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Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 26C

Track 1: I Will Stand at My Watchpost

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

The Prophet Habakkuk was frustrated. He was discouraged. He complained to God:

Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous–
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.   (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

He believe there was no justice. God was slack in punishing the wicked while righteous people were being oppressed.

Have we ever felt the same way? We become discouraged because people seem to be getting away with evil and nothing is being done about it, Though discouraged, Habakkuk had not yet lost hope. He would wait upon God to see if he would eventually answer his complaint:

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.   (Habakkuk 2:1)

Habakkuk was an intercessor. He would wait, but he would also be praying concerning the situation. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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)

Intercessory prayer require some effort on our part. We must learn to be patient. We must learn to trust God.

God has called each one of us to be intercessors. It can be a lonely assignment. More often than not,  it does not bring instant results. We need to pray earnestly, from the heart. God needs our earnest prayers. The psalmist wrote:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.   (Psalm 130:1-6)

Waiting of the Lord means more than just exercising patience. It also means serving the Lord. He needs our attention. He needs our faith and hope.

God answered the complaint of Habakkuk this way:

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

God’s timing is not always our timing, but his timing is perfect. We must not lose faith in the justice of God. His justice goes beyond our idea of justice. From today’s appointed psalm:

Your justice is an everlasting justice
and your law is the truth.

Trouble and distress have come upon me,
yet your commandments are my delight.

The righteousness of your decrees is everlasting;
grant me understanding, that I may live.   (Psalm 119:142-144)

Let us not become so discouraged that we live like those who do not believe in the justice of God. Today’s Gospel reading tells of Zacchaeus, a tax collector. He knew what he was doing was wrong, but when he came into contact with Jesus he found hope that things could change. Because Jesus accepted him, he decided to make amends for his misdeeds:

Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:8-10)

God’s justice includes mercy. His justice is for more than today alone. His justice is eternal.

 

Track 2: Come Let Us Reason Together

Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm 32:1-8
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Through the Prophet Isaiah, God complained concerning the shallowness of his chosen people. Though they observed the appointed festivals and paid lip service in their worship of God, this had little bearing on their daily life. God required much more from them. He demanded much more:

When you stretch out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.   (Isaiah 1:15-17)

In his psalm of confession, King David expressed what he believed God was looking for:

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.   (Psalm 51:6-9)

David understood that he needed God’s help in order to change. God asks a lot of us, but is he unreasonable?

In today’s Gospel reading we learn of a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was anxious to know who Jesus was:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.   (Luke 19:1-6)

Why would a notorious sinner be happy to welcome Jesus? He saw something in Jesus that he did expect to find. He saw something that the grumblers failed to see:

All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”   (Luke 19:7-10)

What did Zacchaeus see in Jesus? Let us return to today’s reading from Isaiah. God said:

Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;

though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.   (Isaiah 1:18)

I like the way the King James Version puts this: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” God is exacting but he not unreasonable. He wants to work with us.

The psalmist wrote:

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not conceal my guilt.

I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.   (Psalm 32:3-6)

Confession is the beginning. God also wants to take us a step further. If we are willing, he will cleanse us, he will restore us, and he will give us a fresh new start. This is what excited Zacchaeus. Before Jesus could ask him to repent, he was ready ready to make amends for his sin.

Are we stuck today in some habitual sin? Perhaps it is a sin that we seem not to be able to overcome. In fact, alone, we cannot overcome it. The good news is that God wants to overcome for us. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:7-21)

Do we understand the true nature of God. He is forgiving, he is restorative, and he is our deliverer. “Come, let us reason together,” he tells us. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.”

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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 20C

Track 1: The Dishonest Steward

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells the parable of the unjust steward:

“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?’ He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.   (Luke 16:1-9)

The parable seems to be quite a controversial one. It is not su much that the parable is controversial but rather the interpretations of it. Some Bible “scholars” have suggested that Jesus is actually commending the steward because of his shrewdness. Worldly people are more clever that we Christian disciples, the thinking goes Thus we need to be more sophisticated and shrewd like the world. Is Jesus really saying that? I believe that is highly doubtful!

The dishonest steward was actually stealing money from the rich man in order to endear himself with other people like himself. Would the rich man commend someone who is stealing his money? Doubtful wouldn’t you say?

Maybe the steward is being commended for his shrewd planning for a more secure future? The parable states:

Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.   (Luke 16:9)

How secure is wealth, especially dishonest wealth? The parable implies that it will not be lasting in the long run? An even more sobering thought is expressed in the parable. What is the final destination for those who have relied upon dishonest wealth? They will be welcomed into “eternal homes.” The word “eternal” in the original Greek is αἰωνίους (aiōnious). It mean “perpetual.” There is nothing really perpetual in this life so that rules out any earthly destination.

Clearly, Jesus is not commending the dishonest steward. He is saying, in a sarcastic way, that the dishonest steward has, by his actions, sealed his final destination. He will be welcomed there by people like himself, but it not God who will be welcoming him.

Today’s Old Testament reading reveals God heart for those who have been defrauded and not the defrauders:

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.

Hark, the cry of my poor people
from far and wide in the land:

“Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?”

(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?”)

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.”

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.   (Jeremiah 8:18-21)

At the end of the parable, Jesus, commends the faithful stewards and not the dishonest one.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”   (Luke 16:10-13)

The dishonest steward put his trust in wealth. Where do we place our trust? There are only two choices: God or financial wealth. It is one or the other. Which one leads to eternal life in heaven?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.   (John 3:16)

 

Track 2: The Unjust Steward (Alternative)

Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

This second homily is like the first one in its approach and conclusions. What is different are the introductory readings from the scripture. In this case, the heart of God concerning the poor is revealed through the Prophet Amos:

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;

and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,

buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:

Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.   (Amos 8:4-7)

The conclusion of the parable of the unjust steward is the same:

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”   (Luke 16:10-13)

Whoever or whatever we serve will determine our final destination.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.   (John 3:16)

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Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C

Loving God with All Your Heart

The Christian faith draws us into a whole new world if we are willing to let go of the one we have been living in. The Apostle Paul alluded to these two world views in today’s Epistle. He wrote about moving from one to the other. He made it clear that he had not yet fully succeeded, but that he was committed to the process of fully participating in this new world. He wrote:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus,   (Philippians 3:10-14)

God was doing a new thing. He was building a new understanding for those who would listen. This was prophesied by Isaiah:

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)

God was replacing the old covenant he made with Abraham and his descendants with a new covenant that was far superior. It was not so much that the old covenant was defective. What was defective was the Jewish understanding of that covenant. It had become merely a set of rules to follow. What was lost was an understanding of what was behind the rules. What did the rules actually convey?

In today’s Gospel reading we have two people with entirely different understanding of how to interpret the law of God.. One of these persons is Mary of Bethany and the other is Judas Iscariot. From the Gospel of John:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.   (John 12:1-8)

Judas must have understood Judaism as a set of rules to obey. He questing why Mary did not spend her money on the poor rather than on costly perfume. Does not the law require us to look after those who are less fortunate than ourselves? It does, but there was something deeper going on here with Mary’s costly gift.

Mary was pouring out her love for Jesus. She understood that he needed her love and she wanted to make it very clear just how much she loved him. We have to remember how Jesus summarized the law:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”   (Mark 12:29-31)

Mary loved God with all her heart. She understood the foundation of the law. If we are not careful, a rules based Christian faith can distract us from what is really important. Judas was locked into his limited understanding of the law. He was sitting under the teachings of Jesus daily, but he did not comprehend what Jesus was offering. He did not know who Jesus really was and is. He did not understand the ministry of Jesus. Satan had tricked him. If we are ruled based in our faith then Satan is better able to manipulate our thinking and reasoning.

Judas was painting by the numbers, making sure not to go outside the lines. Mary saw the law of God for the work of art that it is. Who are we today, Judas or Mary of Bethany? We might easily protest that we would never betray our Lord like Judas. But we do betray him if we refuse to grow in our faith. Otherwise, we tend to judge others by our rule based understand of the faith. We become a stumbling block to others. Our Christian walk and witness becomes parched and dry.

God is doing a new thing. Do we not perceive it? Again, from the Prophet Isaiah:

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.   (Isaiah 43:19-21)

We are part of God’s chosen people. He has formed us for himself. Are we able to declare his praise? Are we able to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? We are if we open ourselves us to his refreshing Spirit who is ready to teach un new things and give us greater understanding.

The psalmist writes:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.   (Psalm 126:1-4)

God has done great things for us. He has given us his only begotten Son. His Spirit has been poured out upon. Let us “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

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