Tag Archives: the cross

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 13A

Track 1: Encounter with God

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7,16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Jacob was in a precarious position. He was returning home to Canaan with his family and flocks. He would soon meet his brother Esau from whom he had stolen his inheritance. He was fearful of what might happen so he took precautions to protect himself and his family.

Life is full of uncertainties. We face numerous problems along the way, some of which we brought on ourselves as did Jacob. Jacob would either continue operating as Jacob or he would become Israel:

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man[a]said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”   (Genesis 32:24-28)

What caused Jacob to change? Jacob had an encounter with God. The psalmist wrote:

Weigh my heart, summon me by night,
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

I give no offense with my mouth as others do;
I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;
incline your ear to me and hear my words.

Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,
O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.   (Psalm 17:3-7)

Before his encounter with God when he was visited by night, Jacob was in charge of his life. He relied upon himself, his own strength, and his cunning. After his encounter, he knew that he needed God. He had run our of his own resources. He was desperate. Now he was living under the blessings of God.

How did that work for him? How does that work for us? Are we ignoring God, pushing him aside? God is not ignoring us. He is waiting upon us to enter into a relationship with him. Often and in many cases, our coming to God is a struggle.

The Apostle Paul was struggling against God. He was persecuting Christians. Then he had an encounter with God:

I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.   (Acts 26:13-15)

When we go it alone we become confused. We run out of resources. We become bitter, judgmental, frustrated, and exhausted. That was Paul. That was Jacob. They were self-centered. Today we might say that they were “self made men.” The self fails. When it does we get wounded. We may believe that God has bruised us, but has is not been our own doing?

Jesus has paid the price of our rescue. He has purchased provisions for us by his blood on he cross. If we have been fighting God as Jacob and Paul, we have been bruised. But Jesus has been bruised for us:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.   (Isaiah 53:4-5)

In our weakness God will manifest his strength. Now is the time to come to him. When we do He will multiply all that we have. We will discover as did the disciples of Jesus, at the feeding of the five thousand, that they had more than enough to do all that God asked of them. He is calling us. He is asking us to be his disciples today. And he is ready to supply all our needs as we put our trust in him. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: The Impossible Task

Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

The disciples of Jesus were faced with an impossible situation. Jesus asked them to feed five thousand people, not counting women and children, on short notice and in a very remote setting:

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”   (Matthew 14:15-18)

God gives us difficult assignments, on occasion. We must assume that, if God gives us an assignment, it must be important to him. Therefore, we should take it seriously as well. How we respond to the assignment is critical to its execution and success.

The assignment that the disciples were given was a real test of their faith. Much is said about faith in our churches today. Do we have enough faith? Do we have faith in faith? Let us look at faith as an approach to God. We read in the Book of Hebrews:

Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.   (Hebrews 11:6)

We are looking past our own skills and resources and seeking the help of a God who has no limit in what he can do. He does not suffer from any lack of resources. Does he want to help us? From today’s Old Testament reading the Prophet Isaiah speaks to us:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.   (Isaiah 55:1-3)

We may wish to prove ourselves to God. What we may fail to realize is that God wants to proved himself to us.

The miracle is believing that whatever God asks us to do he will supply us with the means to accomplish that which he asks. Yet, we must begin the task with the tools and resources that we already have at hand. What are our loaves and fish? God will multiply that which we have, but first we must offer up to God all that we have, including ourselves, so that he may bless our endeavor. Jesus reminded his disciples:

“For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”   (Matthew 19:26)

God is with us and he is in partnership with us. Are we with him?

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Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

The  Shepherd and Guardian of Our Souls

Without a shepherd we are lost. We are like unruly sheep. The prophet wrote:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:6)

The music of Handel’s Messiah set to this reading from Isaiah tells the story. It is so lighthearted and frivolous. As people, we can be so unconcerned about and unaware of the consequences of our actions. Who can save us? Jesus. The Apostle Peter quotes Isaiah:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.   (1 Peter 2:23-25)

As sheep we need a shepherd. We need our shepherd to be the one who laid down his life for us. He alone can forgive us and lead us into righteousness:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.   (Psalm 23:1-3)

Only Jesus can lead us along right pathways. The institutions of education, the media, the entertainment industry, and the popular culture have worked overtime to lead us astray. Group think, political correctness, demonic music, and the intimidation of free speech have worn down our inner defenses and left us vulnerable to attack from the enemy. In fact, these voices are part of the attack.

These are strange voices to which we do not want to listen of follow. Let us tune our ears to the voice of the Good Shepherd:

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”   (John 10:3-5)

We need Jesus as a shepherd, but he is more than shepherd, He leads us along right pathway and he revives our souls. Friends, our souls are dying without his presence in our lives. Are we embracing Jesus or are we being lead astray by strangers who want to kill and destroy us?

All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”   (John 10:8-10)

Thus, we see the ministry of Jesus as being two-fold. He is our shepherd, but he is also the guardian of our souls. The Greek word for guardian here is episkopoß (episkopos). As it is used in 1 Peter, it means more of a ministry than a position in the Church. Supplementing shepherd, the term suggests the pastoral work of watching over or guarding someone. It also means one who is doing this has the fullest knowledge.

We live in a very dangerous world, one in which the Devil is prowling about, seeking whom he can devour. There is no protection apart from Jesus. We say and believe that Jesus has saved our souls. That is what we should believe. But is Jesus guarding our souls? Is he reviving our souls? He wants us to follow where he is leading us. He is leading us to safety. He knows the pitfalls which lie ahead –  the ones that we do not see and cannot anticipate.

Christianity is an endurance race. We must keep the faith to the end. Too much is at stack for us to rely solely on  ourselves. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Resurrection Sunday: Principal Easter Service, Year A

Do Not Hold on to Me

Hallelujah, Christ is risen. The Lord has risen indeed. Hallelujah!

Today we read about the first resurrection appearance that Jesus made which is unique to the Gospel of John. Mary Magdalene was heartbroken. She had gone to the tomb on the morning of the first day of the week and discovered that the body of Jesus was not there. When those who accompanied her had departed the scene she was left there standing alone. It is then that she has this encounter with the risen Lord. We read:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).   (John 20:11-16)

Mary Magdalene is the first witness to the resurrection. She knew Jesus as a teacher, deliverer, and friend. Jesus had, in fact, cast out seven demons from her. She was a sinner, someone with whom everyone of us can identify. Nonetheless, she was there at the cross when most of his followers had deserted him.

Jesus had an on going ministry with Mary, but the nature of that ministry was suddenly changing. Jesus said something very curious to Mary:

“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

“Do not hold on to me.” What could this mean? Naturally Mary wanted to touch Jesus. He was dead and now he was alive. She must have been overcome by joy! Jesus was telling her, however, that her relationship with him was changing.

We need to understand that the work which Jesus began on the cross for our sake is ongoing even to this day. His death paid the price for our sins and opened for us the gateway to heaven. The psalmist wrote

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

“This is the gate of the Lord;
he who is righteous may enter.”   (Psalm 118:19-20)

The moment that Jesus died the curtain in the Temple which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn from top to bottom. The way to God the Father was now established. This did not end Jesus’s ministry, however. Jesus told Mary Madeleine that he had to descend to his Father. His purpose was to present his followers to the Father before his throne of grace. Jesus, alone, can present us spotless before the Father.

Is Jesus telling us today, as he did Mary, not to hold on to him as we currently know him? We must not to limit his ministry in our lives. His ministry to us must be ongoing. He sends his Holy Spirit into our hearts, to direct us and rule us according to the will of the Father. He comforts us in all our afflictions. (The Christian faith will not eliminate all our tests and trials.) He is also our great high priest. He lives to ever make intercession for us. If we are attentive to our risen Lord he defends us from all error and leads us into all truth.

The Apostle Paul writes:

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.   (Colossians 3:1-4)

Yes, the cross has opened for us the way of eternal life. We must walk in that way, and that way is Jesus. Jesus is our friend and our deliverer. But he is much more than that. No one can go to the Father except through him. He will return to judge the quick and the dead, and his kingdom shall have no end.

Our response to his great love is to say yes. And like Mary Magdalene, Jesus tells us to go and tell others what we have experienced.

Hallelujah, Christ is risen. The Lord has risen indeed. Hallelujah!

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