Tag Archives: the cross

First Sunday of Advent: Year B

Tear Open the Heavens and Come Down

We begin a new liturgical year this Sunday. We start with a new season – Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. Others may rush into Christmas with all the early shopping and decorating, but let us spend the time to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child.

Are we in trouble as a nation today? The psalmist of old was aware that the nation of Israel needed God’s help. He prayed:

Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
stir up your strength and come to help us.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.   (Psalm 80:1-3)

The Prophet Isaiah realized that Israel had forsaken their God. He prayed:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence —

as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil —

to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!   (Isaiah 64:1-3)

For Israel, God dwelled behind a curtain within the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Only the high priest could enter and that was once a year in order to make the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. The enlightened Prophet Isaiah knew there must be more. He wanted God to be strongly present all the time. His prayer was ultimately answered with the birth of Jesus. God did tear open the heavens and come down. God came in the flesh and dwelt among us. The Apostle John writes in the preamble of his Gospel:

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.   (John 1:14)

There was another tearing of the heavens when Jesus hung on the cross. God removed the requirement of the annual atoning sacrifice made by the high priest when Jesus became that atoning sacrifice once and for all. At the moment of his death the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. God opened the way for all of us to experience his presence. This was preface to God pouring out his Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

God wants intimate fellowship with us. He is waiting on us. Are we too busy? Are we too distracted by the things of this world. He did not go to such great lengths on our behalf only to have us sit idly by.

We are living in very dark times. Only Christ can break through the current darkness that surrounds us. Jesus warned his disciples that this such a time would come:

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.   (Mark 13:24-27)

How are we to prepare for the coming of Christ in glory. We need a spiritual revival in our churches, our nation, and in our own hearts. This must be our focus. This must be our prayer.

The Apostle Peter was on the Mount of Transfiguration when he saw a glimpse of Jesus in his glory. He writes:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.   (2 Peter 1:16-19)

Though we are living in dark times we are to keep the lamp of God shining in our hearts for the world to see. Advent is a time for us the fan the flames of this lamp. Let us echo the psalmist’s prayer: “Stir up your strength and come to help us.”

When God tears open the heavens and come down one more time, will we be ready?

 

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Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 28A

Track 1: Go, Take Your Position

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

There were many great female leaders in the Bible along with the men. Today, let us look at the ministry of the prophetess Deborah who was Judge of all Israel. She served at a time when Israel was disobedient to God. As a result, God had delivered the Israelites into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan.

From Judges we read:

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”   (Judges 4:4-7)

The the commander of King Jabin’s army was Sisera. Sisera was formidable. He had he hundred chariots of iron. His strength would have been far too great for Israel to face alone. The assignment that Deborah was giving Barak son of Abinnam would be difficult at best, if not impossible. Why would he want to accept it?

Why would we accept a difficult assignment? For Barak, the answer lies in the fact that Deborah’s charge was also God’s charge. Not only that, but he had the assurance from God that God would be with him and bring him the victory. Of course, he still had to trust God and carry out what God was asking.

What about us? We are living in difficult times today. God is still giving out difficult assignments. He is still saying: Go, Take Your Position. God has a position for each of us. That  position is important, not only to us, but to the people who are counting on us. In fact, God is counting on us. Will we take up our position?

If the answer is yes, then it will still take great faith and trust on our part, because we will always face formidable opposition from the enemy. We will first want to hear from God clearly about our assignment. We cannot go off on our own, even for a cause that we believe is right. God determines the right cause for each of us.

Further more, we cannot claim any victory on our own, The Apostle Paul wrote:

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved,[a] be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.   (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

Israel needed the mercy of God Deborah’s time. We need the mercy of God today. Our country needs his mercy. There are enemies afoot, both within and without. To overcome our enemies we must seek the will of God each day in our lives. The psalmist wrote:

To you I lift up my eyes,
to you enthroned in the heavens.

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters,
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he show us his mercy.   (Psalm 123:1-3)

Are we looking to the Lord our God? Are we listening to him? If so, then he has an assignment for us. And he is saying: Go, Take Your Position.

 

 

Track 2: I Knew That You Were a Harsh Man

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Many of us are familiar with the parable of the talents. In the parable, the master gave certain talents to his servants to invest while he was away. (A talent represented a rather large sum of money) Some servants received more talents than their fellow servants. Nonetheless, when the master returned it appears that he though each one of his servants had invested wisely

There was exception – the foolish servant who buried what he had been given by the master. From Matthew we read:

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.   (Matthew 25:24-27)

Why did this man bury his talents? He stated his reason in the parable: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”

Is that the way we see God? Maybe we had parents who were very demanding, or a boss, or a teacher. In the parable, the master was fair. Even though his servants did not receive the same amount, he reward them according to how well they used the talents they were given, not by any absolute universal standard. The expectation of the master was that each servant would do their best to add to what they had been given, regardless of the amount of money they were asked to invest. The foolish servant had misread the character of the master. If we are not careful, we can misread the character of God. God’s true character may be seen in his Word and by his deeds.

The foolish servant was afraid of the master. Did he think he was all alone and could not ask for help? Have we ever felt that way? The  Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.   (Jeremiah 33:2-3)

We are not alone. We are not asked to prove ourselves before God by our own wisdom and strength. The foolish servant was in a state of paralysis, but the foolish servant did not understand the character and nature of the master.

Of course, there is accountability with God. He cannot overlook sin. The Prophet Zephaniah warned of the coming day of the Lord:

Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is at hand;

the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people

who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,

“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”

Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.

Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;

though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.

The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;

the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.

  (Zephaniah 1:7,12-14)

For Christians, the day of the Lord has already come. The prophet wrote that God had prepared a sacrifice. That sacrifice was his son Jesus hanging from a cruel cross. It was a time of darkness. It was the day in which God punished all sin. We are participants of that day, provided that we have placed our sins upon Jesus.

There is a time of judgment coming. It is hastening towards us. But this time of judgment is not for us. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.   (1 Thessalonians 5:8-11)

Let us not misunderstand the character of God. Now is the time for us to encourage one another. It is not time to hide our gifts. Jesus Christ is our hope of glory. Let us shine for all the world to see. Amen.

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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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