Tag Archives: stumbling block

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17A

Track 1: I Am Who I Am

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

We are familiar of the story where God called out to Moses from a burning bush that did not consume itself. What a spectacle this must have been for Moses. The ensuing conversation is all the more incredible. God tells Moses that he wants him to go back to Egypt for the purpose of liberating the Hebrews from captivity. Moses responds:

“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.   (Exodus 3:11-15)

In the past, the Hebrew people referred to God as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now God is telling his chosen people through Moses his title which had never been given before. This signals a new relationship between God and humankind. It signals a new era of intimacy in which God may be approached personally.

But who is this God? He is Yahweh, the great I AM. He is the creator and the source for all life. God is absolute reality. He is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is.He is sovereign. He is Alpha and Omega, he beginning and the end. It is hard to actually translate his name. Many scholars believe that the most proper meaning may be “He Brings into Existence Whatever Exists.”

God tells Moses that Yahweh is his name forever. Every generation should from this moment on should call him this name.

The psalmist writes:

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.   (Psalm 105:1-4)

Yet the children of Israel did not call upon his Name. They did not seek his face. the name Yahweh came to be regarded by Jews as too sacred to be spoken, The temptation for all of us is to become so pious that we dismiss the opportunity for intimacy with God.

Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. He is calling out to us. He came that we might have a relationship with God. God wants intimacy with us. He paid a great price that we may have that intimacy with him. Why do we turn aside?

Jesus paid a price. We must also pay a price:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?   (Matthew 16:24-28)

The great I AM is the only reality. Are we ready to find our true life in him?

 

 

Track 2: Smarter than God

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Yet when Jesus went on to explain that the Messiah would be crucified, Peter would have none of it. Peter rebuked Jesus:

“God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”   (Matthew 16:21)

Before we are too hard on Peter we bust ask ourselves: Have we ever questioned God’s purposes? The Prophet Jeremiah did so. He was a great prophet of God. Nonetheless, he found that his ministry was costing him more than he bargained for. Thus he complained to God:

Why is my pain unceasing,
    my wound incurable,
    refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
    like waters that fail.

Therefore thus says the Lord:
If you turn back, I will take you back,
    and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
    you shall serve as my mouth.
It is they who will turn to you,
    not you who will turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
    but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
    to save you and deliver you,
says the Lord.   (Jeremiah 15:18-20)

We remember that Job of the Old Testament was enduring great suffering. He held his peace for a long time. Finally, however, he grew fed up and wanted to know why God was allowing such terrible things to happen to him.

When things seem to go badly for us we are tempted to question God’s fairness and purpose. His answer may not be what we are looking for, at least this seemed to be true for Job, Jeremiah, and Peter.

God answered Job this way:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.   (Job 38:4)

God answered Jeremiah this way:

If you turn back, I will take you back,
and you shall stand before me.

If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall serve as my mouth.

It is they who will turn to you,
not you who will turn to them.   (Jeremiah 15:19)

Jesus answered Peter this way:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Matthew 16:22-23)

What do these great men of God seem to have in common? What was motivating them to question the authority and understanding of God? Perhaps they thought they could explain things to God so that he could understand what was going on. Does that sound like any of our prayers?

From the Gospel appointed for today we read:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?   (Matthew 16:24-26)

We cannot understand the thinking of God by our own thinking. We cannot understand the purposes of God by our own purposes. The Apostle Paul wrote:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit[e] set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit[g] is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.   (Romans 8:5-8)
God wants to give us a new worldview – his worldview. No doubt we will have to give up our right to be right. No doubt we will have to given up any thinking that we are smarter than God. Every time that we do we are given new understanding and revelation that brings joy to our heart. We move closer to an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and all loving God.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A

A Cornerstone Chosen and Precious

What is the foundation of the Early Church? A better question is: Who is the foundation of that Church? There was question in the minds of some of the apostles who that was. After the resurrection it was settled for them. It was Jesus. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner”,

and

“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.   (1 Peter 2:4-8)

Jesus was the problem for the leaders of Judaism during the time of his earthly ministry and following his resurrection. Even though he had performed countless miracles the leaders just could not accept him as Messiah. He did not fit their expectations. In fact, Jesus’s ministry was such an affront to their faith that they had to destroy him and remove all evidence that he actually existed.

Stephen had been appointed by the apostles to serve as a deacon in the Church. He was so filled with the Holy Spirit and so anointed by God that his ministry made the risen Christ ever more real. The leaders simply could not stand his presence:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.   (Acts 7:55-57)

Jesus was the very foundation and cornerstone of the Church. However, to acknowledge that he was meant that the leaders of Judaism had to admit that they totally misunderstood what Judaism was all about.

What about our churches today? Is Jesus our chosen and precious cornerstone? If he is not then our church is dead. What evidence do we see that demonstrates Jesus is the firm foundation of our faith and of our churches?

Jesus told his disciple Philip:

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.   (John 14:12-14)

Do we see that glory of God the Father in our churches? Do we see the miracles that apostles were accomplishing in the name of Jesus? The deacons were doing a similar ministry if Stephen is an example. God is no respecter of persons. Jesus said that all we have to do is believe in him and use his name.

Is Jesus a stone that makes us stumble or is he our cornerstone? The problem with Judaism in Jesus’s day was that the leaders had too narrow an understanding of it and their vision was severely limited. How do we see our church? Are we limiting what God can do through our unbelief?

God is calling us to a live and dynamic church where the Spirit of God is in operation. He is calling each one of us to do the greater works about which Jesus spoke. Jesus was teaching the  disciple Philip about these works. Philip was skeptical at first. History has shown, however, that he stepped up the plate when he became a powerful apostle of Christ.

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