Tag Archives: the cross

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 19B

Track 1: Wisdom Calls Us

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Today we look at the wisdom of God. One of the first things we should notice from reading in Proverbs is that God wants to impart his wisdom to us:

Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.

At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?

Give heed to my reproof;

I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.

The wisdom of God cries out to us. Do we cry out to the wisdom of God? We do if we understand that we need his wisdom. The author of the Book of James writes:

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.   (James 1:5)

One of the ways in which God implants his wisdom in us is by our reading of the scriptures. The psalmist writes:

The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.   (Psalm 19:7-8)

When I was in seminary I asked the Lord for a mentor. I felt that I needed someone to help me understand and interpret God’s word. I had a certain minister in mind, but he did not seem all that interested in helping me. I complained to the Lord about this. Several years later I realized that this esteemed pastor and preacher had turned away from the truth of God’s word.

James warned us about some teachers:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.   (James 3:1)

If we had to say who is the best teacher of the word of God, who would that be? Perhaps the wisdom of God itself is our best teacher. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.   (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

If we are open to the Holy Spirit of God, he alone can lead us into all truth. Jesus said:

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.   (John 16:12-14)

The wisdom of God has made provision for us. Are we ready to receive all the wonderful lessons which he wants to teach us. Wisdom is our primary source of understanding God’s word. He will give us that understanding through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Having a human mentor is not necessarily a bad idea, however. But we must choose very carefully. We must examine the fruit of their ministry. James writes:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

We need the pure wisdom of God. Let us always pray that we receive this wisdom. If we seek this wisdom we will find it. God has given us his promise.

 

 

Track 2: Man and Ministry

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-8
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Today we once more examine the question for the ages. Jesus brings it up in today’s Gospel reading, From Marks Gospel:

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.   (Mark 8:27-30)

What other people say about Jesus is not as critical to us as what we say about Jesus. God is looking for a declaration from us about who Jesus is to us. Not only that, he also wants us to understand what that might mean. Jesus explained to his disciples:

The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Mark 8:31-33)

What was Peter missing? He correctly identified who Jesus was and is, but he failed to understand what that might mean. Our Christology must include both the person and purpose of Jesus. The Apostle wrote to the Church in Rome:

But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 10:8-10

In today’s Gospel reading Peter does declare that “Jesus is Lord.” Paul implies that, not only must we declare who Jesus is, we must understand in our hearts what his ministry is about. Peter failed to understand the part about the cross and resurrection which Jesus was attempting to explain to his disciples. Later, Peter would understand after the resurrection.

The psalmist had an understand of the underlying ministry of God, even in his day. For that reason he called upon the name of the Lord:

The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me;
I came to grief and sorrow.

Then I called upon the Name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”

Gracious is the Lord and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.

The Lord watches over the innocent;
I was brought very low, and he helped me.

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,
for the Lord has treated you well.

For you have rescued my life from death,
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.   (Psalm 116:2-8)

Have we called upon the Lord Jesus? Can we say, as did the psalmist?:

I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.   (Psalm 116:8)

Jesus’ ministry is about life and life eternal. Let us live continually in the presence of the Lord. His blood washes away all of our sins. He is the only way to God the Father. That is the confession which we must make and that is the confession in which we must live. Jesus said:

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”   (Mark 8:38)

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Holy Cross Day

Day of Judgment

The Prophet Isaiah forecast a time when God would hold a court to judge humankind for sin. Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Israel, but Israel was a proxy for all the nations of the world.

Through Isaiah God made this declaration:

Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!

Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?

Was it not I, the Lord?
There is no other god besides me,

a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is no one besides me.   (Isaiah 45:21)

We are asked by God to present our case to him. God is also saying that he is qualified to judge our case because he is creator and has established all life. There is no other god besides him. Furthermore, his very nature and character qualifies him. He will be fair because he is not only a righteous God, but he is also our Savior.

A righteous God must be fair, but he must also be just. He must declare the injustice caused by sin. Sin cannot ignored or swept under the rug. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” according to Romans 6:23.

How is God able to accomplish a most difficult task, that of being both compassionate and just?

Before his verdict of guilty and penalty of death, God provided a path of escape. He did so through his Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the cruel crucifixion of Jesus by his own choice and desire:

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 2:5-11)

In today’s Gospel reading we see a link between the judgement of God and a route of escape:

Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.   (John 12:31-33)

On the cross the sins of the whole world were judged. Jesus bore our sins for us while hanging from a cross and received the Father’s judgement.  That final of judgement of sin was once and for all, for all who believe. The Apostle Paul’s full quote from Romans is this:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 6:23)

Have we allow God to judge our sins through his Son Jesus? If so, we must acknowledge it. We must turn towards Jesus. One more God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:

“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;

all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.   (Isaiah 45:22-25)

Do we want triumph and glory? The only judgement of God that is left is the judgement of fallen angels. That judgement is not meant for us. Do we ignore such a great gift of salvation established on a Holy Cross? If Jesus humbled himself, why can we not humble ourselves? In Hebrews we read:

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will..   (Hebrews 2:1-4)

It is the cross that makes us holy. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus.  God’s judgment day was on the day Jesus died on that cross. If we refuse what Christ has done for us we nullify the power of the cross and join ourselves with fallen angels who await the lake of fire.

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17B

178099033-612x612Track 1: Intimacy with God

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

A reading From the Song of Solomon:

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,

leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.

Look, there he stands
behind our wall,

gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.

My beloved speaks and says to me:

“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;

for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,

and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.   (Song of Solomon 2:8-12)

God is calling us. He is our beloved. Are we ready to go out and meet him? Or do we feel unworthy? Are we afraid? Maybe God is angry with us? How do we talk to God? If we are listening, we can speak to him like he speaks to us, with tender love and affection.

King David knew how to talk with God. As the psalmist he wrote:

My heart is stirring with a noble song;
let me recite what I have fashioned for the king;
my tongue shall be the pen of a skilled writer.

You are the fairest of men;
grace flows from your lips,
because God has blessed you for ever.

Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever,
a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom;
you love righteousness and hate iniquity.

Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness above your fellows.   (Psalm 45:1-2, 7-8)

Was David talking about himself? Was he talking about his kingdom? In a way, yes. He stood in for Jesus until he came to the earth. But David knew he was speaking to Jesus. Jesus’ throne will last forever. God the Father has anointed him above all others. He is king of king and lord of lords. At his name every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23).

Jesus has borne all our sins on the cross so that we might have intimacy with him. He did not die for us that we might continue to be estranged from him. Yes, we will have to confess our sins when we are in his presence. That should not stop us from wanting to be in his presence.

We are the fruit which Jesus has produced by his generosity and love. James writes:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.   (James 1:17-18)

Do we want to honor him and show him our appreciation? Jesus is speaking tender words of love to us. He is waiting for us to speak the same way back to him. What a joy it is to speak with him that way. He loves us. Do we love him? If so, we must tell him. That is how relationships are formed. It is our joy to tell him.

 

 

 

Track 2: Religion that Is Pure

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were very pius people. They took their religion seriously, but what sort of religion was it? In today’s Gospel we read:

When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”   (Mark 7:1-8)

James speaks about the religion of the Pharisee and about the religion of today’s Pharisees:

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.   (James 1:26-27)

We tend to live compartmentally. We may have a very pious religion but it does not always have a positive affect on our daily lives. The Pharisees were going through the motions. They were trying to follow the Mosaic Law, but they lost site of what this law was about. It could be summed up as loving God with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.

What gives the Pharisees away, and some of us modern-day Pharisees as well, is what comes out of the mouth. James reminds us:

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.   (James 1:26)

The tongue is difficult to bridle. It seems to have a life of its own and takes great delight in putting us in a bad light at the most inopportune time. It reveals our inner thoughts and character.

Jesus explained what is in the human heart counts more than what religions practice we may be following:

Jesus called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”   (Mark 7:14-15, 21-23)

How are we then to live? The psalmist tells us:

Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,
who speaks the truth from his heart.

There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend;
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.   (Psalm 15:1-3)

This we cannot do without God’s help. But we can do it. And when we do it a witness that the world most desperately needs to see. Mose wrote this concerning the commandments of God:

You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?   (Deuteronomy 4:6-8)

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