Tag Archives: Sin

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 24A

Track 1: The Glory of God

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

We are living in the last days. Jesus said that we will not know the day or the hour in which he returns, but we should know the season. What will his return be like? Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew

Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.   (Matthew 24:30)

Why would some people mourn at his coming? Because he is coming with power and great glory. Encountering the glory of God can be unnerving. It was for the children of Israel in the wilderness. At Sinai God spoke to his chosen people directly:

These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.” (Deuteronomy 5:22-27)

The children of Israel worried that the fire of God would consume them. They were not too far from the truth in their thinking. The Prophet Malachi forecast the coming of the Lord, but warned that his presence might be hard for many to endure:

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.      (Malachi 3:1-2)

God is a holy God. His glory and presence exposes sinful hearts. Though the children of said that they would do whatever God asked them to do trough Moses, history did not prove that they were honest. They were unwilling to obey God’s law. They, in fact, knew that about themselves, so they could not stand to be in God’s presence.

Are we like the children of Israel today? Or are we like Moses. Moses wanted to be in God’s presence. He sought ever more of God. He asked God to reveal to him his glory:

Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”   (Exodus 33:18-23)

What made Moses different from the others? He approached God from a very different perspective. Though he was not perfect, Moses had a heart for God. He loved God more than the cares of this world. He wanted to please God. He wanted to fellowship with God.

Because God was displeased with the children of Israel he told Moses to lead them to the promised land without his accompaniment. But Moses would not head Israel to the promised land without God’s presence. He realized that God’s very presence was worth more than anything in this world. He would rather remain in the wilderness with God than lose his presence.

As Christians, God has opened to door for us to enter directly into his presence. We have the right to enter into his glory. On the cross Jesus paid the price for our sin in order that the gates of heaven would be open to us. In Matthew we read:

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.   (Matthew 27:50-52)

The gates have been opened. Will we enter into his presence? We will if we love him more that this world. We will if we are willing to be honest about our sin. We will if we approach him with a humble and contrite heart. But if we are holding on the sin that we do not wish to release to God, then our hearts will convict us whenever we are aware of his presence.

Jesus is returning with all his glory. Will we be glad to see him or will we be ashamed? Jesus said:

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.   (Luke 9:26)

Will we be able to say, as did the Apostle Paul?

I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.   (2 Timothy 1:12)

Track 2:  Honoring Authority

Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Roman rule was hated by the Jewish people. They despised having to pay taxes to the Roman emperor. Knowing this, the Pharisees though they had found a perfect trap for Jesus. They would trick Jesus, in front of a crowd of people, by making him appear to favor Rome in a dispute over taxes:

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.   (Matthew 22:15-22)

Jesus did not dismiss the practice of paying taxes to Rome. He simply put it into proper perspective. We are to honor governing authorities. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority[a]does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.   (Romans 13:1-7)

We are living in a rebellious time in the country. Some do not like the outcome of the last Presidential election. For some, anarchy is the solution. Defeat the current government by any means necessary. It this the Christian thing to do?

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.   (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Our goal is to tell others about the saving act of Jesus Christ, not to create a climate of chaos. Chaos is a very large distraction to the spread of the Gospel. If we do not honor governmental authorities we are not fostering “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”

The One who has established all authority is to receive the greatest honor.  The psalmist wrote:

Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name;
bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before him.

Tell it out among the nations: “The Lord is King!
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”   (Psalm 96:8-10)

Jesus said: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” God is the ultimate judge. He, alone, determines our ultimate destiny. Soon the Lord Jesus will return to the earth with all his glory. What will he find? Will he find us giving honor where honor is due? Again, Paul wrote:

Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.   (Romans 13:7)

The God of all is due the greatest honor. Again, the psalmist writes:

I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.   (Psalm 96:5-6)

We honor him by keeping his commandments and following his Word.

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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22A

MTZION-1Track 1: The Fear of the Lord

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Psalm 19
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

God calls us out of this fallen world. He wants us to come apart and be separate os that we may have fellowship with him. The story fo the children of Israel is our story.

When God came down on Mount Sinai to speak with the children of Israel it was a frightening experience for them. From Exodus we read:

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”   (Exodus 20:18-20)

Fear, however, kept the Israelites from wanting to come close to God. God is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Anyone who is in the near presence of God becomes manifestly aware of their sin. Though the Israelites told Moses they would listen to whatever God said through Moses, they did not want to hear from him directly.

History proved them wrong. They did not listen actually listen to God because they wanted to hold on to their sins. Moses told them that the fear they experienced in God’s presence was designed to keep them from sinning.

A Holy God must judge sin. People fear God because they fear his judgement. He read in Hebrews:

For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.   (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Is this fear bad? The psalmist tells us that fear of the Lord is a good thing:

The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.   (Psalm 19:9)

The Hebrew word translated as “clean” means “purifying.” Without a fear of God their is little desire to be purified. Obviously many people living in this world today have little fear of God.

In Proverbs we read:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.   (Proverbs 9:10)

Fear is not the end of wisdom, however. Fear has to do with punishment. The Apostle John places fear in the perspective of the Gospel.

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)

God is still calling us to come into his presence. Where do we stand today? Do we desire to get closer to him or do we stand back? The Apostle Paul did not stand back. In today’s Epistle we read:

I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

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 3:8-14)

Paul understood that he was not going to be able to fulfill the righteous requirements of God’s law on his own. He needed to press in to God by growing in knowledge of Christ. Paul rejected himself and what he could accomplish on his own. Rather, his building block became Jesus Christ.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, speaks about himself as the cornerstone:

“Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?   (Matthew 21:42)

Do we know Jesus as our cornerstone? He alone can satisfy the righteous requirements of the law. He alone can present us spotless before the Father in heaven. He alone can perfect us in love. He took our punishment on the cross so that we may boldly approach him by faith. Is he calling us today to come closer? If so, why would we stand back?

 

 

Track 2: The Unfruitful Vineyard

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-14
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

From today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah we have the Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard:

Let me sing for my beloved

    my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
    and people of Judah,
judge between me
    and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
    that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
    why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
    what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
    and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
    and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
    it shall not be pruned or hoed,
    and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
    that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
    but saw bloodshed;
righteousness,
    but heard a cry!.   (Isaiah 5:1-7)

The house of Israel is the vineyard. God had great expectations for Israel. Of all the nations on earth God took great care to protect and nature Israel. He looked for Israel to produce fruit. They were to provide fruit upon which the whole world would feast. But this did not happen which brought judgement from God.

The psalmist asked:

Why have you broken down its wall,
so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?

The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it,
and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.

Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine;
preserve what your right hand has planted.   (Psalm 80:12-14)

God tends his vineyard. He provides the sunshine of his love. He waters the vineyard with his Word and Spirit. God expects fruit in return. The plants must simply drink in God’s nourishment.

Jesus tells a parable:

Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”   (Matthew 21:33-41)

How could anyone act so atrociously? How could they be so selfish? What could have possibly prompted the tenants in the parable to behave in such a bizarre way? Perhaps they wanted to prove they could tend the vineyard on their own, without the landowner’s help? Perhaps they decided that they should take ownership of the vineyard and eliminate the Landowners participation altogether? How could they be so evil? And how could we crucify the Lord of Glory?

Israel is still the planting of the Lord. God has not abandoned them. We are the ingrafted branches of Israel. We, therefore, are also the planting of the Lord, provided that we have accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Do we see in our selves any of the characteristics that were in the tenants in the parable? Another way of asking this question: Are we producing fruit in our lives – fruit that remains. In John’s Gospel we read:

“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[a] 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)

The tenants in the parable thought they could produce fruit on there own. But they could not. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees through this parable. Is he speaking to us today?

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”   (Matthew :42-44)

If we are to produce fruit then we cannot reject Jesus, his teachings, and his gift of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. He is the vinedresser and we are the branches.

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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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