Tag Archives: the cross

Second Sunday in Lent, Year C

Enemies of the Cross

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi about certain people who were the enemies of the cross of Christ:

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.    (Philippians 3:17-20)

Who were these enemies of the cross? Do they still exist today? To answer this question we must understand what the cross means. It means we have failed as human beings.

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement[ by his blood, effective through faith.   (Romans 3:21-25)

Because we have sinned does not make us enemies of the cross. The real enemies of the cross are those who think they are righteous without the cross. The Pharisees believed that they were righteous because they kept the law of God. They were pious. They were religious. And they were judgmental of others. Their type still lives today, even in our churches.

As Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem one last time he wept over the city:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”   (Luke 13:34-35)

Jesus was facing death in Jerusalem. The Jewish leadership had rejected him. They had not just rejected him, they rejected his ministry. They believed that they did not need anything from Jesus because they had all that they wanted from their understanding of Judaism.

The Pharisees had a cursory understanding of the Law. But, as Jesus accused them, they neglected the weighty matters. From the Gospel of Matthew we read:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.   (Matthew 23:23)

The Pharisees failed to understand that God required righteousness. This could be imparted into them by God alone. It took the atoning act of Jesus on the cross, and it required their acceptance, appreciation, adoration, and praise. They would have none of it.

God was looking for Abrahams. From today’s Old Testament reading:

The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.    (Genesis 15:1-6)

God made of covenant with Abraham. All Abraham had to do was to believe it and receive it. Abraham had some doubts, at first, because it seemed as if he would have no offspring through whom the promise of God could be brought forth. God makes us promises, but we must believe him. The greatest promise he makes to us is forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal with him. We must believe him and we must trust him to bring this about.

Are we enemies of the cross today? That depends. Are we smug in our faith? Do we focus on the faults of others and overlook at own faults? If any of this is true about us, then we have misunderstood the cross altogether. Jesus said:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.   (Luke 9:23)

If we do not wish to follow Jesus in this way, then we are enemies of the cross. The cross demands that we deny ourselves. We do not have all the answers. We cannot make ourselves righteous by our good works. God demands more than we will ever be able to do on our own. He requires our faith and trust that he alone can make us righteous. We must believe in Jesus, but we must also follow him. Abraham believed and followed God. God reckoned it to him as righteousness.

During this Season of Lent, it is traditional for many to give up something they enjoy as an act of penance or spiritual discipline. If successful, the temptation might be that they become prideful about it. What about denying ourselves instead? What about giving up our right to be right? What about placing ourselves entirely in the hands of God? That frees him to fashion in the likeness of his Son, as only he can do.

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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Planted by Streams of Water

The psalmist wondered why the wicked seemed to prosper and not the upright:

Truly God is good to the upright,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant;
    I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pain;
    their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not plagued like other people.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes swell out with fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven,
    and their tongues range over the earth.   (Psalm 73:1-9)

If we are looking for worldly success then the psalmist seems to suggest that God may not be the best mentor. The Apostle Paul wrote:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.   (1 Corinthians 15:19)

Paul seems to be saying that life may be more difficult for the Christian disciple than anyone else. It surely was for many in the Early Church, especially the apostles.

God’s “blessings” may not be the type of blessings that the world seeks. In fact, they may be what the world is trying very hard to avoid. Jesus said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.   (Luke 6:20-23)

If one is looking for quick success, he or she may be tempted to take short cuts by compromising their ethics or morals.

The psalmist who observed the prosperity of the wicked had second thoughts:

But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I perceived their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!   (Psalm 73:16-19)

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus warned:

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
    for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
    for you will mourn and weep.   (Luke 6:24-25)

In today’s appointed psalm we read that those who follow the law of God will bear fruit “in due season.”

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.   (Psalm 1:1-3)

Difficult times are coming. They will tell us where we are really rooted and grounded. From today’s reading from Jeremiah:

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
    sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
    and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
    and it does not cease to bear fruit.   (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

What is our time frame of reference? Are we prepared for the long haul? Are we planted by streams of water? That water is God’s holy Word. Jesus, the Word made flesh. His sacrifice on the cross is our guarantee for an eternal salvation in the presence of God. That is the promise we are offered in Christ. Christ’s success becomes our success by faith. We are able to stand firm in him no matter what circumstances may come our way. Today’s psalmist concludes:
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

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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 we read:

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 demonstrating by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our works.

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 Temple. 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 to us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus is our presentation as well.

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Miraculous New Wine

The Gospel of John tells some stories that are not in the other Gospels. One of them is the story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”   (John 2:1-11)

This story fits perfectly into the Season of the Epiphany. We are examining how God has manifested himself unto his people. The miracle of the feast was a sign from God. Signs are meant to direct us to something. The Gospel of John wrote about these signs for a reason. From the twentieth chapter of John we read:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.   (John 20:30-31)

Why did Jesus turn the water into wine? There were obvious reasons. Who can resist a Jewish mother? Then there was the embarrassment of the bridegroom who had run out of wine to serve his guests. Jesus cares about us in every area of our lives. Then there is the more obvious:

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.   (John 2:11)

But as is usual in the Gospel of John, there is more here than meets the eye. We have a transformation of water into wine. Surely this demonstrates that Jesus is the agent of creation and transformation. From John chapter one:

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.   (John 1:1-3)

The water that transformed to wine at the wedding in Cana was from six jars which were used for ritual purification. Jesus, in his coming ministry, would transform and fill these jars with something better.

The Jews were aware of how sinful, how unclean they were before their God and how much they needed to be cleansed from their sins. Ritual purity was very important to Jewish people at this time.

We see it when the Pharisees question Jesus about his disciples eating without washing their hands in Mark 7. They weren’t thinking of personal hygiene, but religious purity. Those who did not follow the strict teachings concerning ritual purification were considered, by the Pharisees, less holy than those who did. Using jars that represented ritual purity at the expense of relationships, Jesus was seeking not to transform just water into wine, but attitudes of exclusivity based on fear of contamination.  Jesus didn’t empty the jars…they were already empty.  Jesus filled and transformed rituals that spoke of separation into wine that speaks of celebration and unity.

At the beginning of story about the wedding in Cana we have this phrase: “On the third day.” Surely this could suggest the transformation of Jesus at the resurrection.

God is ready to transform us. Jesus said:

“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”   (John 6:52-56)

The psalmist wrote:

How priceless is your love, O God!
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.   (Psalm 36:7-9)

Amen.   (See Eucharistic Preaching.)

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