Tag Archives: suffering

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22C

Track 1: Rejoice in the Lord Always

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26
or Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

The palmist wrote:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered you, O Zion.

As for our harps, we hung them up
on the trees in the midst of that land.   (Psalm 137:1-2)

The exiles in Babylon were remembering Jerusalem. From Lamentations we read:

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;

among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;

her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.   (Lamentations 1:1-3)

Jerusalem had been destroyed. This meant that the Jewish people’s way of life, centered on Jerusalem, had been destroyed. It was almost too sad to contemplate for them. The psalmist wrote:

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing the Lord‘S song
upon an alien soil.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.

Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.   (Psalm 137:3-6)

It was hard for those in despair to sing the songs of Zion. But when they did the world changed around them. The songs were so uplifting that even their captors wanted to hear them.

Praising God changes things. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
    burst into song and shout,
    you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
    than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.   (Isaiah 54:1)

Let us not wait to praise God. We may think that we have no reason to praise him. Yet, he is still with us. He still has plans for us. Do we trust him enough to place all our hopes in him?

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

And again in Philippians 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

Paul experienced so many hardships in his ministry, but he did not loose hope in God. In today’s Epistle reading, as a prisoner, he proclaimed :

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. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.   (2 Timothy 1:12-14)

Paul knew that God still had a plan for him. He understand that this plan will bring blessings to others and that he had been given a treasure to share with them. We are no different that the great apostle. God has given us a treasure. He has put it in our hearts. When we sing the songs of Zion, when we praise the Almighty, we release that treasure. Others see that we are praising God despite the circumstances. This is one of the most powerful witnesses that anyone of the faith can make.

Today, are we ready to share our faith, our joy in the Lord, our hope of glory? God exhorts us: Sing, O barren one. Burst into song and shout.

The exiles in Babylon did not remain in despair. God has a plan for them. We read in Isaiah:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:10)

We are great beneficiaries of the courage and faith of the Jewish people who would not give up. Let us also follow their example. God is still working in our lives and in this world. He is counting on us to be his ambassadors. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: You Have Only Done Your Duty

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In today’s Gospel reading the disciples of Jesus asked him to increase their faith:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Notice that Jesus did not directly answer their question. He emphasized that faith was important, but he followed up with this teaching:

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”   (Luke 17:5-10)

How could this teaching relate to faith? Perhaps it had more to do the disciples’ question about faith. Perhaps Jesus was able to see the motive behind the disciples’ question.

We know that some of the disciples were very ambitious. James and John wanted to sit beside Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Jesus was saying that our positions in ministry should not be our focus. Our obedience to God’s call was much more significant.

The disciples did not realize, at first, what would be required of them. The Apostle Paul learned of the hardships of ministry first hand. He did not let that deter him from his calling, however. Paul writes:

For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But 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 1:11-12)

In ministry we must learn to trust Jesus, regardless of the circumstances. If we are focused on who we are and not on who Jesus is, then we are ripe for the picking by the devil. Faith and endurance are required for ministry. That requires us to simply do our duty. Jesus said: You have done only what you ought to have done! We are not working for rewards for ourselves.

In our Old Testament reading today, the Prophet Habakkuk complained to God that the wicked seem to be triumphing. He would not be satisfied until God answered him:

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.   (Habakkuk 2:1)

Are we not like Habakkuk? We want to see results, instant results.

Then the Lord answered me and said:

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

God moves at his appointed time.  Patience and faith are required. We must keep believing. We must keep doing our duty. This usually means some suffering is required on our part. How we respond to the challenges of ministry and life reveals our character. Pride can be a major obstacle in our way. It seeks instant results. Humility before the Lord, having faith in his promises, is key.

This was the example set by the Apostle Paul. He wrote:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us..   (Romans 5:1-5)

God has proven his love and faithfulness through the cross of Jesus Christ. Our place in life and ministry is to serve him because he has poured his very essence into us.

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First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

The Ministry of the Holy Trinity 

Today it is Trinity Sunday. It has been said that if anyone is able to explain the Holy Trinity they are probably a heretic. To be sure, the Trinity is certainly difficult to explain, or even to understand. Yet the scriptures clearly depict God in three persons. In today’s readings we have glimpses of how the three person of the Godhead interact with each other.

Let us first look at the act of creation. From Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness [a]was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.   (Genesis 1:1-2)

Here we have a picture of the Holy Spirit waiting to carry out the plans of the God the Father. We see that the Spirit was there in the beginning. He is often referred to as the Wisdom of God. Reading from Proverbs:

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?

On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;

beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.

Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,

when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;

and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,

rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”   (Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31)

Notice that the Spirit to took delight in the creation of humankind. The Spirit was very much involved in the creation. God the Father spoke to each Person of the Trinity when he said: “Let us.”

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”   (Genesis 1:26)

Where was God the Son in all this? Reading from the first chapter of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

Jesus, the Word of God,  is said to be the agent of creation. Not only that, he became the Word made flesh. He entered into his own creation of our behalf.

It the Holy Trinity some theological concept far above our understanding? No, the Trinity is Emmanuel, God with us. The Trinity impinges upon our daily lives. How is that so? From today’s reading from John:

Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”   (John 16:12-15)

By the Holy Spirit, God will share his very essence with us. The Spirit will share all that the God the Father has – the very essence that was been given to Jesus and give it to us. Are we ready to move beyond gauge spiritual concepts and move into fellowship with all of God? This is our heritage.

The psalmist writes:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him?
the son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him but little lower than the angels;
you adorn him with glory and honor.   (Psalm 8:4-6)

God wants to adorn us with glory and honor. Do we believe that? If so, are we boldly ready to claim our inheritance? The Apostle Paul writes:

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Romans 5:1-5)

We are destined to share the glory of God. It is not something that we alone can accomplish. The Holy Trinity is working on our behalf. We need all three Persons of the Trinity. We need the commandments of God the Father. He has set the standard which will never change. He requires us to be holy. We need the ministry of God the Son to forgive us and remit all our sins as we confess them to God. By our faith alone Jesus continues to work on our behalf, interceding for us before the Father. We need the Holy Spirit, the third person of the God Head, to implant the law of God in our hearts and empower us for service. Jesus is returning for a Church without spot or wrinkle.

Have we in the Church been faithful in teaching the fullness of the Gospel? If we have left out anyone the Persons of the Trinity then we need to make some corrections. We should not dissect the Gospel into Liturgical, Evangelical, and Pentecostal. We need all three. Trinity Sunday asks us to look at the whole of the Gospel.

Thanks be to God for the sacred work of the Holy Trinity. God is still forming us into his image. The world around us is working to undermine what God is doing. This world is passing away. God will create a new heaven and a new earth. Let us put our whole trust in God alone.

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The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

Standing on the Promises of God

Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. When the child in Elizabeth’s womb hears Mary’s voice he leaps for joy. This child is John the Baptist. This moment of celebration brings joy to Mary and she prophesies:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1:47-55)

What is remarkable about Mary and Elizabeth also is that they believed in the promise of God, even though great miracles of God were required. Mary, a virgin, had conceived a child and Elizabeth, who was well beyond any child bearing age, had also conceived. Nevertheless, these chosen instruments of God were able to believe God as did Abraham before them.

Are we able to believe in the miraculous today? Mary and Elizabeth understood that the promises God made to them were not just about them. Jesus and John the Baptist are children of the promise which God made to Abraham. Their births extended and expanded this promise down through the ages. Today, we are recipients of the promise.

God has made promises to us as well. His plans for us may not be as dramatic as that of Mary or Elizabeth, but they are important to God’s plan. Are we willing to believe in those promises and hold on to them. There may be obstacles in the way of our receiving God’s promise. The Apostle Paul tells us how to overcome these obstacles with this prescription:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.   (Romans 12:12)

In time, the promises of God will come to pass. The blessing is in the believing and perseverance. Too often me take matters in our own hands and thwart God’s plans and purposes for us. Others are depending upon us to make the right choices. In fact, their future blessings depend upon our faithfulness. Let us be willing to see beyond ourselves as the wonders of God’s work unfolds.

God will do great things for us but he requires that we exercise our faith. Are we willing to hear, believe, and stand on the promises of God?

 

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