus and not this sinful world, we have a precious promise from God. Paul writes:

All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.   (2 Corinthians 3:18)

 

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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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