Tag Archives: Temple

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21

Track 1: Is the Lord among Us

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Is God with me? Is he still on my side? Do we ever ask that? And if so, what would prompt us to ask it?

The children of Israel asked the same question. They had seen the miracles and the signs and wonders which God has performed on their behalf. Any yet they still doubted. It seems that when the least bit of uncertainty arises they immediately forget all that God has done in the past. It that us as well?

From today’s Old Testament reading:

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”   (Exodus 17:2-3)

Moses did not have an easy job. Apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers have followed suit. The ultimate questions that people ask can only be answered by God. God will surely answer them, yet he requires a level of faith on the part of the people who ask the questions.

Again we see that God is a God of miracles:

So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 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.   (Exodus 17:4-6)

God often puts us in places and situations where we, out of necessity, must call on him for help. Jesus put himself in that place for us. The Apostle 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.

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 the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:1-13)

This is the example Jesus has set for us:

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.

Can we learn to humble ourselves and become obedient? We do not face the cruel cross that Jesus faced because he has done that for us. But we do have a cross to bear. Our cross is to follow through on believing the good news of the Gospel. Jesus told this parable:

“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 21:28-32)

Are we the son who, though lacking in faith at first, learned to believe and follow through on the word of God? Or, are we the nominal Christian, who talks the talk but does not walk the walk? All that God requires of us is to believe in him, under all circumstances. That is our cross to bear. The Apostle Paul writes:

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)

 

 

Track 2: The Fairness of God

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

The question of fairness is also a question of authority. Are we willing to give up our right to be right? The chief were not. Reading from today’s gospel:

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  (Matthew 21:23)

God has the authority to judge. But does he judge fairly? Jesus told this parable:

“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 21:28-32)

Those who are unwilling to keep God’s commandments from the heart are the ones who have the most questions about fairness. They go through the motions. They may even convince themselves that they are doing so, but what is their response when they are confronted by the authority of God?  God spoke through the Prophet Ezekiel:

Yet 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 1825-29)

God’s judgement of fairness is based on reality, the reality of the human heart. But he tempers that judgement with mercy and compassion. he psalmist wrote:

Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly.   (Psalm 25:5-8)

God has demonstrated his greatest compassion through the passion of his Son. All he requires is some humility from us. Will we give up our right to be right? Will we still try to justify ourselves before God? The priests and pharisees saw the miracle of Jesus, but they failed to believe in him. They held on to their own false teachings and their own false authority.

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The Presentation

bellini2Purification

Today we celebrate The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. From the Gospel of Luke:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  (Luke 2:22-24)

Let us look at this event as if it were part of a three act play. This was the first act of purification – a ceremonial purification. Mary was considered unclean on the birth of her child, according to Jewish law. After a waiting period of about forty days, she and Joseph were required to offer up their son to God. Mary would then be considered pure and her child would be declared holy before God.

A ritual of ceremonial purification was not without meaning or significance. It was a rehearsal of a spiritual purification which was to come. Today, in many churches, parents present their children to God with the expectation that these children will be raised in the Christian Faith.

At the time of Jesus’ presentation the prophet Simeon blessed the family of Jesus and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

This prophecy foretold the second act of purification – a purification of the Law of God. Simeon prophesied that Jesus will bring about major changes in Judaism. Jesus said that he did not come to set aside the law but to fulfill it. The essence of the Law had to do with loving God and neighbor, but it had become merely an elaborate set of rules to follow. As the Word made flesh, Jesus demonstrated by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our “good deeds.”

Joseph and Mary were presenting Jesus to God in the Temple. Jesus would soon change the whole temple worship by becoming the temple himself. He would become the new Temple by satisfying all the requirements of the old one. His blood, spilled on the cross, would become the atoning sacrifice for all our sins, once and for all.

From Hebrews we read:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The last act of purification has to do with the purification of the saints. We read in Malachi:

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. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.   (Malachi 3:3-4)

The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus, by his atoning sacrifice, is able to present us pure before the Father:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.   (Colossians 1:21-23)

Paul makes it clear that we must continue in the Faith. Jesus makes this promise for those who do:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.   (Matthew 10:32-33)

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus holy to God. Jesus turned the tables. He presents Mary and Joseph and all saints as holy to God. Mary and Joseph offered up their son before God. God, the Father, offered His Son as a sacrifice for us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus becomes our presentation before God the Father. Amen.

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Second Sunday after Christmas

Old Testament Readings

Track 1: Out of Egypt I Have Called My Son

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was responsive to God’s call and direction. We see this when he was willing to marry Mary who was already with child. Today’s Gospel reading offers another example of his responsiveness:

After the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”   (Matthew 2:13-15)

How quickly things can change! After receiving gifts and honor from the wisemen, the family of Jesus had to immediately flee to Egypt for safety from Herod.

Egypt was a temporary home. It was not a place where one would want to remain. Sometimes in life we are put in a holding pattern, so to speak. Why is that? The Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;

say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,

over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;

their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.   (Jeremiah 31:10-12)

For a season, God will keep us protected from those who want to damage or destroy us. Their hands are too strong for us to resist. While doing so, he is preparing us to step out in higher realm of service. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.   (Ephesians 1:17-19)

Are we ready to learn about the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe? Our defense is not dependent upon our power but on the power of an almighty God! God wants to enlighten our hearts to the riches of his glorious inheritance. We do not gain this understanding overnight. Nonetheless, if we put our full faith and trust in God he will teach us, step by step, provided that we hold on to his promises. The devil will attempt to distract us. He will try to sew seeds of unbelief. 

However, if we are attentive to God’s word as was Joseph, we will not miss what God has prepared for us. We read in Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be a healing for your flesh
    and a refreshment for your body.   (Proverbs 3:5-8)

God has called us out of Egypt. Let us follow where he leads us.

 

Track 2: I Must Be in My Father’s House

Today we read from the Gospel of Luke about an incident that occurred in the life of Jesus when he was only twelve years old:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.   (Luke 2:41-43)

Later we read that they had to go back to Jerusalem to search for him when discovering that Jesus was missing:

When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”   (Luke 2:45-49)

We understand by his answer to his parents that he was still a child. But at the time he was beginning to understand what his mission might be and the importance of God’s Word and teaching.

As disciples many of us are still babes in Christ. Have we discovered find our identity, purpose, and direction must be found God’s presence and not in the distractions of this world. The psalmist wrote:

How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

Happy are they who dwell in your house!
they will always be praising you.   (Psalm 84)

Do we rejoice in the living God? Do we long for his presence? If not, then we are dying along with unbelievers in a decaying and dying world. Are we seeking to know him and follow him along the path that he has laid out for us? The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.   (Ephesians 1:17-19)

This type of learning about God only comes from God. It comes by remaining close to God. A verse rom the Prophet Isaiah:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.   (Isaiah 2:3)

God will teach us, but we must seek his presence and council always. Will we say: “I must be in my Father’s house?”

 

 

Track 3: A Ruler to Shepherd My People Israel

In today’s Gospel reading we find Herod worried and perplexed:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”   (Matthew 2:2-6)

Herod was afraid of this child that was said to have been born a king. Herod was king and he was not looking for a replacement. What Herod did not recognize was that this new king would not only take his place, but also the places of every would be ruler on the earth. He would not be like Herod or any other king.

Jesus would be the shepherd king. He would be a ruler that shepherded the people of God rather than dictating to them what they must do. In other words, Jesus would lead them by example and lovingly teach them his ways. Is that the type of ruler that we want?

The Apostle Paul wrote:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.   (Ephesians 1:17-19)

A new world is coming. It is a world lead by the shepherd king. Each of us will have a place in it. Each of us will have an assignment, provided we all our Lord Jesus to prepare us and teach us his ways. If we think his world will be like our world, if we think his rule will be like the rulers of this world, then we do not know him. We would not have not received a spirit of wisdom and revelation from him because we did not look in his direction.

God is working in us, his Son is shining in us, his power is surging through us when we realize that he is not only our king, but he is the shepherd of our souls.

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